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Advance Factories, Greenock

Volume 644: debated on Monday 10 July 1961

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[ MR. E. Wakefield.]

10.8 p.m.

I wish to raise tonight the need for advance factories in Greenock. I make no apologies for doing this, because the unemployment figures in my constituency over the last ten years are nothing short of a scandal.

I do not wish to waste the time of the House, but I should like to have on record the unemployment figures registered at the employment exchange in my constituency since 1952. They are: 1952, 8·4 per cent.; 1953, 8 per cent.; 1954, 6·1 per cent.; 1955, 5·1 per cent.; 1956, 5·4 per cent.; 1957, 6·1 per cent.; 1958, 7·7 per cent; 1959, 8 per cent.; and 1960, 8·2 per cent. In the first four months of this year the average has been 7·6 per cent., and the figure to date is 7 per cent.

These figures must represent one of the worst records of unemployment in Scotland, if not in Great Britain, including some parts of Northern Ireland. In addition, as the latest Census returns show, these dreadful figures are masked by the fact that there has been a continuous migration of many of the younger workers from this burgh, and the natural increase of births over deaths is not reflected in the population growth figures for the town. I agree this is a common experience in Scotland, much to be regretted. Nevertheless, the fact remains that, in discussing the matter of advance factories for Greenock, we face a very difficult situation which has persisted for 10 years, and during those 10 years this Government have been in office.

I have been in the House for more than five years now, and I have consistently asked questions about what the Government intended to do, but the Government have persistently offered excuses of and kind or another. The present argument they use against taking any action in Greenock is based on the award of the Treasury loan to the Firth of Clyde Dry Dock Company. It is said that, as a consequence of the loan, the building of the dock will settle any unemployment problem there is.

An average of 7 per cent. unemployment in Greenock represents about 2,500 unemployed workers. It has been said by the Ministry of Labour that the graving dock will provide 2,000 jobs. After an answer which I received from the Minister of Labour, my local newspaper, the Greenock Telegraph—a very fine newspaper, one of the few local dailies in Scotland—printed what had been said and remarked on the apparent inference to be drawn from it, namely, that the Government had solved the town's difficulties.

The Greenock Telegraph questioned whether this was so. As a result of that and of my own representations, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour wrote to me on 2nd May, 1961. In his letter he said several things, the most important of which was that the 2,000 jobs could not be considered as 2,000 local jobs because—here I quote from the letter—
"I understand that the estimate of 2,000 jobs takes into account all the people who would be involved during the period of construction not only in Greenock but also elsewhere on sub-contracting work for tanker installations, electrical components and so on. The company estimates that the amount of unskilled local labour required in Greenock itself may well he only a few hundreds".
So much for the argument that the construction of this dock will provide 2,000 jobs. On the admission of the Ministry of Labour itself, the work will provide only a few hundred jobs.

It has been said that the dock will provide a large number of jobs in maintenance after it has been constructed. Incidentally, I should say here that in that dreadful figure of 7 per cent. unemployment about one-third of the men are skilled. That is an extraordinary fact, but true. Many of them are in transitional unemployment, going from one job in the shipyards to another, but the proportion has been as high as I have stated. Also, it should not be forgotten that the shipyards are, thank heaven, at long last undergoing modernisation. This means that some men normally employed there no longer need to be employed, and, as a result of the modernisation now going on, the complement of shipyard workers in the industry as a whole will fall. This is quite apart from the present difficulties in getting orders.

During the last three years, the shipbuilding force in the country fell from 190,000 to 170,000. The same trend is evident on Clydeside and is plainly evident in my constituency. If the Parliamentary Secretary has read the recent report of the Shipbuilding Advisory Committee, he will recall the warning there that the force will fall even more, and—there are these ominous words—
"the fall … may be most severe in Scotland and Northern Ireland."
In 1959, we had the first of the series of advance factories given to Scotland and other needy places. The first was authorised in Coatbridge. It is significant that we had to argue the principle of advance factories for about three years before the Government finally conceded it in 1959. That factory has been built in Coatbridge and my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey)—he has been unwell lately and he cannot be here tonight, thought he sends me his good wishes in the case I am making—tells me that he has had little difficulty himself in finding an actual tenant for the factory. It was argued that one should not build advance factories because one could not be sure of finding a tenant. It was said that the industrial climate had changed since the days of the Labour Government, when, of course, the advance factories were one of the foundation stones of Board of Trade policy and, indeed, were a great success, achieving for the first time in peace time the fulfilment of a realistic full employment policy. The Coatbridge factory, I understand, has had competition for tenants. The North Lanark factory was announced in 1960. I commiserate with my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) in the disappointing Answer which she received some time ago to the effect that only the preliminary stages of the factory had been completed but that work on the factory had not begun, let alone finding a tenant for it. I am anxious that in 1961, without being unfair to any other part of Scotland, we in Greenock should be considered for the allocation of the next advance factory. In the light of the prospects in my constituency and its continuing bad record of unemployment, that is not an unreasonable request.

If an advance factory is built in Greenock, what chances are there of getting a tenant for it? The Rootes factory is coming to Linwood. I think that the phrase is that this is a seminal industry. It will set up ancillary industries as a consequence to supplying the main Rootes factory at Linwood. We are anxious to attract ancillary industries. All the new industries which have come to Greenock since the end of the war have all been the consequence of advance factory space. The outstanding examples of Joy-Sullivan, International Business Machines and the Acme Domestic Appliances Company came to Greenock because there were premises for them to occupy immediately. The Corporation of Greenock hopes to visit parts of Birmingham and Coventry to interview firms in the expectation that it might be able to attract one of the industries sup- plying the Rootes Company to come to Greenock. However, it would be enormously helped if the Parliamentary Secretary tonight could say that the Government are sympathetically considering the designation of an advance factory for the Greenock area.

That is the purpose of the exercise this evening. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give me a favourable reply. Those of us who represent constituencies in which there is high unemployment are very worried about the question of attracting firms to our constituencies. The job of a Member of Parliament is not to go round touting among business concerns trying to find a firm which is suitable to come to our constituencies, but we will willingly take on this task of finding tenants. In particular, my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie, who has done a great deal of work in attracting firms to his own constituency, finds that the Board of Trade is not as sensitive and concerned about these matters as one would expect. I could go further and say that it is a great pity that the industrial estates management corporations have not been allowed to try to find tenants as they have been in the past. This is something which the Parliamentary Secretary might take into account. Why are not these corporations given a mandate to find tenants? That is an important point. The more of us concerned with finding tenants for advance factories, the better it could be.

I understand that the Parliamentary Secretary is soon to lay a foundation stone for an advance factory in Wales. I strongly advise him to think carefully about this matter and to come and lay a foundation stone in Greenock very soon so that we may have an advance factory.

10.18 p.m.

The hon. Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon), in his usual way, has presented his case extremely clearly and cogently. He began by stating something that we all know, namely, that attracting industry to Greenock has been a matter of considerable disappointment. There is no question about that. While unemployment in Scotland as a whole has fallen to a figure lower than that at any time since 1957, it is a fact that unemployment in Greenock has risen.

One thing which should be recognised is that there have been several tendencies militating against employment in Greenock and that the Government have not been supine in trying to work against those tendencies. It is a fact that the total floor area of Government-finance in the Port Glasgow-Greenock area is now 990,000 sq. ft. and gives employment to 4,700 people. Nearly 160,000 sq. ft. of factory space, Government-financed, has been completed since 1st April, 1960, not, it is true, under the Local Employment Act, but during the last twelve months or so, including one new factory of 60,000 sq. ft. and five extensions to provide 1,000 jobs.

In addition, as the hon. Member mentioned, the Firth of Clyde Dry Dock Company hopes that construction will soon begin on the graving dock. It is too early to say what employment the graving dock will ultimately provide, and it is certainly impossible to say exactly what employment it will get from Greenock itself during the construction period. Obviously, some sub-contracts will be placed outside Greenock and it is impassible to say exactly what employment will be given during that period. Certainly, some employment will be given and it will be several hundreds, as the hon. Member said. It is difficult to put an exact figure to it.

The disappointment is that during the past year, there has been no movement towards Greenock. Only one industrial development certificate has been given since the Local Employment Act came into force, for an extension of 37,500 sq. ft. at Port Glasgow. Taken together, however—this has to be squarely faced—these developments would not do much more than reduce unemployment to the average for Scotland if no further reductions took place elsewhere. I do not want in any way to paint the picture too rosily. It is not a particularly rosy picture and all I can say is that it would not do much more than reduce unemployment to the current average for Scotland, which is better than it has been.

We all recognise the need for further employment in the area. The question is how best to deal with the situation. The hon. Member thinks that advance factories are the right answer. The greatest difficulty in Greenock, however, as, I am sure, the hon. Member realises, is that before an advance factory can be erected, there must be a suitable site which will prove attractive to an industrialist. One of Greenock's greatest problems is to find a suitable site.

Perhaps I can tell the hon. Member what has been done about this in recent times. The town council approached us earlier this year with a suggestion that part of an area which had been earmarked by Renfrew County Council for housing should be used as an industrial estate and that advance factories should be built on it. At the suggestion of Greenock County Council, the Industrial Estates Management Corporation for Scotland examined the site recently, but found it, unfortunately, quite unsuitable for such development. It is steep and rocky and access is difficult. The advice which I have received is that to build on it and to provide the various services—water, drains, gas, electricity and roads—would be expensive and that, even if we did build factories on it, it is extremely doubtful whether they would be either let or staffed because of the terrain.

It is true that on one or two small isolated sites, developments might be possible, but extensions would not. For example, there is a farmhouse on the site of which a factory of, say, 20,000 sq. ft. might be erected, but no extensions could be made to it. All the same, if a firm wanted to go there, we would certainly consider an application for assistance from it under the Local Employment Act. It might be, for example, that a firm with special ties locally wanted to expand but could not do so on its existing site and would be able to erect an ancillary factory up above on the hill.

The Government are certainly not opposed to building advance factories. As the hon. Member mentioned, we are building some now—one at Shotts, one at Pembroke Dock, and one at Jarrow. But, generally speaking, it is the fact nowadays that firms prefer factories built to their own requirements. It is true that the firm may sometimes prefer to go to a factory which is ready for immediate occupation, even if it does not suit its needs exactly, rather than wait for a factory which has to be built, but at least it must be capable of expansion, or there must be a larger site near by in the same locality to which it could transfer if, as we all hope would happen, it succeeded and was able to go ahead and expand.

The hon. Gentleman is probably aware that Greenock Town Council has been told by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland that if the corporation wishes itself to build three or four suitable small advance factories he is willing to give approval under the planning Acts and to give borrowing consent. This is what is being done in Glenrothes, for example. Any such factories would have to be let at an economic rent like advanced factories built by the new towns. The Government consider that Exchequer assistance for new employment can best be given by way of the normal inducements offered under the Local Employment Act rather than by building advance factories in such cases as this, but we recognise that if industry is to be attracted there must be sites available for it.

As I said, one of the greatest difficulties Greenock has to face is the absence of suitable sites. In Port Glasgow, however, there is an industrial estate of about 50 acres belonging to the Board of Trade. There are nine tenants already on it and not much more room for development. We are, therefore, examining the possibility of acquiring more land for the estate. We have a site in mind which would allow of about a further 140,000 sq. ft. of factory space. But we are not convinced that to put up advance factories would be the best use of available land. We do not rule out the possibility of doing so, but at the moment we are not satisfied that it would be the appropriate course for the area.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the new opportunities which the development at Linwood will offer, and he told the House that Greenock Corporation has been going round Birmingham and the Birmingham area to see whether it can attract any factories up to that area. I agree with him that the more activity there is in several agencies simultaneously trying to attract factories up to the area the better, but in Scotland we have, of course, the Scottish Council; and if Greenock Corporation can also help to attract expansion by firms in the Midlands, that is a good thing, but, of course, the primary agent for guiding and steering factories to particular areas must remain the Board of Trade.

It must remain the Board of Trade because of the way in which the Board of Trade comes to know first of the needs of industry. It gets to know from the method of application for industrial development certificates. The firms come to the Board of Trade asking almost invariably to be allowed to expand on their sites. In the Midland area and the crowded areas of the South the Board of Trade says, "No, go and have a look at a development district," and refers them to the regional controllers concerned, who take them to the most appropriate sites for those particular industries.

What I would say to the hon. Gentleman is this, that it seems to us that, given the great shortage of sites in Greenock, it would be a very great pity if one were to erect on those sites factories of a size which might not be the size which the industrialists would require.

May I remind the hon. Gentleman that there is the old system of what were called "nest" or "acorn" factories? The Board of Trade offered them years ago, and that method has been enormously successful, as we know, in Port Glasgow especially. It really is not fair to talk about the absence of sites. We have five sites and a good site, in my view, for such a scheme as a nest factory.

The conception of the nest factory was essentially that it was a factory which could be expanded in case of need or a site which could be developed by the firm when the time came for it to expand. We think that at a time when there is quite a likelihood of factories being attracted to this area in order to assist in the development of Linwood, then, given the time schedule, it is not necessary to provide advance factories there. The industries will be attracted and we shall be able to build factories for those industries to their specification, which is the best way of proceeding. We have not closed our minds on the point, but we think that at the moment it is the best way of dealing with the situation.

We at the Board of Trade recognised the great need of the Port Glasgow area for new industry. We are doing what we can to help. But it is most important that we should give the right advice to industrialists seeking sites and should try to steer them to the place where they are most likely to be successful. We should not tell them to go to one site; we should allow them to see several regions for themselves. Each regional controller takes them to several sites in order that they may choose for themselves.

We recognise the particular need of Greenock in that unemployment has been increasing, but it would be wrong to steer all industrialists who are looking for fresh factory space to Greenock and to insist on them going there and nowhere else. I am sure that the hon. Member recognises that.

We hope to provide additional sites which will be attractive to industrialists coming to the area and we hope to be able to do that before long. We should certainly provide them in Greenock if we could. The hon. Member will recognise that from the point of view of the Industrial Estates and Management Corporation it is much better that the factories should be grouped to be more easily controlled than that there should be many separate factories dotted about on isolated sites. What we want is to get a site as near as possible to the existing industrial estate at Port Glasgow. As we cannot find sites at Greenock we intend to do the next best thing, which is also the next best thing from the hon. Member's point of view—to provide sites in Port Glasgow.

I hope that I have made it clear that we are not yet convinced that it would be right, in the particular circumstances of Greenock, to provide advance factories at the present time but, as I have said, we have not closed our minds to that possibility.

Will the hon. Gentleman say why he thinks that it would be a good idea for the Greenock Corporation to use the slender resources of the town to build several advance factories when he thinks that it would be wrong for the State, with its much greater resources, to build even one? It seems very odd that he should have recommended to the town council the desirability of its building advance factories.

The situation was that the Greenock Corporation itself asked the Secretary of State if it might do this. If it wants to do it, it has the powers to do so. What my right hon. Friend has said to the Greenock Corporation is that he will not stand in its way; that he will give planning consent, and will also give borrowing consent for it to do that.

So that the Secretary of State would encourage the town council in spending the ratepayers' money in building advance factories, but the Secretary of State and the Government will not spend taxpayers' money?

No. Again, it is not so difficult for a corporation to control factories scattered throughout the town as it is for an industrial estates management corporation to do just that. It is much better for an industrial estates management corporation, if it is to have factories under its control, to have them all concentrated where it already has an industrial estate. I recognise, of course, that that is not always possible. At Shotts, for example, we are putting up an isolated factory.

That is occasionally the best that can be done, but in the case of Greenock and Port Glasgow, where there is an industrial estates management area, and where we are rather hoping that it is possible to get further land, we think that the best thing is to enable industrialists either to build for themselves, with the grant they could get under the Local Employment Act or, alternatively, we will be prepared to build for them on the industrial estate management corporation's sites, and rent the factories to them. We think that is the best way of dealing with this situation.

Since the Minister has mentioned the advance factory in Shotts, and since I and my people are most anxious that a tenant should be found for it as soon as it is finished, can the Minister, in the few minutes that are left, tell us what is causing the hold-up in the letting of the advance factory in Coatbridge? Is it the case that a great many industrialists are vying for it? If so, why has not one got it up to now?

This illustrates one of the difficulties of advance factories. What happened at Coatbridge was that one firm was prepared to go there, but made application for assistance. That application was turned down, and the firm said that in that case it would not go there. This is just one of the difficulties of an advance factory. Equally well, it might not happen, but it is one of the risks with an advance factory. We were unlucky at Coatbridge in that respect. We hope that we have now found a tenant, but that is one of the risks in building an advance factory.

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

Adjourned at twenty-two minutes to Eleven o'clock.