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Royal Ordnance Factories

Volume 655: debated on Thursday 15 March 1962

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Motion made, and Question proposed,

That a sum, not exceeding £5,200,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expense of operating the Royal Ordnance Factories, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March. 1963.

The Committee will note that, while the Army Estimates for the year show a net increase of £21,780,990, the Estimate in respect of the Royal Ordnance Factories shows a net decrease of £227,000. One would expect that, since the Army Estimates show an increase of this order, the Estimate for the Royal Ordnance Factories would also show an increase. I am endeavouring to discover why this is. Apart from the sum in respect of pay, this is the only Estimate which shows a decrease.

If I may declare my interest, there is a Royal Ordnance factory in my constituency at Pembrey. There are many workmen employed in that factory who are drawn from my constituency and from that of my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Lady Megan Lloyd George), which is the neighbouring constituency. When we saw that the Estimate for the coming year is lower than last year's we at once concluded that this might be partly due to the fact that we had recently been told that 500 workmen employed in the factory are to be made redundant between now and the end of May.

We have had the opportunity, for which we are grateful, of discussing this matter very fully with the Secretary of State and putting our views to him. He was not able to grant our request that notices already served or to be served on the workmen should be withdrawn and that they should be kept in employment. We were told quite courteously that the reason why they were redundant or were to be withdrawn between now and the middle of the summer was that the work was tapering off and coming to an end. The right hon. Gentleman has promised to look into the submissions and considerations which we put before him about the future.

I should like to say a few words not only about this Royal Ordnance factory but about other similar factories. They have rendered a great service to the nation in peace and war and I would claim that the Royal Ordnance factory at Pembrey has rendered signal service. I remember the First World War when the Ordnance factory was established there and thousands of men and women were employed. Their services were required by the nation but at the end of the war the factory was closed and demolished and the area was left to bear the burden of the fact that the services and the houses had been built to meet the requirements of the population which was largely employed in the factory and suddenly the whole place was closed down leaving behind tremendous problems of unemployment. When I first became a Member of Parliament, nearly 80 per cent. of the population there were unemployed. We protested at the time but it was to no avail.

When war again became imminent it was found that the site of the old Ordnance factory was a suitable one for a new Ordnance factory. It was suitable also for other kinds of industry. I used to put the point to the then Minister of Supply that when the Government brought a Royal Ordance factory, and particularly an explosives factory, to a site it made it difficult to get other industries to take over a neighbouring site. It so happens that this is one of the best industrial sites available in west Wales, with a main railway and a main road each side of it and port facilities nearby. When the Government use a site of this kind for a Royal Ordnance factory they should accept responsibility for the consequence that if that factory is there industrialists ail ways think twice of building a factory next door to it.

In this case a neighbouring site was taken over about the same time, at the outbreak of the Second World War, by the Air Ministry to be used as a station for one of our allied air forces. It has been empty for some time but it is being reactivated in connection with R.A.F. operations. The area is known as "Kidwelly Flats". As the Under-Secretary knows, the name in itself denotes that the area is a phenomenon in the mountainous topography of Wales. It is the best site we have. As I have said, the War Office took over part of that splendid site and now the Royal Air Force is to reactivate the other part, a matter which has been the subject of controversy with the local authorities and which has been settled by the decision of independent people who conducted an inquiry.

We are, therefore, very disturbed to find that, in am area like ours, the Royal Ordnance factory, which has served the country so well and has such a splendid team, is to be closed. I have had long experience of industrial relations, and I can say that the industrial relations in this factory have been a model to every other factory in the country. There is no dispute about that. It has had a wonderful team, which has worked hard and effectively, giving splendid service to the nation.

Now, 500 men are to be turned out in an area which has for a long time been plagued by unemployment and is far from being out of the wood yet. We regret that. We are told that it cannot be helped and that the work of the factory is coming to an end. We understand that the Government must, from time to time, renew their policy, and that the future of the Royal Ordinance factories is being considered. But these factories are national property. We are voting public money for them. The Under-Secretary of State knows that if as is proposed, there are changes in defence, work at these factories may come to an end.

Have the Government considered, or will they consider, whether these factories, if and when they become unnecessary for purposes of armaments or explosives, cannot be regarded as valuable national property to be kept by the Government for civilian use? I speak as a layman, but I understand from my hon. Friends who are expert in these matters that it would be very easy to use the factory at Pembrey with its equipment, its staff and "know how", in order to produce goods for civilian purposes, and that it would not be a very big job, nor very expensive, to make other kinds of chemicals instead of explosives. I am told that with very little adaptation of equipment and with the skill of the men it could be used to produce fertilisers.

I had the privilege of being Colonial Secretary, and have visited Commonwealth countries and many others. The poorer countries of the world are crying out for fertilisers. Will the Under-Secretary of State ask the Government to bear in mind that if, at any time, the Royal Ordnance factories are not required for production for the Armed Forces, they have a responsibility to find, if they can, alternative work, including civilian production? I hope that they will not do again what was done before—turn men out, destroy the premises, leave the site derelict, and, what is far worse, leave a derelict community. That has happened before.

9.15 p.m.

I am putting the case frankly, because the men believe it. The Government are not the only people engaged here: there are other people. Therefore, I ask the questions that have been put to me by the men. I hope that this factory will not be prevented from making use of its equipment, and the "know-how" and experience of its men, just because if all this were put to civilian use, it would be competing with very powerful vested interests.

I do not want to mention any names, but the position was put very frankly to me, just as it was put many years ago. These are some of the points I want to raise with the Under-Secretary, and I know that my hon. Friends want to raise others. I am very sorry for these 500 men, who are being declared redundant. Many of them have rendered very great service to the nation by working in Royal Ordnance factories with their skill and know-how. Many of them have been turned out at over 50 years of age. One of the problems that we have all over the country, but particularly in South Wales, is that when men are 50 or over and lose their jobs, it is very difficult to provide other work for them and to get other industries to take them on.

I hope that the War Office will realise that among these 500 men there will be many in this middle-aged group who will find it very difficult to find another job in another industry. After yeans of service to the nation, they deserve consideration from and protection by the Government, and I hope that care will be taken of them.

When the Government consider whether all the existing Royal Ordnance factories are to be kept or whether any can now be disposed of, I hope that consideration will be given to the social implications of where they economise. Where they stop factories and whom they make redundant. I hope that some consideration will be given to whether, in a given area where a factory is affected and men have to be withdrawn, it will be difficult or easy for those affected to find alternative employment.

I hope that the Under-Secretary and his right hon. Friend will consider these questions. I hope they will copy what the Labour Government did after 1945. I hope that, sometimes, when the hon. Gentleman visits South Wales—I do not know whether he ever does—he will visit Bridgend. I hope that if and when the Ordnance factory is no longer required, it will be possible, by collaboration with the Board of Trade and other Government Departments, to transform part of it into an ordinary factory, rather than pull it down, as was done in some places at the end of the First World War.

I hope that all these things will be borne in mind. Millions of pounds of public money have been put into these factories, which are splendid works, structurally and in every other way. They can be used for civilian purposes. Perhaps this Government have an objection to public ownership, but at least they will not carry their objection so far as to deny that a factory and equipment which under public ownership can manufacture and provide explosives, cannot, equally under public ownership, provide goods for civilian use. It could be done, and I hope that this will be borne in mind. I thought that it was my duty to my constituents to refer to these men, most of whom I know, and many of whom formerly worked in coal mines and did very good work there.

These are the communities which in the years gone by suffered from being used when the nation required them, and being discarded when the nation thought that they were no longer necessary. I hope that the Government will give serious consideration to what has been said today when they reconsider the use of the Royal Ordnance factories, particularly the one at Pembrey.

Can my hon. Friend say anything about the fact that in the 1961–62 Estimates provision was made for one graduate apprentice, and this year that provision does not appear to have been made? Indeed, no provision appears to have been made for apprentices. Has any provision been made for Commonwealth countries which have their own Armed Forces to send people here for training in the Royal Ordnance factories?

Secondly, I suppose that raw materials for the factories are included under the heading of "Manufactures, modifications and repairs", in Appendix I. If this is not the case, I cannot see where provision is made for supplying raw materials to enable the factories to produce me various things they do produce. Perhaps my horn. Friend can explain this point to the Committee.

I reinforce what my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) said about Royal Ordnance factories in general, and about the Royal Ordnance factory at Pembrey in particular. They have given signal service for many years. Although, as my right hon. Friend said, the factory at Pembrey is in his constituency, many of my constituents are employed there.

This factory has been running down for a considerable time. My right hon. Friend referred to the great anxiety felt about the 500 redundancies in this factory, and the fact that the whole future of the factory is in the balance, and, I might add, in a precarious balance. A few weeks ago we saw the Secretary of State for War about this. He informed us that the notices could not be withdrawn, and we realised from what he said then, and it is obvious, that this whole matter involves Government policy, and that in the end it will be a Cabinet decision.

We understand that, but for goodness' sake let us have a decision one way or the other. The Government have taken an unconscionable time to decide what to do, and the consequences have been very serious. We have been told that one firm has been deterred from establishing a factory in Pembrey because the Royal Ordnance factory is occupying part of the factory premises. In addition, this factory is near one of the best industrial sites in the whole of South Wales—Kidwelly Flats. It is on the site which was considered for the steel mill which was subsequently established in Llanwern, in Monmouthshire.

Let us have a decision one way or the other, and let us have it soon, so that these premises may be converted to civilian use and the whole area may be developed industrially. After all, the Government have a direct and definite responsibility from which they cannot escape—I do not suggest that they wish to do so—for these men who have served the country well for many years.

I therefore ask the Minister to be a little more explicit. If he cannot give us an undertaking one way or the other tonight, will he ask his right hon. Friend to expedite his decision and thereafter consult his colleagues in the Government, especially the President of the Board of Trade, to ensure that these men will not be told, "We do not want this factory any more. We are very grateful to these men who have rendered great service to the country, but there it is. We wash our hands of it"?

We want from the Government an undertaking that their responsibilities to these men will be fulfilled, and that if the factory is to be abandoned by the Government it will be taken over as soon as possible and made available for industrial use.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) asked why we had no provision for graduate apprentices under Royal Ordnance factory salaries this year, and why we had only one last year. As far as I know, the position is that the graduate apprentice is a rather rare kind of apprentice on a salary. As for our employment of ordinary industrial apprentices, I have asked about this when visiting Royal Ordnance factories and I can assure my hon. Friend that we are doing more than our share of training apprentices. I shall have to make special inquiries in order to answer my hon. Friend's point about Commonwealth apprentices.

My hon. Friend also asked me whether the raw materials used by the factories were included under the heading of manufactures, on page 9. I can assure him that they are.

The right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) and the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Lady Megan Lloyd George) raised the question of Royal Ordnance factories in general, and the one at Pembrey in particular. The right hon. Gentleman asked me why, in a year where there was an increase in the Army Estimates, there was a decrease in the Estimates for Royal Ordnance factories. I can best explain the position by giving him the picture of our War Office expenditure over the last two years and the next two years.

At present, there is a peak in expenditure on the building aspect of our activities—works, married quarters, barracks, and so on—but in respect of the Royal Ordnance factories, which deal with equipment, the peak will not come for another year or two, although, as my right hon. Friend said, the upward turn is beginning. We are approaching the end of a rather slack period in the activity of Royal Ordnance factories. That is the explanation. We can look forward to a measure of improvement as the re-equipment programme gets under way and becomes the main aspect of our expenditure, replacing in this respect the building programme.

The right hon. Gentleman said that it had been suggested to him that the decline in the activity of the factories had a more sinister significance, and that they were not going to get a fair share of the work. I deny that. What is known as the "preferred source" policy—that is, the policy declared previously by the Government by which Royal Ordnance factories receive Government equipment work, subject to delivery dates and the design rights of firms—still stands. The right hon. Gentleman can reassure anybody who may have cast doubts upon that, and I hope that he will take the opportunity to do so.

9.30 p.m.

Coming specifically to Pembrey, I have been in touch with my right hon. Friend over this matter and have discussed it with him since he met hon. Members. The position is difficult. There is a plentiful supply of T.N.T., which is what the factory produces. It is stuff which will keep, so that further production presents a difficulty. At present, the workers at Pembrey are employed in breaking down ammunition, work which is a hangover from the last war and part of the tidying-up process. That, of course, will eventually come to an end and I cannot visualise any improvement in the position. It is not, therefore, easy to define the future for this factory.

I will give an undertaking to draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend what was said by the hon. Member for Carmarthen and ask him to do what he can to hasten a decision in the matter. I can assure the right hon. Member for Llanelly that we shall consider with the greatest care the question of the future of employees who may be affected by any further run-down in Royal Ordnance factories. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that we shall consider, if and when the time comes, possible alternative civilian uses for the Royal Ordnance factory at Pembrey, or any other factory which is similarly affected. We always examine the local employment prospects.

We have recently been in touch with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour and with the Board of Trade. I cannot say anything further at the moment, but I will convey to my right hon. Friend what has been said during this debate and we will seek to clear the air as soon as possible in order to arrive at a position where we can give a decision, and show to those concerned a little more clearly where the future lies.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That a sum, not exceeding £5,200,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expense of operating the Royal Ordnance Factories, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st March 1963.