Skip to main content

Industrial Development, Central Scotland

Volume 529: debated on Monday 5 July 1954

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[ Sir Cedric Drewe.]

10.59 p.m.

We are now sure that it will be in order for at least, or at most, thirty minutes to speak about Scotland. We are also sure that the subject we are speaking about for these thirty minutes has bearing only if the horrible events we have been contemplating today do not take place.

The subject I have tabled for this brief Adjournment debate is that of the industrially declining areas in Central Scotland, and I propose to confine my review to problems in the North-East part of Lanarkshire, particularly the Shotts district, the contiguous South-West part of West Lothian, particularly the Fauldhouse area, the burgh of Bo'ness in West Lothian on the shores of the Firth of Forth, the Calders area in North-West Midlothian and the shale-oil district of West and Mid Lothian. My submission is that all these contiguous parts are single industrial communities in which the one industry which is the mainstay has declined. My argument is that it will be to the national advantage to arrest and reverse the decline where it has started and to endeavour to prevent it where it threatens.

The Minister may be tempted to quote the employment figures for these areas to prove that there is little or no unemployment, or that unemployment there is below the average for Scotland. That is true, but only because large numbers of the people in those areas travel outside the areas to their work. There are other reasons, but that is the most important.

I shall say little about the Shotts area, because the facts are well known to the Board of Trade. It is known that many of the pits in that district have become uneconomic and have ceased production. It is known that local iron works in Shotts and Newmains have closed down, and local residents fear that a continuance of this process will destroy the local communities. Local roots are deep in these communities. They have a strong, indeed, almost a fierce civic pride and local patriotism. There is a vigorous community life and spirit and a multitude of cultural, social and sporting associations. They are determined to maintain and nurture their community, and they look to us for help.

Much the same may be said about Fauldhouse in my own constituency. There is, in addition to all these factors, some bitterness in Fauldhouse. I will not go into the history of the closing of the Knowes pit, because there is not time. It would serve no useful purpose and in any case it is not within the scope of the Minister. But Fauldhouse feels that it had a raw deal in the matter. Be that as it may, this is a district which needs some alternative industry as desperately as any place in the nation.

I come now to the town and port of Bo'ness, about which I have spoken on previous occasions. Here is a town huddled on to a narrow shelf of land which rises steeply from the sea within a very confined area which produces its own local problems. It has its dock and two pits, which are being concentrated into one developing pit extracting coal from beneath the sea. Modern specialist machinery is being installed because of the nature of the terrain and the pit's confined area. Ironically, the only place for the pit bing—slag is the word used in England—is the sea. Refuse from the pit must be dumped there, and already there is a huge hill. It grows steadily. Siltage from the bing is affecting the dock, which is becoming silted through the pit's developing operations. It is essential that the present dredging must be doubled—possibly trebled—if the clock is to retain its trade.

It is almost a miracle that the town has managed to survive the many threats to its existence during the past 30 years: but miracles cannot be expected to be the permanent norm. If they did, they would cease to be miracles. We ought to do something for this town as a Parliament and as a nation, What Bo'ness needs, above all else, is new industrial activity. There is a good supply of first-quality local labour. They are fine, solid, decent people in Bo'ness. It is a shame that so many of them should be forced to leave the town every working day to earn a living.

I have not time to discuss the shale oil industry, which affects areas of Mid and West Lothian, from the Calders to Queensferry on the Firth of Forth. I will seek the opportunity to do so in another debate. All I need say about it in this debate is that this is the world's pioneer oil industry. Many of the devices used in the most modern plants for the production of oil in America, and else- where, do not surpass the inventions and processes used in my constituency, and its neighbouring constituency, for the production of diesel oil and petrol. There are doubts about the future of this Scottish industry. They may be unfounded; but it is fair to ask the Government either to give some guarantee for the future of this strategically important industry, or to consider the provision of alternative employment in an area where none exists.

Even in the developing areas, and we have some in the Lothians where pits are being opened and existing ones developed, there is an allied problem. The burgh of Whitburn is a case in point. There, there is one industry employing only male labour, for coal only employs men. After the Bill with which we were dealing last Friday becomes law there may soon be no females employed in the pits, or around them. I hope that that day is not far off. Although the coal industry here employs no female labour, nature sees to it that there is an adequate supply of females on the production line, and they need jobs. There are none for them in this area and they must travel many miles each working day.

What I have said outlines the problem I wish to raise. So far as I have been able to ascertain, the average annual value of new industrial buildings erected in the post-war years is £60 million, but approximately £10 million of that is for the extension of existing factories. The other £50 million represents new buildings for industries which can be sited in places where strategically, economically and socially they will do the most good. Only the other day the hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. Brooman-White) ascertained that £63 million was the value of buildings erected in the last year, which is about the average. If Scotland had her Goschen formula—her accepted proportion of the United Kingdom total—in these matters, it would mean that we should have about £5 million worth in new industrial buildings in Scotland each year. One-tenth of that proportion would solve most of our problems in the area which I have been discussing tonight.

The rules of procedure governing Adjournment debates do not allow me to advocate the need for strengthening the Distribution of Industries Act. If they did, I should do so. I can mention the question only in passing, and say that I shall advocate it with vigour on some other occasion. So long as we must rely on persuasion, I hope that I have helped to convince the Minister and his Ministry that this great area has a special claim for new industries, that it is an area in which industries would have all possible facilities, including a good labour supply, and in which they would be likely to flourish. It would be a great encouragement to be assured of the Minister's understanding, support, and early positive action.

I have not time to develop all the many other aspects of the matter, because I want to leave a few minutes for other speakers, but I hope that as a result of my few remarks the Minister will have an increased understanding of the problem and will be encouraged to offer some assistance.

To what extent, if at all, is the area to which the hon. Member has referred covered by Development Area procedure?

I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) wants to deal with that point.

11.13 p.m.

I wish to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. J. Taylor) on raising this important matter tonight. I am certain that he has the very best wishes of thousands of decent men and women in the area about which he has spoken. This is a matter which I have raised on many occasions in debates in this House. I dealt very fully with the position of the Shotts and Newmains area in the debate on Scottish industry last year. I want to use the few minutes that I have most generously been given by my hon. Friend in asking for some information from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade.

I can inform the hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. Brooman-White) that the area of which I speak is in a Development Area. There was a deputation that met Ministers in Edinburgh. The President of the Board of Trade was not present but some of his officials were, and so were officials of the Ministry of Labour. Then we had an important deputation which I took to the Secretary of State for Scotland when it came to London. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade was present, and so was the Minister of Labour, and I felt from the discussions we had that day that those Ministers might be seized of the importance and the magnitude of the very great problem facing this area. In the debate on the 14th July last, the President of the Board of Trade said:
"Let us try to influence or assist new industries to set up in those areas in order to take up any unemployment which might develop."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th July, 1953; Vol. 517, c 2089.]
Although perhaps the President of the Board of Trade was trying to be helpful that day those very words did show clearly that he is not fully aware of the real seriousness of this problem or, indeed, aware of the nature of it. Like my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian, I am not complaining of the unemployment that exists in this area.

My work for a considerable time now has been to try and get the President of the Board of Trade and the Secretary of State for Scotland to realise that, unless they do some serious planning at this time, the future for that area is very hopeless indeed. We have discovered in the past two or three years that industries that have come from England under the scheme under the Act have set up subsidiary parts of their industry in Scotland and, whenever they find things difficult, the first part of their industry to close down is that part in Scotland. This has happened on a number of occasions. We can blame our industrialists in Scotland for not showing the foresight and initiative they might have done in the past, but in certain areas it is impossible for them to modernise their factories or to extend the premises. If they could have the same facilities as those which are given to industrialists from America and England it would be a very great help indeed. My own area of Shotts and the other places mentioned by my hon. Friend would be very suitable indeed for these industries.

I hope that if this debate has done nothing else tonight it has brought home to the Parliamentary Secretary and to the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland that the worry is not tomorrow or the immediate future. The worry is what is going to happen in the future for thousands and thousands of people in these areas when their industry is going to be extinguished completely.

11.19 p.m.

I should like to thank the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. J. Taylor) for the characteristic courtesy he displayed in giving me information on some of the topics he proposed to raise. Although they are topics common to his area, he has covered a fairly wide field, and he did so with great succinctness and clarity. I did not know that I should have the pleasure of hearing the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison), but I met the deputation to which she referred and I have a fairly good memory of the topics then discussed.

I agree with a great deal of what the hon. Member for West Lothian said. The hon. Member spoke of a "single industry community," and in a good deal of the area that is a fair description. That undoubtedly causes certain problems, which he has described and with which we are familiar, and I do not have much quarrel with him about his description.

We should not underestimate or exaggerate the part that the Board of Trade or any Government can play through a distribution of industry policy; that must be kept in proportion. Both hon. Members, who have spoken, with characteristic skill but also fairness, said that they did not base their request tonight on existing unemployment. Nevertheless, I think they will agree that it has a certain bearing. When there is no power to direct an industry to a particular place—and the Board of Trade has power only to encourage such industries as are free to go to various places—what is generally called footloose industry—the question of unemployment is relevant in two ways.

First, if there is only a limited amount of industry on the move, it is rather natural to try to send it to those parts of the Development Areas where existing unemployment is the most serious. The second point is that the willingness of an industry to move to a particular area depends to a considerable extent on the labour supply that it expects to find there.

Both hon. Members covered their ground with great brevity, and I hope they will forgive me if I do the same. They mentioned the coalmining problem and the problem of the declining coalfield, the problem of the shale oil industry, and generally the need for new industry and the fact that many people—and perhaps, particularly, many women—have to travel some distance to their work.

I agree with some of that description by the hon. Members. Of the 46,000 workers in the area, no less than 77 per cent. are men, compared with an average for Great Britain of only 66 per cent. By industries, they are 40 per cent. in coalmining, 11 per cent. in shale mining and oil refining and 11 per cent. in metal manufacturing and engineering, the remainder being divided among a variety of industries. Of the women employed, only about a quarter are employed in manufacturing industry.

No, the wider area, West Lothian and the Shotts and Calder areas.

The hon. Member, quite rightly, put in the forefront of his argument the decline and the approaching exhaustion of the central coalfield. As he himself said, around Bo'ness, however, prospects are better. A new pit is being sunk at Kiniel. That development will increase up to 1965. But I think the hon. Member would agree that the main impact of the decline will fall on the area within a triangle bounded by Bathgate, Shotts and West Calder.

It is true that the miners rendered redundant in the declining area will be wanted elsewhere in the expanding coalfields in Midlothian and Fife. Nevertheless, I do not seek to minimise the problem. So far, I think that the closures have not meant a significant growth in unemployment.

On the shale industry, I shall not add to what has already been said this evening, because I think the hon. Member who initiated this discussion met my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland as recently as last Saturday in order to talk about the subject. Therefore, I do not think I need deal with this particular point. Both hon. Members have referred to the lack of employment for women, and although it is true that there are textile firms in Bathgate, Shotts, and elsewhere, the number of women in employment is below the average. Women find that they must travel daily to Edinburgh or to the new light industries of Lanarkshire. On the question of Bo'ness, it is fair to remember that the principal cause of the decline of the port is a fall in the outgoing cargoes of coal, and the greatest improvement there would come from a revival in coal exports.

The unemployment figures which both hon. Members have mentioned, quite honestly, show that they do not base their plea in any way on existing unemployment. They plead, rather, for diversification, and the establishment of new industry, and with that view Her Majesty's Government are in full sympathy; but it is a plea which it is not easy to meet. The Government have not, however, been entirely unsuccessful in this matter. The Scottish Industrial Estates, as hon. Members are aware, have converted an ex-Government factory at Broxburn, and altogether have three new factories—at Bathgate, Broxburn, and Shotts. But, I do not attempt, nor do Her Majesty's Government, to minimise the problem. Diversification in an area where there is so much concentration on a single industry is naturally difficult, but we certainly desire to bring it about. But I do not wish to mislead the hon. Members concerned, nor the House, by saying too much about the industries we can influence to go to this area.

This particular problem is common to many parts of the Scottish Development Area. But to sum up by giving some of the brighter side of the picture, I would say that there are the expanding coalfields of Fifeshire and Midlothian, and there are some encouraging prospects at Bo'ness; and there is the industrial development which has taken place since the war by way of diversification, and, if it is practicable to encourage appropriate new industries in these areas by the granting of Industrial Development Certificates, we shall certainly do so. I assure hon. Members that this problem is very much in the mind of the Government.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-nine Minutes past Eleven o'Clock.