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Pit Closures

Volume 649: debated on Wednesday 15 November 1961

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7.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland to what extent he proposes to assist local authorities in mining areas to plan schemes of work to absorb men who may be unemployed as a result of pit closures.

My right hon. Friend has no specific proposals on the lines which the hon. Member has in mind. The National Coal Board has advised my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power that alternative work will be available within daily travelling distance of their homes for the great majority of the men affected by the colliery closures which have been announced. For dealing with local employment, the Government will continue to operate the Local Employment Act vigorously.

I did not expect the hon. Gentleman to have any specific proposals, and I should have been surprised if he had, but is he aware that in Ayrshire there may be an unemployment problem in spite of the fact that some men may be absorbed in the new pits? If the Ayrshire County Council or any other local authority puts up useful schemes of work which would benefit the community and give employment, may we be assured that they will have his support?

As I said in my Reply, the Coal Board believes that the great majority of men will have work in nearby collieries. A further factor is that the list of areas in which the provisions of the Local Employment Act can be operated is under regular review.

The hon. Gentleman has missed the point of the question. Even though existing miners may be employed, does he not understand that the closure of the mines will close the opportunity for employment of a large number of youngsters and people coming along? This in itself will create a problem. Will the Government as a whole take that into account and see that something is done about it?

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received from the Fife County Council concerning the future economic prospects of the county, consequent on decisions recently taken by the National Coal Board to close collieries; and what reply he has sent.

17.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received from Fife County Council regarding proposed pit closures in Fife; and what reply he has sent.

My right hon. Friend has received a copy of a resolution approved by Fife County Council, expressing alarm at what is described as

"the inference and suggestions of the Minister of Power concerning the Annual Report of the National Coal Board particularly regarding the Scottish Division".
He has brought it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power.

Why is not the hon. Gentleman more specific about what the Scottish Office intends to do in these circumstances? Is he aware that two of the major collieries concerned, Rothes Colliery and Bowhill Colliery, are in the West Fife constituency, that more than £12 million has been invested in these pits, and that their closure is imminent? In the circumstances, does he deny the validity of the anxieties of Fife County Council, which itself has spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on social investment for these mines? Has he no more specific proposals to advance than are already formulated in the Government's policy?

The question of Rothes Colliery is a matter for the Coal Board, as the hon. Gentleman knows. In regard to the concern about Rothes, it might be useful to re-emphasise the point made by the Prime Minister yesterday, that it was noted some time ago that miners in the numbers originally expected were not moving into the area and, accordingly, the development of the new town at Glenrothes was re-orientated in 1959 to general industrial development linked with overspill from Glasgow. We trust very much that this will assist in the difficulty.

Does not the Minister think that, although his English colleagues have turned down the demand for an inquiry, there is a case for an inquiry by the Scottish Office into the social and economic effects of the closures on local employment and on the finances of local authorities, in view of the fact that what we are witnessing now is the slow annihilation of the coal industry in Scotland?

We are all aware of the circumstances already and an inquiry would not reveal any new facts.

Whereas it might be the responsibility of the Minister of Power in the ultimate to decide whether a colliery shall close or not, does the hon. Gentleman agree that the social and economic consequences of the closures in the various areas of Scotland are the responsibility of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State? Will he undertake to consult his right hon. Friend about the desirability of an inquiry being made into the social and economic effect of the closures on considerable parts of Scotland?

The first point is that the Coal Board is confident that the great majority of men can be re-absorbed. The second point, in regard to any ancillary difficulties, is that we very much hope that it will be possible to meet these under the existing powers.

The Minister's last answer is wholly unsatisfactory. Does not he realise that his statement that miners can be absorbed in other pits is quite wrong, because what happens is that pits which are being operated economically at present become uneconomic as a result of the great influx of men from the closed collieries? Is he aware that a great deal of alarm and despondency have been created among the mining fraternity of Fife, in particular, because of the implications of his right hon. Friend's statement in the House a few weeks ago, that collieries at present working to full capacity are threatened by that statement, and concern is being felt not only by the newest recruits but by the men at the top of the industry? Will he press his right hon. Friend to secure a debate in the House and come clean on this matter?

It is because we are well aware of the anxieties that I have been trying to re-emphasise in my replies that the Coal Board is confident that the very great majority of the men can be reabsorbed into other pits.

19.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what are the terms of the letter he received from the Presbytery of Ayr on the proposed closure of collieries in Scotland; and what was the nature of his reply.

The letter which my right hon. Friend received at the end of last week from the Presbytery of Ayr enclosed a copy of a resolution which in effect supported the Scottish miners in their call for a public inquiry into the working of the coal industry in Scotland. My right hon. Friend will refer the Presbytery to the reply given by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power to the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. W. Hamilton) on 13th November.

Can the Minister give a definite assurance to the ministers of the presbytery that there will be no unemployment as a result of these pit closures?

I do not think that I can add to the answers which I gave to previous supplementary questions on this same point.