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Pit Closures, Scotland

Volume 650: debated on Thursday 30 November 1961

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Motion made, and Question proposed. That this House do now adjourn.—[ Mr. Pearson.]

10.40 p.m.

I wish to thank my two hon. Friends concerned with the Prayer for dealing with it so expeditiously so that we can get on to this Adjournment debate before it is too late.

You may be aware, Mr. Speaker, that today is St. Andrew's Day. We are almost at the end of it. St. Andrew is the Patron Saint of Scotland. I hope that he is looking down on us tonight and willing this Government at least to try to give Scotland a square deal. Yesterday we spent a whole day discussing the coal industry in almost all its aspects. Tonight I want to deal with the social and economic consequences of pit closures. Whenever a number of pit closures have been announced over the past years, Scotland has always been the worst hit of any of the divisions of the National Coal Board. Again, with the latest announcement Scotland will suffer far more than any other part of Britain.

Next year, we are told, seventeen further collieries will close in Scotland. In those collieries at present about 5,000 men are employed. The National Coal Board has announced that it expects that it will be able to place the underground workers in other pits, but there is no guarantee at all that the surface workers in those seventeen pits will find work in the coal industry. I say to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade that even if the whole of those 5,000 were absorbed in other pits, it would still mean that 5,000 job opportunities had disappeared from Scotland.

Of course, over the past month these matters have been raised time and time again with the Minister of Power. He told me on 20th November:
"I suggest that the hon. Lady puts Questions to my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade about the activities of that Department, which, in my opinion, have been extremely successful."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th November 1961; Vol. 649, c. 912.]
That shows that the Minister of Power has no idea of what has been happening in Scotland over the last ten years. When we suggested that even if the miners are placed they will have to travel long distances, his answer was quite callous. He said:
"There is a choice in front of each miner: whether he wants to travel to new work in the coal mines, whether he wants other work, or whether he wants to be unemployed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th November, 1961; Vol. 649, c. 20.]
I say that there is very little choice for the Scottish miner, particularly for the surface worker, who might not be placed in a pit, no matter how far away. He has no choice. With unemployment at present, all that is left for him is to go on the scrap heap with the other 69,000 unemployed in Scotland at present. Many of those who are put into other pits find that their wages are almost halved. Not only have they long distances to travel, but their income from their work, having changed from face work to oncost work, is halved.

Another point has been brought to my notice. Miners from the pits in my constituency whom I met last week-end said that sometimes when these closures take place men go to other pits which are not ready to take them and which become over-staffed. As one old Scotsman said to me, "It is a case of men doing a laddie's job but having to get men's wages". The men in Scotland are beginning to feel that when this happens in their pit, their pit will very soon become uneconomic and will be next on the list for closure. That is something which must be examined carefully.

If we go back to 1957 we find that 86,085 men were employed in the Scottish pits. On 18th November this year that figure had fallen to 68,117. In other words, in the mining industry alone in Scotland in the last four years we have lost 18,000 jobs. One can talk until the cows come home about miners being placed elsewhere, but the stark fact is that 18,000 jobs have disappeared from Scotland, and that means in areas such as mine that the opportunity for young men to enter the mining industry is less and less every year.

May we look at another side of the question which concerns the Board of Trade? Let us look at the number employed in civil employment and watch it grow. I cannot quote the figure for May of this year because the Scottish Office is so laggardly in letting us have figures that I can quote only May, 1960, but we find that in Great Britain as a whole there was a growth in the number in civil employment between May, 1957 and May, 1960 of 532,000. Almost half-a-million more people were employed in Britain in May, 1960, than in May, 1957. What was Scotland's share of this increase? Has the Board of Trade been doing a good job, as the Minister of Power told us? We have not had one single increase. Between May, 1957, and May, 1960, there were 32,000 fewer in civil employment in Scotland.

Those of us who are concerned about this have been trying to get the Government to understand this for many years. When one knows that there is a greater natural increase in population in Scotland than in Great Britain as a whole, and when one ties that up with the fact that 25,000 of our most highly skilled people leave Scotland every year—that has been the figure for the last ten years—one sees how serious is the position in Scotland.

Let us take another yardstick—the unemployment figures. On 13th November, 69,369 men and women were unemployed in Scotland. The rate was 3·2 per cent. If we take the increase in unemployment over the last month, from the October figures to the November figures, we find that for the United Kingdom the increase was 21,594. For Scotland it was 4,085. Although in Scotland we have only 10 per cent, of the population, we had 19 per cent, of the increase in unemployment in the United Kingdom. Does not that make the Government worry about the position in Scotland? What perturbed me intensely in the same tables provided by the Government was to find that of the ten regions listed, Scotland was the only region to show an increase in unemployment amongst school leavers in November. It is bad enough for an adult to be unemployed, but for a youngster leaving school to find that the nation has no use for him is much worse.

We have almost 70,000 unemployed but only 13,241 vacancies. At this moment, on St. Andrew's Day, Scotland has five people chasing every vacant job. In London and the South-East region, however, where there is a much lower rate of unemployment, there are more unfilled vacancies than there are unemployed. The position in the Midlands, too, is infinitely better than in Scotland.

The long-term unemployment figures for Scotland are shocking and worse than for any other area. Those unemployed for more than eight weeks account for 58 per cent, of all those unemployed in Scotland. If we were to get the figure of those unemployed for more than six months, again we would find that Scotland's figure was much worse in comparison with any other region.

One would think that with such a position, the Government, who say that they are trying to do something, would have been taking great steps to get industrial building humming in Scotland. We find, however, that Scotland has 3.2 per cent, unemployed, whereas London's figure is .7 per cent., which makes Scotland's rate of unemployment four and a half times greater than that of London and the South-East. One would expect to find far more industrial building in Scotland. The Government's latest construction figures show that Scotland has under construction a little over 7 million sq. ft. of factory space. In London, however, the figure is over 14 million sq. ft. In other words, London and the South-East, which has about one-fifth the Scottish rate of unemployment, has more than double the amount of factory space under construction.

Many people are noticing what is happening. Many journals are pointing it out. Today, the Daily Express had a leader remarking on pit and railway branch line closures. The Daily Mail has an article making the suggestion that was made last night by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser). It states:
"The Toothill Committee has shown us the way ahead. It is essential that any kill or cure remedies should be tempered with sympathetic understanding."
All that was asked of the Government last night was to prevent these pit closures and whether the Government had inquired into the social and economic results, not only of those closures, but of what has been happening in Scotland over the years.

The article went on to say—looking at the benches opposite, I would not complain too much tonight, but it happens time and time again:
"The other point we would make concerns the silent men of the Commons, the Scottish Tory M.P.s, who, when important Scottish issues are being debated, are either absent or mute."
There is not any doubt that it is we on this side who are continually fighting for the interests of our people.

Unless the Government are determined to make much stricter use of industrial development certificates, we shall not have any chance. They should be determined to build more advance factories in Scotland. We are still waiting, however, for a beginning to the one they promised us a considerable time ago. I have raised this question because my constituency has been the worst hit by pit closures every time. My constituency has four out of the seventeen which are to be closed in the latest batch, unless the Government stay the N.C.B.'s hands for a little time. Time and time again I have spoken of the problems of the Harthill—Salsburgh—Newmains Shotts area. Another area has been hit this time in which there is no other industry—Caldercruix, Plains, Greengairs. These villages have always depended on coal and by these latest closures the employment provided by the mines will disappear.

I again stress that these closures should not take place until the inquiry is held and there is some hope of alternative work. I am asking for alternative work to be provided. I hope that the Government will be ready at last to take some direct action to ensure that this dismal picture in Scotland will be made brighter.

10.56 p.m.

The hon. Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) particularly asked for a Minister from the Board of Trade to reply to this debate on the closure of collieries in Scotland. She ranged widely in her speech. Some of her observations could perhaps have been better replied to by other Ministers, but I shall do my best to reply to the points she made.

The whole purpose of my speech tonight was to get the Board of Trade to provide alternative industry That is why I gave the right hon. Gentleman the facts.

As the hon. Lady knows, I can only reply regarding the way in which the Government have exercised, are exercising and will exercise in the future the powers conferred upon them by Parliament. I cannot go beyond this. It would not be right even in this debate to go beyond the powers conferred under the Local Employment Act, under which the Board of Trade may acquire land, build factories, and generally give assistance to industry in development districts, especially by loans or building grants.

Most of what the hon. Lady said until her closing remarks would have been better addressed to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour. As regards her remarks about factory space, I remind her that the control of factory building space which the Board of Trade exercises is limited to buildings of over 5,000 square feet. Many of the buildings erected in the London area are less than 5,000 square feet but are not recorded in the building figures of factory space.

Under the Local Employment Act the Board of Trade can exercise its powers in any locality in which in its opinion unemployment is high and is likely to stay high or where such unemployment is to be expected soon enough to justify the exercise of the powers. Such places are placed on the list of development districts, which we keep under constant review. We are looking at it at present.

It is well to remember always that our power is to steer and not to direct industry against its will to any place. We can only steer. In steering industry to new localities the Board of Trade is required by Statute to give priority to development districts. We are trying to steer industry also to such places affected by the closures, and broadly speaking we would certainly issue an industrial development certificate to any suitable firm wishing to go not only to a development district but to any of the districts affected by the closures or wishing to expand there. We are trying to steer factories to those districts as well. It is well known that there is only a limited number of firms at any one time seeking to establish themselves in new places; or, indeed, of firms which want to establish themselves, or even to expand where they are, and which can be steered elsewhere.

The hon. Lady referred to the effect of the closures already announced. As she said, some 5,000 jobs will no longer exist in the pits that are to be closed in 1962. She said that we should prevent the closures until there had been an inquiry, but it is right to remind her that 9 of the 16 pits of which the closure has already been announced for next year are being closed because their coal reserves are practically exhausted. In those cases, there could be no point in postponing closure. The reasons for closing the remaining 7 pits vary, but they really boil down to the fact that enough coal can be won more economically elsewhere from new or reconstructed pits; from those pits, in fact, in which investment has been made because those remaining pits are uneconomic. The output from the new or reconstructed pits is expected to increase by some 800,000 tons.

What is to become of the miners working in the pits that are to be closed? The hon. Lady said that she had been informed by the Board that there would be jobs for all the underground workers, and she wondered what would happen to the remaining workers. I am informed that the Board has stated that for the great majority of the men affected alternative work will be made available within travelling distance of the men's homes. They will not have to leave their homes to take it.

The closures in 1962 will be on much the same scale as those in 1959. In that year, 26 collieries were closed in Scotland, displacing some 5,000 workers. At the end of 1959, only 300, or thereabouts had not been placed in employment. That shows that the Board has done its very utmost to find alternative work for those who have been displaced, and again it says that for the great majority of the men affected alternative work will be found—or, at any rate, made available—in 1962.

The hon. Lady says that some 5,000 jobs will be lost, and she quotes the fact that some 18,000 jobs have disappeared, as she put it, over the last few years. It has to be said that to the extent that less coal is required in Scotland, it is inevitable that less men should be employed; that to the extent that mechanisation raises productivity, men can be released to other occupations and, to the extent that new jobs are being created in other pits, there is a compensating gain.

The hon. Lady talked about the number of jobs that had been made available in recent times, and in a moment or two I shall give her the figures of the jobs that have been created in recent years in Scotland through I.D.C.s

She drew attention to the hardship men will have in travelling a certain distance, and implied that industry should be brought to where the men lived. She referred—as I thought, a little unfairly—to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power as having been callous in his observations on this matter, but I think that it has to be recognised that as industrial units tend to become larger and production more concentrated, it is inevitable that people who live in small towns and villages will have to travel more than they formerly did. Admittedly, the next generation may tend to set up nearer to the work, but these slow secular movements are bound to go on, and no amount of planning will prevent them. Obviously, the first thing to do to avoid undue hardship is to try to find work for those displaced, and that is what the Board is doing.

The hon. Lady suggests that we should build advance factories. What would certainly be wrong would be to build advance factories in every place where a pit was to be closed. Indeed, we should have no power to do so unless we had good reason to suppose that unemployment was going to be persistently high in those places. Many of the closures are to take place in development districts. There the advantages of the Local Employment Act are available. As to the other closures, we always keep the development districts under review, and we shall bear that in mind.

I think I should point out to the hon. Lady what the prospects actually are in those areas where the closures are to take place. For example, in North Lanarkshire, there are, admittedly, 6,070 unemployed, the unemployment rate being 4·1 per cent., a relatively high one. The men affected number 1,300. The jobs in prospect in the area number 4,800. In the Dalkeith, Musselburgh, Gore-bridge and Bathgate areas—some of the Bathgate jobs will be available to men living in parts of the hon. Lady's constituency—the men affected number 1,160, and the jobs in prospect are 7,400. That shows that jobs are being brought to Scotland.

As to other cases, in, for example, West Fife there should be, if all goes well, more jobs in prospect than there are men affected by closures. Admittedly, there are other places, such as Lesmahagow and Coalburn, where there are no jobs in prospect at present, and we shall have to look at such places most particularly. So I can tell the hon. Lady that we are doing quite a lot to bring jobs to Scotland.

The hon. Lady mentioned the industrial development certificate figures. Between 1st October, 1951, and 30th September, 1961, 88,858 jobs have arisen out of certificate approvals, the actually completed projects providing 69,791. That shows that a great many jobs are coming along.

The hon. Lady has mentioned those, and it is for me to mention the compensating ones which have come along.

Since 1945 English and American firms defined as new to Scotland have increased their employment by about 33,000. These are significant figures. This shows that, although there is this tendency for pits in Scotland to close because they are becoming worked out and uneconomic—a process which has been going on for decades, not just in the last few years—the Government have been attracting new jobs to Scotland with, I think one can say, considerable success.

This is what we are doing to help. First, we keep under constant review the list of development districts. Second, we are doing, and shall do, our best to steer industry to the development districts and shall assist the expansion of projects within them wherever it is appropriate to do so. We shall also consider the acquisition of land and the preparation of sites, but we do not intend to build more advance factories at present. As to those places which are not in development districts, the Board of Trade cannot acquire sites, but a county council or the council of a large burgh can, and we shall give industrial development certificates to any enterprise which wishes to occupy those sites once they have been bought and prepared in that way.

The broad picture is that we recognise the difficulties that the closure of collieries causes, great difficulties of travel to work and so forth, but more particularly the difficulties for the next generation, and it is to meet the requirements of the next generation that we are doing our best within the terms of the Local Employment Act to attract industry to Scotland.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at ten minutes past Eleven o'clock.