HC Deb 11 July 1962 vol 662 cc1347-59
The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. John Maclay)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the Scottish economy.

The Scottish Division of the National Coal Board is today making public a review of the prospects of Scottish collieries up to 1966, which they are discussing with the trade unions. It shows that a substantial number of Scottish collieries have good prospects and will increase their manpower, that others will before long exhaust their reserves of coal and will have to close down by 1966 on that account, and that there is a third group of collieries among which many have fallen short of paying their way which have a doubtful future.

The net effect is likely to be a continued fall in coal mining employment in Scotland over that period. But because large numbers leave the industry each year on retirement and for other reasons, the number of men actually displaced from the industry will be much less than the total fall in employment.

In these circumstances, the House will wish to know what immediate steps the Government are taking in relation to this situation; and in relation to its continuing policy of encouraging the development of new and growth industries in Scotland.

For the men who may be displaced, the first endeavour of the National Coal Board will be to offer another job within travelling distance of their homes. The Board has a very good record in this respect; all but a small number of the men affected by closures in Scotland last year were placed in fresh employment within the period during which the Board pays redundancy compensation. The Board's allowances to transferred men have recently been improved and will aid those who move their homes.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour will ensure close co-operation between his local officers and the collieries over the finding of new jobs for those displaced. As I have explained, the National Coal Board expects to be able to offer the majority of them jobs in other pits. In some cases, however, the right course may be to offer a man training in another trade, and my right hon. Friend proposes to expand the resources of the Government training scheme for this purpose. He will consult the unions in these trades, to secure their co-operation. It is the intention to increase the training allowances and the lodging allowances for those who leave home to take up work elsewhere.

As regards new industrial employment, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade has already announced that the site of the Donibristle R.N. Air Station, in Fife, will be developed as an industrial estate and it has been decided to proceed at once with the conversion of the big engineering shop into a factory for industrial use.

The Government have also decided to acquire a further five sites suitable for future industrial development in various parts of Scotland, and, in addition, to build a number of advance factories.

As already announced, assistance under the Local Employment Act is being resumed for the Bathgate area, which includes the new town of Livingston as well as other districts where large overspill housing developments are under construction. This area is already providing a new growth point in the Scottish economy.

Some movement of workers out of industries which are contracting into those which are expanding is an essential element in economic growth and the higher living standards which that will bring, and this is particularly important for Scotland. The Government's determination is to foster this economic growth and, at the same time, by looking ahead, to do all they can to meet the human, social and industrial difficulties which inevitably go along with economic change and fresh development.

Mr. Hoy

The right hon. Gentleman will not be surprised when I say that the statement he has just made will fill Scotland with great dismay. All the verbiage in which he has wrapped it up only seeks to hide—and this is a fact that he has carefully excluded from his statement—the number of pits that are to be closed as a result of this action and the number of men who will lose their employment.

How many pits will it be safe to assume will have to be closed in Scotland? Might it be as many as 60, and will it involve the loss of employment for 20,000 miners in Scotland? Whatever else the right hon. Gentleman might say, does he not realise that whether these miners get jobs either in other mines—and I do not know where they will be able to get them—or anywhere else, this will mean a loss of a further 20,000 jobs in Scotland?

Coming on top of the closure of the 16 pits which has already been announced, there is the close-down of the shale oil industry in Scotland and the closure of the North British Locomotive Company's factory, with consequent cuts in railway employment. This really fills Scotland with dismay. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his statement will convey no hope to the people of Scotland that the Government are seriously tackling the situation?

We want to know the pits which are involved and the number of men concerned. The news about Donibristle was given some time ago. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman where the five industrial sites to which he referred are to be located, how many advance factories are to be built, and how many jobs will be provided?

Is not the right hon. Gentleman ashamed to make this statement, in view of the fact that he has resisted the demand from this side of the House for many years to have advance factories built to meet this situation?

In view of this unsatisfactory position in Scotland, is it not time that the Government did something or got out and let another Government deal with the situation?

Mr. Maclay

The hon. Gentleman has asked a number of questions. I should make it clear, first, in reply to his sweeping attack on the Government's record, that the Government have a good deal to be proud of in the work that they have done to bring new employment to Scotland in the last few years. In two years, from 1959 to 1961, there was a net gain of about 30,000 jobs in Scotland. What is more, in the years since the Local Employment Act came into operation, in 1959, £41½ million has gone to firms in Scotland, or which are coming to Scotland, as well as 29,000 jobs.

The hon. Gentleman wanted to know the number of pits which had been closed. If he had followed my statement carefully, he would understand that there was a considerable element of doubt about a substantial number of pits, which matter is being discussed between the National Coal Board and the union at the moment or is to be discussed. Some of the pits which are to be exhausted are clearly becoming visible and 8,000 men are employed in the pits which will become exhausted over the period in question. As for the rest of the pits, it is impossible at this moment to forecast how many jobs will disappear.

The hon. Member also asked where the sites for the advance factories will be and how many there will be. I think that it is clear that it would be extremely unwise and foolish, before the acquisition of advance sites, to inform the people who own the sites where these factories will he placed. The number of advance factories is a matter which, for the present, must remain for consideration when we see precisely the full implications of the Coal Board's statement. What I have done is to come to the House as soon as I could to explain the situation that has developed and to state broadly how we propose to deal with it.

The hon. Member mentioned the fact that hon. Members opposite have raised the question of advance factories for many years. As he knows, a number of advance factories have been built. [HON. MEMBERS: "One.1 In certain circumstances they can be useful, but they are by no means the universal panacea that some hon. Members opposite seem to think.

Mr. T. Fraser

Would the right hon. Gentleman tell us why it is that the Government can never anticipate these happenings? Is he not aware that the number of jobs in Scottish mines has declined by 15,000 in the last four years? Is he not aware that even in the first half of this year the number of jobs in Scottish mines has declined from 68,000 to 64,000, a further drop of 4,000?

Is he aware that a Motion was put on the Order Paper early in the Session calling on the Government to consider the social and economic consequences of these pit closures, some of which are inevitable—we recognise that—and to take steps to provide alternative employment? It is not good enough to say that other jobs may be found for the miners who will be displaced. Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that the jobs of about 78,000 miners in Fife are now in jeopardy and the jobs of a further 45,000 in Lanarkshire?

Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that this is not just a question of the number of miners having difficulty in finding alternative employment, but also that there are fewer jobs available to young men leaving school? Will the Government wake up to their responsibilities and make the necessary survey to ascertain what the social and economic consequences of further closures will be and take steps to delay closures until steps are taken to provide alternative employment in the area?

Mr. Maclay

The hon. Member will appreciate, if he looks again at my opening statement, that I made it very clear that one of the inevitable consequences of all this was a net loss of jobs in Scotland. It is clear that the Government are looking forward, because this is a programme for the next four or five years. We are doing precisely what the hon. Member asks that we should do. We are trying to see in advance what will happen and to make adjustments in our economy well in advance where we know of closures and of possible loss of employment.

The Government have made it cleat that we fully realise the grave nature of what is happening and are doing our best to take steps to meet the situation. The hon. Member must make up his mind whether he considers that industry should be directed to move, because I do not think that that is the policy of his party and I do not see how it is practicable in a free society.

Mr. Grimond

The Secretary of State speaks of growth in the Scottish economy.

Mr. Ross


Mr. Grimond

Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that growth is just what has been so gravely lacking in the Scottish economy for so long and that what will worry many people about his statement is that all these measures have been tried before and have failed to give us the results we want?

Has the right hon. Gentleman considered some of the other suggestions which have been made? Has he considered, for example, the establishment of a development board, the improvement of freight transport, the giving of fiscal advantages to industries coming to Scotland, and the moving of the headquarters of Government Departments and agencies to Scotland? On the basis of the right hon. Gentleman's statement, there seems to be no reason why there should be success now any more than there has been in the past.

Mr. Maclay

I cannot accept for one minute that there has been no success in the past. Growth has certainly been known in the years 1959–61 when there was a net gain of 30,000 jobs in Scotland, and in a great many industries which have a real growth potential. It must not be forgotten that we have managed to get the motor car industry back to Scotland and that there has been a steady advance in a great variety of industries. What we are doing is to alter the whole basis of the Scottish economy so that it can be a growth economy. We are not bolstering up decaying industry which could not possibly be good for the future of Scotland.

Sir T. Moore

Whilst appreciating the sympathetic and helpful attitude which the Government are taking in this unhappy but unavoidable situation, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he could indicate the precise numbers in each district, for example, in Ayrshire and Lanarkshire, who may be involved? Can he also say whether he is satisfied that all those who will be for the moment declared redundant will be ultimately suitably employed either in the coal industry through the retirement of older people or in other industries now forthcoming in Scotland?

Mr. Maclay

It is not practicable, for the reasons I have indicated, to give details pit by pit or area by area because, as my hon. Friend will appreciate, there is still a considerable element of uncertainty about which pits will close and which will not close. As soon as we have more positive information we can act in the areas which are particularly concerned.

As for the first part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question, every effort will be made to see that employment opportunities which are being lost by the closure of pits will be made good in one way or another, but I cannot commit myself positively to say how quickly that can happen, because in a free society we must encourage industry to come by various devices. These have been extremely successful over a period, though I agree that progress this year, as in many other countries, has not been fast because industry is not to anything like the same degree on the move as it was before.

Mr. Woodburn

While we appreciate any jobs that come to Scotland, may I point out to the right hon. Gentleman that it has been obvious to everyone for twenty or thirty years that the economy of Scotland is changing, that its old economic life is ebbing away and that all the little jobs that have come to Scotland have not done anything to solve the fundamental question of what will be the future economic pattern in Scotland?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that what dismays people is that the Government are trying to plug up little holes here and there while the whole thing is flooding away and the population and industry are draining away to other countries? Is he aware that Scotland will perish unless the Government get down to economic planning?

Mr. Maclay

This is just the attitude towards Scotland which is disastrous. Scotland is full of vigour and enterprise. The number of jobs created not only by the Government but by Scottish firms is very high indeed. It is difficult to assess the numbers exactly, but I am working on figures which, I hope, will give a more accurate picture. Scotland presents great opportunities to incoming industry. It is not a country which is down and out, and I object very strongly to that impression going out from the House. Scotland is a country of immense opportunities and I appeal to every right hon. and hon. Member to help us take advantage of them.

Mr. J. Hill

The right hon. Gentleman's statement gave the number of pits closed or about to be closed, but it did not give the number which are doubtful. My information is that on top of the 27 which are 'scheduled to be closed there are 33 which are doubtful. Do I understand that the Government intend to find jobs for miners from the closed pits in the pits which are now classed as doubtful and thereby make them also uneconomic?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I asked him for advance factories in the Lothian area when it was de-scheduled? Is he aware that when the shale industry closed down I asked the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade to re-schedule the area for development and he refused, and that it was only after the West Lothian by-election that the Government decided to re-schedule that area?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that within the next few years we shall lose 24,000 men in the coal industry in Scotland? Is he aware that that figure is not a guess? How long will the Government allow the Coal Board, which is carrying out 'their instructions, to run down the coal industry in Scotland? Is he aware that for eighteen months I have had reason to believe that the Board is prepared to write us off as a coat producing area?

Several Hon. Members rose——

Mr. Speaker

I beg to remind hon. Members that we cannot have these irregular debates on statements day by day and that the number of questions Which it is possible to allow on them is governed by the length of the questions Which are asked.

Mr. Maclay

I know the concern felt by the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. J. Hill), particularly about this area. I will not go over the points about advance factories again, but I am not able to say, and no one can say, how many of the pits in the doubtful category will be closed in the period in question.

Mr. Ross

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I have some sympathy with him and that the Minister who should have been making the statement today is the Prime Minister? Is he aware that we on this side of the House consider that his right hon. Friend carries the burden of full responsibility for Government policy and that we would have had much more respect for the Secretary of State for Scotland if, before he came to the Dispatch Box to make that statement, he had tendered his resignation because of the failure of the Government properly to plan the economy of Scotland?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his statement that Bathgate has been re-scheduled, an area where the B. M. C. factory was established and where the motor car industry was brought into Scotland to solve our problems, shows that it has not solved the problem even there and that this is a demonstration of the Government's failure?

May I address the Leader of the House and say that instead of discussing the opening of "pubs" in Scotland for the rest of today we should discuss the closing of pits?

Mr. Maclay

I find some difficulty in finding anything to answer in what the hon. Member has said. Let him think very carefully indeed before he criticises what has happened in the Bathgate area, because that is one of the most constructive things that has happened in Scotland for a great many years.

Mr. T. Fraser

The Secretary of State began his statement by saying that the Scottish Division of the Coal Board is today to publish a review of Scottish collieries up to 1966, and the rest of his statement flowed from that. It would be very helpful to the House if we could have from the Ministry of Power an indication of the nature of the statement made by the Scottish Division of the Board in Scotland today. The House might then be in possession of the kind of facts which would enable it to consider whether or not the Government's proposals, as announced by the Secretary of State, are adequate to meet the situation.

Mr. Maclay

If I may deal with that point, one difficulty when statements are being made simultaneously to different groups of people is that it is not possible for them to be issued together at the same moment. We have been doing our best to give the House as rapid information as we could about this situation.

Mr. Gaitskell

Is the Secretary of State aware that this is placing the House in an extremely difficult position? The right hon. Gentleman, in his statement, in very general terms, referred to a smilar statement made by the Scottish Division of the Coal Board containing all the facts. Surely, the Minister of Power could have made a consequential statement after that of the Secretary of State. Even at this stage, I should have thought that the Government must know the facts about this, and could have presented them to the House.

Mr. Maclay

I undertake that this information will be made available as soon as possible.

Mr. W. Hamilton

On a point of order. I do not know whether you are aware of it, Mr. Speaker, but West Fife is the hardest hit section of Scotland affected by this statement. There are 4,000 jobs in West Fife which are to be lost as a result of this statement. Do you not think it unfair—I appreciate your difficulty—that hon. Members who are most adversely affected by the statement are not allowed to put questions?

That being the case—and I do not blame you in any way for that—do you not think that the House deserves the protection of the Chair to ensure that we get a debate on this statement, because it is the most damnable statement about the Scottish economy which we have heard for a very long time?

Mr. Speaker

What the Chair does need is the assistance of the House and of hon. Members in not asking long supplementary questions, because that reduces the possibility of calling hon. Members who have large constituency interests, and not raising points of order that are not points of order.

I quite understand the hon. Member's difficulty, but I hope that he and the House will understand that we cannot have these irregular debates over statements. I do not fix what the House does about its business; the House does that. We must set a limit to these questions.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

I beg to ask leave, Mr. Speaker, to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, the announcement by the Secretary of State for Scotland about the closure of collieries in Scotland and the failure of the Government to take urgent steps to deal with the economic and social problems which will arise. I realise that it is difficult to justify an announcement of such a sweeping character as this within the definition of "definite", because there has been a lack of definition in what the Secretary of State said. It is a definite fact, however, that a large number of miners will be directly affected by the decision which has been announced this afternoon, and that many of these men will not be able to take employment as a consequence of the decision.

Mr. Speaker, there has been a Motion on the Order Paper for nearly seven months—indeed, nearly eight months—asking the Secretary of State or the Government to hold an inquiry into this very situation before these particular circumstances arose today. No such inquiry has been opened, and, with respect, the Adjournment of the House could provide an opportunity for the discussion of this Motion on the Order Paper at this juncture, rather than the discussion of the Scottish 'licensing law which, with respect, is relatively unimportant, compared with this vital economic statement, which affects the economic (health and well-being of Scotland.

Mr. 'Speaker

The hon. Gentleman asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, the announcement of the Secretary of State for Scotland about the closure of collieries in Scotland and the failure of the Government to take urgent steps to deal with the economic and social problems which will arise. I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's application. 1 do not conceive it to be within the Standing Order.

Mr. T. Fraser

I beg to ask leave. Mr. Speaker, to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, the failure of Her Majesty's Government to give the House information about pit closures in Scotland which is essential to a proper appraisal of the statement by the Secretary of State.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, the failure of Her Majesty's Government to give the House information about pit closures in Scotland which is essential to a proper appraisal of the statement by the Secretary of State. I am debarred by precedent from allowing that to be within the Standing Order. I am sorry.

Mr. Manuel

On a point of order. Some of us have had the opportunity of seeing privately the figures involved in these closures and the number of pits that are listed to be closed, and the further number, given by my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. J. Hill), that are possibly to be closed. I am positive that the Secretary of State has this information, but he has not divulged the number of pits or the number of men affected to the House. This is the basis of the Motion for the Adjournment of the House which my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) has now sought leave to move. If we can prove this, we ought to discuss it, because I feel that in the circumstances the Secretary of State is withholding vital information.

Mr. Speaker

That does not bring it within the Standing Order. I am sorry, but I am quite firm on my Ruling.

Mr. G. M. Thomson

May I put this point to you, Mr. Speaker, as the guardian of the dignities and the rights of this House? It is within the knowledge of a number of hon. Members on this side that in the Lobbies outside this Chamber, the figures which we are seeking, and which the Secretary of State says he cannot give us, are now being handed out. Is it not humiliating that the House should be in this situation? Will you give us some advice, so that the House can be protected against this kind of behaviour on the part of the Government?

Mr. Speaker

It involves no point of order for the Chair whatsoever. There are procedures whereby some misconduct of Ministers can be made the subject of what is virtually a Parliamentary indictment, if the House chooses to resort to it. It has nothing to do with me, and I cannot make it so. I am sorry.