§ 18. Mr. Gourlay
asked the Minister of Power if he will make a statement on the proposals of the National Coal Board for closing approximately half the collieries at present operating in Scotland within the next five years.
§ Mr. Wood
The closure of 18 collieries in Scotland in 1962 has already been announced. I understand that the Board is now surveying the prospects of all collieries in Scotland. Any proposals it has for further closures will be announced after discussion with the unions in accordance with the usual practice.
§ Mr. Gourlay
Does the Minister realise that the statement by Lord Robens at the Gleneagles Hotel is one which has far reaching consequences for the future industrial prospects of Scotland and has caused great concern, particularly in the mining communities of Scotland? Will he, therefore, urge the Government to accept The financial obligations of the uneconomic pits until such time as the President of the Board of Trade has made provision for alternative employment in the areas affected?
§ Mr. Wood
As the hon. Gentleman knows, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade is doing his utmost to bring new industry to Scotland. I understand that this was the subject of a recent debate in the Scottish Grand Committee. But it seems to me that it will be a benefit to us all if the kind of review which has been taking place in Fife were extended, as Lord Robens says it is being extended, to the whole of Scotland so that we may see exactly where the Scottish coal industry is at present.
§ 23. Mr. W. Hamilton
asked the Minister of Power if he will give a general direction to the National Coal Board to stop further closures in Scotland of those collieries which are to be closed for purely commercial reasons until such time as alternative sources of employment are available.
§ Mr. Hamilton
Is the Minister aware that the National Coal Board is unable to give any such assurance? Is he further aware that in Central West Fife, in particular, notice has already been given that almost every pit in that area, involving 3,000 men, will be closed within the next five years? Up to now, under the Local Employment Act, we have had slightly more than 1,000 jobs, most of them for women. Could the right hon. Gentleman say which he regards as the more important—to get the industry on to a sound commercial basis, or the social consequences of these closures?
§ Mr. Wood
I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that this is not a new policy. Ever since nationalisation, the Board has carried out a considerable closures programme, both in Scotland and elsewhere, as pits ceased to be economic or as the reserves were exhausted. In fact, unemployment among Scottish miners is extremely low at present. It is certainly my right hon. Friend's intention to bring new industry to Fife and to other parts of Scotland. However, the Coal Board has already announced that it will offer jobs in mining—not, I am afraid, all in Scotland, but in mining—to those who are displaced by pit closures in Scotland.
§ Mr. Hamilton
Is the Minister aware that that is no answer to the problem of the Scottish miners? It is no consolation to them to know that they must uproot themselves from Fife. They have already been sent from the West of Scotland to Fife and now they have to go to the Midlands or elsewhere to get another job. When the Minister quotes 1.6 per cent. unemployment among miners in Scotland, the simple explanation is that they have cleared out and have gone either to England or overseas.