HL Deb 11 July 1962 vol 242 cc256-62

3.31 p.m.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I will make a statement about the Scottish economy. A similar statement is now being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.

The Scottish Division of the National Coal Board are to-day 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 tin coalmining 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 honourable friend the Minister of Labour will ensure close cooperation between his local officers and the collieries, over the finding of new jobs for those displaced. As I have explained, the National Coal Board expect 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 honourable friend proposes to expand the resources of the Government training scheme for that 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 honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade has already announced that the site of the Doni-bristle Royal Naval 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. 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.

3.36 p.m.


My Lords, no noble Lord who has heard the statement just made by the noble Earl will feel anything but despondency. This contains nothing of any encouraging kind to the people of Scotland, who are, on the admission of the Government themselves, so badly off for decent employment. The statement begins with the position of the coal industry in Scotland. Even the noble Earl cannot deny that the position is one giving rise to uncertainty, to alarm, to despondency, and even the efforts made by the noble Lord, Lord Robens, in order to try to assuage the anxiety of the coalminers of Scotland, have not succeeded in creating any kind of assurance in their minds that there is a future in the industry. Had my noble friend Lord Hughes been here, he would have told your Lordships, from his own personal experience, what the feeling is in Glenrothes—as you know, he is the Chairman of the Corporation there—about the effect of the attempt to make the coal industry any kind of hopeful industry for those who were encouraged to go and make their homes there. The picture of the coal industry in Scotland, with all the sympathetic statements made by the noble Earl, will give no encouragement whatever, either to those in the industry or to those whose children would expect, and perhaps, had hoped, to follow their parents into this long-established industry.

As for the developments to which the noble Earl referred, one is almost desperately concerned about the changes which are taking place in the very nature of industry to-day when Scotland, after being almost wholly dependent for her economy upon the development of the iron and coal industries, now finds that heavy industry no longer presents any hope at all for the working people of Scotland. The Government in the years in which they have been in power have done nothing to give any feeling of encouragement; and the lighter, the more scientific industries, the electronic industries, which are making leaps and bounds ahead in almost every industrial country in the world, are showing no kind of progress whatever in Scotland.

The noble Earl told us that he will give bigger allowances for those who will be diverted from the industries in which they had been brought up to the new industries for which they will be trained. My Lords, what kind of hope can that possibly give to men and women who are as intelligent, as anxious for work, and having as great a need of a livelihood as any other section of the community? What possible encouragement can there be for them in the picture which the noble Earl has just given us in the course of his remarks? The noble Earl knows as well as any of us know that there have been Reports be fore. One has only to refer to the Toothill Report for an indication of conditions in Scotland. I would ask, therefore, what possible purpose there has been in giving us the statement which has just been made by the noble Earl. What is there in it which will give either hope or encouragement to the working people of Scotland? What is there contained in this statement? What is the purpose of making it which war rants its being read to us this afternoon? My Lords. I wish I could say something encouraging to the people of Scotland as a result of the statement to which we have just listened.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl two questions, quite shortly? Can he tell us the percentage of those employed at present who they think will have to leave the industry and be trained for other industries? Further, as he has spoken of new sites, such as Donibristle and other places, I would ask whether the Government know of any firm offers from industrialists to go to those sites in Scotland? In conclusion, I would say only that if we could have those figures I believe Scotland would have more confidence, now that we have heard the worst; because a great deal of talk has gone on about the mining industry, and we have been waiting to hear what the facts are. I think there will be hope in Scotland that those mines that can go on, and can go on successfully, will now do better than they did in the past.

3.43 p.m.


My Lords, I am always very glad to hear the comments on this subject of the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, and I am grateful to him for making his comments so fully. I am always against any suggestion of complacency, but I would suggest to the noble Lord that he has gone unnecessarily far in the direction of despondency in this matter. I do not think that anybody who understands the Scottish economy would try to suggest that we ought to develop the future of Scotland by maintaining those parts of the heavy industries which are now becoming uneconomic, but that does not mean that we cannot develop other parts of them, perhaps with a smaller proportion of the total population employed in them, to produce a larger output more economically; and, at the same time, to introduce, as we have been trying to do—it has been our policy for many years—a greater diversity of light industries and what are called "growth" industries that is, those which are rapidly expanding) into the Scottish economy.

In view of what the noble Lord has said, I should like to remind him that since the passage of the Local Employment Act two years ago, in 1960, £41½ million has been offered by the Board of Trade under that Act to new industries. That is about 60 per cent. of the total sum which has been offered to the United Kingdom as a whole; and the number of jobs which that is estimated to provide directly is estimated at just on 29,000. I think the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, ought to recognise that, while that is not a contribution at which we ought to stop, it is a substantial one; and, of course, the number of subsidiary industries which we may expect to develop out of that is not yet calculable.

The noble Lord asked a particular question about Glenrothes. The development of Glenrothes is not tied to mining, although I know it was started in 1945 with a view to its being a mining town. But it is now tied to the Glasgow overspill programme, and there has already been considerable progress in the development of general industry in Glenrothes. All the facilities of the Local Employment Act will be available for further industrial expansion there, since the town is now included in the Kirkcaldy-Leven development district. While, again, I repeat, I do not want to indulge in any kind of complacency, I think the noble Lord should take some satisfaction and derive some hope from the development of new industries in Scotland which is going on.

My noble friend Lady Horsbrugh asked two questions, the first being about the percentage of miners who were being displaced. The only figure I have avail able here is not the number who are being displaced but the number for whom new jobs were not found during the redundancy period. My noble friend may be glad to know that during the last year there were only about 30 out of all those displaced by colliery closures in Scotland, the total number being 1,900, who were at any time receiving redundancy compensation from the National Coal Board, because we had succeeded so rapidly in providing new employment for nearly all of them. My noble friend also asked about the new factory sites. I cannot add anything to what I said in the statement, because I do not think it is wise to reveal in advance where you are thinking of buying new factory sites. We are proposing not only to get new sites such as Donibristle, which has already been decided on, but also to build more advanced factories, which we have often discussed in your Lordships' House and for which we have so far always been able successfully to find buyers.


My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that I am right in thinking that the mines which will still be operating after 1966 will have many years of useful life before them, so far as can be seen now? Because if this is right, I think it would encourage people who are hesitating about going into the mining industry, for they will then feel that there is a future before them.


I am very glad my noble friend has asked that supplementary question, because there are many coalfields in Scotland which we expect to develop in future, to increase their output, to employ more men and, also, to produce a greater output per man. The policy of the Coal Board in every part of Great Britain is to try to concentrate on those pits which are likely to expand most, and to increase their output per man.


My Lords, can the noble Earl say whether consideration has been given—or, if not, if it will be given—to the changes in the need for public transport occasioned by so many men having to go to different jobs in different localities?


Yes, my Lords, that is a matter which is under constant consideration among the Departments and public bodies which are concerned.