HC Deb 03 November 1964 vol 701 cc184-94

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

10.1 p.m.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

It is fitting that the very first Adjournment debate of the 1964 Parliament should concern an area of under-employment, because the problems of Fauldhouse, Stoneyburn and Blackridge are problems which are the concern of many areas other than West Lothian, areas where an old industry is closing down and a new industry must be brought in in time to take its place. Those of us who represent such areas where old industries are closing down must surely welcome in the Queen's Speech the fact that central and regional plans are already being promoted for economic development and that special reference to the needs of under-employed areas has been made and that these plans are already being prepared by the Government.

The position in Fauldhouse, Stoneyburn and Blackridge is that in July, 1962, the rate of unemployment was 8.9 per cent., in the bad winter of January, 1963, it rose to 9.8 per cent. and then there was an improvement in July, 1963, to 5.5 per cent. and in January, 1964, to 5.9 per cent. Could I just draw the Minister's attention to the fact that these figures, which are provided by the Government, concern the Bathgate area and those of us who have local knowledge have the very strong suspicion—although we have no statistical evidence to prove it—that the rate of unemployment in Fauldhouse, Stoneyburn and Blackridge is substantially higher than in the Bathgate area as a whole.

We have the basic belief that men should not be obliged to leave their homes and their relatives and their friends in order to go away to high employment areas of England such as Corby to get work. We believe that work should be brought in in good time so that there is not the anxiety of wondering what will happen when an old industry such as coal is closing down.

Although it is not a basic belief could we add that we also think it is wrong that many men and women in these villages should have to get up at five in the morning to travel to work 25 miles away and perhaps not be back by their own firesides until seven or eight o'clock at night. What sort of a life is this?

Therefore, we believe that there is a real case for bringing in industry. Perhaps the first constructive suggestion I can put forward concerns transport—that there should be a blue train-type service running through Fauldhouse, the new town of Livingstone and linking up with the Edinburgh conurbation in the same way that some of the satellite towns around Glasgow are so satisfactorily linked up with the City of Glasgow, by blue trains. This is not to say that the transport problem in the areas on whose behalf I am speaking is serious from an industrial point of view, because there is a good trunk road through Longbridge, and advantage should be taken of it.

My first constructive suggestion is that the Minister should go through his folio of industries to replace inessential imports and that manufactures which swell the import bill in time of expansion might well be directed towards areas such as Fauldhouse, Stoneyburn and Blackridge. My second suggestion is that the need for the construction industry of the area should be taken into account, and particularly the expansion of Blackburn, Armadale and Bathgate, and that consideration should be given to bringing in either a building materials industry or brickmaking. This should be done either through public enterprise or by a combination of private and public enterprise, and particular attention might be paid to those industries where the market would depend on the power of the public purse.

Thirdly, we should be concerned about the motor vehicle components industry, particularly in the light of the difficulties of the British Motor Corporation in Bathgate, and about the smooth supply of components from the South. Here, again, it would be a question either of a combination of public enterprise and private enterprise or, failing a third motor vehicle unit of the order of B.M.C. or of Rootes going to Scotland, a concentration on publicly-owned components industries.

Fourthly, I should be concerned about the extension of certain existing nationalised industries. The Coal Board should be allowed to make its own equipment for pits such as Easton, Polkemmet, Riddochhill, Whitrig and Woodend. But perhaps more exciting than this, serious consideration should be given to the Coal Board extending its activities into the chemical industry, and particularly now that acetylene can be extracted from coal. I ask the Minister to consult the Coal Board on the possibilities, in the first place, of a small pilot scheme industry based on acetylene.

In the area of Fauldhouse, his Department will have told him, the Forestry Commission, another nationalised industry, is extending its activities, and here he might be concerned either with speeding up planting or bringing in an industry which depends on wood products and perhaps small plants concerned with and based on the new wood chemical industry.

Fifthly—and this again arises out of the Manifesto on which the Labour Party fought the Election—we should be concerned with the way in which the capital investment programme in areas of under-employment and under-utilised capacity can be geared to the needs of the under-developed Commonwealth. Perhaps in this respect should draw his attention to the needs of the foundries in neighbouring Armadale and Bathgate and tell him that I have had very lengthy talks with the North British Steel Foundry in Bathgate, which provides some employment for men from Fauldhouse, Stoneyburn and Blackridge. He might consider placing orders, which can be geared with the need of developing countries, in these foundries, when they have under-utilised capacity. Such orders for long-term credit would significantly help employment in the villages on whose behalf I am speaking.

In the manifesto on which this party fought the election these is ample reference to despoilation of the countryside. In particular would he give his attention, co-operating with the West Lothian County Council, to the smoothing out of the Foulshiels bing, to public work such as the clearing of unhygienic burns in the Stoneyburn area and drainage projects behind Parkview, in Fauldhouse. have given him prior notice of these rather specific requests.

In general terms, it would be a question of linking with the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State, who is sitting beside him, in particular in respect of the programme of school building. The way in which the West Lothian Education Committee's school building programme was slashed by the last Government was extremely undesirable. School building is one way of urgently providing the work which is needed. But it is not only a question of school building. A great deal could be done in the provision of much-needed playing fields, and here again there would be a short-term provision of work.

Lastly, I commend to my hon. Friend a numerically small but perhaps significant scheme for the retraining of some of those who are suffering from pneumoconiosis or silicosis, in a service which he might expand in the schools on the laboratory system. He will know from his right hon. Friend that in the area to which I have referred there is considerable overcrowding in the schools. Some of the teachers in the area have classes of 50. I well understand that overnight my hon. Friend cannot provide the teachers who are necessary, but he surely could give some attention to making the teachers whom we already have rather more effective in their jobs.

It is not just a question of providing more teachers. To this end my hon. Friend might consider giving grants to train in a fairly short course those who could be assistants in the laboratories of the schools which serve this area. Numerically, this is not significant, but from the point of view of the training and retraining, which is crucial not only to areas like this but to all the other areas that have this sort of problem, it could be of great help towards a fundamental and crucial solution, namely, training for skill.

10.6 p.m.

The Minister of State, Board of Trade (Mr. George Darling)

I should like to begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) on having chosen to open the bowling in the Adjournment debates in this new Parliament. I do not think that I ought to complain about his bowling so skilfully at me before I have played myself in. My hon. Friend has rightly drawn attention to what is a most difficult problem of unemployment in a corner of his constituency, and he has given us a number of thoughtful and constructive suggestions which I can assure him will be taken into consideration. I thank him for having given me advance notice of them.

I think that my hon. Friend will agree that some of his proposals are for long-term projects which, even if we could start on them fairly soon, would not ease for some time the local unemployment problem with which he is concerned. I will return in a moment to his short-term proposals, which might fairly quickly increase opportunities for employment, but I ought first to try to get the problem in perspective.

My hon. Friend has put it to us that we have to find suitable jobs for the men and women who are now without work in three outlying villages, Fauldhouse, Stoneyburn and Blackridge, on the moorland between Glasgow and Edinburgh. The men—for this is largely a problem of men being out of work—are in the main former coal miners whose collieries have been closed. We have some disagreement in my hon. Friend's assessment and our assessment of the size of the problem, but we ought not to try and minimise the problem. Even if only a few dozen men were out of work in these three villages they would still present us with a pretty serious problem, for which we should try to find a final solution.

There is a hopeful side to the problem in that these three villages are fortunately placed, as I think my hon. Friend would agree, in relation to the industrial developments which are going on or have been planned in the surrounding areas, including the new town now being developed at Livingston. In addition, all three villages are in development districts and, therefore, can benefit from the provisions of legislation designed to help those districts. But I agree that we cannot leave the employment prospects of these three villages to the offchance of their benefiting from these wider developments. We must look carefully at the numbers of jobs and the types of jobs which will be created within reasonable travelling distance, and see how far the new jobs can be taken up, or are likely to be taken up, by those now unemployed in Fauldhouse, Stoneyburn and Blackridge.

As my hon. Friend knows, there are two major developments going on in this area of Scotland fairly close to the district about which my hon. Friend is concerned: the British Motor Corporation plant at Bathgate, and the projected iron works at Livingston. In addition, other firms have taken sites for development at Livingston and Blackburn which is close by. As the right hon. Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath) knows, the Board of Trade built an advance factory near Fauldhouse, which has been let already, and another will soon be built in the Fauldhouse area. Two additional advance factories are to be built at Livingston new town. Also, we want to see whether the two advance factories and other developments in the Shotts area will help to alleviate the unemployment problem in the three villages about which my hon. Friend is concerned.

I can give the assurance that the Board of Trade and the Scottish Development Department are examining all these projects carefully, with a sense of urgency, to see whether they are sufficient and coming along quickly enough to provide the jobs needed in this part of Scotland. We shall not be satisfied until we have created the conditions of full employment which my hon. Friend and all of us want.

I turn now to what I regard as three of the most difficult of the short-term problems my hon. Friend mentioned. First, there is the rehabilitation of the areas themselves, the cleaning-up of these rather derelict villages. This is a job which must be tackled vigorously. The derelict coal mines, and what my hon. Friend calls bings—in my part of England people call them spoil heaps or pit heaps—not only are unsightly and depressing but, as we know from experience, they tend to repel any firm which might be invited to take a factory site nearby. A survey of derelict land and heaps in this area has been undertaken, and I understand that a report will soon be available to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. I expect that quick action to clean up these areas will be taken on the basis of that report. Several cleaning-up schemes under the 1960 Act have already been agreed for Fauldhouse and Stoneyburn, and also for Armadale which is close by.

We must also do what we can to improve amenities generally in these old coal mining and shale mining areas. One of the proposals advanced by my hon. Friend is, of course, quite important. That is the cleaning up of land which has been polluted by seepage from the spoil heaps, and the cleaning up of streams and so on. We shall go ahead with these schemes as soon as the report, which, I understand, will soon be available, is before us for consideration.

The second problem concerns retraining for new jobs. There are training facilities available at Motherwell and other places close by, and, as my hon. Friend knows, the Ministry of Labour is looking at these training schemes again to see whether they are adequate for the purpose in various parts of the country, including this area. One thing needed here is to spread a great deal more publicity about the facilities available among men out of work in somewhat isolated areas, and to do a lot more to encourage them to take advantage of retraining schemes.

There is, I know, a problem here—that of age. I understand that a number of the men out of work in the three villages are over 50 years of age. But I think that my hon. Friend will find—certainly this has been our experience in other parts of the country—that where proper training facilities are provided for men of 50 years of age and over who are unfortunately out of work for one reason or another, we are able to persuade the employers to take the older men on after they have been retrained. Indeed, the employers are fully satisfied with the men they get. I see no problem here except that of first persuading the older men to take the appropriate training schemes, and then perhaps the more difficult job of persuading employers to be far more generous in taking on older workers. I believe that if we can give a great deal more publicity to what has happened in other parts of the country where the retraining of older workers has been so successful, we may succeed in breaking down any resistance that employers may have to taking them on.

The third question is transport. As I have said, and I am sure my hon. Friend would agree, the three villages are somewhat fortunately placed in that many of the developments now going on are within a few miles of them. Provided that the development plans bring forth an adequate number of jobs within four to eight miles of the villages, there should be no great problem of transport. In fact, I understand that a number of people from all three places travel as far as Glasgow and Edinburgh daily. My hon. Friend mentioned that in many cases, because of the rail services not being good enough, they are spending far too much time travelling. This is a problem into which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport is looking urgently. He has given an undertaking that we shall examine all the schemes for closures to see whether, if we go on with them, they may exacerbate this kind of difficulty. I do not know whether my hon. Friend's proposal for improving the rail service on one of the lines is practicable or not, but I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport will be looking into it.

Our concern is to ensure that adequate transport is provided in the development districts. Otherwise the schemes of development that we have may fail to achieve their task of finding work for men. As I have said, we must have a re-examination of the transport services to make sure that the development schemes provide what we want—plenty of work for all the people now jobless in these districts. I repeat that all the development plans in the wider area of which my hon. Friend's constituency is a part are being examined, and that we shall take into consideration all the constructive proposals that he has put forward.

10.24 p.m.

Mr. Edward Heath (Bexley)

As there are a few minutes left before the end of this Adjournment debate, perhaps I may be permitted to add one or two things to what has already been said.

First of all, I congratulate the Minister of State on his appointment to a Department in which I know he has always taken the very closest interest. I was personally very pleased to see him go there. I know that he will have a happy time there, and I am sure he will realise the very high quality of the Department and the immense care that it takes over these problems. It is a matter of regret for me that the Prime Minister should have downgraded the Department as soon as he took office. I think that the right hon. Gentleman will come to regret this, and perhaps the hon. Gentleman already realises the mistake which has been made.

Secondly, I congratulate the Minister of State on his approach to these problems. It commended itself to me. He said that we must get them into perspective and approach them with a sense of urgency. I was particularly encouraged to hear him say, when talking about the problems of retraining, that "our experience goes to show …" He has been in office for 18 days and that statement shows that he has already accepted the approach of the Department and the work it has been doing.

Mr. Darling

I think that the right hon. Gentleman forgets that, for a long time, I was a reporter and had to examine these problems. I was thinking of my own experience going back many years.

Mr. Heath

I accept that. It is in accord with our own experience. I am grateful to the Minister of State for paying tribute to the industrial developments already carried out or planned, including Livingston and the advance factories. These places are in development districts for which we were responsible under the 1963 Act.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. William Ross)

They were de-scheduled.

Mr. Heath

These were development districts, as the Minister of State mentioned. I agree entirely on the importance of the clearance of derelict sites. My right hon. Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble) was sanctioning very great schemes indeed. During the summer I commented to the House on the programme I had seen carried through in Fife, for example, which was an excellent project for speedy clearance. I commend that scheme to the Secretary of State for Scotland for the work which can be done in clearing these sites in order to make an area have greater appeal to industrialists. I am glad to hear that the Government will press ahead with this. The Fife programme was being carried through with great speed and determination. I congratulate Fife, and I hope that the Government and other areas will go ahead as well.

Now I turn to industrial training. This was also being organised by the Ministry of Labour because it is right that we should try to direct these schemes to the numbers required in the different parts of Scotland. I hope also for a change of approach by those who need retraining. This is a psychological problem to a considerable extent, and I hope that greater progress can also be made here.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) always reviewed with great care the transport facilities, and I presume that the new Minister of Transport will follow the same procedure. It is important that this should be done in these areas.

A notable omission from the speech of the Minister of State was a reference to setting up public firms in Scotland, as was suggested by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), to deal with these problems. The hon. Member for West Lothian put the suggestion forcibly that perhaps the way to deal with the problem was to set up public firms in order to provide work. I heard nothing about it from the Minister of State.

Mr. Darling

I said that this was one of the long-term projects which we shall examine very carefully indeed. We shall bring forward proposals for development of public industries wherever we think them appropriate.

Mr. Heath

I heard the Minister of State say that he would examine longterm schemes. I did not realise they included the setting up of public firms. We shall await with interest to hear exactly how and where this is to be done and what it is hoped to achieve by them.

Mr. Dalyell

The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that there are great technical problems in the acetylene industry. Complicated chemical pro- cesses are involved. It is natural that this should be examined in depth.

Mr. Heath

There are complications in all schemes of this nature. Part of the motor industry moved to Scotland in 1960 and I have never hidden my disappointment that components manufacturers have not also moved there around the factories there. About 12 or 13 individual firms which have gone there are comparatively small. I have always urged that we should try to persuade more components manufacturers to go to Scotland. The right hon. Lady the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance said in the last debate on Scottish affairs that one reason why B.M.C. at Bathgate had had difficulty in getting components at certain times of the year was that it had to get them from the Midlands of England.

I have strongly urged that components manufacturers should go to Scotland to be near the Rootes and B.M.C. factories and to form a Scottish motor components industry. This would further attract motor firms to go there and give Scotland as a whole a stronger economy.

I welcome the general approach of the Minister of State and the assurance he gave about pursuing the policies we were following. I hope that he will pursue them energetically, otherwise he will be prodded by the Secretary of State for Scotland. We shall await his longterm programmes with interest.

The Question having been proposed at Ten o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at half-past Ten o'clock.