Orders of the Day — Scotland (Industry and Employment)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 19th July 1954.

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Photo of Mr Willie Hamilton Mr Willie Hamilton , Fife West 12:00 am, 19th July 1954

I am glad to hear it. I am just putting the figures from our point of view, and incidentally the average figure I quoted for the period from 1946 to 1951 included the 1947 fuel crisis, when the figures rose to over 100,000 during one or two months. Including this, the average monthly rate for unemployment under the Labour Government was 4,000 per month less than under the present Government.

I want to say a few words about the coal industry, because, however much atomic energy and other sources of power are developed, it is quite clear that for the foreseeable future this country in the main will depend basically on coal for its fuel and power. However much we mechanise the coal industry—and it has been mechanised to a tremendous degree in the last few years—we shall still need manpower in the pits.

It is true that at present—and this will be increasingly so as the years go by—the miners are seeking new outlets not only for themselves but for their sons. I speak as the son of a miner when I say that there was a time when the miners in general had no alternative but to put their sons into the pits. It was the miner's greatest ambition then to keep his son out of the pits. That is not so true today, but there is still a large element who possess that ambition. They want to see their sons outside the mining industry if possible and increased opportunities for placing them elsewhere are there as compared with pre-war days.

That is one of the reasons we have to accept the fact that we cannot expect recruitment to the mining industry to come exclusively from the mining villages and communities. The greater educational facilities that are provided now and the greater opportunities in other industries are all tending to lead to a switching of the labour force in Scotland and in the United Kingdom. We would all be prepared to admit that mobility of labour has never been very great at any time. It is a difficult thing for a family to take up its roots and go elsewhere, and for that reason, if mobility of labour is to be increased, there must be greater attractions for those who have to pull up their roots and go and live somewhere else.

That is precisely the problem we are facing in Scotland today. We have the developing mining areas in Fife, Midlothian and Ayrshire and we have the declining areas in the west. We have to attract the labour from the west to those developing mining areas in the east. Where that has been done, there has been a relatively small degree of discontent, largely because it has been carried through by planning organised by the National Coal Board, the planning which hon. Members opposite deplore. There has been very little upheaval, and the smoothness of the switching has been largely accomplished because of cooperation between the National Coal Board, the Government and the local authorities.

We have got to the position in the east of Scotland—and now I am referring particularly to my own constituency in Fife—where coalmining development has gone fairly smoothly, although here there is no room for complacency or basking in the sunshine of the present period of prosperity without any attention being paid to the clouds on the horizon. It is as well to remember that fundamental changes have been taking place in the thinking of the miner in the last few years. The miners and their wives have been tasting the fruits of security and social justice in a way undreamt of in years gone by. They like the taste and they are asking for more. Without necessarily holding the nation up to ransom, they are asking for the rewards of their labour, not necessarily in wages, alone. When I speak of the mining community and improved conditions, I have not in mind only the wages of the man who digs the coal, I am thinking also of the working conditions, the living conditions, the social conditions of his wife and children, because to my mind the wife of the miner is more important than the miner himself.

Time was when those people lived in isolated communities. To a great extent they were regarded as an inferior class apart. The community in general regarded the sons of miners as automatic recruits to the mining industry, whose only hope was that a slump would not come next year or the year after and make it a distressed area, as we used to call the Development Areas. I happen to have come from one and I know what it is like to live there.

The mining communities are now rightly demanding more variety in their surroundings, more variety amongst their neighbours. It is not good for a miner or his neighbour, or even for the nation, that his next-door neighbour on either side should be a miner also. Indeed, one of the awful things about the old mining community was that the only topic of conversation was shop. They could only talk about the mining industry because there was no variety in the social set-up of the community—