Orders of the Day — Economic Situation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21st February 1956.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Robert Woof Mr Robert Woof , Blaydon 12:00 am, 21st February 1956

In rising to make my maiden speech which, in my part of the land, is tantamount to saying "gannin' o'er me dooks," I crave the indulgence of the House and ask it to extend to me its customary courtesy, as I want to avoid being controversial.

I have known an economic crisis every pay day since I was married, but my justification for intervening in this crucial debate is the knowledge I have acquired by reading the Second Report of the Select Committee on Estimates, dealing with the Development Areas. The people of my constituency take a very keen interest in this matter as Blaydon is part of the North-East Development Area. More roads lead to Blaydon than just "gannin' along the Scotswood Road." Many of the roads lead from the mining villages where a great anxiety for the welfare and well-being of the population is being created by the inevitability of the fact that pits are slowly dying a natural death.

This affects and involves not only the miners. The spectre of unemployment and the fear of being pushed about without any industrial purpose ranks high among the non-mining community. At one time, a man with a big family of healthy lads was recognised as an asset to the industry, but today the National Coal Board, in conjunction with the Durham Area Union of the National Union of Mineworkers, working in the best possible co-operation for future economic planning for the long-term and short-term life of the pits, is trying to keep redundancy down to the lowest possible limit.

I have had a disappointment this afternoon; I have had a lot in my time and I do not suppose this will be the last. I am sorry not to see the Minister of Fuel and Power in his place. I respect the Minister of Fuel and Power in his new capacity; I suppose it will be strange to him just as the House of Commons is strange to me. A man once told me that the best place for a student of psychology is a public house. When I go back to my constituency I will tell him that I have discovered another place.

Despite his absence, I feel obliged to comment on a reply which the Minister of Fuel and Power gave yesterday. He said that he was not aware that the National Coal Board was terminating the employment of men over sixty-five years of age. It is a well-known and established fact. At my colliery—that which I have just left and where I used to try to boost the output—forty-one men received their Christmas boxes very early; on 30th November they received notices terminating their employment following a series of redundancy schemes. That also occurred at other collieries.

This has been going on for the last five years. I do not want to be misunderstood; indeed, I want to be very clearly understood on this issue. I am not complaining, nor am I asking the Minister or the House to intervene, because these schemes are drawn up as a mutual arrangement between the National Coal Board and the Durham Area Union. I want simply to emphasise that there is a policy of redundancy schemes in my area for the express purpose of making room for men under sixty-five years of age and enabling them to get their share of the available work during the limited life of the pit. It is not as easy as the Minister of Fuel and Power said yesterday. He said that any miner should quite easily be absorbed elsewhere. I am afraid the problem goes much deeper than that. It is just as important a human problem as it is a material problem. It raises a question of what we intend to do with the rest of family life, and it ought to be given serious consideration.

It is interesting to note in the Report to which I have referred that the Board of Trade laid down the principles that to become a Development Area, an area must first have a persistently high average rate of unemployment and, secondly, must have a high aggregate number of people unemployed in the district. Despite this principle and the limiting provision that there must be a special danger of unemployment, we in Durham have a very serious task to face. Alternative employment is very limited and we can most clearly see special danger of unemployment.

I respectfully ask the Minister of Fuel and Power to reconsider the answer which he gave yesterday to my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) on the development of by-products in order to create a by-product industry to offset the danger of unemployment resulting from pits being worked out.

If we are to sustain our economic position and attain maximum production, we must consider these things. If I follow the business of economics correctly, I understand from both sides of the House that it is the business of collecting facts, interpreting them, drawing inferences from them and discovering the relationship between cause and effect. If we understand it from that point of view, we must pay some regard to the gradual development of this problem, not only for ourselves but for the rising generation.