Since this is a maiden speech I want to make reference to the former Member for Midlothian, Mr. J. M. Hill, who served in the House of Commons for seven years. Unfortunately, he had to resign—or, rather, not seek re-election—because of ill-health. Since I have come here I have learned that he earned the respect of most of his colleagues in the House of Commons, and I am quite sure that all hon. Members will join with me in wishing him better health in the future.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] At the outset, I want to give general support to the Chancellor's Budget Statement. I can understand hon. Members of the Opposition quoting various newspaper articles which are favourable to their cause, because I would seek to argue that the article written by Margaret Naylor, in last Sunday's Observer, lends support, to some extent, to the Selective Employment Tax.
If the tax means something for Scotland by providing better job opportunities for the school leavers of Scotland so that they do not go into dead-end jobs, but are able to acquire a skill for their future lives, it will have made a contribution to the people of Scotland.
In the time at my disposal, I want to draw the Chancellor's attention particularly to some aspects of the mining industry. I have been a miner for 30 years and have literally come from the coalface to the House.
In the presentation of his case, my right hon. Friend tried to put into words the old miner's saying that everything comes off the point of the pick; in essence, he wanted more production.
I congratulate him on ignoring the very strong and substantial pleas that were made about the fuel oil tax, and I want to draw his attention to the crisis of confidence which has arisen in the mining industry today. Some people tend to describe it as an act of demoralisation of the miners, but I wish to point out that the miners did not create the crisis of confidence in the industry. The crisis was created when the last pit closure programme was announced.
We are running the mining industry down at present at a very dangerous pace, and I suggest that it can do the economy of the country substantial harm. When we find economic pits in some areas with manpower problems and it is suggested that they may be in danger of being closed, it is time that we took notice of it.
As a miner, I have always argued that the country cannot hope to be a large prosperous industrial country unless it has its own indigenous resources of energy. We are allowing the industry to contract at a moment in time when we do not have the necessary indigenous resources to replace its production.
I want to be critical in one respect. I followed the argument made in the Budget speech, but the Chancellor has advanced an argument to remove coal price differentials in the regions, and I am considering Scotland mainly because I believe that the regional discrimination in coal prices there is having a bad effect on the mining industry.
I know that the Committee may resent what I am about to say, but the attitude of the miners is that they are not prepared to send their sons into the industry. They feel that they have been let down, and say that other people's sons should have the chance to go and work in the mines. The Committee may resent it, but if we ignore such an attitude, the country will ignore it at its peril.
We will not solve the problems of the mining industry by making it attractive for miners to leave Scotland and work in pits south of the Border. For too long, Scotland's manpower has been the dripping roast for industry south of the Border, and it is becoming apparent that some miners move into other industries and aggravate congestion in parts of the South and the Midlands where we are trying to prevent that congestion taking place.
I want to make a plea to the Committee, the Chancellor and the appropriate Ministers for a national fuel policy which gives coal its proper place in our energy requirements. To some extent, we can assist in bringing back confidence to the mining industry if the Government will decide to suspend pit closures.
We should help to restore confidence in the mining industry if we accelerated the inquiry into the distribution of coal. When one thinks of it, it is ridiculous that it should cost more to distribute coal than it costs miners in the bowels of the earth to produce it. I urge the Government to accelerate the inquiry.
It may be that I have stretched the cordiality of the Committee too far in its toleration of a maiden speech. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] You, Sir Eric, would probably not want me to develop fully the argument which I should like to advance in favour of the miners. At the election, I received the overwhelming support of my fellow miners, and I said that if I was selected to the House, and was fortunate enough to catch your eye, I should try and reflect the views of miners.
In my very short maiden speech, I have tried to do something to reflect some of those views. They may be unpalatable, but they are the views of the miners who helped elect me to the House.