Edwin Wainwright – 1959 Maiden Speech to the House of Commons

Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Edwin Wainwright in the House of Commons on 10 November 1959.

I have waited a long time to speak, Mr. Speaker, but I am very grateful to you for selecting me, even though at such a late hour. As this is my maiden speech, I ask the House to grant me its forbearance. I am supposed to be non-controversial, and obliging, and I expect reciprocity on this occasion. If, inadvertently, I break that rule I trust that hon. Members will forgive me.

I should be very remiss if, on this occasion, I did not say a few words about my predecessor. I refer to the Right Hon. Wilfred Paling, formerly Member of Parliament for Dearne Valley. He came into this House in 1922 and remained here until just recently, except for a period in 1931–33, when, unfortunately, an hon. Member opposite defeated him at Doncaster. Wilfred Paling is a man of very high integrity. He is sincere and has a great honesty of purpose. He also has a great ability. This House has rung many times with his voice on behalf of the working people. In fact, he, along with the Right Hon. Tom Williams and Tom Smith, were considered to be “the terrible three”.

Mr. Wilfred Paling has recently had an attack of pneumonia, from which, I am glad to say, he is recovering. On behalf of every right hon. and hon. Member of the House, I think that I can say to him the next time I see him that we wish him and his good lady good health and a long retirement.

During the last two days we have been discussing the Local Employment Bill. When we read new Bills, it is often hard to discover why they were necessary. The Distribution of Industry Act, 1945, and the Distribution of Industry (Industrial Finance) Act, 1958, give sufficient powers to the Government to carry out and maintain a policy of full employment. In view of the fact that the Bill has been introduced, and the Government have assured us that they will maintain full employment, we must accept what they say in good faith. I hope that that good faith will be with us in twelve months’ or two years’ time and that they do not treat the Bill, when it becomes an Act, as they have treated other Acts in the past.

There are three things that I should like to say about the Bill. The first concerns Part I, where the words a high rate of unemployment exists or is imminent appear. What do the Government mean by “a high rate of unemployment”? Do they mean 7, 8 or 9 per cent., or 30 or 40 per cent., which we experienced during the depression period, or do they mean what the Board of Trade says is a reasonable percentage of 4 per cent.? The Government should tell the House what they mean by a “high rate of unemployment”.

Secondly, what do the Government mean by the word “locality”? Do they mean that where there are high pockets of unemployment the term “locality” covers a wide expansive area, thus ensuring that the average rate of unemployment is low, or do they mean that they will consider each pocket of high unemployment on its own?

Thirdly, in Part III the Government promise “to be responsible for the difference of 85 per cent. between the cost of the erection of a building and its market value after completion. In a Development Area, one appreciates that there would be a difference between those two values and this provision probably would encourage private enterprise to come along and erect a factory or plant. In an area where there is only a little unemployment, 400 or 500 unemployed could be absorbed if two or three factories were erected. If there is a stable economy, about which we have heard so much from the Government, the difference between the cost of erection and the market value may be insignificant. If it were so insignificant that it would not attract private industrialists, what would the Government do to encourage the erection of factories?

In my division we have 3 to 4 per cent. unemployment. Sixty-five per cent. of the industry is coal mining, but the employment of mine workers has been restricted, with the result that at present 540 men are out of work. In addition, 81 boys, 348 women and 46 girls in the Dearne Valley, which is supposed to be an area of practically full employment, are unemployed. What perturbs me particularly is that we have boys and girls who are unemployed. In fact, 21 boys and 5 girls who are still unemployed left school in July. If we waste our youth like that, what is the good of our educational programme? What is the good of attempting to train technologists and scientists if we allow our youths to be unemployed?

In my neighbouring constituency—and I mention this with the permission of my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. Kelley)—72 school-leavers have been unemployed since the end of July. The position, therefore, in that area is worse than the position in my own constituency.

The West Riding County Council administrative area has had no help from the Government under the Distribution of Industry Act or the 1958 Act. Personnel are going out of the West Riding County Council administrative area into the large towns and cities for employment. Girls are travelling by bus from my own constituency at 5.15 in the morning to the Halifax and Bradford areas for employment and are returning late at night, between 7 and 8 o’clock. That is not a good thing.

We say, therefore, that light industries should be allowed to come to my division to make certain that there is employment for our female workers, for our aged and sick miners and for persons not physically fit to work in heavy industries. We hope that the Bill will help us to obtain the light industries which are needed in the Dearne Valley area. The contraction of the mining industry, unless it is planned contraction, can have a grievous effect on the economy. I would remind hon. Members opposite that 80 per cent. of the oil that comes into this country comes from a politically unstable area, and in the event of anything untoward happening in that area the economy would immediately be in a very parlous state.

I ask the Government to do a bit of rethinking about their present attitude towards the coal mining industry. Coal is our indigenous fuel, and we should make certain that it plays its full part in the fuel supplied to industry. If it is necessary that the coal mining industry is contracted, let us carry out the purposes of the Bill and ensure that employment is maintained in the mining areas before the pits are closed. Once a mine is closed it is too late to say that we will build a plant or factory there. It is essential to ensure that chaos, social upheaval and degradation do not occur in our small towns and villages.

It has been said by an hon. Member that there is nothing worse than unemployment, except war. To a fit and able man unemployment is degrading. A man feels that it besmirches his character. It upsets his soul and warps his opinions. It is the duty of any Government to ensure full employment wherever labour happens to be at any given time.

I may have been a little controversial. If so, I hope that hon. Members will forgive me. I will save any further comments, caustic or otherwise, for some future occasion. But I must impress upon the Government and upon hon. Members generally that we in the mining industry desire—I nearly used the word “demand”—the Government to consider fully a national fuel policy. I regret that the Minister of Power is not in the House today. It is essential that coal should play its part if we are to make full use of our indigenous fuel.

I suggest that opencast mining should be stopped immediately. Compensation for loss of contracts, which would be the responsibility of the Coal Board, should be taken over by the Government. The situation could be eased by making certain that the personnel and machines at present used in opencast mining were transferred to building our roads, thus making certain that our roads were such that when factories were built the materials required in those factories could be delivered there. If the Government will consider that suggestion and will put it into effect, I am certain that we can build up our economy and maintain full employment.

I hope also that the Government will bear in mind the question of residual oil. The Secretary of State referred to finance in connection with the stocking of coal, oil dumping and opencast mining. We are waiting to see what the Government intend to do on each of those three points.

I am grateful to the House for having listened to me so patiently and I hope that hon. Members will take note of what I have said.