Geoff Lofthouse – 1985 Speech on the Loyal Address

Below is the text of the speech made by Geoff Lofthouse, the then Labour MP for Pontefract and Castleton, in the House of Commons on 6 November 1985.

It is a pleasure to speak following the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson), particularly as I share some of the views that he expressed. Certainly I share the view of the hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn), who is not at present in his place, that two major problems facing the nation are unemployment and crime.

The Gracious Speech says that the

“Government will do all in their power to encourage the growth of new jobs.”

I hope that those are not just words, and that the Government proposal is not designed to relate only to the southern half of the country. As hon. Members are aware, I am familiar with west Yorkshire, which has always been coal mining dominated. Indeed, that industry has in the past created a significant proportion of the economy of west Yorkshire. Two decades ago there were 40,000 miners in west Yorkshire. By 1984, there were fewer than 20,000.
As the rundown of the coal industry took place over those years most of the people were able to be transferred into jobs in other sectors, but the position has changed greatly of late. Now, in west Yorkshire alone, 5,000 jobs have been lost since the end of the miners’ strike and it is expected that, with the introduction of new technolgy, the present number of mining jobs in west Yorkshire will be reduced by 74 per cent.

The problem is not confined to west Yorkshire generally, but is spread among black spots in the mining communities. For example, the Castleford travel-to-work area is at present showing an unemployment rate of 14·2 per cent., but, as I shall show, that figure is a fiddle. There are 8,247 people unemployed in the Castleford travel-to-work area, with only 291 vacancies being shown. The unemployment total, however, is incorrect, because miners who have been redundant for more than 12 months are not shown on the unemployment register.

Those men are nevertheless unemployed. I concede that they are protected by redundancy payments, but it is not satisfactory to tell a man aged, say, 50, “We do not expect you to be employed again, so you will not be able to sign for the dole between the ages of 50 and 65.” Although it is perhaps incorrect to say that they cannot register, they feel that there is no point—as they are receiving redundancy payments—after 12 months in continuing to register, because there will be no possibility of a job for them.

The situation in Castleford is fogged by the Government’s policy of creating boundaries of travel-to-work areas in such a way as to provide either grant entitlement or no entitlement under the intermediate area status. Although I do not have the figures broken down for Castleford—because they are not available—it is clear that in that area alone there are black spots with unemployment reaching 20 to 22 per cent. However, 42 per cent. of those people are under 24 years old. Despite that, not one youth under 18 is on any of the collieries’ books and, apart from the odd apprentice here or there, no youths under 18 have been employed by collieries in my constituency since 1983.

As a result of pits closing, partially closing or being threatened with closure, the local economy has lost £43·5 million a year in wages. Such a loss to a small community such as Castleford has had enormous repercussions. Collieries such as Ackton Hall—that was not on the hit list before the strike—Savile, Ledston, Glasshoughton and Fryston are, I understand, due to be hit shortly.
In addition, there have been other job losses in the last three years, including in the glass and container industries and confectionery. They have mounted up to represent a loss in wages to the local economy of £87 million. Reduce that by £24 million paid in unemployment benefit, and Castleford has suffered a total loss of £63 million in wages.

The local chamber of trade said during the miners’ strike that if the strike continued the area would have lost 25 per cent. of its businesses. We are now reaching a point in Castleford’s economy that is similar to that which existed when the strike was at its height, for the pits that were then on strike are now to be wiped out. This state of affairs cannot go on.

To my amazement, only last week the Pontefract health authority, carrying out Government policy, decided to privatise its domestic services. That will create 307 job losses among women domestics. To be fair, I blame not only the Government for that, because while that authority has been carrying out the Government’s policy, it had no need to take the action in such great haste. Indeed, I do not excuse some colleague of my political persuasion on that authority for the action that has been taken. It is scandalous that in such an area we should decide to cut 307 jobs, mainly among ladies who are earning a pittance of £1·81 an hour for a 20-hour week. I deplore the action of the Pontefract area health authority.

I urge the Government to support a comprehensive package of measures for areas such as mine. They should include a long-term strategy for coal, and a decision to maintain the coal industry’s share of electricity generation rather than to increase the costly bias towards nuclear power. The Government should support the CEGB to ensure that jobs are available in the coalfields. The Government, Mr. MacGregor and the coal board may feel at present:

“To the victor belong the spoils.”

I believe that the pits are being run down too rapidly, causing great misery and upset in mining areas.

That is not causing misery at present for the men who have taken redundancy, because they are cushioned. It is causing misery to the young people who would normally have gone into the pit, but who now have no hope of doing so. The programme should be slowed down until alternative employment can be found for those youngsters.

Law and order has been mentioned. I have a report from the chairman-elect of the West Yorkshire police authority ​ joint board. It states that there will be a reduction of £6·3 million in the amount of money allowed under the Home Office formula for standard requirements. That will mean a reduction in the West Yorkshire police force, which controls the big cities of Bradford and Leeds, of 430 police officers, 100 civilian staff and 15 per cent. of the vehicle fleet. If the authority has to follow the guidelines set down by the Department of the Environment, that reduction will be 1,300 police officers, 30 civilian staff and 50 per cent. in the number of police vehicles.

It appears that there are different standards. The authority is given a figure by the Home Office, but it is also told by the Department of the Environment that that figure must be much lower. If the authority exceeds the figure laid down by the Department of the Environment, it will be penalised in accordance with the Department’s standards. The authority must reduce the services, or the Yorkshire ratepayers can expect a 70 per cent rate increase in its precept for the police authority.

What are the authorities to do? Are we going to maintain law and order?

Young people in the mining communities are not militant, whatever anyone may think. There is no hope for those mining communities. If the young people can see no hope, there will be social unrest. A few weeks ago the Pontefract and Castleford Express had headlines about a battle between youngsters in their early teens armed with knives and petrol bombs, on a local estate. If that type of behaviour develops, we shall need the police force to maintain law and order. The present formula for the financing of the police authority does not allow it to build up the force to the extent required by the Home Office, as the authority wants to do and is expected to do.

Finally, on the subject of housing, the Gracious Speech states:

“Legislation will be introduced to encourage the sale of public sector flats to their tenants, and wider private sector involvement in the ownership and management of council housing”.

I do not know what that means, and I do not know whether anyone in the House does. I have always thought that council house tenants should have the right to buy their homes if they wish. Does that proposal mean that those council house tenants who have not bought their tenancies, for whatever reason—they could not afford to or did not want to—may have their tenancies sold to private landlords? Do the Government intend to solve the problem of the shocking conditions of some of the houses by throwing them to the private sector? The House will want to know the answers to those questions. The statement in the Gracious Speech leads us to believe that council houses that have not been sold to tenants will be sold to private landlords.