HC Deb 28 March 1960 vol 620 cc933-4
21. Mr. S. O. Davies

asked the Minister of Power what representations have been made to him by, or on behalf of, the small mine owners; whether he is aware that conditions are about to be imposed on them which are likely to result in the closing down of many small mines and rendering thousands of miners unemployed; and if he will make a statement.

23. Mr. Swingler

asked the Minister of Power what representations he has received from operators of small mines concerning threatened closures and cuts in production; what action he has taken; and if he will give a general direction to the National Coal Board to suspend any decisions about the future of licences, pending the calling of a national conference under his chairmanship to discuss the matter.

Mr. Wood

On 23rd February I met a deputation from the Federation of Small Mines, who expressed concern about the effect of the National Coal Board's proposals for reducing the output of the licensed mines. I have discussed this with the Board, which is responsible for determining the conditions of license of these mines. The Board assures me that it is willing to resume negotiations as soon as it is approached by the Federation.

Mr. Davies

Will the right hon. Gentleman take note of the fact that the attitude of the National Coal Board has been infinitely more heroic at the expense of these very small mines as compared with its attitude to the vast opencast schemes which have put thousands of miners into the ranks of the unemployed?

Mr. Wood

I think that the hon. Gentleman and I and the whole House are most anxious that these discussions which are going to take place between the Board and the Federation should be successful. Therefore, I do not want to add at the moment to what I have said.

Mr. Swingler

Would the right hon. Gentleman say on what terms it is proposed that the negotiations should be resumed? Is he aware, for example, that the proposal, made at any rate in north Staffordshire, was to impose a very much heavier cut in the production of small mines than of the coal industry generally? This would have the effect of putting out of work many of the older, partially disabled mine workers who would find it very difficult to get other jobs. Is he saying that it is proposed to reopen the negotiations without any specific conditions?

Mr. Wood

These negotiations, as I say, will take place between the Board on the one hand and the Federation on the other. Therefore, the terms on which they are negotiated are a matter for those two bodies which will be negotiating. They are not a matter for me.

Mr. Blyton

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we recognise that the small mine owners have to suffer from the changing pattern of consumption in the coal industry in the same way as we have in the National Coal Board? As we have to face 242 closures, if private mine owners do not take their share of this burden it will mean further closures in the big collieries and mines.

Mr. Wood

The hon. Gentleman's remarks will certainly be noted.

Mr. Lee

Will not the right hon. Gentleman agree that it may not even be a question of small mines closing? Is it not a fact that the Board has had a huge job to do of stocking coal and it might be suggested that the small owners should do a share of the stocking as well? If there is any question of unemployment among people working in the small mines, certainly in many instances the Board would be prepared to employ them.

Mr. Wood

I think the House will agree that these negotiations are more likely to be successful if I do not comment further at the present time.

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