HC Deb 06 May 1965 vol 711 cc1532-3
4. Mr. Box

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what were the subjects of his recent discussions with leaders of the coal industry; and whether he will make a statement.

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. James Griffiths)

At my meetings with them on 26th March and 13th March, respectively, the Industrial Association of South Wales and Monmouthshire and the South Wales area of the National Union of Mineworkers discussed with me the present position and problems of the coal industry in South Wales.

Mr. Box

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that the serious subject of rising absenteeism in the coal industry, especially in the South Wales area, was discussed at those meetings? Is he aware that absenteeism is now reaching a level of about 20 per cent. of the total labour force for the whole of each week? It is believed that it is putting about 10s. a ton on the cost of coal. As an old miner, will he appeal to miners in this area not to sabotage their own industry in the face of increasing competition?

Mr. Griffiths

I am aware of the problem to which the hon. Member refers. Most of our discussions were concentrated upon the most serious and the biggest problem which affects the South Wales coalmining industry, namely, the serious shortage of manpower as a result of the drain upon it. I know the miners, and if, with respect, I may say this to the hon. Member, some of the speeches made by him recently, both in tone and content, have not helped to solve the problem.

Mr. Probert

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Box) would do a better service to the people of South Wales if he ceased his carping criticism of the mining industry at this time? Does not my right hon. Friend agree that what is required is faith and confidence in the industry in order to encourage miners to remain in it?

Mr. Griffiths

What is required in the industry is a measure of stability, so that we can offer young people who enter it the prospect of a career. Unless we can do that we shall face the very serious situation—for the first time in my experience of the industry—of being short of miners.

Mr. Gibson-Watt

The right hon. Gentleman has not referred to the figures which my hon. Friend gave. Is he prepared to confirm or disagree with those figures?

Mr. Griffiths

The hon. Member used those figures on his own responsibility. I cannot confirm or deny them—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"]—because I have not heard them before. We know quite well that this is one of the problems in the coalmining industry, but it is not the only one, and if we merely emphasise it we may not give sufficient attention to the main problem, which is the serious drain on manpower in the industry, which can have calamitous consequences for this country.

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