§ Mr. Edwin Wainwright
I beg to move Amendment No. 13, in page 2, line 25, leave out from 'time' to end of line 26 and insert 'after 17th July 1967'.
Mr. Irving, with your permission, I think that we are debating with this Amendments Nos. 50, 51, 15, 25 and 27:
In page 2, line 25, leave out '17th July 1967' and insert '20th July 1966'.
In page 2, line 26, leave out '1971' and insert '1972'.
In Clause 5, page 3, line 24, leave out 'not later than 27th March 1971'.
In Clause 6, page 4, line 6, leave out 'between' and insert 'after'.
In page 4, line 7, leave out 'and 1st April 1971'.
It is not a question of "17th July 1967" being the commencement for redundancy payments, but of the termination of payments, according to the Bill, of 28th March 1971. There are Amendments among those which I have mentioned which would probably give far greater benefits to the men who become redundant and I hope that my hon. Friends will take part in the debate and will raise points on those Amendments which are far superior to the one I am moving.
1326 The termination date of 28th March, 1971 may have some impact at present in the industry, where men can see coal stocks rising and think that after the date I have mentioned there may be no further redundancy payments and may decide to leave the industry because their morale at present is not too high. We should do all we can to ensure that men in the industry at present become confident that there is a future for them in it. It is essential for them that the Government should accept and provide for redundancy payments to continue beyond 28th March, 1971.
There is also the question of men already declared redundant. I think that the Government should consider what can be done for these men who are still out of work. Many of them will be those who have given their lives to the industry and who are suffering from ill health, but are not so incapable as to have to sign on at employment exchanges. These are men who have suffered serious accident and who still could be employed in some industries, and because they cannot be registered as sick, sign on at the employment exchanges and feel left out in the cold. The Government should give consideration to these men, and I hope that the Bill can be improved to take them into account.
On the humane side, the Minister said that if we increase the efficiency of the coalmining industry—and I hope that we shall continue to do so—because of more productivity per man employed there is a great danger of about 100,000 becoming redundant. I would sooner a man become redundant because of increased efficiency than because we are inefficient and fail to sell the coal. No matter how they become redundant, we must look after them better than we have done in the past.
At this juncture I think that the Minister should give serious thought to whether we are to become efficient and increase our stocks of coal and throw men out of work. There must be a strong argument for getting rid of the stocks of coal and ensuring that the men can continue in work as the mines become more efficient and allow phasing out by way of what is termed "natural wastage" to reduce the number of men employed.
1327 If we cannot find employment for these men inside the mining industry, it is essential that new jobs are brought into the mining districts. If the Government's policy is to make certain that more coal is not consumed—but I hope that the Minister will ensure that coal will be consumed in greater quantities—and they brought new factories and plants into the mining areas, they would attract men from the industry, which is becoming more efficient, into the new jobs and so reduce the output of coal. If that is to happen—and I am afraid that it may be so—it is essential that we look after every person who becomes redundant and make certain that the men will not be afraid of becoming redundant after the year 1971.
It will be appreciated that men in the mining industry today are looking somewhat askance at what is happening about the future of the mining industry. They can see the stocks rising. They can see that they are becoming more efficient and, as they become more efficient, it will be more difficult for the increased coal stocks to be sold. Therefore, their morale will become lower and lower. If that is so, then the date that we have fixed in this Bill for the termination of the redundancy scheme ought to be deleted. I am not saying that it is the Government's intention that, at the 28th March, 1971, this scheme will be obliterated or removed and that there will be no further redundancy payments made—I hope it is not anyhow—but the men will give their own interpretation to the Bill when it becomes an Act and will probably say, "That is it. They are looking after us in this temporary period of four years, but after that there will be no redundancy payments made."
If that is so, many will leave the industry and seek pastures new, and the morale of the men remaining in the industry will get lower and lower. The Government should do whatever they can to improve their morale. Therefore, although the Amendment proposes to insert 17th July, 1967 I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider the men who are redundant now, and will ensure that the termination date of 28th March, 1971 is deleted.
§ Mr. George Younger (Ayr)
I hope that the Minister will give sympathetic 1328 consideration to the Amendment, at least to its intention, if not to its detail. When I first saw the Clause it struck me as reasonable to have a terminal date for a scheme of this sort, but, having thought about it further, and having listened to what has been said tonight, it seems to me that there is no object or advantage to be gained by having such a terminal date.
If this date had some significance in the programme that we can see stretching ahead of changes in the industry, I would be prepared to listen to the argument that there was a logical terminal date which made sense in terms of what we expect to happen, but I do not think that, with the best will in the world, anyone is able to say that 28th March, 1971, has any particular relevance to any part of the programme that we can see at the moment.
It therefore seems that the date is almost bound to be too soon, or too late, or to have no particular meaning when it arrives. It will be arbitrary, not because of any deficiency in those who have chosen it, but because at this stage it is imposible to give any logical reason for it. If we accept this, it seems open to question whether there is any advantage in having a terminal date at all.
After all, the details of the scheme can be altered or revoked at any time by laying a further Statutory Instrument before the House. When such a Measure is introduced it can be debated, and we can decide whether such alterations are good or bad, or should be revised, or be put into effect, or whatever may be the case. Under the Bill, the Government have power to make such alterations as may from time to time appear necessary. In the light of the uncertainties and difficulties we can see ahead of us, it may be found convenient to alter the provisions of the Bill, to make them more or less generous, or to terminate them. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to listen very sympathetically to this argument. I do not think that the Amendment will spoil the Bill in any way. I think that it will leave the Government with complete flexibility to alter the scheme as and when the circumstances become clear.
Given that the intention behind the Amendment is accepted, even if the wording of it is not perfect. I think that the 1329 Minister should consider it, and then bring it back at a later stage, drafted as he would like to see it. This is one way in which we can remove any possible uncertainty, which the hon. Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Edwin Wainwright) said could arise. I do not think it will, but, as we approach 1971, human nature being what it is, people will become uncertain about what they should do to get the advantage of the scheme before the terminal date.
The Amendment has merit, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will accept it.
§ Mr. Robert Woof (Blaydon)
I wish to confine my remarks to Amendment No. 27. The earnest purpose of this Amendment is to try to retrieve some lost confidence in the coal industry. Whoever desires to look at the endemic effects of the Clause after 1st April, 1971, will probably see that it gives every hope for all sources of energy except coal. For the coal industry it offers a diagnosis that must bring a haunting sense of some graphical meaning. It is an unmistakeable imprint of the elimination of large sections of the coal industry. What the industry faces after 1st April, 1971, is redundancy on a massive scale, and that is the specific reason for introducing this Amendment.
I feel that it would be impossible to remain altogether unconscious of the character and dimensions of the vast process of change. Of course we accept that the purpose of the Clause is to give some relief to support the cost of additional coal to be used by the gas and electricity industries.
My right hon. Friend the Minister has already stressed that the object is to try and hold demand for coal by 1970 at around 155 million tons. As we understand the position, the target of 155 million tons prospect for coal was formulated through a sense of perception that arose out of the Selsdon Park conference with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power, along with the heads of the nationalised industries. Further to that, the Government accepted the advice of the N.C.B. that the rapid rundown in the period to 1970 would cause unmanageable difficulties for the industry.
Therefore, to a certain degree, the target of 155 million tons was accepted 1330 if practical and necessary. To our way of thinking the thought operating in the Clause rests on the promise that in due course, when the time arrives, that is, after 1st April, 1971, when the brakes will be released against the holding operation, the rundown in the coal industry will be at a catastrophic speed onwards, and redundancy will be overwhelming.
The bearing of the fact, and its psychological import is of an inescapable dilemma. It has created widespread public controversy. It is, therefore, desirable at this point to get as firm a grasp as possible of what is involved.
Many of us believe that the proposal to end the support for coal to the gas and electricity industries on 1st April, 1971 does not go far enough to cushion foreseeable redundancy. That is another reason why we have sought to introduce the Amendment.
We accept that the Clause is not some fanciful imagination but an attempt to hold production in the coal industry around 155 million tons. But it is on that figure that we feel obliged to recognise that the Economist of 22nd July estimated on Coal Board authority that it would mean a displacement of 40,000 men in each of the three coalfields, Scotland, South Wales and the North-East, with the residue coming from other coalfields.
That is undoubtedly an unprecedented sound of alarm, but when we explore the nature of the withdrawal of imbursement in the Clause we find that it will precipitate a further cut-back in production, with an even greater displacement of men. It seems to us that such a perceptible fact can be summarised in one word—sacrifice.
What do we mean by sacrifice? It is far from any euphemism. We must appreciate that such an idea could have a devastating effect on the coal industry and its employees. For years the industry has tried to ward off the expected effects after 1st April, 1971. It should, none the less, be permissible to say that, in the competitive race and to keep men in employment, no end of advice has been given to the Board to improve its efficiency by urging it to transform to competitive conditions, to play its full 1331 potential part in the economic life of the country.
All the reflex action is bound up in the sensitiveness of the Coal Board and the miners in being commended to adapt to technological change. But the motive force of the Clause after 1st April, 1971 deprives them of the benefits of surmounting the many problems and difficulties of the economic stratification of the industry. Nothing is plainer than that. Often they have been discussed so much in facts and figures that at times one would think that the Board and its employees were just another body of statistical gymnastics.
Indeed, during the last few weeks, the miners have marched past a historic landmark. For the first time, productivity has exceeded 40 cwt. per man shift, but such an undeniable achievement leaves one wondering how far that would succeed as a final base in the competitive struggle. If there is any arraignment in that complex labour activity, it should not be forgotten that the miners have not created industrial trouble for more than a decade. They are led by dedicated and devoted men. Their reputation is a manifestation of collective responsibility in the national interest. They have cooperated with the Board in moving men between coalfields in which, it was understood for so long, there was an assurance of continued employment.
A short history of that community is that countless men have been shunted from pit to pit as a consequence of closure upon closure. That in itself has created a social crisis of the first order. The vast preponderance of those involved, both men and management, are vastly worried by this swiftening onrush of pit closures. As the Clause encourages industry to purchase more coal up to 1st April, 1971, we consider it helpful.
To avoid more redundancy than is necessary, the N.U.M., for example, does not disagree with the general aim of exploiting North Sea gas as soon as possible. But with the withdrawal of the support to the gas industry, we believe that that must not involve damage to the coal mining industry, and in any estimate of using North Sea gas, the Government must take into account the economic and social costs of the rapid rundown of the coal industry. Up to the present time it 1332 has not been disputed that North Sea gas is a short-lived fuel. It seems logical, therefore, that one must not incur long-term damage for short-term considerations.
We are quite willing to enlist our support in the Clause to enable the gas industry to use more coal, but it is also our view that natural gas from the North Sea should replace imported fuels and not indigenous supplies of fuel. We believe that in any rational fuel policy it is necessary to balance the gains of the gas industry against the losses of the coal industry of a decline in coal consumption.
In expressing the right to conceive the costs incurred between 31st July, 1967, and 1st April, 1971, it is a well known fact that those engaged in the coal-mining industry are, throughout their daily lives, in constant struggle with their emotions and trying their level best to suppress them. The imposing effect of the Clause makes those of us from the North-East and other coalfields feel that there is something to be emotional about. We do not accept that we must be trapped by circumstances, because the circumstances that will be brought by implementing the Clause will be the result of decisions in which innocent people will have misfortune to face.
We therefore cannot conceal our deep concern, which is wrapped up in the Clause. To put it another way, just as hedgehogs are born without spikes, we all know how they prick after they grow up. At least I do, because when I was a boy I tried to grab one. That is how I feel about the Clause. It should bring judgment to bear on the necessity for a much slower rundown of the coal industry, not only for the sake of coal but for the economy as a whole.
We therefore feel justified in our action in asking to leave out "1st April, 1967". We need to avoid the Clause striking its fangs into the hearts of areas which rely on the coal industry simply because, whatever side we extend our vision, the basic fact remains that jobs in mining and in mining areas are going to be drastically reduced. Despite the new measures recently announced by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, our previous experience in this direction has been bitterly disappointing.
1333 To keep redundancy at the lowest possible level, the deletion of "1st April, 1971" should lead to a more positive way to stimulate morale. I therefore ask my right hon. Friend to allow the N.C.B. to put up the best possible bid it can for a coal fired power station in place of the nuclear idea at Seton Carew because coal costs are more likely to be proved accurate. My right hon. Friend has repeatedly said that putting Seaton Carew on nuclear would have no effect on the consumption of coal until the station begins to come into operation in 1975.
Heaps of facts, figures, and information have been presented, but, in view of the possibilities and bearing in mind the recently announced need of the Government to cut back spending in the nationalised industries, some of us think that this will have some bearing on the huge investment in the second nuclear programme. Since devaluation is bound to affect the cost of nuclear power stations because of the increased cost of uranium imports, we would hope that the Coal Board's estimate of a cost of £300 million more for a nuclear station than for a conventional one, will be given serious consideration. That would at least to some extent nullify the real social costs of the damage which could he done to the coal industry.
That might well be, but the effect of this Clause after 1st April, 1971, will mean that the excess cost of social benefit will be paid to thousands whose work will not be required; and what is an infinitely greater worry is the multiplicity of younger members of families who will be looking with forlorn hope for employment as a consequence of the sacrifice of huge public investment in reconstructed collieries.
Historians may argue that our troubles began at the Tower of Babel, when languages were multiplied and when men were dispersed; when there was the problem of organising the world on a plane of high ideals of knowledge, of faith, and of human service. But, as this Clause stands, and if the Government recognise only a doctrine of cheap fuel policy as the price to be paid by people who have applied their great courage and endurance, their skill and their will to work only to find that they are condemned to 1334 despair and hopelessness, even although all the human problems are alleviated following the closures which will result from the operation of this Clause, then we shall be in trouble of incalculable magnitude.
That, at least, should convince the Government that priority should be given to the investigation into the fullest utilisation of the Coal Board's reserves in order to prevent redundancies. Obviously, the Government commands the dominant means of explicit decision but, to be quite frank, if a nuclear power station is built at Seaton Carew, it will be an economic man-made disaster for the North-East. The effect will be extended over all the multifarious branches of the industrial population, affecting mining and non-mining communities alike.
This Clause makes us feel and confess—and we have been through strikes and lock-outs—that this is the first time we have been on our bended knees; but it is not benevolence that we ask. It is the total sum of our duty to appeal for the right to be given the opportunity in industrial progress because such guided zeal can be proclaimed as the triumph of individualism and competition in the coal industry.
Our concern with the Clause is not an exercise of magnanimity of a gift that we seek for a coal-fired power station; it is solely with the supreme issue of the national cost of closing down groups of mines which otherwise would produce coal for power stations. It is upon such a decision that its successful execution would be a welcome relief from all the anxiety; it would irrevocably advance the happiness, the satisfaction and the prosperity of all concerned. In the circumstances, we would be most extremely grateful for any enheartening information he can give, which will be of great benefit, particularly to the Durham coalfields.
§ 1.45 a.m.
§ Mr. Webster
A very moving speech has just been made by the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. Woof). He talked of the various dates. I will not go into the merits of Seaton Carew, but I would ask the Minister whether in his calculation of dates he has made any assessment of how it might all harmonise with the European Social Fund as operated by the European Iron and Steel Community.
1335 The Government have stated from time to time that they wish to enter the Communities and to harmonise our arrangements. Some time ago, with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths), I had the privilege of going to the Borinage coalfield, and of going down one of the most inefficient pits. We saw men being laid off, but it was encouraging to see the type of assistance that was being given.
I will not, at this late hour, elaborate the details except to say that if it was a Community decision, half the cost was paid by the country concerned and half by the Community to provide full pay for four months in the first year of unemployment, provided that the man was taking full retraining under the rehabilitation and retraining scheme. For the next four months, there was a slight reduction in the amount paid, but it was still quite adequate and generally to the satisfaction of the people in the industry concerned with whom we talked. There was a further reduction in the last four months, and it was done more on a part-time basis while the men were trying to get work.
The problem of mobility was considerable, but I gather, having recently been back to the Community, and inquired, that it has either been successful, and so has had to be extended, or necessary, and has had to be extended. I am not sure whether it is pressure from pressure groups that is causing this, but I should be grateful to know to what extent the Government are trying to harmonise with those in the Community.
That is why I wondered about the dates, because the Iron and Steel and other Communities within Europe are to be harmonised in 1970 and merged into one Community—and the Social Fund will, one presumes, be merged into one about that time. There is no magic in the date, but I hope that I am in order in asking whether the Minister has in mind any form of harmonisation, and what ideas he has for solving the problem that frequently occurs in this type of retraining, where the receiving union of the industry concerned refuses entry to the retrained men. This is a very difficult and controversial point.
§ Mr. W. Baxter
Anybody who comes from a mining family or from a mining 1336 area will agree with the principle in this Clause, but most of us would disagree with the dates contained therein. I must make it abundantly clear that I wholeheartedly support Amendment No. 13, because I have seen very many pit closures in my constituency. Many men, during the last few years, have lost their jobs.
In case the Minister is not aware of the pits which have been closed, I propose to read the list to give some idea of the magnitude of the problem concerning men who will not come within the ambit of this Clause if the Amendment is not accepted. In the Kilsyth area, in 1956, Gartshore 3 and 12 was partly run down and 200 jobs were lost. In 1959, the same pit was completely run down with 400 jobs lost. In 1960, Dumbreck was run down and in 1963 Dumbreck pits 1 and 2 closed and 650 jobs were lost. In 1964, Twechar pit was closed and 260 jobs lost. Dullatur pit closed in 1964 and 260 jobs were lost. In 1965, Auchengeich closed and 40 jobs were lost. In 1966, the Dumbreck byproducts works completely closed and 100 jobs were lost. In 1967, the Gartshore 9/11 closed and 700 jobs were lost.
In Bannockburn, Cowie, Plean and Balmore, all built as mining villages with new houses, schools, clinics and churches, they have no industry whatever with the exception of the closed pits. These pits are as follows: Manor Powis, which closed last year and 746 jobs were lost; Plean, with 443 jobs lost, closed in 1963; Pirnhall, with 147; Polmaise 1 and 2, with 731; Polmaise 3 and 4, with 698. At the moment, there are 600 men working at Polmaise 3 and 4. This pit won the British award for the highest productivity of any pit in the country only three or four weeks ago, with an output of 48 cwt. per man shift, but it will be closed because it is producing coal for Longannot electricity power station and that power station is taking coal from another area.
§ Mr. Baxter
Polmaise 3 and 4 will close in the near future. My hon. Friend says "a little time", but I think that it will not be long before it closes. It has been run down by a considerable number. I am greatly concerned about this. As I said in an interjection in the Minister's speech, I should like implementation of the promises made by the Labour Party before we took power, promises by the Minister and others, that industry will be provided in these areas before the pits are run down. In Kilsyth and the villages I have mentioned, no industry has been set up by this or the previous Government. The first priority should be to channel industry to those two areas of West Stirlingshire where we have had so many closures.
A considerable number of the miners affected will never work again. Some are aged between 56 and 60. If their pit closes within the period stipulated in the Clause they will get compensation, while those in the pits that have been closed in recent years get nothing. That is a grave anomaly. What is good for the goose is good for the gander—and it is good for the men who will lose their jobs in the immediate future that they should receive reasonable compensation from the Government, because of the terrible nature of the work they have done over the years.
I should like to see my right hon. Friend using greater imagination to try to devise a scheme whereby men who have served the industry for 40 or 45 years and have left it through no fault of their own, because of the closure of the pits, would receive reasonable pensions, so that they would not feel that they were no longer wanted by an ungrateful nation. They have a right to expect a reasonable income in the years ahead of them.
Most of them suffer from troubles and disease caused by work at the coal face, such as pneumoconiosis and injuries to their limbs. Few do not carry the scars of working for the benefit of the nation over the years. It would be a calamity, and a shame on the Committee, if we agreed to the Clause without my hon. Friend's Amendment. We must be seen to be fair to all sections of the community, and tonight we are dealing with 1338 the coal miners, people who have unstintingly given of their life and effort to produce the fundamental wealth of the nation. We are still considerably reaping the rewards of their labour.
It has been said that the Amendment might be too expensive, but we have subsidised other aspects of our national life, and the money would return into circulation. We have spoken of subsidising industries, and there is no harm in that. We subsidise agriculture so that it can produce more foodstuffs at home to save the expenditure of foreign currency, which would put our balance of payments further into jeopardy. There is no reason why certain aspects of the coal industry should not also be subsidised. The nation would benefit.
Not to accept the Amendment would be a tragedy. Parliament cannot vote money to a man one day and refuse it to the man who was out of work the previous day. This could not be fair by any measuring tape. I appeal to the Minister to reconsider this Clause. If he does not do so I will be forced to vote against the Government tonight, although not against the principle of the Clause, because it stipulates dates which could prohibit many excellent men in my constituency from receiving their due reward. The due reward for their labours is that they may be allowed to live their lives in some degree of peace and quietness and with a reasonable income to make these days pleasant for them.
If we were to do this it would justify our return to this House as members of the Labour Party, of the working class party, because most of us come from fundamentally working-class households and from mining households. My father was a miner and my wife's father was a miner. I recognise the difficulties which these men have faced and the great benefits which they have given to the community in the past and the present, and will give in the future. It would be remiss to forget them at this time in our development and if we alter the Clause to make the money available to all the men in the mining community who have been knocked out of work it would be one thing which would redound to our credit throughout the land.
§ Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)
I do not usually intervene in these debates, but as one who worked in the mining industry before coming to this House, and who represents a mining constituency, I want to elucidate some of the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. Woof) and to refer to Amendment No. 27, which deals with the special assistance to ensure that more coal is burnt in the electricity and gas industries.
I want to refer to one extremely efficient and successful pit. Many of us fear that its future may be put in jeopardy unless the provisions are extended. I appreciate the work that the Government have done. It is far more than was ever contemplated in the days I worked in the industry under private enterprise. There has been a fantastic change. We have had some exciting developments in pits in my constituency. At the Westoe pit, where £8 million was invested as recently as 1957, there has been an enormous increase in output per manshift. It has risen from 18 cwt. to 57 cwt. and is going still higher month by month with the expectation that soon it will be over three tons.
We have new investment coming in now for further developments and new ideas in lighting and the rest. This means work there, including work for many older miners living in the area as well as those living more or less on the premises. It would be encouraging for them to have some assurance of an active future supplying coal for power stations in the neighbourhood. There are many whose hopes for the future are a further coal fired station at Seaton Carew.
It is, therefore, a matter of deep concern to all of them that all the efforts they put in to develop this technically advanced mine, with all the prospects of future advance, might be vitiated if they cannot see a reasonable opportunity of use of their product in the years ahead—and that means beyond 1971.
I am using this as an illustration that not only are we concerned about the position of run down pits which clearly are uneconomic and with the problem of how we can fade them, but also with the problem of how to make effective use of the most modern developments in the industry which it would be a tragedy to waste and destroy.
1340 On that basis, I hope my right hon. Friend will find it possible to look again at this Amendment and give some assurance about the future use of the coal being mined from some of those most modern and efficient pits.
§ Mr. McGuire
I endorse what has been said by my hon. Friends, particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Edwin Wainwright). I support the plea of my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. Woof) for a coal-fired power station in the Durham coalfield. He made that plea because he feels that the proposed run down in the industry would have particularly disastrous consequences for his area.
We are, in effect, debating whether to give the electricity industry money to take what it considers uneconomic coal, which has to be subsidised. The electricity industry, not because it wished to do so, but as a matter of Government policy, experimented with nuclear power, which has meant displacing from the power stations 6 or 8 million tons of coal which is now in stock. Now we are asked in the Bill to subsidise the electricity industry for what it considers to be expensive coal at a time when much of the coal in stock is the result of a wrong policy pursued by the C.E.G.B. in producing very expensive electricity.
My hon. Friend mentioned Seaton Carew. It is regarded in the coalfields generally, particularly in Durham, as being the Waterloo for the Coal Board in those areas, and Durham in particular, because they can see no hope otherwise—and the date 1971 will have no relevance if we get a further demoralisation of the industry through not building a coal-fired power station in the Durham area.
I support my hon. Friend's argument that it would be right and proper for the Board to put in the best possible tender for the supply of coal in that area, because if the estimates of the Board and the forecasts about the supply of coal and its cost were outrageously wrong, as the previous forecast of nuclear energy has been, it would not be a very big job to convert from coal either to gas or oil. That could be done at little cost and the nation would benefit from whatever fuel policy was adopted then. If a nuclear power station is built, it 1341 will remain there whether we like it or not, even if the forecasts for it are outrageously wrong.
The lesson that we have learned about nuclear power, if we have learned anything at all, is that whatever forecasts have been made about coal, however optimistic they have been, have been bang on target compared with the forecasts about cheap electricity from nuclear power. As long ago as 1955, it was forecast that electricity would be produced from nuclear power at a cost per unit sent out 0.6d. That forecast has been nowhere near achievement, and I believe that there is no more chance of present forecasts being right in the future than that early forecast has been. I therefore endorse my hon. Friend's plea that this question should be seriously considered, if only to uplift the morale of the men in the coalfields, particularly the Durham coalfield.
The Bill envisages the giving of aid to men in the mining industry aged 55 and over for a period of three years until, in some cases, the age of 65 intervenes. I would like my right hon. Friend the Minister to examine the figures and to consider giving aid to men aged 50 and over for what, I hope, will be a temporary period. As I said in my previous speech, the mining community and the miners do not want dole, even if it is 90 per cent. of their pay.
What is wanted in the mining areas—and in industrial areas which are run down, particularly the older areas—is planned growth. We do not want the dolls' eyes and plastic flower factories; we do not want cottage industries. The fact must be faced that if we are to get big industry, there will not be an industry at the end of every street. Men will have to travel sometimes, perhaps a few miles, but it is far better to travel to a big unit to get work.
I instance the great success of the Tory-directed car industry at Halewood which has been a huge success and has attracted all kinds of ancillary industry. That is the kind of industry we should be thinking about when talking of replanning the derelict industrial areas. We want something which is properly planned.
1342 In the meantime, however, I hope that we can consider the question of giving the 90 per cent. benefit, including unemployment benefit, only to men aged 55 and over. It has been argued often enough that men over 55 have the greatest difficulty in finding employment, but there will be a lot of resentment from men of 50, 51 and 52 who say, "I have no hope of getting a job. Statistics support me in this. Yet I must wait another few years." It is no good our telling them that this is merely a temporary operation and that we are getting the new industries to give them a proper job to restore their dignity. That will take time.
My right hon. Friend the Minister has been saddled with a job which is not properly his. It is a job which should have been planned a lot better. I appreciate what he has done. It is a new and revolutionary start. We have closed pits and other works before by indirect Government action through squeezes and freezes and we have never given the men anything. I recognise that this is a start and that it is a start in the right direction. Nevertheless, I believe that if we are really talking about planning, and mean what we say, this is really a bit of a sop, in a way, and I do not think people on these benches will take kindly to that. Notwithstanding we give 75 per cent. compensation to people at 55, that is not the end of the problem.
We believe that it should be tackled far more forthrightly, tackled as an integrated Government plan. It is not much use taking this kind of action, and having the Minister of Transport planning her motorways and new roads, the Minister of Housing planning our new houses, the Secretary of State for Education planning our universities and colleges of technology, all in isolation from one another. They should all be integrated.
I make this plea to my right hon. Friend, to look again at the question of the age band of 55 to 65 and to start a little lower down the scale. I know that wherever we start somebody will argue about an anomaly being created; that if we set the lower limit at 50 people will advance the argument that men over 45 have the same difficulties. I recognise that, but I think my right hon. Friend 1343 recognises that, in my modest way, I like to be reasonable. I think that it is generally accepted that it is the over fifties who have the greatest difficulties in finding new jobs. Even if they are 100 per cent. fit they have great difficulty in finding new jobs, and I am pretty sure that reductions in manpower will take place in areas where job opportunity is already very poor.
How will my right hon. Friend view the plea to have a look at the starting date, and examine Amendment No. 50 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden)? Probably many miners became redundant as a result of the Government's measures of July, 1966. I ask my right hon. Friend to back date this provision by 12 months, from July, 1967 to July, 1966. I hope he will have taken these modest pleas to heart and will seriously consider whether he can reduce the starting age and put the date back 12 months. With these modest requests, I wait for his favourable answer.
§ Mr. Adam Hunter (Dunfermline Burghs)
I rise to deal exclusively with the redundancy payments scheme. I wish to support some of my hon. Friends who wish to change the commencing date and the terminal date.
I know a great deal about redundancy. I do not wish to appear to be vying with my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. W. Baxter) when I say that in my area, where I live and work, we have also suffered disastrously from the policy of pit closures. In nine years we have lost 17 pits. In the County of Fife as a whole, where we had 10 years ago over 26,000 miners, we now find ourselves with a little fewer than 6,000. That should indicate that we in Fife do know what redundancy means. I myself, four years ago, was a redundant miner, and had I stayed in that pit I was sent to after being redundant I should have found myself redundant again, but, fortunately for me, I was sent here. Somebody decided I should come here, and I just came down and avoided another redundancy.
Seriously, the people who most deserve our sympathy are the men of 60 years of age. When my pit closed four years ago, no man of more than 60 was able 1344 to find a job. Fortunately, that has now changed in Fife and when there are redundancies, men over 60 are given the opportunity of finding a job. But I still see those who were made redundant four years ago and who belong to this age group, men now 63 or 64, wandering about the village, lost, a pitiful sight, fit, able and intelligent men who have been idle for three or four years.
It is bad that these men should have had to live for three or four years on unemployment benefit and the £1 a week from the mineworkers' pensions scheme. Fortunately for the men who have retired since then, we now have the Redundancy Payments Act in addition to the Coal Board's redundancy scheme, but I am most concerned about men of 60 and less being idle.
I do not favour the proposed commencement date, with which the Minister should dispense altogether. All men now redundant, no matter when they became redundant, should be included in the scheme, and those who see redundancy approaching in 1971 or 1972 should also be guaranteed the benefits of this scheme.
Another category of men for whom I have great sympathy are the disabled, men in the age range of about 55 to 58 who before becoming redundant did light work in the pits and who would have been able to carry on until they were 65. They have now been thrown on to the scrap heap with no hope of getting another job outside mining. These disabled men should also be brought within the scheme.
I ask my right hon. Friend to give these cases very serious consideration.
§ Mr. Ogden
The Committee may have noticed a hardening in the tone of the speeches from this side. The Minister, who is a sensitive man, and his Parliamentary Secretary, have taken note of that. They have paid considerable attention to the debate as it has progressed. However, in spite of the meetings which my hon. Friends and some hon. Members opposite have had with other Ministries and Departments, I am beginning to be a little concerned about the lack of support on the Government Front Bench.
Perhaps the usual channels could say a word to our hon. and right hon. Friends 1345 in other Departments such as the D.E.A., the Treasury, the Board of Trade, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, because there are still 10 hours and 35 minutes before we count out the Committee tomorrow, and we may need all that time. There is a message there if anyone on the Front Bench, apart from my right hon. Friend the Minister, wants to take note of it.
While we appreciate that the Minister understands the arguments which have been put to him, it is time that he began to show some sign of accepting, or undertaking seriously to consider, one or other of the groups of Amendments available to him on this subject. In the current jargon, we have left him with many options open and he has only to consider accepting or considering accepting one of them. He could refer to my Amendments Nos. 50 and 51. I did not suggest these as an independent initiative. These options were laid out by the miners group as alternatives available to the Minister's consideration.
Amendment 50 gives the date of 17th July, 1967. It has never been clearly explained to me why 17th July, 1967, was chosen, unless it is closely linked with the fact that on 18th July we had a debate on coal.
That seems very strange, to say that the operative date for benefits should be linked entirely and closely with the date on which we had a debate in the House. That does not seem the best possible reason, and that is why I have put forward in my Amendment a date one year, less three days, earlier, a date which is much more appropriate. This is the date on which we began the freeze and the squeeze, a measure which I supported and still support. Responsibility for those measures rests with the Government, and from that date, anybody made redundant in mining or in other industry has found it much more difficult to get a new job.
This was a price which had to be paid for future prosperity, and the Government have a responsibility for the difficulties experienced by redundant miners in finding a job. That is why I suggested that the operative date should be taken back almost 12 months to the day the day the Prime Minister made his statement to Parliament, and for which I must take my own responsibility.
1346 The point in Amendment No. 51 is that we should extend the period the other way, putting the date forward from 1971 to 1972. This gives a little more time. The basis of some of the arguments has been that there is lack of information and fallible forecasting. Nobody knows what is to happen, so why should we, in these circumstances, put down definite dates? I hope that the Minister will be able to say that he will agree to Amendment No. 13, in which we avoid a terminal date altogether, but if he cannot accept that I suggest that he might say that he will consider a later date.
I refer, in the presence of a new arrival, to the fact that some support should be forthcoming from other departments, from Ministers who should have been here earlier tonight. They still have time to come and show their support for these Amendments, and others which will follow.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
I do not apologise for making a few remarks in support of my hon. Friend's Amendments at this time in the morning, when so many of our people are on the night shift. The House of Commons should not begrudge the time which is devoted to putting the case of the miners likely to be made redundant as a result of changes in the mining industry.
I am not, as is my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Mr. Swain), an old miner, but I have been associated with the mining industry for a long time. I was born in the Rhondda Valley and my father was a miner who, luckily, found a job in an alternative industry. He became a minister. It will be very difficult for redundant miners today to become ministers. My background is that of having been born in the Rhondda and of having spent the first 30 years of my life in the valleys of South Wales, so I understand the problems which have been explained by my hon. Friends.
I live in a mining constituency. I have lived all along in mining communities—except for the three years when I was in gaol—so I understand the background of the industry. All my friends in the little town of Cumnock are all miners and I have been associated with them for all the time that I have been 1347 in Parliament. I am quite sure that I am expressing their point of view when I ask the Minister to give the most generous concession that he can in response to the pleas which have been made to him by my mining friends.
My constituency is very much like the constituency of my hon. Friend for West Stirlingshire (Mr. W. Baxter), who made such an eloquent appeal, and it is also very similar to the constituencies of my hon. Friend for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) and the hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour). But South Ayrshire will not suffer in the same way as West Stirlingshire, which has had so many pits close down and which has largely seen the disappearance of the mining industry. The problems of the mining industry in South Ayrshire are the problems of the smaller pits being closed down and the miners going from the smaller pits into the two larger pits of Killochan and Barony. These two modern pits have had a great deal of capital expenditure and they are likley to continue for the next 20 years.
As a result of the revolutionary changes in the mining industry, and in industry generally, we are likely to see the closing down of a considerable number of very small pits. South Ayrshire has the same problem about alternative industry, but we are lucky in this respect, because we have had a very great deal of attention devoted to this part of Scotland. I pay tribute to the Minister of State, Board of Trade, who has visited us, and to the work of the local council which has established the beginnings of a small industrial estate. We have a new industry. There is to be a rather large carpet factory. The problem will be how to bring into the carpet factory to make carpets the people who have been digging in the coalmine.
One problem will be whether we shall get sufficient industry in time to see to it that this redundancy problem will be solved in such a way that we will have nothing like the mass unemployment that I knew in South Wales 30 years ago and which I do not think is likely to come again.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Grant-Ferris)
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. 1348 Gentleman, but we must bear in mind that these Amendments refer to payments to redundant workers in the coal industry. I think that we should keep as closely as we can to the terms of the Amendments.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
I am sorry if I wandered a little, Mr. Grant-Ferris, but these are the thoughts that inevitably come to our minds and this is an opportunity to express the background of these particular Amendments.
I ask for the most generous treatment for the people concerned. I know that we will get such treatment from this Government. We would never get it from any other. Great attention has been devoted to this problem, but there is the problem of the disabled men, the men who are on the borderline, and the men who are not particularly suited to producing, for example, carpets.
I hope that in this transitional period we will see generosity associated with humanity to enable men to overcome the difficulties with which they will be faced, through no fault of their own. I hope that they will receive justice, so that there will be no lingering feelings of fear and doubt in their minds. I hope that they will be able to get through this transition period without the tragedy which they have seen in years gone by.
I reinforce the point of view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. W. Baxter). One pit in my constituency which is likely to be closed figured in a notable disaster some years ago. I would have thought that the men working in the Knockshinnoch colliery would have been pleased to hear that this pit was to be closed. I remember the time when it was flooded. For two days and nights we waited on the surface of the colliery for the men to be brought up, and by a miracle they did come up. I would have thought that the miners there would have been pleased to see this pit closed, but they regret that it is not to continue. This is because they fear unemployment, and its consequences. It is these consequences which we are trying to alleviate, and I hope that the Minister will be able to give a satisfactory reply to our pleas.
§ Mr. T. W. Urwin (Hough ton-le-Spring)
Mr. Grant-Ferris, a few moments ago you reminded my hon. Friend the 1349 Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) that this debate was concerned with payments to redundant miners. I am mindful of the importance of such payments, but I draw attention to the fact that Amendment No. 27 refers to payments to the C.E.G.B. and others because of the extra coal burning which is envisaged in the Bill, and, indeed, in the White Paper.
I want to preface my remarks by drawing attention to the fact, if it is necessary to do so, that on a matter which evokes such emotional feeling as this subject does amongst people who have spent their lives either working in the industry, or representing those who work in it, it is not unnatural to hear the highly emotive speeches which have been made by my right hon. and hon. Friends. The impact of social economics is something with which we are closely conversant, coming as we do from these areas of heavy industrial intensification. I want to take this opportunity to congratulate those of my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Government who have responded magnificently by trying to provide new job opportunities for redundant miners.
Regardless of the efforts which have been made, and bearing in mind just how great they have been, it is wholly impossible for new job opportunities to be provided to keep pace with the existing requirements. We in the northern region, part of which I am proud to represent, are fully conversant with the difficulties, and know only too well the additional burden which has been thrown on the Department of Economic Affairs and the Board of Trade in trying to provide alternative jobs in the face of this terrific rundown.
Even despite the advantages that were introduced by the last statement of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade on 14th November of five years rent-free factories and favourable interest rates on building costs, it just is not possible to take account of the cutback, the new job requirements incumbent upon them in face of the fuel policy operated at present by the Government.
As I said that I would deal with Amendment No. 27, and as it does specify certain provisions to the Central Electricity Generating Board and others, my 1350 attention, quite naturally, is fixed on the provision of electricity by nuclear power, or alternatively, by coal as the energising fuel. My hon. Friends the Members for Blaydon (Mr. Woof), South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) and Ince (Mr. McGuire) have drawn attention to the raging controversy which has taken place over a considerable period now in relation to this matter. There has been and continues to be a good deal of anxious speculation amongst the mining community in the Northern, Region, and in the immediate area of Seaton Carew, about the fuel which will be used for this power station.
I think it reasonable to suggest that if the Minister should decide in the near future that this station should be fuelled by coal, nothing would provide a greater incentive to those of our people who depend on coal for their livelihood. It has been described by the National Union of Mineworkers in the Durham area as an act of sheer lunacy to suggest that this power station, sited as it is on the perimeter of a highly productive coalfield, should possibly be powered by nuclear energy.
Here we have a situation where there is a belt of collieries, all of them highly productive and highly modernized, which could literally pour in coal to a power station, more especially if the siting had been only a few miles nearer to Seaton Carew, by a conveyor belt system far more cheaply than nuclear power could hope to compete with.
The forecast of the Coal Board, even on the site selected, of 3d. a therm compares more than favourably with the computations which have been called into account by many of my hon. Friends about the cost of nuclear power. The effect of the cutback in mining, and, indeed, the real danger of further difficulties devolving upon the mining industry in this immediate area—
§ The Deputy Chairman (Mr. Sydney Irving)
Order. I am finding difficulty in seeing how the hon. Member is referring his remarks to the Amendment, which is concerned with dates.
§ Mr. Urwin
I accept your correction, Mr. Irving. I would point out that if this Amendment is not accepted, bearing in mind that it takes, according to the Minister's words in the White Paper, five years from the beginning of a power station to completion and beginning to work through the economy, the term "1st April 1971" in this respect is relevant. It would be extremely damaging to the industry in the part of the country about which I am making my remarks if the period of Exchequer support ended on that date.
If the provision is not extended beyond 1971, the impact will be felt not only among the mining industry, but among the ancillary industries in this part of the country which are directly involved, such as transport and the docks.
§ 2.45 a.m.
§ Mr. J. H. Osborn
In view of your predecessor's Ruling, Mr. Irving, I think that the remarks which I had intended to make on the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill" are better suited to the Amendments, which deal with the dates 17th July, 1967, and 28th March, 1971. Those already declared redundant will naturally ask why they are not included in the scheme, and, after 28th March, 1971 there may be others who would wish to come in.
That is the effect on certain people who are already redundant and will not get the benefit, but it is equally difficult to ascertain to what extent miners will be better off than people in similar industries in the area. Why single out miners for redundancy terms better than those in other industries? There is general suffering.
I do not want to belittle the hardship of those in the mines, but this will demand money. As subsection (2) says:Any sums required by the Minister for making payments under"—such a scheme—shall be defrayed out of moneys provided by Parliament.This extra money must be paid by the taxpayer. I do not dispute the genuine need, but it is easy, when debating mining and miners, to disregard the hardship of 1352 others. In other industries the economic situation which has affected this industry, plus rationalisation and other pressures, is creating redundancy in industrial areas with mines. An explanation would be valuable.
Subsection (1,a) uses the phrase:are employed at a coal mine or at any place of a prescribed class used for providing services or facilities …How far will this term be extended to other miners not down the pit? It would be helpful if the Minister could elaborate on what classes would be included or excluded. I have mentioned people in brickworks and other industries. What is the limiting factor and what other Coal Board activities will come under this Clause? While subsection (1,a) refers to… at any place of a prescribed class …subsection (5) says:In this section 'prescribed' means prescribed by a scheme thereunder.A word of explanation about this would be of value and if it is given, I will have no comments to make on the Clause as a whole.
§ Mr. Ridley
We have had a wide-ranging debate on what I thought would be a rather narrow Amendment about the date on which the scheme for pensions for the 55-year-old and older miners should end. The discussion has covered nuclear power, Seaton Carew—a dispute into which I will not enter tonight—and the closure of pits in Scotland and elsewhere. It has also included a fascinating autobiographical survey by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), dealing with redundancy among ministers, but I understand that he was referring to ministers of the church. For a moment I was hopeful that the Treasury Bench was about to be looking for new employment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) had a good idea when he suggested that we should write into the Bill that the date could be altered by Order. The hon. Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Edwin Wainwright) also made an important point when he said that if there is a deadline, even though it be an administrative one, when the scheme will end, this will have a severe effect on the morale of miners and, perhaps, on the manpower situation in the mines, for as we approach 1971 people 1353 will feel that unless they get out by that time they will not benefit from the Clause.
I have no doubt that the Minister will say that he will make a new scheme under the Clause and bring all the benefits to an end in 1971 so that he may recreate them after that date. However, in view of the case which has been made tonight, he may care to reconsider the matter and amend the provision to give power co increase by Order the moneys provided under the Bill when the time comes and we reach 1971. These arguments do not apply to the coalburn under Clause 6 or the pit closure provisions in Clause 5, because there is no question there of the individual being affected.
I do not support the case made by several hon. Gentlemen opposite that the scheme should be backdated to 20th July last year, that ill fated date which hon. Gentlemen opposite carry engraved on their memories—that cataclysmic date when the Labour economic myth came to an abrupt end. Why we should go back to that date I do not know. It seems undesirable that we should go back to 17th July this year, because this is, in effect, giving legislative authority to something which presumably has been done before the Bill was introduced. It amounts to giving retrospective approval to something already done.
If this is so, why has no scheme been published? What about the details of the scheme which we will have under the Clause? If there is not such a scheme, how have these pensions been paid back to 17th July? If none has been paid, what is the point of stating in the Bill that pensions can be paid as from 17th July? This is a conundrum and it would seem undesirable to carry the authority back still further into the past.
I should very much like to know a little more about those whom this scheme will benefit. We are authorising presumably an expenditure of £45 million, but we have been told nothing about the exact nature of the scheme which will need this by no means inconsiderable sum. We know from a pamphlet which has appeared that it will apply for three years and that miners will have 90 per cent. of their past earnings, provided they qualified under certain conditions. They will receive redundancy pay as well— 1354 or will that be deducted from the benefits given under this scheme?
Some miners will receive £1,100 or £1,200 in a lump sum, and they are very welcome to it; they are entitled to it, but what effect will this have on their entitlements under this scheme? Then there are supplementary benefits of up to 80 per cent. of past earnings and is it intended to make up wages under this scheme or pay pensions which include unemployment pay? Or will this be on top of unemployment pay?
These are all very relevant features one can think of and about which we should know more. If it is not on top of unemployment pay, then the benefit may be worth only a few shillings. We do not know. It could be 15s. Of course, one can imagine that it could be £15, or, in the worst cases, 15d. We do not know how this will fit into other Ministry of Labour benefits. I support any measure for retraining for new skills, and for assistance if necessary in moving to a new area so that people can bridge gaps in their careers, but, before we leave this Clause, we are entitled to have a great deal more information about what is intended. After all, it is not usual for the Minister of Power to bring in at three o'clock in the morning a scheme which introduces an entirely new class of pension.
The questions one could think about are legion. Many hon. Members have spoken of what will happen when a miner retires, or is classed as redundant in the sense that his pit has closed. That may happen when he is 55 years of age, and at 58 if he has still not got a job, he goes down bump to a lower scale. Presumably, a man of 54½ will get nothing under the scheme—or will he? One could think of brothers with one getting full wages for three years, while the other, only a year younger, will get nothing out of this scheme. Will the 55-year-old miner automatically come under this scheme? These are the sort of questions which are important.
Let us suppose that a pit closed, say, last June. Would the men from there never be eligible under the scheme? We see demarcations of such importance that they cannot be passed over. I admit that this is a rotten time to consider them, but I am surprised that, with all the euphoria in connection with the Bill, hon. 1355 Members opposite have not made more of these points.
§ 3.0 a.m.
§ Mr. Ridley
With respect, if the next Amendment to be taken were accepted it would give the Minister power to pay a pension to a 16-year old boy, because it would remove any age qualification at all. I look forward very much to hearing the hon. Gentleman's defence of that proposition, with which I cannot agree. I will then with pleasure listen to a great many hon. Gentlemen opposite talking about the difficulties of the scheme.
But I must say, Mr. Irving, that we have had such a wide-ranging debate that it rather surprises me that, in their many speeches, hon. Gentlemen opposite have not touched on any of the anomalies or difficulties arising from the date, from other existing pension provisions and from Ministry of Labour arrangements—
§ Mr. G. Elfed Davies
I intervene to tell the hon. Gentleman that he is dealing with the subject matter of Amendment No. 14.
§ Mr. Ridley
I have been arguing, amongst other things, that the date should not be changed, and this is one of the matters that is relevant to this Amendment. If I have gone slightly wider than I should in discussing the Amendment, I am sure that hon. Gentlemen have gone a lot wider still in talking about the cost of Seaton Carew. We even had the autobiography of the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Ayrshire, which we all found most interesting.
A consideration raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. J. H. Osborn) was the effect on other trades of allowing three years benefit to miners on early retirement. The man who works in the same pit—perhaps an electrician or a haulage contractor—or someone working alongside who mines phosphate, iron ore or some other commodity, in conditions of equal discomfort, unhappiness, danger and risk—if that man's pit closes he gets nothing at all.
1356 These are serious questions, and they must be considered by the Committee. I hope that before passing airily on the Minister will deal with the whole range of questions raised by this or the next Amendment. I am sure that we shall have a spirited debate on the next Amendment, and I look forward to it, but I now would like to hear the Minister's explanation of the rather blanket powers he seeks to take.
§ Mr. Marsh
One of the attractive things about a debate on coal in the early hours of the morning is that it does galvanise the Opposition into action. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) has asked a number of questions arising from this proposal, and I shall deal with them. But it is reassuring, because I announced the scheme in the House on 18th July, and it takes the hon. Gentleman until December before he starts asking questions. I am pleased to know that he takes an interest—
§ Mr. Ridley
Can the Minister say when there has been a Parliamentary opportunity to debate the scheme before now?
§ Mr. Marsh
I must say that I would lose faith in the hon. Gentleman and his hon. and right hon. Friends if I thought that they could not in six months find an opportunity of asking a Question on a subject which, as he himself says, is of extreme importance.
I will deal with the various points the hon. Gentleman has raised, because this is a very important Clause. It contains a unique scheme, which is a particularly important development. I make no secret that it is not a solution to the problem. I readily concede that fact.
What miners need, whatever their age, is work; they do not want benefits of any particular type. The first priority must always be in these circumstances the provision of alternative employment. I take the point made by some of my hon. Friends that it has to be real employment. The Board of Trade, the Department of Economic Affairs, the Ministry of Transport and I are engaged in exercises designed to tackle this problem, which is the root problem. While that is happening, whatever is done there is a problem in this particular industry. It 1357 is a very specialised problem and it is very peculiar to this industry.
As the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury pointed out, this has been a fairly wide-ranging debate. I do not think that I can get involved in the Seaton Carew argument, except to say that no decision has been made. It is a very complex subject. If one does not build a nuclear-fired station, but a coal-fired station it does not necessarily follow that this is the best site for such a station, or for that matter, for a nuclear station.
My hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Urwin) was even more ingenious. He managed to Debate Amendment No. 27 to Clause 6, which seemed to be the best achievement so far.
§ The Deputy Chairman
In fairness to the hon. Member, I should point out that Amendment No. 27 has been selected for discussion with this Amendment.
§ Mr. Marsh
I agree, Mr. Irving. The question of coal burning was a matter which he had strongly in mind.
It has been asked: why should we single out miners? The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. J. H. Osborn) and the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury said that this will lead to demands from other sections of industry as it produces anomalies and unfairness. There may be neighbours living next to each other and both declared redundant in similar circumstances, yet one will get benefit and the other will not. This idea arose, I freely admit, as a result of a discussion with a group of miners' officials in a "pub" on the eve of a miners' rally. We talked about methods that could be produced to meet this social problem.
We can always argue about the age and say that there is no difference, in effect, if a man is 54, 55 or 56, but a line has to be drawn somewhere. A man of that sort of age entered a very different mining industry from that which exists today. He spent a large part of his early life in conditions which are probably not matched in any other industry today and which were worse than conditions in the generality of industry. The fact has to be faced that many of the people of that age in the mining industry, while not registered disabled persons within the meaning of the law, are persons whose health is at the best indifferent compared 1358 with the generality of workers. Many of them have been employed in the pits by the Coal Board which has done a superb job, but as the number of pits has declined so has the number of jobs available for this type of people. This is a problem which can be argued on the basis of coal miners. No doubt it will be used elsewhere, but we shall have to meet it on its merits when it is raised. There is a special problem here and it has to be faced.
Much of the discussion has centred around two points—the end date of March, 1971, and whether we should have the starting age of 55. I was also asked how the date of 17th July, 1967, was decided. The Amendment would be completely open-ended for the future. One of the problems is that the Clause is part of an over-all Bill for a transitional period up to 1971. The Bill then expires as a whole, together with all the financial provisions. Before then, the House will have to debate what happens next. It may be that other provisions, perhaps bigger or smaller, will be needed. But it would be a bit incongruous if the House were committed to maintaining just one Section when the rest ceased to have effect in March, 1971. That does not mean that there will be a debate in March, 1971; there will have to be a debate before then.
The intention behind the Bill is to give the industry a breathing space so that it can compete. We shall have to see how far it has done that and then we may want to extend or change the provisions. Therefore, it is probably better that the whole Bill should go together, because it is part of a closely interlocked exercise.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire) fairly said that if he "plonked"—if that is a Parliamentary expression—for the age of 50 somebody could legitimately show exactly the same anomaly concerning the man who is 49. It was on 18th July that I announced the idea to the House. The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury expresses legitimate doubts about retrospective legislation, and I think that Parliament would not tolerate our being retrospective to a time before the first announcement of the idea. I announced then that I proposed to introduce a 1359 scheme of this sort for the redundant miner aged 55 or more. I afterwards had discussions with the National Union of Mineworkers, and on 25th July I wrote to the union confirming that I would ask Parliament that the scheme affecting redundant mineworkers aged 55 or more should apply to men affected by closures which took place on or after 18th July. It duly noted this correspondence.
The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury raised a number of questions about the scheme. It is highly complex and unique. It has not been tried before, and I am not sure what will emerge at the end. It means taking into account all the varying benefits and trying to ensure that a person does not suffer an abrupt drop in his standard of living. The benefits taken into account vary of themselves. The hon. Gentleman raised the classic example of unemployment benefit and the supplement. Under the scheme a man will get unemployment pay together with the wage-related supplement. In the second six months he will lose the supplement, which is then made up by the scheme. At the end of 12 months he will have lost both the unemployment benefit and the supplement, and, therefore, both are made up.
The hon. Lady is a lawyer, though I do not hold that against her. She will recognise what sort of complexities are involved in legislation of this type. Therefore, the regulations will come before the House. I make no secret of the fact that they are not yet complete. Before they are brought to the House discussions will take place with the N.U.M., which is intimately involved in this.
§ 3.15 a.m.
§ Mr. W. Baxter
What troubles me to some extent is the position of the man working in a pit which closed in June, 1967, a few days before 17th July. He may have devoted the whole of his life to the mining industry since he was a boy of 13 or 14 and is now about 60. Another man may be employed in a pit when it closes on 17th July. He may have come into the industry to do a particular job and have served only five years. He gets a redundancy payment and pension rights but the old miner gets nothing at all. What is a valid 1360 reason for that? Why not introduce a scheme applicable to all miners who have become redundant through no fault of their own based on years of service as all good pension schemes should be?
§ Mr. Marsh
The anomaly which my hon. Friend mentions is one which exists with any date. There will be people made redundant before the date who will be outside the scheme. The difficulty is making the money available retrospectively. This is not only a Parliamentary problem. To make an Act retrospective several years before it was ever mentioned when public money is involved would produce an extraordinary situation and it would be almost impossible to trace all the men to whom the benefits were to be paid.
The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) asked how the money was being paid out at the moment. It is not. No moneys are being paid out and no scheme is being operated. It would be wrong to do so until Parliament has approved the scheme. We have managed to keep in contact with every miner declared redundant since 18th July. We know where they are and if Parliament agrees to the Clause we can pay the money.
The hon. Member for Weston-superMare (Mr. Webster) raised the question of harmonisation of the benefits with the European Coal and Steel Community Social Fund. This is an extremely interesting fund. If Britain enters the European Economic Community this is something that we will have to look at and we will have to be prepared to make changes. The date of 1971 is significant here because this is about the date when such a thing might have to be considered.
What the men want is work and not social benefits. This leads one to consider retraining and, having been retrained, the acceptance of the redundant miner as a colleague by other unions and other people. There can be no justification for any tradesman refusing to work with a man, who can prove that he can do the job, because he comes into an industry at 40 instead of 16. We have had, on the whole, enormous support from some of the craft unions, who also have real problems. It means a revolution in thought for them. This part of 1361 the exercise is going very well, although there are patches here and there which it is better to deal with quietly rather than publishing a pronunciamento.
Having raised difficulties over some of the Amendments—and I understand the problems as my hon. Friends see them—I give my hon. Friends the assurance that the regulations will come before this House for approval and that they will first be discussed with the unions. In these circumstances, I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Edwin Wainwright) will see fit not to press the matter.
§ Mr. Edwin Wainwright
In view of what my right hon. Friend has said, and the guarantee he has given to consult the unions about the regulations, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Harold Finch (Bedwellty)
I beg to move Amendment No. 14, in page 2, leave out lines 32 to 34.
Some of the points I shall raise have already been referred to by my right hon. Friend. The words we propose to omit prescribe that the payments shall be made to persons who have become redundant… after attaining the age of fifty-five and before attaining the age of sixty-five …I am glad to hear that my right hon. Friend will consult the unions before introducing the regulations but the fact remains that, whatever negotiations take place, unless we amend this Clause, they will be restricted to the age limits now prescribed in it.
I am particularly interested here in the disabled men. If the scheme proceeds as at present proposed, it means that very many of the disabled will not be included and to me, a disabled man, whether he be 35 or 55, if he is declared redundant and is incapacitated, he should be paid under this scheme generally.
There are many thousands of men in the industry suffering from pneumoconiosis. Many of them are in the South Wales coalfield. I ask my right hon. Friend to give the Clause further discussion and not restrict it to the age group 55 to 65. Some years ago, men suffering from this disease were prohibited from working in the industry. The medical boards at the time said that 1362 once a man had pneumoconiosis he must get out of the industry. Later, the Medical Research Council, after examining hundreds of men in South Wales, concluded that those in the early stages of the disease could go back to work in the industry under approved conditions.
Thousands of these men are working in coalfields. Many of them, when closures take place and they are declared redundant, are doing the same work for the same wages as before they contracted pneumoconiosis and will not be entitled to hardship allowance.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Grant-Ferris)
Order. I would be grateful if the hon. Member would explain how what he is saying comes within the terms of the Amendment.
§ Mr. Finch
I am asking that certain words be omitted from the Clause so that my right hon. Friend and the Coal Board and the unions can discuss the introduction of a wider basis for these redundancy payments. Under the Clause, the age must be between 55 and 65. There are many disabled men in mining who are under 55—even aged 40—who are seriously incapacitated. If they are declared redundant, their position will be prejudiced because they will be back at work and will not be able to get hardship allowance. They will be at a serious disadvantage.
That is why my right hon. Friend should have the opportunity, before restricting the age to 55–65, to discuss the matter with the Board, the National Union of Mineworkers and the Ministry of Social Security, so that he can bring forward a Clause which is not restricted to the ages of 55–65.
It is most difficult for the disabled to find work elsewhere. Whatever factories are introduced into an area, it will not be easy for the partially disabled who are fit only for light employment to find work. That is all the more reason why a man under the age of 55 who is seriously incapacitated, if he is declared redundant under the pit closure scheme, should get the payment that the scheme is intended to apply to those between the ages of 55 and 65.
One of the most serious social consequences of pit closures is the position of the disabled man. Whether he is 45 or 55, he will be in serious difficulty. 1363 That is why I ask my right hon. Friend to make the Clause less restrictive so that, in consultation with other Government Departments, he can introduce a wider scheme.
In any event, the scheme will be a difficult one to apply. I know that there must be demarcation limits. A man aged 54 years and 11 months will not qualify, but a man aged 55 will. This will create disagreement among men. It would be far better in such a scheme to say that as long as a man is unemployed and cannot be provided with work, he should get some form of payment. The onus should be placed on the Ministry. If a man is declared redundant and the Ministry cannot find him a job, he should be able to be paid under whatever scheme my right hon. Friend has in mind.
Whatever discussions take place with the National Union of Mineworkers, a man aged 45 who is seriously disabled will not get assistance under the scheme unless the age is amended. I hope that my right hon. Friend will accept the Amendment and thereby be enabled to introduce regulations of wider scope.
§ 3.30 a.m.
§ Mr. Swain
This is a very interesting stage of the debate tonight. We are just getting to the concessions which we are asking from the Minister for the men in the industry.
There are some interesting and important figures about the age grouping in our industry. In a Written Answer from the Minister to myself today I am informed, and I will inform the Committee, that there are 101,671 men in the industry at this moment over the age of 55 years. When we consider the total number of men, 385,000, we realise that this percentage of men over 55 is very high indeed. At long last our forecasts made in 1959 and since have come true, and we have a mainly unbalanced age grouping within the industry.
The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) said—I do not know whether he said it irreverently or seriously—that if we accepted the Amendment it would mean that a boy of 16 could get a pension. I think that that was going rather to the extreme. What we are bothered about is the fact that at whatever age a man is declared 1364 redundant the stigma of unemployment on the man is the same whether he gets nine-tenths or one tenth. There inevitably arises a period, after redundancy, perhaps of immediate retraining or perhaps unemployment prior to retraining. As I see it, however ambitious our training centres building programme is, there will be a residue of men in the process of retraining who cannot be absorbed. If a man is declared redundant at 55 or 50, then he will have to go on the dole and the social security benefits arising from unemployment.
Under the Bill, a man at 55 will get nine-tenths of his wages, but the Committee must appreciate that this industry of ours is a unique one, and at 55 a man's physical condition is deteriorating considerably. At 55 his life at the coal face is almost over, and in nine cases out of ten is over. As a consequence of an agreed scheme of years ago, a manager can give him 10 days' notice and he is reduced, and will be reduced, to one of the four grades of day-wage earners. Therefore, all that that man can qualify for is nine-tenths of Grade 1, 2, 3 or 4 of the underground or surface rates.
If we look at nine-tenths of the benefits under this scheme of wage—related benefits we find that it is very little more—I quote the hon. Member opposite: it is only a few bob more—in most cases than he would get if he were on the dole and receiving full benefit from social security and perhaps some supplementation. So what the Minister is giving away in this respect is very little indeed. I do not think that he is giving enough. He cannot increase the physical capacity of the men in the industry; he cannot decrease their natural age: so the only way he can help the industry over this very serious transitional period is by extending the age downwards from 55, down to another age. Men of 35 should be included if they are made redundant.
I do not say that it is wrong or bad practice, but it is my experience that colliery managers do everything possible to encourage older men to leave face work so that younger men can be brought in to do it. The industry will have a younger labour force of men between 20 and 45 who will be mobile and mostly prepared to move from one district to another, which is what the older age groups cannot do.
1365 To cover what will undoubtedly be a short transitional period—for it will be easier for men under 55 to get a job—men who become unemployed should receive related benefits, nine-tenths of their earnings, until such time as they find other jobs. The Minister would be doing a good turn not only to the industry but to the country if he accepted this proposal, for he would keep these men free of the dole. I am convinced that Ministry of Labour officials and everyone else concerned would be rightly instructed to be on his toes to find these men jobs as soon as possible.
The Minister would be well advised to accept the Amendment which would improve his Bill considerably. If he had accepted our earlier Amendments, this would have been the best Coal Bill ever to come out of the House of Commons. We are proud of that, but we are disappointed that so far the Minister has not seen fit to accept any Amendment. I hope that he will accept this. If he does, he will receive the support of every hon. Member.
§ Mr. G. Elfed Davies
The Minister would be well advised to accept the Amendment which seeks to do what the Minister said earlier it was his intention to do—to consult the National Union of Mineworkers and the Coal Board on the problems of presenting a scheme. The scheme is obviously complex, but I would rather that my right hon. Friend's hands were not tied to a figure at this juncture before his consultations with the two sides of the industry. It would be in everyone's interests to have a scheme acceptable to both sides of industry and that will not be possible if this provision remains in the Bill.
This is one Amendment which my right hon. Friend could accept without any difficulty. He could then have the consultations of which he has spoken and then bring forward his regulations.
§ Mr. McGuire
I support the eloquent argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch). The Minister should accept the Amendment, first, for humane reasons and, secondly, because history supports any scheme of this kind. The humane ground is that it is now generally recognised that the Government should give benefits to those 1366 whose health has been broken on the wheel of industry, as is certainly true of men in mining. There are in the industry men who were disabled long before the age of 55 when they could have obtained some benefit from these proposals.
We have men who were disabled long before that time. It is generally recognised that the mining industry, which is now to be run down, has given its disabled men a measure of shelter and protection. Although I accept what the Minister has said earlier about the Government propping up the industry, change is being enforced. The mining industry has looked after these men carefully and to a far higher degree than other industries has kept men in sheltered occupations in lamp shops, powder magazines and that type of job, limited though these possibilities are.
The Coal Board employs well above the 4 per cent of these men, which is generally accepted as the average, and there is more than that percentage on the books of practically every colliery. Every branch secretary, as I did when I was a branch secretary, has a list of men longing for the day when they could get one of these sheltered jobs, so this problem will be exaggerated when we close pits.
Special consideration must be given to men who are not as free to sell their labour on the market as men under 55, who are physically fit. Historically, the main commitment is to men who have lost their health in war or peace. A man who is suffering from industrial injury or disease receives more benefits than a man who is merely ill, although it may be that the latter has greater disability than the man with industrial injury.
The National Union of Mineworkers is not Luddite. If the Minister accepts this Amendment, we shall be able to point out to the union that the age limit for fit men is 55, but we are now considering reasons to reduce that age and when the Minister meets the union he will be able to discuss with them at what earlier age the benefit should start, or whether there should be any age barrier at all, for men to receive payment on health grounds. If a man is not able to travel, his sheltered occupation may be gone. I think that the Committee will 1367 support the Minister if he agrees to this Amendment.
§ 3.45 a.m.
§ Mr. Eadie
I support the Amendment. I know that at 4 o'clock in the morning it is probably difficult to put forward logical argument, but I am sure that the Minister must be impressed by the arguments put forward by my hon. Friends.
I say right away that when one examines this Clause of the Bill one can only say that the actual concept is right. Indeed, it depicts a certain amount of humanity and understanding for a problem. Yet, having said that, it is a very depressing philosophy. The interpretation of this part of the Bill is depressing to the extent that it creates the impression that we are writing off men at 55 years of age and over. Therefore, although we can pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for the compassion that he has shown to a very difficult problem, nevertheless I think that he would agree with me that if something was done to amend this Clause along the lines proposed by my hon. Friends, it would introduce more compassion into the Bill and at least do away with this very depressing idea that we are writing off men at 55 years of age.
When we talk like this we are, to some extent, probably doing my right hon. Friend a gross injustice. I do not think that this was the idea in his mind when the Clause was being drafted, but he will see, from the arguments which have been advanced, that there are gross weaknesses in this Clause.
Some of my hon. Friends have already pointed out that certain anomalous circumstances can arise in relation to the calculation of 90 per cent. of a man's earnings. Surely we have to consider here the issue of retrospection, because we know that when pits are about to close, sometimes internally within the pits there is general readjustment or regrading of manpower. Therefore, we have to consider this question of retrospection.
In conclusion, I appeal to my right hon. Friend to take the sound advice offered to him. Surely there is here a margin for negotiation—I do not say consultation—between him and the National Union of Mineworkers. The reason why I do not say "consultation" is because I am 1368 always reminded of the fact, when I was an active trade unionist, that when we started to use the word "consultation" we were always told that did not mean management, so I am often afraid to use that word.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will accept the propositions put forward by my hon. Friends and enter into the spirit of negotiation with the National Union of Mineworkers. I believe that if the terms of the Amendment were implemented it would give new heart and, to some extent, new morale to the industry and would remove this depressing philosophy that we are trying to write off men at 55 years of age and over. I hope that he will accept the Amendment.
§ Mr. Marsh
My hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) has spoken eloquently about the problems and anomalies raised by this particular scheme. Obviously, in a scheme of this sort anomalies are bound to arise. We will find an argument for having a finite date on this, but we shall find a lot more anomalies, whatever scheme is introduced.
I understand and appreciate what my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian said, but I do not subscribe to the idea that we are writing off men at 55 years of age. We are recognising that some of them do take a long time to get another job; that some do not get another job, and that some of them, given a year or even two years, do eventually get another job, although it is difficult for them. The purpose of the exercise is to assist them during the time when they are waiting for other jobs. I recognise that in any scheme of this sort there must be a number of anomalies.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch) has spoken on the subject of industrial injuries benefits and their relationship to this scheme. This is a subject of which he has made a close study. I do not say that there is not a problem here, but I do not think that a coal Bill is the way to deal with it. One might want to look at the problem of industrial injuries benefits. I am not saying whether there is a case or not, but I do not think it is specifically a subject to be dealt with under a coal Bill.
Now that I have heard my hon. Friend's speech I understand why the Amendment has been put forward, but 1369 I was surprised when I saw it. I ask my hon. Friends not to press the Amendment, because if it were accepted it would emasculate the whole scheme. It would, as my hon. Friend says, remove the commitment, but it would remove virtually the whole scheme, because it would merely leave the reference,become redundant within the meaning of the scheme.The problem here—and it is a very real one—is that at the moment there are about 2,500 redundant miners waiting for benefits under this scheme. If we were to accept the Amendment, which has been put forward for reasons which I understand, we would throw the whole thing back into the melting pot. For reasons which the House knows, the Bill has to go through by Christmas to provide benefits—
§ Mr. Marsh
I am not disagreeing with my hon. Friend on this, but if we accept the Amendment we shall produce a situation in which, at the end of the day, the whole thing will be wide open, and we will be back to square one, with no scheme at all. The delay involved would be such as to cause serious difficulties for a large number of people who are waiting for benefits under the scheme as it is.
I am not making a debating point about the age of 55. I announced this in July of this year. I have had correspondence with the N.U.M. about it. I have met the Executive Committee, and the Economic Committee of the union. Having started work on the scheme in July, and having discussed it on the basis set out in the Bill since then, to stop it in December and to go back to square one would, I think, not be in the interests of a large number of people who stand to benefit from it as it stands.
§ Mr. Marsh
I was about to refer to the fact that my hon. Friend had raised the question of disabled men who were made redundant. From what I have heard, I would not have thought that this was a particular problem, and one to be dealt with in a coal Bill. I am not saying that there is no problem here, but it is not a coal Bill problem. I shall read with interest what my hon. Friend said, to see how far the problem exists, and what we can do to try to meet it. But to throw the whole scheme wide open at this stage, so that all the Bill says is that there will be a scheme, would be to place us all at a very real disadvantage, particularly in view of the time which has passed. I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friends will feel able not to press the matter.
§ Mr. Mendelson
I accept what my right hon. Friend said about his discussions with the N.U.M., and the need not to be left in the position that he has to start all over again, but does he agree that because of the accelerated proposed closure of pits, the problem to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch) referred, that of disabled people under 55, will be aggravated, and it will, therefore, be necessary for him to take special action to help them? If he agrees with that, it will help.
§ Mr. Marsh
I am not word shaving. I said that my hon. Friend had raised a specific problem. What I will undertake to do is to look at what has been said on this—without any commitment because I cannot make a commitment—and see how far there is a case for assistance, and, if a case is made out, how best one deals with it. Certainly, I am open to continue to discuss anything outside the basis of the Bill with any of my hon. Friends.
§ Mr. Ridley
The Minister, when replying to the earlier debate, answered the question why this scheme should apply to miners alone with the very true and telling answer that these are the only 1371 people who have the semi-disablement which makes it extremely difficult for them to find other work from the age of 55 upwards, or perhaps even younger.
But if this is so, I think that the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch) makes a strong case, because he is arguing that it is not really the fact that they are 55 years or older which gives them the specially difficult circumstances, but the fact that they suffer from a semi-disablement which makes it almost impossible for them to find other forms of employment.
As the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain) said, there are a very large number of them and the problem is particularly pressing in the coal industry. There are 101,000 over 55, and this is clearly a major coal industry problem with which I think we all have the greatest sympathy. The difficulty here is that the Minister appears to be trying to solve the problem by means of age whereas the real solution may well be through development of the industrial injuries scheme.
We are, I think, giving away a very big principle if we are going to say that people over 55 in industries which are damaging to health and risky are eligible for special pensions. We have to ask ourselves what other people will come up with similar cases. The potteries, the rubber industries and others will produce strong arguments which it will be difficult to resist on these grounds, whereas if we based our scheme on industrial injuries then quite clearly industrial injuries can be made to apply for everybody. It might be wiser to look again at this and make sure that this would not be a better way of doing it rather than by a particular age.
§ Mr. Marsh
The hon. Gentleman will agree, of course, that if we were to do it this way then clearly we could not do it under this Bill. We would find ourselves, if his arguments were accepted, amending some part of the industrial injuries legislation, but it certainly could not be done in this Bill.
§ Mr. Ridley
Yes, but this is what the Committee stage is for. It is to make sure that we get these answers right. The Minister, in his last intervention, seemed to suggest that there is some force in 1372 what I am saying and what his hon. Friend said, and it is only by debating and arguing these things that we find where the truth lies.
I do not claim to know a lot about industrial injuries benefit and disablement provisions, but this may be a point which requires further consideration. If this is not the right Bill in which to do it, then I think that a Bill with such unanimously supported objectives would be one the Government would find little difficulty in getting through if that was the better way of doing it.
To clinch my argument, the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton), in the Second Reading debate, said this:It is not human to say to a man aged 55, 'We will give you a big percentage of your take-home pay for three years and, at the end of that time, you will get a £1 a week miner's pension.' That does not add to the dignity of these men".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th November. 1967; Vol. 755, c. 365.]4.0 a.m.
Indeed it does not. If we pay a pension only for three years at 58, 59 or 60, they will come off support and go back to the £1 a week miners' pension for five, six or, in the extreme case, seven years before they receive the retirement pension. If they do not find jobs, it will be a very lean six or seven years, especially after those three years on a relatively good wage, when their opportunities might have been greater because they were younger. This makes one wonder whether this is the right solution. If they are disabled, that would tend to get worse as they move towards retirement.
For all these reasons, I have some doubts about the wisdom of the scheme and cannot support the Amendment because it leaves far too wide an opening. The Minister would be well advised to think again. I assure him that there will be no difficulty from this side if special legislation were thought preferable to this course.
§ Mr. Swain
I apologise for speaking again. My right hon. Friend said that he had discussed the scheme with my friends the National Union of Mineworkers, but did not tell us its observations. I have a copy of them which says:Our general view on the redundancy scheme would be that it should apply to everybody 1373 made redundant as the result, directly or indirectly, of pit closures. It should also apply to such people until such time as they obtain new employment or retire and receive retirement pension from the State.At the very least, the scheme should be applicable to all those made redundant over age 50 and all those disabled men who are made redundant, whatever their age. This is a second best proposal because it involves the drawing of an arbitrary dividing line between those who should qualify for benefits and others who may need them but will not qualify.It goes on to say that some details of the Minister's proposed scheme need clarification and I suggest that we have not had that yet.
§ It then continues:
- "(a) the scheme must apply to staff grades;
- (b) how is the income of a redundant person to be calculated? Can it be made clear that it will include payments in lieu of all customary benefits forfeited by redundancy (e.g. concessionary coal)?
- (c) can it also be made clear that payment under the scheme will not be reduced because a man is receiving disablement benefits, Special Hardship Allowance or any other payment made to him by reason of injury, sickness, disability etc.?
- (d) the miners have been in a very disadvantageous position with regard to the Redundancy Payments Act simply because of the multiple-unit nature of the industry. Men made redundant at one pit have been refused a payment under the Act if they have been offered jobs at other pits which have been deemed to be (but, in our opinion, were not) suitable alternative employment. Can we have an assurance that this kind of thing will not happen under the new scheme (further details of how the Redundancy Payments Act has operated adversely as far as miners are concerned are available if required)?
- (e) The scheme should not end in March, 1971. It should be a permanent scheme."
§ They are the observations of my union and I shall be interested to hear the Minister's comments on them.
§ Mr. Marsh
I listened with interest to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain). I made it clear earlier that we had discussed why we had decided that the scheme should end in 1971, because of the general context of the Bill. The points which he raised are the very ones which I said earlier would he contained in regulations which will be discussed with the union before being brought before the House.
1374 As for the age at which the benefits will apply—and I do not want to get involved in an argument with the union—the scheme has been known in this form since 18th July. I have spoken with the Executive and with the Economic Committee of the N.U.M. and, to the best of my knowledge, I have not, until now, received any communication to the effect that the scheme was in dispute on this basis.
§ Mr. Marsh
I do not want to mince words. On 18th July, and ever since, I have talked in terms of a scheme which would make up a substantial proportion of average earnings of miners of 55 and above. Subsequent to that announcement, I was specifically asked by the N.U.M. about the date of operation of the scheme, in so far as it was in detail. As a result, I wrote:Further to our telephone conversation of Friday, I can now confirm, as you requested, that the scheme affecting redundant mine workers aged 55 or more, which I mentioned in my speech in the debate on 18th July, should apply to those men affected by closures which took place on or after 18th July. As you know, the details have yet to be worked out.I am not picking an argument with anyone, but only hoping to make the position clear. We are faced with a situation in which 2,500 men are already redundant, and have been for months, and to whom these benefits will apply. This is why I am prepared to discuss anything at any time, but I want this minimum scheme to go forward because people are waiting for the money. If we were to throw the whole thing back into the melting pot now, I do not believe that anyone would be pleased with the result.
§ Mr. Mendelson
I intervene now because we are discussing a point of great significance, particularly in view of what my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain) said about the observations on disablement of the principal unions concerned. The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) was not correct when he pointed to the danger that might arise in all sorts of other industries.
1375 It is within the knowledge of hon. Members of the Committee and, indeed, of the country as a whole, that the coal-mining industry is one where industrial disease and disablement have a much higher incidence. In foundries and one or two other places there is a high incidence, but none can compare with mining and although there have been many attempts to widen legislation on this point, there is a new element present tonight: and that is the accelerated closure of pits.
It is that which has led to the intervention of my hon. Friend. The Minister would be well advised to give consideration to it and not be influenced by any remarks to the effect that he would be giving away an important principle. This will involve a large number of men who will need to be looked after and the Minister would be doing the right thing if he accepted what my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch) has impressed upon him.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ The Deputy Chairman
The Question is, That the Clause stand part of the Bill. Since the principle of the Clause has been adequately discussed within the terms of Standing Order No. 47, I propose to put the Question forthwith.
§ Mr. Ridley
The point of the hon. Gentleman's Amendment, which is a separate point, cannot be raised on the Question, That the Clause stand part of the Bill. But could not the hon. Member be allowed to raise his point, Mr. 1376 Irving? We may not agree with it, but we should like to hear what it is.
§ The Deputy Chairman
Order. I cannot have a discussion on a Ruling from the Chair under Standing Order No. 47.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.