HC Deb 18 January 1972 vol 829 cc228-348
Mr. Speaker

More than 30 hon. Members have indicated to me their wish to speak in this debate. I hope that those who catch my eye will bear this fact in mind. Mr. Davies.

4.1 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and President of the Board of Trade (Mr. John Davies)

The issue of a national coal strike, which we are debating today, provokes inevitably depths of feeling and concern that go even beyond the serious industrial facts that are involved.

There are many reasons for this—the character of the industry, with its ruggedness and dangers; the men who work in it and who rightly evoke our sympathy and admiration; the historical place that the industry holds in the whole evolution of British industry; the special links it has with this House; the numbers of people involved and their unity and union membership; the remarkable history of the National Union of Mineworkers; and the impact that the industry has on every section of the community, geographically, industrially, socially and domestically.

This catalogue by no means exhausts the many reasons why the events that have recently occurred elicit a response throughout the country which is perhaps more profound and emotional than the plain industrial issues involved. But even on the level of the plain industrial issues, so much is at stake that we must try to see clearly and understand how those problems have arisen and what are the wider national issues that surround them, how they are likely to affect the life of the country and, perhaps most important of all, what their consequences may be for the industry and those who work in it.

Perhaps it is right to consider first that last question—the consequences for the industry itself. It is necessary to look at the recent history of the industry to do this—at its prospects and problems and how it is surmounting them and at its future outlook.

By any standards, the radical transformation which the industry has undergone in the last decade is a matter for admiration and approval. It has squared up to the realities of its competitive position and has acknowledged the need to modernise and streamline itself. It has done this with there having been a remarkable degree of understanding between management and unions. It has set about this process by making a dramatic reduction in manpower and a vast modernisation effort in plant to reduce the advantage that other newer primary fuels, such as oil and natural gas and even the nuclear generation of electricity, enjoyed.

Successive Governments have supported this transformation by writing off accumulated losses and by affording some degree of protection through the fuel duty and other measures, recognising both the social factors involved and the security ones in comparing an indigenous source of fuel with the need to import.

The combination of these efforts gave rise to a sustained improvement in productivity throughout the 'sixties, though by 1969, to the dismay of those who wished to see the industry endure and prosper, that effort seemed to be running out of steam, and the last two years regretfully have seen the rate of improvement dwindle and disappear.

After the great write off of accumulated losses in 1965 of £415 million the industry has endured further losses to the tune of £34 million, but the prospects were brighter and, with competitive fuels increasing in cost, there was hope of turning the corner into profitability.

Despite the damaging impact of unofficial action this year, 1970–71 saw a marginal profit of £½ million and hopes were high that 1971–72 would carry that ahead into continuing surplus. Those hopes are now dashed with the expectation that the present strike will be pushing the Board into deficit at the rate of £10 million a week over and above the £20 million already arising from the last two months' overtime ban.

This damaging turnround in the Board's prospects arises at a time when some of the surrounding factors are tending to reduce the critical importance of coal production as an element of security in our national fuel picture. Imported oil, it is true, has been getting substantially more expensive and that tendency may well continue, but large reserves of oil have been found round our own shores and the outlook for these secure sources of highly competitive fuel is suddenly looking rather bright.

Gas, too, has been found in substantial quantities and coal-gas is becoming rapidly a thing of the past. Nuclear power, after the inevitable uncertainties of the early days of a revolutionary new process, will now be settling down to sustained and ever more economic power generation. [Interruption.] It will. Hon. Gentlemen opposite may laugh, but they had to be concerned with this issue when they were in office. They therefore know that I am right. This process is settling down to a sustained improvement in performance.

Mr. Alex Eadie (Midlothian)

The right hon. Gentleman sought to praise the miners, but now he is seeking to threaten them.

Mr. Davies

No, I am not.

Mr. Eadie

The right hon. Gentleman is. Can he produce evidence to show that there is an abundance of cheap oil or that nuclear power is not escalating in price, apart from being obsessed with technical difficulties?

Mr. Davies

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I am not in any way threatening the miners. I am simply seeking to establish the realities facing the industry. As for access to oil supplies, the hon. Gentleman will, bearing in mind the area from which he comes, not have failed to note the intention expressed by the B.P. Company not long ago relating to a very large resource of oil in the North Sea. That will be exploited as from now on at a high cost, and this will be available—[Interruption.]—at a very reasonable price.

On the issue of nuclear generation, has not the hon. Gentleman realised that even at present Magnox reactors are able to produce electricity at a price well within supplies available from traditional fuels?

Mr. Eadie

What about A.G.R.?

Mr. Davies

I am referring to the Magnox reactor. The hon. Gentleman must be aware that it is producing economically. In these circumstances the future of coal depends on its ability to regain its productivity record of the 'sixties and, above all, not to allow self-inflicted wounds to undermine its prospects for the future. It is for this reason that a crippling strike arising at this juncture is a cause of concern not just for the immediate difficulties and hardships it may occasion but for the irremediable damage it may do to all that has been so patiently and constructively achieved by a decade of harmony and collaboration.

To the material losses there is also a risk of adding a legacy of bitterness from the strike itself—and this will increase the longer the strike endures—which will prove to be an obstacle to the resumption of the collaboration which is so essential if a renewal of productivity gain is to be achieved in the future, with all its immense importance for the competitiveness and resilience of the industry. Already we have seen signs of those actions which engender bitterness and leave an after-taste of sourness and distrust.

When, for instance, I read of refusals to comply with the union's own advice on the maintenance of safety measures, I am deeply distressed, not only by the immediate incident, but by its deeper and more enduring effect on the resumption of the joint endeavours that are so much needed for the future.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

On this question of safety—

Mr. Davies

In speaking of safety measures I would wish to acknowledge the remarkable and untiring efforts of management, staff and officials in keeping the pits in working order at the present time. They are putting in long hours in an ardous and difficult task, and the capacity of the industry to get back again into production will in due course owe a great debt of gratitude to them.

Mr. Skinner

There has been a lot of clap-trap about so-called safety measures. In my opinion what the Board is really concerned about—and perhaps the Minister will be able to say whether this is true—is that there is £100 million worth of equipment down the pits belonging to the Board and private interests. The difference between 1926 and now is that instead of the equipment down the pits belonging to the men, it belongs to some other people. It is not really a question of safety. What the Board is really asking miners to do is to move the chocks along. It has nothing to do with safety. The object is to safeguard the money of private interests.

Mr. Speaker

Frequently there are complaints about the length of Front Bench speeches. It is interventions which frequently make them longer.

Mr. Davies

The plant to which the hon. Gentleman has referred in the pits is at the basis of the future of the industry, and the work that is involved in safeguarding it is important not just from the point of not suffering an unreasonable degree of waste, but also from the point of ensuring that there is continuing activity within the pits for the men to return to.

With so much at stake, it is necessary to realise fully the events which have brought the industry to this unhappy pass. The union's claim was presented in mid-September, and called for very large increases in pay ranging up to £9 a week which, if accorded, would have added about one-third to the Board's wages bill, and would have added about 15 per cent. to existing price levels. Negotiations went on into mid-October, with the board advancing its offers from £1.60 a week for all, to £1.80 a week for the lowest paid surface workers, and £1.75 for other workers. That was rejected by the union which, on 21st October, withdrew from all consultative machinery, called for an overtime ban from 1st November, and in accordance with its rules instituted a ballot of its members with a view to calling a national strike.

That ballot commenced a month later, and on 2nd December the result was announced which gave the executive discretion to call a national strike by a vote of 58.8 per cent. in favour, a proportion which, in parenthesis, I should point out would not have been sufficient before July of last year to give such discretion—[Interruption.] In the intervening period a resolution was passed to reduce the requisite number in favour from 65 per cent. to 55 per cent.

Throughout the remainder of December and early January further efforts were made by the Board to find a formula acceptable to the union, but it failed. Almost on the very eve of the strike the Chairman of the National Coal Board made a last-minute attempt to reach a settlement and met the full executive of the N.U.M. at its headquarters. At that meeting every effort was made to avert the strike which was clearly in nobody's interest. The Board advanced its offer still further to £2 a week for the lower paid and £1.90 for the others, together with an additional 5 days holidays, and including a special productivity arrangement.

It should be noted that the last offer was never the subject of a ballot, and it is at least open to question whether, with the narrow majority giving the executive discretion to call a strike at the lower level, there would still have been the requisite majority not merely to give discretion but actually to implement a strike at the higher. [HON. MEMBERS:" Rubbish."] I say that it is at least open to question.

In the face of the rejection of its latest offer and the firm intention of the union's executive to proceed with the strike, as notified, on 9th January the Board withdrew its offer on the grounds that the financial situation of the Board must inevitably be damaged by the strike, that it could not expect therefore to be in a position to sustain the latest offer from such a worsened position, and that when the parties resumed their contact—as they inevitably must—the situation would have to be approached in the new conditions which would then be prevailing.

The Board estimated that its latest offer amounted to slightly less than 8 per cent. of its wages bill, and that was equivalent to pre-empting a 2 cwt.—almost 5 per cent.—increase in productivity. Before the final rupture came the Board on 5th January proposed to submit the dispute to the National Reference Tribunal, but the N.U.M. would not agree. A similar plea by the Board last week was again rejected. However, I understand that earlier today the T.U.C. approached both sides in an endeavour to bring them together and that the N.C.B. and the N.U.M. have now agreed to take part in a meeting tomorrow. I hope that that initiative will lead to useful results. There was a murmur, why did we not do something? I recall to hon. Gentlemen opposite that my right hon. Friend said earlier at Question Time that an endeavour was made but it was refused by the N.U.M. A few facts are worth establishing about pay levels in the industry. First, the nearly 8 per cent. final offer of the Board, on top of last year's 12 per cent. gives an overall increase materially in excess of the movement of living costs over the period involved. Second, the cost of the final offer would have been about £31 million, and that has to be set against an accumulated deficit of £34 million, a break-even in 1970–71, and a hoped-for surplus in 1971–72 already undermined by the overtime ban.

Within the increase the lowest paid workers would have had an 11 per cent. advance to add to the 20 per cent. they received in November 1970. Most face workers would have been on £31.90 had the final offer been accepted, thus exceeding substantially the parity of £30 already attained under the National Power Loading agreement, and involving for about 69,000 workers increases of up to £2.77½ per week, to which the £1.90 of the offer would have been added. The T.U.C.'s target of a £20 minimum wage would have been attained for the industry, lifting mineworkers in this respect from sixteenth to sixth place in the league table of minimum rates and placing them on the same level as dockers.

I have seen and heard references in the Press and elsewhere to cases of individuals taking home as little as £13. The Board has circulated to Members information which shows how misleading those reports are. When cases have been investigated it has often been found that deductions for rent and National Savings were comprised within the figures to arrive at the figure for take-home pay.[HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] It is absolutely exact. I need not repeat what the House will already have read, but it is worth stressing that the take-home pay of an adult married face worker with no children would have been just under £24 had this offer been accepted.

Mr. Bob Brown (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West)

Can the right hon. Gentleman deny that there are miners with families qualifying for the Family Income Supplement?

Mr. Davies

I am not able to deny it, but that is because I do not have those facts before me. I will readily and willingly look into that question.

The Board has worked out—[Interruption.] Hon. Members opposite ask for facts. I am seeking simply to state the facts. The Board has worked out that average adult earnings for the week ending 9th October, 1971, were in excess of £30, including allowances in kind amounting to some £2.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Rother Valley)

The right hon. Gentleman has given figures for October. Will he now give figures for a period in November or December when the overtime ban was operating? The wages in the period he has quoted resulted from miners working many hours of overtime.

Mr. Davies

That is all entirely irrelevant to the question of the real pay in the industry. The industry is working to a certain pattern of overtime the suppression of which has caused the industry grievous damage, as I have already said. The fact is that the average earnings in October, when normal working was being pursued, was at this substantial level.

It has been suggested that the Government should step in and by some means compensate the Board to enable it to make a higher settlement than its own financial position and prospects make possible. However, against the facts I have mentioned about the offer and the level of pay in the industry, such a step would have been manifestly irresponsible. The final offer compares favourably with many recent settlements in both public and private sectors, and to subsidise an increase in it would be flying in the face of all the efforts that the Government are making to contain inflation and reduce the damaging rise in prices. [Interruption.] Hon. Members opposite are never hesitant about demanding the containment of prices, yet they are never prepared to meet the requirements for doing so. The efforts that the Government are making have had, and are continuing to have, a considerable measure of success.

Sir Gerald Nabarro (Worcestershire, South)

Will my right hon. Friend make it perfectly clear that, if the miners' wage demand were conceded in full, it would lead to a very large increase in the retail price of coal, all of which would render the product entirely uncompetitive and cause a large part of the existing market for coal to disappear?

Mr. Davies

I have said that the effect of acceding to the total proposal of the National Union of Mineworkers would have been to increase coal prices by 15 per cent. which, as my hon. Friend rightly says, would have put coal rightly out of the field of competition.

So here we are witnessing a damaging strike liable to cause great inconvenience, and even hardship, to the community and great damage to the industry itself.

Mr. Charles Loughlin (Gloucestershire, West)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Davies

No, I will not.

Mr. Loughlin

Then why did the right hon. Gentleman give way to the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro)?

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Loughlin

Will the Secretary of State give way now?

Mr. Davies

No, I am not giving way.

Mr. Loughlin

As the right hon. Gentleman gave way to the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South, he should give way to someone on this side.

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Loughlin

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have already said that there is always a great deal of complaint about the length of Front Bench speeches. Continual interventions simply protract Front Bench speeches. I want to be able to call a large number of Opposition Members who wish to speak. I ask the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) not to protract the proceedings.

Mr. Loughlin

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am very sorry that you should think that I am protracting the debate, or at any rate the right hon. Gentleman's speech. However, if the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to give way to a very favourable intervention from one of his hon. Friends it is abject cowardice on the part of the right hon. Gentleman if he will not give way to what may be a not so favourable intervention.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman is on a rather bad and unfair point, because the Secretary of State had already given way to two very hostile interventions.

Mr. Davies

I hate to disappoint the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) but, as you say, Mr. Speaker, I have given way on a number of occasions and not by any means always to amicable interventions either.

So here we are witnessing a damaging strike liable to cause great inconvenience, and even hardship, to the community and great damage to the industry itself, for causes which, on the statement of facts I have listed, do not seem to justify the action which has been taken. At present the impact on the community as a whole is slight and patchy. Stocks are reasonably high throughout the country, but there are bound to be difficulties for some firms and in some places. It would be some weeks before there begins to be real difficulty. The steel industry is likely to be among the first to be hit, with all the damaging effect that that will have on production, exports and employment.

My hon. Friend the Minister for Industry took immediate action to enjoin economy on distributors and fuel users alike the day after the strike started. In case further measures had to be taken, the Government are keeping the situation continually under review.

I earnestly hope, however, that matters will not deteriorate in such a way as to make further action necessary. The very future of the industry and of the employment it provides is at stake. It would be tragic if, with the prospect of a better future for coal in view, irreparable damage were now done, with all the unhappy consequences—industrial, personal and social—that would inescapably ensue.

4.28 p.m.

Mr. Harold Lever (Manchester, Cheetham)

This is a grim hour for the mining community and, by the same token, for the people of the country, as I shall seek to show.

It is some time since I have concentrated my mind on the affairs of the miners. Before the last Government ended I had the great privilege of being in charge of the National Coal Board and of mining affairs.

In the past my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) has been in charge of these matters for the Opposition. I wish that at this hour of crisis I could reproduce one fraction of the zeal and passion of my hon. Friend and the concern he showed for the miners in the period during which he had charge of this portfolio for the Opposition. In a sense, he has swapped his portfolio with me and he is now the Opposition's leading spokesman on Europe. Whatever differences of view I may have with my hon. Friend on any other subjects, I certainly hope to convey to the House the concern which throughout the period of our opposition has been expressed by my hon. Friend on behalf of our party for the miners of this country.

It may be relevant to refer to my own experience with the miners. I have known them intimately over a period of years as a lawyer, but I met them more particularly in connection with my work at the Ministry of Technology. It might be thought from much that has been said that the miners are men who make exorbitant demands upon the community, that they are less socially responsible and socially conscious than the rest of the community. That has not been my experience. I do not want to sentimentalise, but my experience is that these men, who have been mistreated so badly by the people of this country and the arrangements of this country over so long a period, are among the most loyal to their craft and to their country that we possess.

I met not exorbitance of demand but moderation, decency and reason. I met men at the modesty and reasonableness of whose demands I marvelled. I marvelled at their co-operation, at their loyalty to the grim taskmaster which their industry is, and the love and affection they have for that work and that industry and their loyalty to their comrades in the industry, a matter with which I will deal later.

So the first question I must ask is, why have we a strike on our hands? For nearly half a century there has been no such general strike of the miners. Why today, in our more affluent society, have the miners been brought to a pitch of feeling where there is a general strike backed emotionally, whatever the ballot says, by every single man at the pits, in Scotland, Wales, Cumberland and the like?

Mr. Skinner

And their wives.

Mr. Lever

I do not approach the question in a censorious or arrogant spirit. In no country has anyone found a golden key to unlock the doors of the problem of determining wages and wage differentials between one trade and another. Therefore, no one has the right to speak with arrogance and overconfidence about particular settlements or ethical principles in determining either the total of money wage rates or the relative wages between one trade and another. Therefore, I certainly do not approach the question with a desire to make destructive criticism of the Government.

But I must say at the outset that, having followed very closely what has taken place, I am amazed that the Minister should make the speech he did. He failed even for a moment to direct his mind to the central questions that should be troubling it and his conscience: why have we this strike on our hands; why have nearly 300,000 of the most patient, hardworking, hazard-risking men in our industrial society reached a point where they are prepared to jeopardise their future prospects of employment and submit themselves to immediate poverty and conflict to establish what they believe to be their rights? That question does not even appear to have crossed the mind of the right hon. Gentleman or his colleagues who have been handling the matter.

Why is it that patient, hardworking men of the calibre of the miners, to whom the right hon. Gentleman paid such generous tribute in opening, when he talked of their years of co-operation, of reasonableness, of loyalty to their craft, are now feeling a sense of outrage? The right hon. Gentleman has not even begun to attempt to understand this. Why is it that the men are prepared only with difficulty to obey their union's order to attend to safety in the pits because of the strike which has been brought about?

Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)

Everyone in the country regrets that the miners were 16th in the wages league table, but we are surprised that Labour hon. Members, who are now exclaiming so bitterly that nothing has been done by the present Government, when the miners are being brought up at least to sixth place, should have been so silent during their period of office, never saying a word about the matter then.

Mr. Lever

I like to be generous about interventions. However, they are no substitute for catching the eye of the Chair and treating the House to oratory, valuable or less valuable according to judgment.

I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman—

Mr. Burden


Mr. Lever

I will deal with all these questions in my own order if the hon. Gentleman will contain himself.

I now want to ask the right hon. Gentleman and the Secretary of State for Employment, who is to reply, why they think that the strike has been brought about. Has there been a sudden sea change in the character and quality of our mining population which, after nearly half a century including the past 25 years of patient co-operation, leads them to feel outraged at their situation and to feel that they have no alternative but to take strike action to secure some justice? The fact that we have no rules which can tell us exactly how we should seek to determine wages in any particular situation does not entitle us to retreat into rigidity and inflexibility.

On the contrary, as we seek to evolve better ways of dealing with our problem of wages and the like, we must show the maximum respect to the well-tried principles of fair play, decency and candour while we seek in one way and another to improve the general bargaining situation and its consequences for our country. I shall not enter into controversy about what direction that will take. In the meantime, rigidity, inflexibility, coldness, rules of thumb evolved in the secrecy of Government Departments, are not the way in which to handle work-people with a grievance. Real and serious efforts to meet them man to man to examine their grievances and find out what may reasonably be done to deal with them are the order of the day.

I shall try in the time at my disposal to deal with the major policy questions that were involved and seek to show that on every count the Government failed to apply ordinary candour, common sense and fair play in their treatment of the miners. I was rather shocked by the right hon. Gentleman. More than once in his speech he sought to trot out the weary argument about a 15 per cent. increase in coal prices if the miners' demands had been granted in full. I shall not speak in detail about what should be granted, but the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well, in spite of the synthetic indignation he mustered about the 15 per cent. increase, that no union entering into a bargaining situation states its original demand as being equivalent to what it finally accepts.

What we are discussing is not whether the full demands of the miners should have been met but whether the Government and the Coal Board have made reasonable attempts to meet the miners' legitimate grievances, whether the offer they have made is adequate to the situation, whether the manner in which they have approached and treated the work-people has been calculated to lead to peaceful co-operation with the workers, or whether it has been a manner cold, dictatorial, inflammatory and provocative. I shall seek to show that all those adjectives are justified. I am very reluctant to use them.

There are three major points of policy to which I want to refer and to which the strike situation relates: first, the Government's relations with nationalised industries and public services; second, regional policy; third, the general economic strategy for dealing with the country's economic needs, which includes the questions of inflation, wages and unemployment. As to the Government's position in relation to public service industries, I must say first that I acknowledge that in any matters affecting public servants directly in the public service or in nationally-owned industries, the Government have a special responsibility to use their influence in a way which they believe is conducive to the overall economic advantage of the country. I do not believe that the Government can say, should say or do say, "This is a matter for the Naional Coal Board. If it feels like offering more, it can do so. If it does not, that is too bad." That is humbug, and it is very important that that kind of humbug should not be allowed to poison relations between the N.C.B. and the men or between any nationalised industry and its employees by failure of candour. The Government should come out into the open and state quite openly and perfectly reputably that they have an interest in the wage negotiations, and that it is the determining interest in the present circumstances as to what the settlement shall be. But with that interest goes a responsibility not only for candour but a responsibility to do what is constructive and is likely to lead to an agreement if one is possible.

How do we reconcile that with the way in which the negotiations have been conducted? The Government have not attempted to influence negotiations from a sense of responsibility and a helpful and constructive attitude. They have attempted nothing less than a diktat on the Coal Board and the miners as to the limits of any advance that can be made in the miners' wages. That is the fact. Everybody knows that it is the fact. Everybody knows that the ceiling on the advance offered to the miners by the Board has been fixed by the Government, and the fact that the Government discreetly say nothing about it is because they fail to observe the rule of candour.

The Government then become responsible for meeting the leaders. They are responsible for bringing about settlements in private industry where their good offices make it possible. But what about the coal strike? I have never listened to such dishonest pretence belatedly come to as the pretence that the request to Joe Gormley to meet the officials of the Department of Employment was the delicate and timid beginnings of the wish of the Secretary of State for Employment to be allowed to intervene in the dispute. That bogus and belated pretence for what was in fact an act of deliberate official discourtesy, of deliberately disclaiming the Minister's intention to intervene, is particularly difficult to swallow.

What in fact happened was that on the eve of the strike officials of the Department telephoned Mr. Gormley and asked him, "Would you come across and see us?" He replied, "Of course, I should like to see the Minister, but why should I come across to see you? What do you want?" They said, "We want to be filled in on some of the facts of the dispute." We must stretch romanticism to an extreme degree if we are to believe that the officials of the Department really have to leave it to the eve of a strike before they want to be filled in. What they wanted to do was to sound out the officials of the mineworkers' union without taking the moral commitment which the Minister should have taken, and undertaking to preside over negotiations with a constructive purpose. I hope that the Secretary of State does not repeat that balderdash tonight, seriously telling us that the miners are at fault for there not being a meeting with him because his own timid first approach to them received the brush-off. I take it that the right hon. Gentleman is in command of plain English. He has often shown himself to be. If he wanted to talk to the miners' leaders and get them round a table with a view to constructive talks, why in heaven's name did he not just telephone himself and ask Mr. Gormley to come?

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Robert Carr)

The right hon. Gentleman must be aware that in interventions by the Department under various Ministers of both parties in the past it has been very common for talks in a dispute to start with officials and lead on to other things. Is the right hon. Gentleman not also aware that it is common procedure in these matters to start by inviting the parties to come together on neutral territory to give the full background? Is he not aware that only a few weeks previously those tactics led to the settlement of the Coventry tool room dispute?

Mr. Lever

I take it that the right hon. Gentleman listened to the speech of his right hon. Friend who, in answer to a complaint that the Minister had not called the men round the table to talk about their problems with him, claimed that this official approach was quite obviously the beginning of the Minister calling them together. When the right hon. Gentleman saw that the offer of the officials was not regarded in the extraordinary way in which he appears to have expected, why did he not remedy this by a simple application of his voice to the telephone to call the men together? Why has he not done so now? It is part of the dictatorial, insensitive attitude of the Government throughout the dispute.

As I have said, none of us has the right to be dogmatic or arrogant about how wage disputes should be settled, but the rule-of-thumb, dictatorial arrogance of the Government in this dispute comes particularly ill from a Government which before it was elected made great play of the high unemployment figures and the high cost of living increases not being adequately compensated for by wages. We heard a lot about that before the Government came to office. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale reminded me a few weeks ago, Disraeli once said—he must have had a Conservative Government in mind—that one should not compare too closely the hours of courtship with the years of possession. The Government now have a very different attitude, and have failed to attempt to influence in a constructive way, even in the style of the conduct of the negotiations, this grim dispute.

Mr. Loughlin


Mr. Lever

I applaud my hon. Friend's attempts to intervene in the speech of the Minister, which I found very understandable, but I hope he will allow me to make my points.

Another example of the Government's attitude in these negotiations, provocative and negative, is that the right hon. Gentlemen cited with apparent approval one of the greatest blunders I can recall in industrial relations, that on the eve of this grim strike, the Coal Board told the miners that the offer it had made to them would necessarily not be open if they persisted in their strike. That is like saying, "You take our diktat or, if you fight, you will not get what we have acknowledged is a minimum fair deal". Analysed, this is a simple call to the miners for unconditional surrender. I never thought it was a particularly valuable strategy when applied to our Nazi enemies whom we were fighting in 1939, but when it is applied to the mining community of our country it is worse than bad strategy; it is a deeply dishonourable act as a reward to people who, as the Minister has admitted, have co-operated through the grim years of the contraction of the industry to seek to keep its viability.

Apart from the superficial acknowledgment traditional to the miners and their union, the Minister has said not a word to show that the Government recognise that miners have a special and individual case. All work people have a special and individual case, but no such individual case has been considered by the right hon. Gentleman. I must weary him a little by telling him what he appears not to recognise. He has not taken any steps, so far as I can discover from any words he has spoken this afternoon or from anything which the Government have said, even to begin to understand the feelings of the miners and the case they feel they have.

As everybody acknowledges, the miners do hard, dangerous and unhealthy work. There was a substantial correction in the post-war status of the miners which led to the miners being at the top of the league instead of in the miserable position they had been in before the war. This was not an inappropriate correction brought about by accident in post-war circumstances; it was a long overdue act of justice by society to correct the abominable treatment the mining community had endured for a long period.

In my dealings with miners I have been struck not only by their straight-forwardness and courage but by their entire good temper and lack of bitterness about past history which so often bedevils relations in other trades. The miners appear to be able to forget the mis-treatment to which they were subjected in the years before the war, and that is to their credit. But if we forget it, it will be much to our dishonour, and the Government appear totally to have forgotten the long record of the miners both before and after the war. Their status has gone. Their average wages have declined in relation to other people's. Over the last four years, even on averages, there has been a loss of real wages to the miners. Over a few months, if the offer had been accepted, their wages might have kept up with the recent changes in prices, but over four years the miners have not only watched a relative decline in their status but an actual decline in their real standards of life.

The averages are not very instructive. I shall leave it to my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley) who knows far more about this than I do, to deal with the details when he winds up the debate for the Opposition. Many men are taking home disgracefully low wages by any standards for skilled or unskilled men. The average is inflated. Some miners in certain circumstances are performing superhuman feats of overtime to earn high wages, and this distorts the picture of what the average man is getting. Those who earn overtime in the pits, earn it hard. Many of them work 12 hours a day underground to receive wages which are quite commonplace in industries outside the pits for full overtime. But that is not the lot of the average man.

What is worse is that this decline which the miners have witnessed and about which they feel keenly arises in part because their union, rightly, in the long-term interests of the miners and the industry, sought to co-operate with the Government and the Coal Board in dealing with the problems that beset a declining industry. They have simplified the wage structure. The bonuses, piecework rates and all the complexities which, for example, bedevil the motor industry, have been eliminated in the mining industry thanks to the miners and their union. When the motor workers are asked to do this they refuse because they say that at the end of the day by one means or another, if they make this sacrifice to logic and industrial advantage, they will be cheated. The miners have suffered as a result of their co-operation and not gained by it. So the right hon. Gentleman and the Coal Board are putting a premium on non-co-operation in simplifying wage structures.

The miners' union and the men have agreed to the shuffling of jobs whereby skilled men take on unskilled jobs at low wages so as to find a niche for themselves in this declining industry. The miners and the union have co-operated with the Coal Board in the agonising problems of redundancy that have arisen in these last few years when the number employed has shrunk to little more than one-third of the strength a relatively few years ago.

I am appalled that yet again today we hear that the miners will injure their prospects, and that they should be warned about competitive fuels—nuclear power, oil and the like—as if this were the miners' problem from which the Gov- ernment dissociate themselves. I do not claim any special virtues as a Minister, but I should be ashamed, at the maximum moment of friction with the miners, whatever difference we had, if ever by one word or hint I did not identify with their grim anxieties, not only about what they have had to suffer in the past but about the difficulties they are likely to have to meet in the future.

The Government say, "You will injure yourselves", as if it were the concern of the miners alone and not of the Government. I did not hear this from the Minister when he spoke and I should like to hear the Government say, with humility, that, whatever differences divide them and the miners in this dispute, they share and identify with the anxieties and difficulties of the miners in the declining industry situation with which they are faced. This warning must not be used as a leverage to support a Government diktat.

The Government have wholly ignored the regional aspects of the problem. Seventy per cent. of the miners work in depressed regions or regions of high unemployment. What asinine behaviour it is to go searching around these areas of high unemployment to find some emergency means of giving more employment while, on the other hand, exercising self-righteous pedantry in keeping down the buying power of the miners to a point where it leads to a disruptive strike with the consequences which the right hon. Gentleman has pointed out. This is a prescription, if we are to believe him, for more unemployment in this region of high unemployment. Having refused the miners a modest and flexible response to their demands for wage increases on the ground that this would threaten the economy, the Government would rather have a strike which will add in the long run to unemployment in areas of high unemployment. If ever there was an area where there should be some flexibility and response to wage demands it is an area of high unemployment, because by making that response the buying power of the wage earners in that area would be increased. I am not saying that this justifies an unlimited increase, but it certainly justifies a far more flexible approach than the Government have shown. This should have been kept in mind, but we have not heard a word from the Minister or from the Government about the regional aspects of this problem.

Another matter on which the Minister might at least have treated us to his views is the financial structure of the Coal Board, which was saddled at the outset with the cost of taking over the mines. I will not reflect on the 1945 Labour Government by suggesting that we unknowingly overpaid for the mines, but we can say that a very handsome payment was made for the neglected collieries of those days. If I may put on a private entrepreneurial hat for the moment, it is not a payment which I would have thought reasonable to pay. The Coal Board and the miners have been saddled with the burden. I say "the miners" because every time the miners want a wage increase they are referred to the balance sheet and told that there is interest to be paid on that huge debt before anyone can think of paying more wages.

Mr. Richard Kelley (Don Valley)

Would my right hon. Friend not agree that if the Coal Board was allowed to fix prices according to ordinary commercial criteria it would be in a different position today, approaching this terrible calamity? It would then be able to measure the demands of its employees against the price it might be able to charge for its products in the commercial market.

Mr. Lever

My hon. Friend has a good point, but the point that I am seeking to make is that instead of being allowed to pursue commercial criteria the Board has been saddled with this debt which is unrealistic, particularly in a declining industry. The debt is already too high in relation to the assets, but in the nature of a declining industry those assets have been vanishing and so the miners are servicing a debt on machines which are no longer in use, covering pits which have been long closed down. In 1965 my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) wrote off a substantial sum, but that is nearly seven years ago.

I want to know why we cannot write off a great deal more of the debt in view of all the closures that have taken place since then. This is where I complain of the Minister's attitude. He ought to be aware, and to show awareness, of these things. The charge per ton by way of interest is higher today than it was before my right hon. Friend wrote off the debt. In terms of the burden on the miners and the industry the weight of debt is greater on the contracted industry of 1972 than before. Since the right hon. Gentleman does not want to push up prices but wants to do justice by the miners, why cannot he perform this elementary act of financial justice that would automatically have been provided for in the accounts of any private firm, and write off a substantial part of the debt interests?

That interest amounts to about the same amount in total as the total offer made by the Board. If the Government make a serious incursion into this debt they will find themselves with some millions available which would provide the facilities to make a flexible response to the miners without adding a penny to the price of coal.

This coal strike must be seen as part of general policy which cannot be acceptable to us. It is a policy of selective pressure on the public sector while, if there is any pressure at all on the private sector, it is applied in a very different way. We cannot say to the public sector as the Minister sought to say today, "You must make a sacrifice in your legitimate claims because we are trying to protect prices and the public." We cannot say that to miners and public servants if we are not attempting some control over other people's wages. The Government remind me of an old music-hall song in a rather obvious way, which used to go something like this: When I'm not near the girl I love, I love the girl I'm near. I do not say that the Government love the public industries—I acquit them of that charge—but when they cannot control the wage rises they would most like to control they control the wages of those where they are a monopoly employer, where they are backed by an unlimited public purse.

This is not good enough. We cannot expect one-sided sacrifices by public servants and State industries when they are not being protected. We will end up with a situation where there is an undeclared incomes policy diktat in the public sector and a million unemployed in the private sector. For us this is not an acceptable policy.

Mr. R. Carr

I wonder what the right hon. Gentleman would advocate as an incomes policy.

Mr. Lever

The right hon. Gentleman has chosen his moment of interrogation well. I can hardly expect the House to allow me to enlarge on what is, as I admitted, a very difficult question. Sometimes it is possible to express a certain humility as to how we may achieve what is right and comprehensive but that does not mean that one forfeits one's right, when one sees plainly wrong things being done, to denounce such things. Whatever a right incomes policy may he, and I have every sympathy with this or any other Government in thinking out and groping for one, if it is done with a little humility and compassion I welcome it.

One thing is quite clear and it is that what I have described as a diktat in the public sector—the risk of grim strikes, poverty and the ruin of one of our great industries with consequential damage to the people of the country—is not a policy for incomes. Nor is it a substitute for neglect in the private sector to claim proudly that that sector now has a million unemployed threatening it. It is no good saying, "If we cannot dictate to them when we are not a monopoly employer we can at least provide an overhang of a million unemployed."

What is to be done? Are we really to go on with the attitude shown by the Minister today, of pious sermonising, or are the Government at long last going to get them round a table and start talking flexibly and intelligently with the miners in a real effort to understand why they feel as they do, why they are incensed and why they are prepared to suffer as they are likely to suffer, have already started suffering—they and their families? Do the Government believe that these men are their fellow citizens, in line with the panegyric with which the Minister began his speech? If they do, then the only honourable thing they can do is to get them round a table.

I want to warn the right hon. Gentleman that the alternative is a fight to a finish and it is one which no one will relish when it starts. There are two possibilities in theory. One is that we would achieve a dishonourable victory with a trail of bitterness, and beat the miners back to work, as happened in 1926. The other is that we will achieve a ruinous defeat because the miners are not the kind of people the Government seem to believe them to be. These are among the most loyal and determined men we have. These are the yeomen of England, Scotland and Wales. These are the men who rarely turn against their fellow men. I once said in this House when I had the honour and privilege of being a Minister dealing with their affairs that the thing that struck me most about the miners was their open-facedness. They had the faces of men who have spent long years wrestling in comradeship against the grim hazards of nature, not wriggling foxily, determined to outwit their fellow men. These are not men who by nature are aggressive or eager to injure their fellow men. Their record proves to the contrary. If they feel their cause to be righteous, if they feel they are being subjected to a humiliating diktat by a Government which has totally failed to understand their grievances, they will fight and fight until not only they suffer but our whole country suffers. I do not believe the people of the country are prepared to stand idly by and watch an attempted re-enactment of the terrible experiences of 1926.

It is my privilege on behalf of my party to pledge that we will not stand idly by and that we stand solidly behind the miners in their sense of grievance and intend, as we believe the whole of the trade union movement intends, to support them in their efforts to secure justice. In doing so we we will be giving expression to the deepest wishes of the great majority of forward-looking people in this country irrespective of party.

5.10 p.m.

Mr. Philip Holland (Carlton)

I echo the concern about the present situation expressed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. Harold Lever); and, like the right hon. Gentleman, I do not approach this matter in any censorious or arrogant spirit. I am sure that nobody wishes to approach this question dogmatically.

It is an over-simplification to assume that 350,000 mineworkers speak with one voice, take the same attitude or even face the same set of problems in their daily working lives between one pit and another and between one part of the country and another. It might be helpful therefore if, before I develop the points I wish to make and ask the questions I wish to ask, I first filled in the background against which I make my judgments.

I am concerned in my constituency with the prospering South Nottinghamshire coalfield, and particularly with the operations at Calverton, Cotgrave and Gedling. Not only do these three pits currently offer ample opportunity for mineworkers to take full advantage of any productivity offers, but drilling operations now taking place have encouraging implications for the future. Drilling at Calverton has recently proved a seven-foot coal section in one seam and over six feet is clean coal; six seams over 4 feet thick have been found in reserve at Cotgrave's million-ton coal factory and there are good prospects of proving substantial reserves this year at the very productive Gedling colliery.

It is against this background of high-production collieries, with a reserve potential to ensure a growth development for the future, that I view with sadness what can only be a serious setback for the industry. Yet though my constituents do not risk pit closures with redundancies, as do some mineworkers in other parts of the county and country, they stand to gain less from negotiations on an industry-wide basis than those employed in some of the other pits. My own view is coloured by this fact. In fact, if it were practicable—and I know that it is not, in this industry—my constituents would stand to gain from plant bargaining rather than industry-wide bargaining.

A number of conflicting reasons for the present industrial action by the N.U.M. have been enunciated by commentators inside and outside the industry. The less sophisticated have said that the strike concerns more money for men whose wages have fallen behind those in other industries. Certainly the negotiations have been about that and if there had been no offer from the Coal Board then the strike would be about that. The more sophisticated have said that industrial action arises from a natural and understandable fear of men employed in a rapidly declining industry. I am not sufficiently sophisticated to follow that line of reasoning. I feel that the opposite would obtain.

When the Coal Board's improved offer was being rejected, the President of the N.U.M. said that the sole issue of difference was whether an extra rise in output of one cwt. of coal per man shift should be paid in anticipation of its attainment, or retrospectively on 1st November next after it has been achieved. Therefore, I wish to address myself to that aspect.

Where the rise in output can be quickly achieved, the union requirement as regards the cash settlement would appear to have been met, with a third of the productivity increase being paid retrospectively. Therefore mineworkers at pits where the increase in productivity can be readily achieved are now suffering the privation of loss of earnings for no reason other than a laudable sense of loyalty to those workers who are in a less fortunate position in the older pits.

It may be argued that the third one cwt. per manshift required is unattainable. To argue that is to accuse the union negotiators of extreme dishonesty for making a claim on the basis of unattainable productivity. Certainly that charge cannot be levied at the president of the N.U.M. whose record shows him to be a moderate and responsible trade union leader. It is reasonable to assume that an extra three cwt. per manshift is attainable, in the view of the N.U.M. negotiators, by next November.

The only question in the minds of the N.U.M. must be how quickly it can be achieved and how far back the November pay award will be backdated. At the worst, there will be no backdating so the total loss to each mineworker will be a pound a week for 43 weeks, from 1st January to 1st November—which, on my calculations, amounts to £43. It will take fewer than three weeks loss of earnings on strike to cancel that benefit even if the strike were to persuade the Board to meet the union's last demand.

A year ago, when the Nottinghamshire miners resisted the attempts of those in the Yorkshire coalfield to persuade them to join the unofficial industrial action, active members of a South Nottingham N.U.M. branch told me that in this day and age when industrial relations are highly developed, people who go on strike are always the losers because the marginally improved offers that may sometimes—but only sometimes, not always—accrue are more than discounted by the loss of earnings during the strike. This strike, I fear, amply emphasises his point.

As a practitioner in industrial relations I have never been critical of the inherent right of a man to withdraw his labour to preserve or improve his standard of living. But I cannot understand the reason for a strike on such a narrow issue as this in an industry where industrial relations have been progressively improving in recent years. I do not understand this union's death wish to take action which must result in the earlier closure of the less productive pits in an industry whose manpower has declined severely from 760,000 in 1959 to 350,000 in 1971. It is open to argument what effect this will have in terms of accelerated redundancy, but what is not open to argument is the damage being done to industrial relations during this difficult and critical time.

I do not presume to argue either for or against the merits of the details of the union's claim or the Coal Board's offer because my industrial relations experience has taught me the dangers of pontificating at long range without knowing how the i's were dotted or the t's were crossed.

In principle I am certain that there is no argument that mineworkers' wages have fallen behind those in other industries and at the lower end of the scale they are inadequate. This, as I understand it, is not disputed by the Coal Board. What I question is the wisdom of industry-wide industrial action over an issue as narrow as that described by Mr. Joe Gormley as the failure to agree at the end of the talks and immediately before the strike took place.

I said a few moments ago—and I meant it—that the N.U.M. President has shown himself to be both moderate and responsible in the past, but there are two things which seem to me to be out of character and I do not understand them. First I do not understand why the union was not willing to put the improved offer to a ballot of individual mineworkers but was content to leave the decision to the national executive to be endorsed subsequently by a series of delegate conferences.

Secondly, having failed to reach agreement, I do not understand why the union should refuse to bring in a third party to consider the problem objectively. This is the normal practice in most industries.

Mr. J. D. Concannon (Mansfield)

You would sack him if he did.

Mr. Holland

The answer to that seated intervention by the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) is that no one can dispute that the chairman of the arbitration court is a man of known independence of mind. Perhaps in winding up the debate my right hon. Friend will be able to throw more light on why arbitration was refused and can say what efforts are being made to conciliate.

The withdrawal of the Board's package offer when it was rejected by the union leaves the way open to a new approach on what might be a more acceptable basis, if it is treated positively. May we know whether new approaches to the union are being prepared on a revised basis by the Board? May we also know whether any effort is being made to lay new foundations on which to rebuild confidence and seek solutions acceptable to both sides?

There is no profit to be gained in recrimination, destructive criticism, or party political posturing. There is much that can and ought to be done constructively, and I hope that we may learn this evening of the sort of new initiatives that might usefully be taken at this stage to end industrial action—action which, if prolonged can spell only disaster for the industry and for those who play a part in it. If I may end with one sad thought about the present dispute, it is this. What a way to celebrate the 25th anniversary of an event which, in 1947, was widely acclaimed by the whole industry!

5.20 p.m.

Mr. Norman Pentland (Chester-le-Street)

The hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland) has drawn attention to a number of the background features of the present strike. I shall attempt to deal with some of them, although I shall keep in mind Mr. Speaker's request to hon. Members to be brief since I know that many of my hon. Friends wish to take part in this very important debate.

This debate has been remarkable in that we have heard two Front Bench speeches which have been diametrically opposed in content, in compassion and in understanding of the gravity of the situation that the country faces. The Minister's speech was one of the most depressing and distressing that I have ever heard in my 16 years as a Member of this House. On the other hand, my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. Harold Lever) tried to face the difficulties involved in this dispute fairly and squarely. What is more, he projected some ideas into the mind of the Secretary of State as to how the strike could be settled.

It may be said of those of us who spring from the mining industry and who are members of the National Union of Mineworkers that inevitably we must become emotionally involved when we have a situation such as the present one in the coal-mining industry. I accept that at once. Bearing in mind the history, the struggles and the sacrifice of those engaged in the hazardous occupation of mining, inevitably when difficulties arise in the industry it draws an emotional response from everyone connected with it.

Having said that, I suggest that anyone who believes that this strike is the result of a sudden emotional upsurge on the part of those engaged in the industry makes a very serious mistake. This strike has come about only after the miners and their leaders have made a hard, cool, long and calculated reappraisal of the miner's position in our industrial society today. They are determined to fight the National Coal Board and this Government with all the loyalty and with all the dignity that they can command.

In the main, public sympathy is moving towards the miners. It is also noticeable that the Government and some sections of the Press have concentrated their comments and critique of the strike position upon drawing the attention of miners to the high level of coal stocks, the possibility of accelerated pit closures, and so on. These arguments will make no impact on the miners. Over the past 12 years or so, the miner has lived with the threat of pit closures. He has worked with a sense of insecurity in the coal-mining industry. The simple truth is that the miner is tired of being pushed around. He is tired of being warned about pit closures. Above all, he is tired of seeing his wages slip from first position in the industrial wages league table to their present low position.

Since 1951, average industrial earnings in the country have increased by 218 per cent. The average earnings of miners over the same period have increased by only 164 per cent. I believe that that is a very significant factor when we discuss increases in earnings. What is more, over the past 10 years, output per man shift has increased dramatically. Over the same period, the miner has co-operated all along the line with the National Coal Board in cutting back manpower requirements from more than 600,000 to the present level of 280,000. In other words, the miners have a proud and honourable record in industrial relationships. No one can deny that.

We on this side of the House feel that the country must recognise another feature of this strike. It is not only the industrial issues or aspects involved. There are other deep political implications involved in this strike, for which the Government must accept their full share of responsibility. It is as a consequence of the Government's policy that the miners have been driven to use the strike weapon in the last resort to obtain a realistic wage increase.

It has been apparent from the very beginning of this Government's term of office that they have been determined to resist wage demands by the unions. In the nationalised industries, right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite have used their power to enforce this policy. This is what is happening in the present dispute, Although the Government may deny it, they have drawn the attention of the chairman of the National Coal Board to their 7 to 8 per cent. norm which they have determined should be the extent of all wage settlements. They have not been so successful in enforcing their policy in the private sector of industry, but certainly they are prepared to have a showdown in the publicly-owned sector. We saw evidence of that last year with the Post Office workers. Today, it is the miners with whom the Government are having a showdown. No matter how sympathetic the Chairman of the National Coal Board may be to the miners' claim—and in saying that I do not mean that he has been too sympathetic so far—the Government have ensured that he has not the freedom to negotiate a realistic and sensible wage settlement. For that reason, the Government have a tremendous responsibility in deciding how the strike will end.

Let us assume that the miners are forced to return to work without obtaining a sensible and realistic settlement. Do the Government believe that they could then sit back and say, "This is a victory for our incomes policy?". If they believe that, they will be making the most foolish assessment of all time, because, as my right hon. Friend indicated, the miners will return with great bitterness, deeply angry, and the coal industry will never be the same again. If the miners do not return from this strike at least with honour and the dignity with which they went into it, the coal industry is in for a tremendously difficult time in the years ahead. Therefore, the Government have a monumental responsibility to ensure that reason and common sense prevail.

The Government should also pay full regard to what the miners have done over the years since nationalisation. I referred earlier to the fact that the miners co-operated with the Coal Board in the peaceful rundown of manpower requirements. But they did more than that. It is well known that British coal mines are now the most efficient and safest in the world. That has been brought about in no small measure by the co-operation which the Coal Board has had all along the line from the miners.

Before the strike began industrial relations in this industry were on a par with those in industry in any part of this country or the western world. Not so many years ago, miners had to be trained almost overnight to deal with mechanised units which were coming on to the coal face. Almost overnight they had to be trained to deal with vast, cumbersome machines on the coalface which would frighten the living daylights out of people with no knowledge of coal mining.

All this mechanisation, retraining, good industrial relations and the acceptance of a declining industry in years gone by will go by the board, because the Government are not prepared to face the serious situation which has now developed and which will get worse with every week which passes.

There is another vital issue involved in this dispute. I believe that, apart from the Government's responsibility to the miners, they also have a responsibility to the nation at large to ensure that we continue to have a successful coal-mining industry. We all know that in the past experts advising all Governments—Tory and Labour—have been completely off course at times in trying to assess our long-term energy requirements and the part that coal should play in meeting them. They have often been wrong in this regard. This has also applied to America and Russia, but they are doing something about their coal industries. It is recognised now by all people who study these matters that coal will be needed in vast quantities for a long time ahead and that most certainly beyond this century we shall need coal in this country.

It is becoming more and more apparent that, looking ahead to the country's growing energy demands, we should have a fuel policy based more firmly on our old indigenous resources. In other words, a sensible line for any British Government is to reduce our dependence on vulnerable imported energy and to have greater confidence in the British coal industry than we have in Middle East oil. We all know what is happening about oil prices now. If the strike is allowed to drag on because the Government are not prepared to acknowledge the justice of the miners' demand, the chances of our securing a sensible fuel policy based on the nation's indigenous energy resources will be seriously and severely jeopardised in future. We shall find that in the long term everyone in this country will suffer because a tremendous price will have to be paid for imported fuel to meet the ever-increasing energy demands of the nation.

I could go on. I believe, and I think that all my hon. Friends believe, that the Government have it in their power to end this strike very quickly. The ball is completely in their court. The miners are not on strike just for the hell of it; they are on strike because Government policy has forced them, after 46 years, to use the strike weapon to get a reasonable and sensible settlement. I suggest, therefore, that the Government should authorise the National Coal Board to sit down with the leaders of the N.U.M. and instruct it to negotiate a sensible and justifiable increase for the miners.

Over the years of nationalisation the miners have fulfilled their responsibilities and obligations not only to the industry in which they work but to the nation at large. I believe that the time has now come, in the present situation, for this Tory Government to fulfil their responsibilities and obligations to the nation at large by recognising in full the justice of the miners' demands and doing something about them very quickly.

5.38 p.m.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Cannock)

I am sure that the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Pentland), whose speech was moderate and constructive and with much of which I agreed, will forgive me if I do not follow him into particulars. It seems that the debate is becoming constructive and helpful, and I hope that sensible suggestions will emerge from it.

I cannot claim to have the same personal deep knowledge of this industry which many hon. Gentlemen opposite possess. There is a long and honourable relationship between the Labour Party and the mining industry which I respect. I respect it particularly as I have the duty to represent what is still very much a mining constituency.

There are two collieries within my constituency boundaries and others very near. Within the constituency there are 15,000 to 20,000 people—miners and their families—who are directly affected by the strike. Taking into account retired miners and others living within my area, a very large number indeed feel a degree of personal involvement in the industry. It is this more than anything else which has created that deep fellow feeling which is so marked and priceless a feature of all mining areas.

My great fear this afternoon is that the coal industry, which is still a great and necessary industry and the foundation of the prosperity and unity of my area, is at risk. During the last two or three weeks, when the strike has been the main local topic of conversation, many people have come to discuss it with me. I have met people throughout the area and have detected three feelings: first, a basic and very real sympathy with the miners which is undeniable; second, a real regret that the strike is on; third, a genuine fear that if it does drag on this industry will never be the same again and in our area may be dealt a crippling or, indeed, a mortal blow.

I hope that I do not sound too presumptuous when I say that there does not always seem to be a tremendous understanding of the mining community on the benches on which I have the honour to sit. Perhaps unless one has a personal relationship of background or job, or through representing such an area, one can never appreciate just what makes a mining community tick. I do not pretend, after fighting elections in two mining constituencies and representing one for 19 months, to know all about it, but I have been able to detect something. Mining is a dangerous calling and it creates a community spirit. When one considers the background of so many mining areas, the tragedies that have occurred for various families and the fact that there is hardly a family in which the mining diseases have not struck at some time or other, and when one looks around the scarred and desecrated countryside, adding to all this a memory of the hazards that have been created and bravely faced during the period of contraction, one begins to appreciate something of what we are talking about today.

We are talking about a body of men who have given much to create the nation's wealth and whose rewards may often seem from afar to be fair ones. But those who see the figures at a distance, without appreciating the toil that produced them or the drabness in which they have to be enjoyed, do not get a balanced picture. It is true—I would not pretend otherwise—that for some the rewards have never been fair. I am talking obviously of many of the surface workers. Sometimes we forget that many of these workers are people who, through injury or disease, have been forced to leave a more rewarding occupation on the coal face. Anyone, therefore, with even a smattering of knowledge of a mining community is bound to feel sympathetic to the miners at present. I do not disguise my sym- pathy. I hope that the House will accept it as being a real sympathy. But it is a sympathy which is mixed with very deep sadness that the strike is on. I come from an area where even in the recent ballot the majority—a very small majority—was against the strike. Although it is impossible to say what happened in the collieries which I know well, I am reasonably confident that there was a majority against striking.

Many local miners and miners wives have been to see me and have regretted the strike infinitely. At my advice bureau only last week a young couple came along to talk about their great personal problems of debt and so on caused because the breadwinner is no longer able to take home the wage he had been taking home, whether it be good, bad or indifferent.

I was visiting a local home recently during the overtime ban and one of the women who worked there said to me, "A year ago I had been able to save enough money for our holiday in the summer; now I am in debt". A miner came to me in the street the other day and said, "There is not much point in striking if there will be no job at the end of it". There we have the nub of the matter.

I have spoken to many other people over the last few days. Only this morning I spent nearly two hours over the telephone talking to various people connected with the mining industry in my constituency. They brought up so many important factors which we should not neglect. They mentioned the danger of deteriorating equipment and the effects that this can have, the effect on underground conditions which prolonged periods of absence can create.

In my constituency is one magnificent million-ton pit, Littleton colliery. My hon. Friend the Minister for Industry came with me on a visit to this colliery some months ago. We spent a long time underground talking to the miners and seeing what was being done. Marvellous things are being done. Even in that splendid colliery where there is no immediate danger, there could be a danger if this strike were prolonged beyond five or six weeks because geological difficulties could be created. People are obviously fearful about this.

Another colliery is Cannock Wood, which is much smaller but whose existence has for a long time been to some extent in doubt. The problems of this colliery graphically illustrate the problems of the strike for my constituency. Some six or seven hundred men are employed there and over 50 per cent. of the work force are over 50 years of age. What will happen to them if the strike is prolonged and if that colliery never reopens?

It is not just the collieries that are at stake. In Cannock we also have one of the computer centres of the industry, which employs six hundred people. At present this is working normally although obviously the input is substantially lower than it has been. The staff have tremendous sympathy for the miners. They also feel an instinctive loyalty to the industry which employs them in a different capacity. As one of them put it, they have a strong conscience with regard to processing the pensions and the sick pay, and the safety wages being paid to those keeping the pits in trim at present. In an industry which is drastically restructured, as this industry could be if the strike were prolonged, even their jobs could be in jeopardy.

There was an incident outside this computer centre yesterday to which perhaps it would be as well to refer because it was on the national news that two of the miners, members of a picket, were arrested. I stress that this was an isolated incident. Mostly the pickets and everyone around are behaving with great good humour. I pay tribute especially to the police and the way they are dealing with these problems at present. But tensions are being heightened and we all have to appreciate the fact that lines are hardening. I spoke a few moments ago about the ballot in my area some weeks ago. Lines are hardening now and if a ballot were taken tomorrow I think the result would be different. It would be dishonest not to say this. It would also be dishonest not to say that the Government, rightly or wrongly, are being blamed locally in my area because people are seeking a scapegoat. But equally it is true that with a nationalised industry the Government must bear a large degree of responsibility. This is inevitable. The Chairman of the National Coal Board has withdrawn the offer that was made. Here again, I prefer not to debate the merits or otherwise of that particular action. But because that has been done, I hope that tonight my right hon. Friend will make it clear that the Board's hands will not be tied in future negotiations and that there will be some flexibility. I hope that, when the sides sit down around the table again—I hope that that will be very soon—they will negotiate realistically within a global sum, so that those to whom I refer, who are particularly badly paid, can get a much more substantial percentage rise than perhaps some others. I hope that hon. Members opposite will feel this a reasonable and fair suggestion.

If this could be done and could be favourably regarded by the Board, there would be no point in prolonging this dispute, which is bound to lead to bitterness. I would say to the miners in my constituency, whose interests I genuinely have at heart, that in intransigence there is no hope at all. The future of their industry is at stake. They were reluctant in the Midlands to come out on strike. A strong feeling was expressed to me by many people over the weekend that if there had been a ballot on the last offer or on whether to go to arbitration, the result might have been that we did not have this debate today. But we are having it; the strike is on.

Now is the time for some initiative to be taken, because no one can benefit from a long drawn out confrontation. Attitudes will harden as the pay packets run out. We all know that at the moment the situation has not begun to bite financially for some people, but within a few days it will and then the attitudes will harden.

It will also be stupid to pretend that public sympathy will remain unchanged. If we have a cold spell—one could start tonight—and if the fires burn low and cannot be recharged, public sympathy will dwindle.

From the bitterness which would then be engendered throughout the nation, no one would benefit. The industry would suffer a mortal blow. I therefore make an earnest plea to all involved—the sooner we can get back to talking, working and earning, the better for everyone.

5.53 p.m.

Mr. J. D. Concannon (Mansfield)

We have now heard three speeches from the Conservative Party, one of which I can only describe as a disgrace in the present situation. The other two have been a little more conciliatory, and, while I do not expect those hon. Members to be in our Lobby tonight, because of the tone of their speeches perhaps I might advise them to have an early nap and to go home without voting at all.

This is the first official miners' strike since 1926. That is 46 years ago and a man who is still working in the industry at the age of 64 would have been only 18 then. That strike happened four years before I was born. I am now representing an area and a coalfield which was instrumental in breaking that strike and the unity of the union in 1926, and which coined a new word for the trade union world—"Spencerism". This fact has left bitter memories in the industry and in the coalfield, where many people still refer to one another as "Spencerites".

The coal industry last year produced 133,315,000 tons of coal and its proceeds were £5.84 per ton. Anyone who complains about the price of coal should ponder that fact. As the miners see it, everyone makes a profit from the industry except them. When the Secretary of State talked about a 15 per cent. increase in the cost of fuel, I wondered whether he was referring to the price that the miners get for it or the price of the end product when it gets to the consumer.

The miners are fed up with subsidising industry and the country at the expense of their own wages. They are fed up with being threatened, as the Secretary of State did today. They have been threatened since 1957: "If you do not do as you are told, we will close the pits". Up to now, the miners have done as they are told. They have co-operated, and what has it got them? The pits have still closed.

I would add my backing to what my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Pentland) said. The threat of closure now runs off the backs of the coal miners. They are fed up with that threat and with being told that they cannot be paid the rate for the job, that they must accept depression of their wages or the industry will lose markets. The price of their moderation and co-operation is that their wages have been depressed, markets have been lost and pits have been closed. They have been bombarded since 1957 with the story that they belong to a dying industry which must give way to nuclear power, North Sea gas, oil and the products of technology.

They are also fed up with being made the scapegoats of the nation's social conscience. The news media and Government spokesmen tell them that they must not ask for an increase in wages because that will increase the price of coal to the pensioners, who cannot afford to buy the coal now. It is not the fault of the miners that this country does not pay the pensioners enough or that the price of coal when it leaves the pithead has trebled by the time it gets to the consumer.

In the Notts coalfield, which mined 22½ million tons of coal last year. the average price which they got was £5.14 per ton—and most of that was sold for about £3 per ton to the power stations in the area.

The case for an increase in wages is unanswerable, and I do not intend to bandy the claims about today. We all know them; if not, we should not be here at all. It is enough to say that everyone in the Coal Board, from the highest management downwards, in private conversation anyway, concedes that the miners are getting a raw deal. It is little use telling the miners that there is no money in the kitty to pay them a fair wage. What the Government and the nation must decide now is whether they really want a coal industry, and, if so, of what kind.

This is what the strike is all about. I was amazed at the Secretary of State's speech, which consisted of threats to the miners and showed no conception of the feeling of the miners at large, not one idea of why moderate, co-operating men are forced into striking in such bitterness and anger. The miners will no longer accept an industry which consists of 34,500 men on £18 a week, 29,000 on £19 a week, 5,800 craftsmen on £21.70, a further group of 7,400 craftsmen on £23.62. 10,500 men on £22.75 and, after 1st January and parity, 25,000 men on £30 a week. These are not minimum wages; they are maximum wages.

The only way for a miner to supplement his pay is by overtime, if and when it is available. I do not know what the N.C.B. information sheet was supposed to do today. I can only assume that it was sent to the Minister as a good brief for him to read out slowly and deliberately, as he did. The more I look at the details the more I see them as an argument for giving the miners more rather than less.

It is proudly proclaimed that a miner with two children is getting £18 a week. This is said as though this wage is a great victory for the N.C.B. over the N.U.M. But this man takes home only £16.42. It is then suggested that if the N.U.M. accepts an extra £2 the £18-a-week man will be getting £20, which is equal to the dockers. But that sum will be the maximum for the miners, whereas the dockers can add on whatever they get for piecework claims and other extras.

If the N.U.M. were to accept an extra £2 and the £18 man got £20, after deductions he would not receive the £18.42 which one might expect but only £17.74. Thus, based even on the figures given by the N.C.B., the £18-a-week man would immediately be 68p worse off. In other words, he would lose 13s. 6d. in old money before even leaving the pit yard on Friday evening. If one adds to his loss the 11 per cent. rise in the cost of living in the last year, and the loss of the three waiting days, the picture is in full perspective.

I referred to the loss of the three waiting days, but they are not really lost. Only the money for them is lost. A miner lying in Mansfield Hospital with his leg in the air knows that for the first three days that he lies in that position he will not get any money. Those employed in the mining industry suffer greatly from injury and disease. Indeed, on average miners are off work 28 days a year recovering from injury or disease. If one adds to this catalogue of losses the things that have happened in the last year or so one gets the true picture. After all, it has been estimated that between 90 per cent. and 95 per cent. of miners will be affected by the "Foul Rent Act", as it is being called. This will take at least another £26 a year out of the pockets of the miners.

Mr. Adam Hunter (Dunfermline Burghs)

Will my hon. Friend mention the number of miners who are having to collect family income supplement? Is it not an absolute disgrace that they should have to rely on this money?

Mr. Concannon

Yes, and I was amazed that when the Secretary of State was asked this question he could not or would not answer it. He should have admitted that in many places the wages of mine workers are so low that they are entitled to this supplement, though many are too proud to claim it.

Since before Christmas my telephone has been ringing non-stop. During the recess I heard hon. Gentlemen opposite exclaim on television, "We agree that your wages are low, but this is the wrong time to take this action. You should not be doing this now." They should have told the miners the right time to take this action.

Prior to 1st January the highest paid miners were the Nottinghamshire and Kent power loader men who for £30 a week did the most health-and-soul-destroying job imaginable. Such a man with two children must pay £3.64 tax, £1.59 insurance and 35p other deductions, giving him a total take-home pay of £24.42. He is offered an extra £1.90 giving him a total of £31.90; his tax goes up to £4.21, his insurance to £1.63 and his other deductions stay at 35p, giving him a take-home wage of £25.71, representing an increase of £1.29.

How much of that increase would be lost automatically by the 11 per cent. rise in the cost of living, not to mention the fact that the loss of money for the three waiting days is higher for these men than for other categories of workers? Further, in most of the areas to which I am referring the Rent Act, when applied in October, will cost an extra £1 straight away. Once again, the standard of living of the miner and his family is depressed, and the miners will not take this any longer.

Mr. Skinner

It is important to bear in mind that the N.C.B. owns 100,000 properties. From the moment the Rent Act comes into operation in October, the Board will claw back an extra £5.2 million as a result of the increased rent to which my hon. Friend has referred.

Mr. Concannon

I thank my hon. Friend for that comment, which we in our part of the world appreciate to the full. He and I live in neighbouring constituencies and have common problems.

The story of this strike is not to be found by running between Euston Road and Hobart House but in the minds of the miners and their families. Every weekend I am told by my constituents, and particularly by miners' wives "When you get to Westminster for heaven's sake do something, Don, to talk some sense into them." I am often told, "My man is not a violent person" and I have replied, "I know, I know him well". But they cannot vouch for what these men are likely to do in this situation. Branch union meetings are giving full backing to what the National Executive is saying.

The miners have reached the point when they are saying, "We have been told what to do for far too long. All along we have been told that we are no longer required, that the country no longer needs our coal and cannot afford to pay us a fair wage. Why should we bother to keep the pits open? If the country does not need the coal, in future we will leave it where it is in the ground." These are dangerous thoughts, but after years of moderation and co-operation, who can blame the miners for trying something different?

Hon. Members who represent mining constituencies have been having a particularly busy time lately attending meetings and receiving representations. Last Sunday morning I attended a branch meeting—in fact, it was a meeting of my old branch—at which more than 700 miners were present. We have had some hectic times and it is clear that now that the strike is on it will be a damned sight harder job getting the miners back to work.

This situation will not be faced by fancy gimmickry. Only "brass" will end this strike, and I am referring to a damned sight more cash than the Government have so far offered. This is why the situation is getting uglier and uglier all the time. The pickets are out, and what has been said about flashpoints being inevitable must be true. Unless the Government change the inflexible view they have held up to now, we are in for a long and bitter struggle. Coal stocks will last for only so long.

Instructions given to doctors to knock miners for the duration of the strike off sickness and injury benefit are not helping matters. The same can be said of the contingency plans which are now being made at Aldershot for the use of troops. The Government should ponder long and hard before calling in the troops. Quite a number of them joined the Service because of the low wages being paid in the pits, and it is their fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters who are involved in this dispute. It is remarkable how quickly the information is coming to us in a roundabout way from the troops.

I represent the town of Mansfield which is in the centre of the Nottinghamshire coalfield, a coalfield which, since nationalisation, has made a profit of over £260 million, and that after paying interest charges. Unlike other coalfields we have not suffered pit closures since 1957. The hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland) referred to three pits in his constituency two of which had opened since 1957. It is clear, therefore, that we in Nottinghamshire are not in the same position as miners in other areas. We have been opening pits and increasing production. Indeed, production in our area increased last year.

The pits are now cosmopolitan in character, with miners from Scotland, Wales, Lancashire, Northumberland, Poland, Derbyshire, Jamaica—one need only name the place and we have people from it. Many of our miners have lived through four pit closures. This is why I say that threats such as we have heard today roll off their backs like water off a duck.

In 1969 this area voted 30 per cent. in support of the National Executive. In 1970 it had risen to 40 per cent. and this year it was 54 per cent. It was not quite the required 55 per cent., but I am sure that my constituents would gladly back to a greater percentage than the required amount any action proposed now by the National Executive. What would the Minister and the Government do if there were another ballot and the men came out in favour of staying on strike? Would the Minister pay up? That was the impression that I gained from the Secretary of State when he opened the debate.

Miners in this coalfield have a productivity rate of more than 60 cwts. per man-shift; miners, earning £30 a week, were the highest paid in the country. But miners who are doing that job, and that included myself up to 1966, were getting that and sometimes more in 1966, not in terms of what it would buy but in actual money terms. When I mentioned that at a meeting the chorus from the miners was that one can go further back than that. In 1966 and before then many miners in Nottinghamshire were earning considerably more than they are earning today. They have seen their standard of living going down during the last 10 years.

Mansfield is the centre of this coalfield. About one-third of the adult male population goes out of town to work and about 95 per cent. of the male population of the outlying villages work in the industry. There is not another industry in the area which employs 500 males. Business, trade and commerce in the Mansfield area tick over and depend on the industry. Nearly £50 million a year is paid out in wages to miners in Nottinghamshire, so this strike will have a devastating effect in the area, yet the sympathy of the people is with the miners.

The feelings of people in the area are best explained not by any Fleet Street journalist but by the editor of my local paper, the Mansfield Chronicle-Advertiser on Thursday, 13th January. He knows and has to work in this environment, and what he said sums up the situation: The most disturbing factor about the present crisis is that miners generally are making no attempt to ensure the safety of those mines which need such measures in order to assure a continued life. Is it not because the miners are saying to themselves, 'If the nation does not want to give us a just reward for a hard and health sapping job, why should we bother about saving the mines'? This feeling is not union or politically inspired, and as yet has not reached coherent expression. But the danger is that unless the Government quickly appreciates this groundswell of hopelessness and bitterness, the industry will be in ruins. What the Government must decide is how much value is the coal industry to the nation. If it is worth preserving, then it is worth subsidising. He knows more about the feelings of the miners than the whole of Fleet Street put together.

In 1926, my area was shamefully exploited by the Government and the coal owners to break the miners' strike. If I may put in a plug for my predecessor, I think that he is doing history a favour by writing his book and dealing fully with the history of Spencer which has so far not been completely covered. My predecessor was personally involved in this. My advice to the Minister is not to come looking for Spencer in Nottinghamshire to help him out, because he does not live there any more.

6.14 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Stewart-Smith (Belper)

I have the privilege to represent South Derbyshire, and the 20,000 people who live in and around Swadlingcote depend on coal. There are four pits, a research establishment at Bretby, a central workshops, and certain ancillary establishments. People in South Derbyshire have a tradition of moderation. In the ballot 62 per cent. voted against empowering the union's executive to call for strike action, but I reinforce the views of my hon. Friends when I say that there is now a feeling of bitterness among the men, and there is 100 per cent. support for this strike in what is a traditionally moderate area.

The miners there have a tradition of outstanding productivity. It is the highest in Europe. They have an extraordinary record of co-operation with the National Coal Board. There is very little absenteeism, and their safety record is excellent. They are an example to the rest of Britain. That came out during the recent fire at Cadley Hill when, during a holiday period, they gave total co-operation to the Board in blocking off the fire.

I should like to deal with a question asked of, but not answered by, the right hon. Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. Harold Lever) about the origin of low miners' wages. It lies in decisions made by the Front Bench of the Labour Administration over six years. It started in July, 1966 with the prices and incomes policy. Almost every N.U.M. sponsored Member of the Labour Party went into the Division Lobby in support of that measure. There were only one or two honourable exceptions. In June, 1968, the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley) went through the Lobby in support of those measures.

Mr. Thomas Swain. (Derbyshire, North East)

I did not.

Mr. Skinner

Nor I. I was doing another job at the time.

Mr. Stewart-Smith

No. I have looked up the records. Between October, 1964, and June, 1970, miners received £4 a week accumulated pay rises over those six years. But it was not only in wages that the Labour Party was no friend of the mining industry. Hon. Gentlemen opposite butchered the industry. In October, 1964, there were 540 pits. When the Conservatives took over in June, 1970, there were 293. In October, 1964, there were 505,000 miners. That figure had been reduced to 283,000 in June, 1970.

Curious intellectuals on the Front Bench of the Labour Party were bewitched by nuclear power, and they only half understood the technical mumbo-jumbo. They said that nuclear power was the thing of the future. But they were wrong. It has never done what it was supposed to do, and on this I must take issue with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. The capital expenditure makes the mind boggle. Every forecast of the nuclear power programme has failed to work out. It has the lowest growth rate of all the power sources. Because of pit closures the Labour Party is responsible for keeping thousands of miners out of productive work.

In 1970 the Conservative party inherited that shambles, and the roaring inflation that was admitted—

Mr. Michael McGuire (Ince)

The hon. Gentleman said something that warmed the cockles of my heart when he was referring to nuclear power, but I do not want him to go away with the wrong idea. It was the Conservative Party which put forward the panacea of nuclear power stations.

Mr. Stewart-Smith

Like the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), I was doing another job at the time.

The right hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) has publicly admitted that roaring inflation was created for party political purposes. Devaluation and a wage freeze led to the low base line of miner's pay. After the Conservatives returned to power, in November, 1970, they gave the miners a £3-a-week increase, which was the largest single increase in the history of the industry. In December, 1971, they were promised an additional £2 a week, and further increases under the national power loading parity. In 18 months of Conservative rule they have had more increases than they received during six years of Labour rule. In that respect the N.U.M. has backed the wrong horse.

I have always regarded the wages of miners as a national scandal. I remember being shaken and shocked when, as a candidate, I saw the pay slip of a surface worker who was earning £11 a week. I said that if ever the day came when I could do something about that I would, and I believe that today is the day.

Mr. Skinner

Will the hon. Gentleman join us in the Lobby tonight?

Mr. Stewart-Smith

One must have sympathy with these men. I do not know whether the public realise that every week, on average, between one and two miners are killed, and others are wounded and maimed. They work in conditions of damp and wet. They spend one-third of their lives underground. They have to compete with gas, fires, pneumoconiosis, bronchitis, and all the other hazards. They have a quiet courage which they do not trumpet around, but it is courage which enables them to follow this dangerous way of life every day.

The minimum wage before the strike was not a living wage. In that I support the miners entirely, and I believe, too, that the increased offer made by the Government and the Board is still not a living wage. It is inaccurate to talk about percentage increases being adequate, because the base line was so low.

I have profound sympathy for the miners in this situation. I believe that they have a strong case and that they have suffered an injustice. They are the finest group of men it has been my privilege to be associated with. Their holidays are far too short, there working life is too long, and their pensions are an even greater scandal.

I praise the miners' extraordinary record of co-operation, their absence of restrictive practices, their preparedness to change their working procedures, their very low strike record since the war, and the way in which they have increased their productivity over the years. Their preparedness to change with the times should be rewarded and encouraged.

In our election campaign we promised that we would work for a high-wage, low-cost economy. We had better bring that about. I cannot think of any body of men who deserve this more than the lower-paid miners. The miners' position in the industrial wages chart has fallen. As has already been brought out so vividly, the purchasing power of their wages has fallen.

I was deeply aware of the miners' anger on this point. On 17th November I specifically wrote to the Chairman of the National Coal Board stating: The lower paid miner and his family are in a desperate plight. I recommended that the 7 per cent. offer be increased to 10 per cent.; because I realised that, if there were not a substantial increase in pay, the miners would head straight for a strike. I wrote: The miners have it within their power to inflict terrible damage to the national economy and so cause suffering to the entire people of this nation. I warned the Chairman that if the Board refused to increase its offer a disastrous situation could arise and that is exactly what has happened.

My warning, for what it was worth, was not taken. The nationwide backing and support for the overtime ban was ignored by the Board and by the Government. By refusing to make adequate concessions the Board seriously miscalculated the extent of the miners' anger and bitterness. The Board also misunderstood the extraordinary solidarity in the industry, which one can only admire. The only way of winning the miners' confidence was to give an increase in pay in advance of increases in productivity. I accept the Board's point that productivity has been falling.

On the other hand, by refusing to accept the Board's final offer the National Executive of the National Union of Mineworkers similarly made a misjudgment about the Government's determination to bring such pressure as they can to bear on the Board to curb inflation. If anyone on the National Executive gets himself into a frame of mind of "47 per cent. or bust", it will be "bust". I believe that the Government's intentions in this matter are crystal clear.

I do not believe that the miners will win concessions by strike action. The way in which they can get concessions is by arbitration. I will do everything in my power to encourage the Government to try to secure arbitration, and I hope that the Minister can give us an assurance that he will use his influence to get an arbitration going.

It is self-evident that ultimately higher wages are paid from the selling price of coal. Every week £10 million worth of coal sales is being lost, and every day £1.15 million is being lost in wages. I want higher wages to be paid from increased sales of coal, and I want the industry to cash in on the export potential that lies ahead if we can gain access to the future energy requirements of Western Europe. To do that we shall need a thriving mining industry.

I am appalled and saddened that industrial relations in the industry have become so soured and embittered, a situation which is manifested by the miners' refusal to co-operate in taking safety precautions. The vital co-operation necessary to get the industry going again will be more difficult to secure.

If the strike drifts on, skilled men will leave the industry for better jobs and will not return. There are many skilled engineers, for example, in the industry.

Mr. Skinner

Where are the jobs, say, in Belper?

Mr. Stewart-Smith

The miners can obtain other jobs in my area. Customers will switch to other fuels. Coal will get a bad name because of its unreliability. The geological forces which have been referred to will play havoc in the mines. Vital development work will be held up. Cadley, for example, must either develop or close—and 800 jobs are in jeopardy there. The result of all this will be more pit closures and more miners unemployed.

I look with especial sympathy of the plight of the elderly miners, who find it so difficult to get other jobs. I also have in mind the fact that many of these mines are in development areas.

Because of the rather inept management by the Board and because of the union's attitude, there has been a breakdown in confidence and communication between the two bodies. I beseech the union leaders to make everything they can of the magnificent action by the T.U.C. General Secretary to get talks going. I hope, too, that the National Executive of the National Union of Mineworkers will reconsider its attitude to arbitration. I recommend that the National Executive puts the whole matter into the hands of a National Reference Tribunal in an effort to resolve deadlock by a procedure which the National Coal Board and the union have previously agreed, or, if the union does not like that suggestion, to put the whole matter into the hands of a completely independent court of inquiry.

If this is not done, if the unions continue not to be prepared to go to arbitration, and if abuse of pickets is allowed to continue, there will be a backlash of public opinion. The real reason I want this matter to go to arbitration is that I am certain that the award from the arbitration would be much higher than the Government's level. This, I believe, is the way to help the miners.

6.27 p.m.

Mr. G. Elfed Davies (Rhondda, East)

I want first to declare an interest. I am an ex-miner and a member of the National Union of Mineworkers. As an ex-officio member of the National Executive of that union I have been privileged—though it has not been much of a pleasure—to sit through and listen to the discussions with the Coal Board which have taken place about this claim. I have no intention of going through the whole episode. I say simply that there has been little negotiation. The Board's attitude has been, "This is our offer. If you do not accept it, the responsibility lies with you". The Board has not been prepared to negotiate any changes in its offer.

The Secretary of State's speech was very unfortunate in these grave circumstances. Knowing what he would say later in his speech, he would have been far better advised not to have uttered his first few sentences when he heaped lavish praise on the miners and expressed adulation for the very people that he later castigated and condemned.

There were many points in the speech of the hon. Member for Belper (Mr. Stewart-Smith) with which I agreed and many more with which I disagreed.

The Union's claim was first put to the Board on 14th September last. The strike commenced 16 weeks later on 9th January, 1972. No one will attempt to argue that there has not been a considerable period in which discussions should have taken place effectively and realistically, but it did not happen. Only when it was clear that the Board had made its "final, final offer", to quote the language of the Chairman of the Board, was the union forced to take this last inevitable step. So, for the first time since 1926, the miners are out on an official national strike. It is a strike that no one in the industry wanted, but one that both the union and its members saw as the only way out in their struggle for a decent living wage for vast numbers within the industry.

Why was that decision taken? What has prompted the union, with a record of co-operation second to none since nationalisation, co-operation praised by hon. Members on both sides today, to take this final step? It is because miners believe that despite all their efforts for good industrial relations within the industry they are far worse off now in relation to other manual workers than they were in 1947, when it all started. At the time of nationalisation the miner was on top of the national wages league. Today he is sixteenth. There has been a major reduction in the relative earning position of the miners in recent years, a deterioration so great that pay increases of over £5 a week would be needed to restore their position of even four years ago.

There are thousands of shorthand typists in London and other parts of the country with a bigger take-home wage packet than many miners who work a full week underground. Miners are beginning to ask whether they are worth far less than workers in the car industry. They have co-operated in the massive programme of pit closures over the years, under which 777 mines have been closed since 1947 and manpower has been reduced from 700,000 then to 290,000 today. That is not only a loss in manpower but a loss of jobs in mining areas which is of far more significance to those who live there now. Despite the great efforts of the miners in increasing output over those years, they find that their wages have not advanced in a manner that would have kept them near the top of the league table. They now realise that their wages are too low because they have been too loyal, too responsible and too ready to put the interests of the Coal Board and the nation first for far too long. They realise, too, that in their industry minimum wages normally become maximum wages, with no overtime and no piece rates for the vast majority who work in it.

I should like to refer to the memorandum sent out by the Board to all hon. Members, dealing first with the five extra individual holidays in the next holiday year starting on 1st May, three to be taken before 1st November and the other two later. That means that the Board wanted to make a better offer, but was denied the right to do so by the Government, and it thought that that was a way to get the union and its members to accept the offer. But the fact of the matter is that the union already had a claim in for a third week's holiday. That has not been granted. When members of the union's national executive asked the Board's Chairman, "Why can't you compute the amount it would have cost you for this extra week's holiday and transfer it Into a weekly wage?", the reply was, "It would not cost us anything". So why in the name of God has the Board refused to give the third week for so long? It was absolute deceit, and the Board knew it as well as we did.

On the weekly minimum wage, the Board says that if the miners were to accept its offer we should go up to sixth in the table, level with the dockers. It does not say that this is the first round of wage awards in this year and that in no time others will be on top of us again. That is no answer either, and the Board knows it.

The Board also says, and gives the game away, that in the week ending 9th October, 1971, … a typical week before the overtime ban started … Of course it was a typical week before the overtime ban started, because the Board dares not produce the figures for the period after the ban started. It is estimated that there is 20 per cent. overtime per week to bring the rates up to where the Board says they are now.

As to the take-home pay of surface workers on minimum rates, in negotiations on wages issues over the years the Board has always argued that it could not give a larger increase because the money is not in the till. There was some justification in its argument on many occasions, but now its attitude has changed. Its argument now is to imply that the proposed increases mean that the take-home pay will rise from £16.42 to £17.74 for a married mineworker with two children and from £14.69 to £16.01 for a married mineworker with no children and that those are reasonable wages. The Board has changed its ground completely.

I have news for the Board, if it does not know it already—the miners no longer accept that view. They say, "Although we have accepted pit closures and all their social consequences in mining areas; although we have listened to the Board's argument that putting up the price of coal will lose us customers in the long run; at the end of the day, although we have been loyal and responsible, we have received the worst of the argument". They say that they are not prepared to tolerate that situation any longer.

I have never seen the miners back in the valleys that I go to so often more hard and bitter than they are today. They have lost faith in the Board and in the Government. They have seen in the Board's refusal to award a bigger increase the Government's insistence that wage increases in the public sector should not be above 7½ to 8 per cent., and the instruction to the Board that it cannot raise its prices beyond 5 per cent. They say, too, that this really means that the miners are being compelled to finance the Government's subsidy to private industry in the form of cheap coal supplies. Throughout the years private industry has done reasonably well out of this. As the Sunday Times said recently: Interest rates are low, money freely available—and profits are on the way up, if not for those 1971 accounts then for recovery this year. Who, then, can blame Britain's miners for thinking it is about time they made a bit of hay as well? I should like to say something about the statement by the Chairman of the Board immediately the offer was rejected on 5th January. The statement that that offer was withdrawn once the strike began caused embittered miners to become very angry. It has been the main cause of much of the difficulty encountered in some parts of the coalfield on the question of safety work, which shows the real depth of feeling of the men. I appeal to the men in the coalfields to respond to the N.E.C.'s considered recommendation in this regard.

The question of a reference to the National Reference Tribunal has been raised several times in the debate, and the Board raised it immediately its final offer was rejected as an alternative. Until 1961 the reference was automatic, but then at the union's request that arrangement was changed, so that if either side objects or decides not to pursue a claim it does not automatically go to the tribunal. Does anyone think that the union asked to change the system without reason? It was done because the union had been to the tribunal on many occasions and the awards were not satisfactory. Therefore, the union said, "We want the right to determine the question. Reference must not be automatic in the future, because we are not happy that we are having the awards to which we are entitled." There were 36 awards, and hardly one was on a major wage issue.

It is very evident now that whatever is to be the size of the industry in the immediate future it will have to be an industry in which those working in it receive just and adequate rewards. Mining is still an unpleasant and dangerous job. Indeed, each piece of elaborate electrical machinery installed by the Board increases its potential dangers. The miners say that if the nation needs the coal it must be prepared to pay the price required to give those who mine it a decent wage that will enable them and their families to live with dignity.

The strike is now just over a week old. The Coal Board's hands are obviously tied by Government policy. The strike is already costing the miners, the Board, and the nation a great deal of money and hardship. The danger that expensive machinery will be lost increases day by day, as does the possibility of forcing closure on some of the existing collieries. All the miners realise that, but they are determined to fight on, because there is no choice if they are to receive what they consider to be a fair wage.

I was very pleased to read on the tapes today that the General Secretary of the T.U.C. is calling both sides together for a talk tomorrow morning. I hope that something will result from that, but it does not relieve the Government of their responsibility. The answer lies with them. I say to them, "Release the shackles that bind the N.C.B. to policies determined by you. Instruct it to renew immediately negotiations with the union, free and unfettered by interference from anyone, on the basis of discussing the merits of the claim in a reasonable and sensible manner". Only in that way will there be any possibility of an early and peaceful settlement and an end to a conflict that no one within the industry wants and that is bound to be catastrophic in its effect upon us all.

I urge the Minister to act at once before the damage becomes too serious and too great to be repaired.

6.43 p.m.

Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)

Anyone who knows the nature of the miner's work, and the circumstances in which he performs it, can have no doubt that he is grossly underpaid. If payment were based on the nature of the work done, the miner would be paid much more than he is now. Unfortunately, such considerations do not often enter into the matter. It is a question of the miner's economic value in the community, which is a matter of great regret to me, because I believe that the social element should enter into it.

The hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon), in a remarkable and heartfelt speech, posed the real question which should be debated by this House and which is being debated in the country. Do we want a coal industry? That is really the question. If we want a coal industry, are we prepared to pay for it? If we are prepared to pay for it, to what extent are we prepared to pay for it?

This debate comes at a time of great crisis for all those closely knit social communities which form the mining areas of this country. They were the source of our energy and wealth in the 19th and 20th centuries. The wealth of this country which started with the Industrial Revolution was largely based on the sweat of those miners' brows. The future for miners and for the country is very serious indeed. Not only can a strike of this kind cause great bitterness, but, if the strike were to be prolonged, the mining community could be so reduced in size that we might find ourselves with a much smaller industry when on maturer reflection we would prefer to have a larger one.

Although I appreciate the Government's attitude towards prices and wages, I had hoped to see signs of compassion and understanding in the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when he opened the debate. I am not accusing him of not having any compassion, but he certainly did not show any, and neither did he demonstrate any real understanding of the situation of the miners, who are the victims of circumstances. I do not come from a mining community but I have had a good deal to do with miners from time to time when I have appeared in cases either for the mining unions or for the Coal Board. I have been down a number of pits in different parts of the country and I have seen the mining community at close quarters. The miners are on the horns of a dilemma which, if I were a miner, I would not know how to resolve.

For 46 years the miners have not struck on a national scale. This is remarkable when one considers the nature of their work, the conditions in which they do it and the vicissitudes which their industry has undergone.

The mining industry has suffered under all Governments from the lack of consistent fuel policy. A background factor to this debate is that we have now at our disposal vast resources of oil and natural gas in the North Sea on a scale undreamt of a year ago. The finds are very much greater than were expected. Nevertheless, the miner who looks back at his record of loyalty and co-operation with the Coal Board, at the reduction of the labour force to only one-third and the closure of many pits has seen the havoc this has caused on his place in the community and when he sees wages in other spheres bounding up he wonders, "Was I right to have been such a tame chap after all? Why cannot we try the other way? "This is really the deep psychosis which is affecting the mining community, and this House, whatever attitude it takes, would do well to show sympathy and understanding of this situation.

It will be difficult for the miners to win this strike—

Mr. Adam Hunter


Mr. Hooson

The hon. Member says "No", but I think it will be difficult because the economic hand is more with the Government than with the Coal Board, and this is where one therefore expects the Government to show a much greater appreciation of the problem. There has been no constructive approach by the Government; simply a negative one. There has been no study of a fuel policy and certainly no pronouncement by the Government. For example, is it in our interests as a nation to keep alive an indigenous national industry such as the coal industry?

The East Midlands coalfield has been referred to. In that area there are rich newly developed seams which are readily mined by the newest methods and where the production per shift of a miner is very high. A production bonus such as the Coal Board has offered when it is spread over the board does not make any sense. In the East Midlands it may be possible to increase shift production by perhaps a ton or two even if a great deal is produced now, whereas in South Wales and Scotland where the seams are much more difficult such a production bonus does not make sense.

This rough, unsympathetic approach is entirely wrong. I can see a very bitter situation developing, with the lines getting harder, unless the Government intervene and intervene sensibly in a spirit of compassion. We could have an embittered mining community on our hands for many years, and this country owes a great deal to the mining community. The Government should intervene. There is a great deal to be said for ensuring that the National Coal Board makes a far more generous offer on the basic rates, leaving the production bonus out of it. If there are to be production bonuses let them be in localities where the local situation may be borne in mind.

The Government have only themselves to blame for this situation. They started off governing the country by virtually inviting a return to the laws of the jungle in economics, and inviting the strongest to win, virtually having everything decided on economic criteria alone. The wages in those sectors of private industry which took early advantage of this galloped away in comparison, for example, with those in the mining industry. The Government's slow conversion to the idea of a prices and incomes policy has been altogether too arbitrary. Therefore, there is a sense of injustice.

In these circumstances, whereas I think that a strike is highly unlikely to benefit the mining industry and the miners are unlikely to come out of it well, I have tremendous sympathy for the miners and I can understand why they have done it, but there is an overwhelming duty on the Government to take active steps to see that the situation does not get out of hand.

6.53 p.m.

Sir Gerald Nabarro (Worcestershire, South)

The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) said that it would be difficult for the miners to win this strike. I add that it will be impossible for any party to win this strike. The miners will lose, the National Coal Board will lose and the Government will lose, most of all in economic terms.

It was a tenet of the economic and financial policy of the previous Government between 1964 and 1970, as of this Government, that the nationalised industries should show a reasonable and commercial return on the net capital vested. Nobody has mentioned that yet in this debate. I draw attention to it now because it is imperative that the nationalised industries, including the National Coal Board, should operate on strictly commercial lines. The National Coal Board is not a social welfare service. It has a statutory and commercial duty to pay its way taking year with year. Therefore, if this large claim by the coal miners is to be met, namely an increase variously estimated between 35 per cent. and 47 per cent., costing the National Coal Board about £30 million annually that money can be found in only one of two ways—either by putting up the price of coal or by the Government giving a subsidy of £30 million to the Coal Board.

I will deal first with the second of those recourses, namely, the subsidy proposition, which has come from two quarters. It came first from the right hon. Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. Harold Lever), though covertly and surreptitiously. He wrapped it up by saying that the Government should lift off the shoulders of the Coal Board the whole of the interest charge in respect of capital. It came again from the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon), who said quite directly—there was nothing covert or surreptitious about his statement—that the Government should give the Board a subsidy.

If a subsidy is given by the Government, all commercial standards of operation will disappear at once. It would be impossible to give a subsidy to the Board while at the same time demanding that the Board should operate to commercial standards and show a return on the net capital vested. These two propositions are mutually and grossly incompatible. In any event, my hon. Friends and I would not support the granting of a subsidy in any circumstances to this nationalised industry. It must pay its way, taking year with year, on strictly commercial terms.

Already we have shouldered, as a result of the misdemeanours of an earlier Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer, a form of protection for the coal industry in that fuel oil is heavily taxed which prevents fair competition between the two types of fuel, coal and oil. We carry on with that system, notwithstanding that nearly all the present Ministers have spoken against it in recent years, including my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), who always shared my views in that respect. I wish, now that he is on the Treasury Bench, that he would implement some of his earlier promise in this regard. I see his blushes and I feel sorry for him. We are already subsidising the coal industry in this fashion by heavily taxing fuel oil.

Mr. Fred Evans (Caerphilly)


Sir G. Nabarro

I am not giving way to anybody on either side. I promised you, Mr. Speaker, that I would take only 15 minutes so as to allow hon. Members representing mining constituencies to speak. They can answer my arguments later, although they will find my arguments difficult to refute, if not impeccable, as always in this context.

The second recourse would be for the Coal Board to put up its prices by an amount which would yield an added revenue of £30 million to offset the amount of the wage award. But the market would not yield £30 million today in additional prices. Customers for coal, industrial, commercial and private, were disappearing week by week long before the strike took place. They are going over to oil because oil is cleaner, more efficient and cheaper than the constantly inflated prices charged by the National Coal Board.

The Coal Board, like every other business, depends on the good will of its customers. I have loyally stuck by coal in my own household year after year although it is uneconomic for me to do so. As a result of the last round of increases this summer, I have finally abandoned coal. I will tell the House why. I phoned my coal merchant this afternoon and said, "How much per ton for Phurnacite"—a National Coal Board product—"for cooking in my household?" The answer astonished even me—" £28.60 a ton delivered in Broadway, Worcestershire." It has gone up by several pounds a ton in the last 12 months.

I can cook with oil considerably more cheaply than I can with coal. The answer to this in simple terms that all will understand is that the Coal Board is progressively pricing itself out of the market here and abroad, and if the price of coal were to be put up further to meet this extravagant—I repeat, in case hon. Members opposite did not hear me—this extravagant wage claim by the miners—then the markets for coal would shrink even faster than they have been recently. The Government are right to oppose the granting of this huge wage demand. It is in my opinion entirely wrong to grant anything more than a 7.9 per cent. increase, which is what the Coal Board has offered, because the miners had a 12 per cent. increase in wages last year.

Another 7.9 per cent. would give them almost 20 per cent. over two years, little of which could be found out of increased prices because the products of the indus- try would be rendered totally uncompetitive. No part of that sum should be forthcoming—I shall be the first to protest if the Government relent or weaken in this important respect—by granting a subsidy. Mr. Ezra, the Chairman of the Coal Board, understands these matters perfectly. He was questioned thus in the Sunday Times last week: Your problem is that if you put up the price of coal to increase income, sales will drop? Mr. Ezra replied: That has been a key factor in our present negotiations. Last year we made the biggest ever wage settlement, 12½ per cent. and because of this and increased fixed costs, the price of coal went up by 20 per cent. Anything other than a marginal increase now would be self-defeating. He was then asked: You have agreed that miners deserve better pay—would a solution not be a massive Government subsidy? Mr. Ezra's reply was: That is quite outside our terms of reference. I think once a Government allows an industry to get on the slippery slope of massive subsidisation the time will come when the Government will say 'enough is enough' and close the pits down. They are the words of Mr. Derek Ezra and in this context they are unexceptionable.

I turn to a further significant matter to which no hon. Member opposite representing a coal mining constituency has so far alluded. The fact is that output of coal has now shrunk to 143 million tons based on 1970–71—

Mr. Swain

On Government directive. Tell them that.

Sir G. Nabarro

This figure has been as a result of the policies of successive Governments.

Mr. Swain

It has not shrunk; it has been squeezed.

Sir G. Nabarro

It might have been squeezed, but it has shrunk or been squeezed. Out of that 143 million tons, 73 million tons or about one-half is consumed by electricity generating stations. If any large increase in wages is conceded in response to the demands of the miners then at least one-half of such increase will go on the price of electricity thus inflating the costs of the whole of British manufacturing industry and be highly damaging. Electricity has not fallen in price in recent years despite enormous generation investment. The onset of nuclear power and improved methods of generation such as the higher load factor of power stations, be they base power stations or general utility power stations, and improvement in thermal efficiency for burning coal at power stations, yet still the price of electricity has not declined—because of the large annual increases in the price of coal, which accounts for three-quarters of fuel costs in the electricity supply industry. For all these reasons I say to the Government that I hope there will be no relenting in the treatment of this excessive wage demand by the coal miners. The award of 12½ per cent. last year was a handsome one, far more than any other industrial worker received.

Mr. Adam Hunter

It was 12½ per cent. of what?

Sir G. Nabarro

Far larger than any other industrial worker received. With the 7.9 per cent. to come, that would be 20 per cent. in all over two years which would compound the felony.

Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, West)

Tell us about wages.

Sir G. Nabarro

I could go on for an hour about wages quite easily, but I have said, Mr. Speaker, that I would not take longer than 15 minutes.

Finally, I give the Government this perfectly candid warning. Last year hon. Members were tortured by the Whips, marching through the Lobby hundreds of times on the Industrial Relations Bill to prevent the kind of calamitous miners' stoppage that we have now. Why is it that the formulae and provisions of the Industrial Relations Act cannot be applied in this first major stoppage since the Act reached the Statute Book? Unless the Government act within the framework of the Industrial Relations Act to secure a settlement, I am afraid that Act will be stigmatised as an expensive and irrelevant stumer.

7.6 p.m.

Mr. Thomas Swain (Derbyshire, North East)

This is the first time in the 12½ years that I have been in this House that I have not intervened while the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) has been speaking. I will deal with the price of coal in human terms, but first I want to mention briefly the hon. Member for Belper (Mr. Stewart-Smith). I will welcome him in our Lobby tonight because a few weeks ago he was reported very faithfully in the Burton Daily Mail as saying in his constituency that he supported the claim of the miners. I leave it at that and ask him to support that statement. His actions will speak louder than his words.

I do not intend to deal with the pounds, shillings and pence of the price of coal. When we raised the flag of nationalisation in 1947 I stood at the bottom of the headstocks at Markham No. 2 pit, one of the proudest men in Great Britain because I thought that we had achieved something which would become the greatest milestone in the mining industry. How wrong I have been proved, particularly since 8th June, 1970. First of all the miners were given the five-day week but, following an appeal from the then Government, the miners immediately went without that five-day week and decided to work weekends to produce coal.

They were also given a fortnight's holiday with pay. The first thing they did was to forfeit one week's holiday with pay to produce another week's coal. These are the first sacrifices the National Union of Mineworkers made after nationalisation and it did not make them in its own interests but in the interests of the nation to provide a cheap source of fuel for industry to get the country back on its feet. This was one of the first prices we paid. We also accepted a voluntary six-month wage restraint to enable the country to get over its economic troubles and to give the National Coal Board a reasonable start in its efforts to reconstruct what was then an obsolete industry which had had the guts taken out of it by private enterprise.

Let us look at the price that is paid in human terms. Here I must declare an interest. I have three sons-in-law and one son working at the pit. My father was killed in the pit, so it can be seen that I have a specific interest. I myself worked for 34 years down the pit and I still live in the house which I occupied when I was a miner. Therefore, unlike the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South, I always declare my interest in every debate in which I take part.

Sir G. Nabarro


Mr. Swain

Sit down—I am not giving way. In human terms the facts are as follows. In 1972, 92 men were killed in the coal mines of Great Britain—nearly two a week; since 1947 6,500 men have lost their lives underground in the coal mines. This is the story in human terms. This is the other side of the picture when one considers the price of coal. No economist in the world can measure the price of coal in money terms without bearing in mind the human terms in loss of life.

Since 1947 some 40,000 men have been maimed for life—permanently injured This is the price of working in a coal mine. Nobody can measure the human suffering in monetary terms, and I hope to God that we shall never do so—although the mood of the Conservative Party at present seems to be that pounds, shillings and pence are the controlling force in every respect.

Let us take the situation about pneumoconiosis. About 860 men have lost their lives since 1947 as a result of this disease. At present 48,000 ex-miners are drawing part disability pension, and 20 per cent. of them are disabled as a result of pneumoconiosis. Can the Secretary of State measure this in human terms after his silly, idiotic, Ezra-like speech this afternoon? I am not surprised that he made such an idiotic speech, because he is completely identified with Conservative philosophy. What can we, as miners and working people, expect from Ministers whose philosophy is, if not to kill, to maim the economics of the mining industry?

The Medical Officer of the National Coal Board who is an authority on this matter said this: Men in their early 20s are now contracting pneumoconiosis because of the sophisticated machinery that is being used in the coal mines. The increase in mechanisation from day to day is producing more dust. As a consequence, it has become a young man's industry. Men in their early thirties will be complete physical wrecks by the time they are 40 and they will be unable to earn wages even at the levels mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman today —and those levels are meagre enough. Will their aims be defeated by pneumoconiosis, the scourge of the mining industry? Can one measure a ton of coal in economic terms if one also takes into account the human suffering that is caused by every ton of coal that comes up the mine shaft?

Mining today is a highly skilled industry. I can remember the year 1926 when I was on strike and when we had no sophisticated machinery at all. The only sophisticated machinery we then had was the pick and shovel, and that was sophisticated because one had to have muscles as big as a horse to use them. But today the use of modern machinery demands dedicated training up to a degree of skill that was unknown in former times. We are proud to have some of the highest skilled mechanics in Great Britain to maintain our mining machinery. The only thing Mr. Ezra is squealing about at the moment is the question of the sophisticated machinery. Every time the yellow lines on the hydraulic props move a millionth of an inch, the greater the danger becomes; every movement of the walking chock and roof control driven by hydraulic power causes him concern. That is what is worrying Derek Ezra.

I would say to Derek Ezra—who is the highest paid apprentice in the mining industry—that he wants to do his homework before sending out the sort of letter he sent to Members of Parliament. I have sent back my copy of the letter without a stamp on it, because I think I know enough about the mining industry without any directions from Derek Ezra. Have we forgotten the co-operation that was given by the men in the mining industry? It should be remembered that in 1957 there were 580,000 men in the industry and in 1972 the figure is now only 284,000. We have lost some 200,000 men from the industry, and there has not been one major stoppage, because the unions, the men they represent and the Board have worked together.

In 1967, I and my hon. Friends in the mining group moved 47 Amendments to the Coal Industry Bill, and we still contend that if only a dozen of them had been accepted the whole philosophy of the industry would have been considerably altered. But my right hon. Friend who was then the Minister of Power, and who has now had a 90 per cent. increase granted to him as Chairman of British Railways, refused to accept one Amendment which would have fundamentally altered the industry at that time.

Therefore, I sincerely hope that the Government will look ahead rather than keep looking over their shoulder. Many of the miners in my constituency—and I know that this applies to miners in the constituencies of my hon. Friends the Members for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and Chesterfield (Mr. Varley)—have worked in at least five pits in six and a halt years. Each time they have moved they have been told that they will be working in a long-life pit and yet, within 12 months, they have been given notice that the pit is in jeopardy and about to close. This is the tragedy of the situation. Geordies and Scots have been sent down to Derbyshire because that was to be a long-life area. Yet 11 years ago there were some 22 more pits in existence than is the case today. What this Government and the Coal Board have done is to turn many of those engaged in the industry into industrial gipsies. They are floating about from pit to pit, dependent on the charity of the Coal Board and the Government as to whether they will work in a pit for 12 months or 12 years—[Interruption.] I have spoken for 11½ minutes. I have timed myself carefully—

Sir G. Nabarro

I make it 14.

Mr. Swain

The hon. Gentleman cannot tell the time.

The Government can take immediate action by relieving the Coal Board of the £33.6 million interest that it is paying. They have done it in other industries. They can do it for the mining industry. They have done it for private industries. They can do it for the mining industry. If the Government cancelled the industry's capital debt, it could become viable and could afford to pay its wages. The Government are deliberately keeping on these interest charges so that there will be no kitty available from which to pay justifiable wage increases. I hope very soon that the Government will take action along the lines that I suggest.

7.20 p.m.

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

We cannot complain that we have not been advised closely about the difficulties facing the coal industry. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain) especially, although showing a certain bitterness towards some of my colleagues, has demonstrated his great feeling and sympathy for the men on whose behalf he speaks with such wide experience and knowledge.

The Government are helped considerably by the controlled emotion which has been expressed. I hope that they will also be helped by the sense of sympathy which has been shown from hon. Members in all parts of the House. In the course of the debate, there has been a balance between economics and economic reality and just and fair rewards for those who work in this major industry in our economy.

Before coming into the Chamber today, I was delayed by some 30 miners and their wives from the Kent coalfield who had come to lobby me. Over the weekend, I made a point of going out into the Kent coalfield to meet other miners, many of whom I count as my personal friends.

Quite by chance, I was speaking last night about today's debate to a man who told me that formerly, in what might be termed the bad old days, he was a colliery owner. He said that miners were the most wonderful men that he had ever known. He said, too, that one of their greatest characteristics was their loyalty to their union. What we see today is a demonstration of that loyalty, and it has grown stronger since the strike first began.

As I see it, the miners feel that theirs is a neglected industry and that they are no longer the favoured sons of industry. I agree that there is a growing feeling of hopelessness among them. The miners to whom I have spoken conveyed this to me vividly when they said, almost in terms of Greek tragedy, that they did not care how long the strike lasted and how much they suffered. They told me that they did not want to continue working in an industry which was not properly respected and regarded by this House and the country at large.

That is not in their real nature. These men are loyal not only to their union but to their community. By the fact that they have not had an official strike for 46 years, they have been loyal in their service to the country. However, today they feel that they must stake their claim to what they believe to be their proper reward.

They are concerned, too, about the Government's approach to the coal industry and its future. By that, I mean not only the approach of the present Government. Miners have been concerned about the approach of Governments to the industry for a long time. The industry has been going through a great contraction which has produced tremendous convulsions. It has sustained itself and its morale in a remarkable way. That has been possible only because of the willingness of those engaged in the industry to work with the management. Over the years, I have been amazed that we have not had a result like this before now.

The strike is a great pity. From the miners' point of view the timing economically may seem right. In reality, the timing is cruel. The miners have decided to strike in mid-winter, just when the economy is getting right again—

Mr. Skinner

We have heard that for a long time.

Mr. Crouch

People will suffer if the strike lasts a long time. Industry will be hit. Coal mining is a basic industry, and it will hit industry right across the board—

Mr. Skinner

Of course it will.

Mr. Crouch

It is a great tragedy that it should happen and, if we are concerned about co-operation between management and workers—

Mr. Skinner

That is dead. Collaboration is finished.

Mr. Crouch

I am afraid that in expressing my sympathy for the miners, I shall not be joined by the mass of the people as the strike progresses. There will be no sympathy where I believe sympathy to be due for relatively lowly paid men.

I do not believe that there is a case today for strike action, although I can understand how it has been precipitated. I believe, rather, that there is a stronger case for negotiation, for arbitration, or for a court of inquiry. I welcome the initiative of the T.U.C. in calling the two parties together. Equally, I should welcome the Government's conciliation machinery going into action when that was considered appropriate and necessary. It is to be hoped that that time is not too far ahead, but I do not believe that it is yet necessary so long as we can see the management and the union getting together on their own. I hope that at ten o'clock tomorrow we shall see the beginning of an end to the impasse and a breaking out into more successful negotiations—

Mr. Skinner

The hon. Gentleman need not worry too much about that.

Mr. Crouch

All employers, whether in the nationalised industries or the private sector, come to the point where they have to say that they are making their final offer. They have a duty to be efficient, to be economic, and to make a profit. Consistently, this House has demanded that the nationalised industries do not become a charge on the taxpayer. Governments of both parties have demanded efficiency from our nationalised industries. We criticise them severely if they do not run themselves economically. We even consider appointing new chairmen if boards prove themselves to be inefficient in the eyes of Parliament and the people.

Today, however, the Coal Board has another requirement of its own choosing. It is in competition with the newer fuels in the shape of oil and nuclear power—

Mr. Swain

They are not nationalised.

Mr. Crouch

Many people believe that we gain too much coal uneconomically and that we should switch to the other fuels at a faster rate than that which is already planned and in operation. To my mind, however, it would mean a much-too-rapid rundown of the coal industry. It would mean men out of work and men retired early. It would mean the country having to face a great social as well as an economic problem. We cannot allow this type of change to take place at too fast a rate, and no Government have been prepared to see it happen.

The miners have been remarkably responsible over the years in the rundown and contraction of their industry. They have co-operated. They have been allowed to have a say about reductions and closures. They have had a technical say as well as making social and economic observations about the factors involved. They have welcomed being asked their view. They have welcomed being invited by the management of the National Coal Board to look at the problems of individual pits to see whether they can increase productivity to make them viable and resist closure. They have welcomed this type of co-operation. This is management today, which the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), when I first mentioned co-operation, seemed not to accept. The very essence of good management is co-operation between management and unions working in harmony.

Mr. Skinner

There has been collaboration and co-operation. We have been to arbitration. We have been doing that for the last 15 years. It resulted in pay increases of 10s., 6s. and 15s. It resulted in the miners falling from the top of the wage league to sixteenth place. If that is what collaboration and co-operation mean, the miners are not having it any more.

Mr. Crouch

I was referring to co-operation in the management, viability and economic success of the mines. I will return to what the hon. Gentleman has mentioned about the success or otherwise of the miners in their collaboration with management to achieve a fair reward.

I agree that the miners are more determined than ever after two weeks of this strike. They are facing it with the courage with which they face their dangerous and dirty work. They are not bloody-minded. They do not want to wreck the economy either. They are seeking a fair return and they think that they are not getting it.

I do not think that all the miners will go all the way with the active thinkers and talkers and leaders in the National Union of Mineworkers. They do not expect the earth, but they feel that they are neglected and forgotten. They think that they have been quiet for too long, so strike it is. And it will be a long and tough strike unless the Government and the National Coal Board take note of what has been said in this House and the serious view which we take of it. I believe that the miners are tragically wrong in their decision to strike at this time in mid-winter. This is not an example of courage, but rather of foolhardiness. They cannot win; they can only lose.

Mr. Skinner

We will see about that.

Mr. Crouch

It makes me sad to think that they can only lose. I am not worried so much about the wage settlement which will be arranged eventually, but about their future, their jobs. Coal will become not only uneconomic but unreliable. If we expect the National Coal Board to be economic and to make a profit, it is possible that it will be forced to close many unprofitable pits and to concentrate only on the economic pits. It is also possible that it will be forced to raise prices and that, as a nation, we shall be forced to alter the balance of our fuel use in favour of oil and ultimately nuclear power. This is what the strike will produce. This is not what the miners want. In my opinion, they deserve a better deal. But, by using the strike weapon, they are in danger of committing suicide. Our duty today is to try to stop this terrible tragedy. The nation is not in a mood for strikes.

Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)

The hon. Gentleman is criticising the miners for using the strike weapon, but they have not used the strike weapon for 25 years.

Mr. Swain

Officially, 46 years.

Mr. Crouch

I accept that they have not used the strike weapon officially for 46 years. However, they are still wrong to use it at this time because of what I have just been saying will be the real result: a quicker decline of the industry.

Mr. Fred Evans

Surely in what he is saying the hon. Gentleman is making the miners' point: that if their industry is to die, if it is to be threatened by oil and nuclear power—that is an arguable case —they are entitled to adopt the view that they prefer to die quickly rather than slowly. Is he telling them that they should withdraw all safety men from the collieries, that they should allow the pits to flood, and the mains to collapse? Will he give us the short-term answer, in terms of oil and nuclear power, to the paralysis of the steel and car industries, exports, and a possible 10 million unemployed?

Mr. Crouch

I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman's many questions in that rather long intervention. All I am seeking to show is that, whereas I have great sympathy for the miners and an understanding and feeling that they should get a fair reward, it is a tragedy that they have chosen to strike at this time because the mood in the country is not in favour of strikes. If there is understanding and sympathy in the country, it is for the miners' cause and case. But there is no longer an understanding and mood of sympathy for the strike weapon. Instead, there is an understanding for both sides of the industry to co-operate. This was what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment was at such great pains to stress over the months of the introduction of the Industrial Relations Bill and its passing into an Act. He stressed that it was not so much an Act of Parliament as the beginning of a new era in industrial relations and understanding between management and employees.

Some have already asked: why should the miners be the whipping boys at this stage? Why should they be singled out for some restriction on their apparently just demands?

Should we accept entirely all the demands which the N.U.M. is making in order to maintain industrial peace and to prevent hardship across industry and to the people which a long strike will cause? I do not think that we can. I do not think that the whole demand of the N.U.M. is fully reasonable. To accept its demand in full would disrupt the economy and could spell ruin for the country for years to come just when things are looking up.

The Government are right to apply a policy of wage restraint by implication at this time. By "this time" I mean the time since this Government have been in power; not at this particular moment. It is vital that they stick to it. That, in my opinion, is responsible government. We have to ensure that the overall economic climate is right. We cannot allow another depression of runaway wage demands to ruin the fair weather which has begun to blow across our economy.

Mr. Swain

One million unemployed!

Mr. Crouch

Can nothing be done to deal with the problem in this great industry? This, to my mind, should never have become a matter for the Government, nor even a subject for debate in the House of Commons. It should not have got this far. It is a problem between employers and employees; it is for management and miners, for the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers.

Why has it boiled over like this? Has management failed in some way? Has the Union failed to maintain the miners' pay over the years? It is a fair question. Has the N.U.M. failed its members in their right to a fair return for a hard week's work?

Mr. Skinner

I have already pointed out what happened. They collaborated.

Mr. Crouch

This is not a time for economists to pontificate on what we can or cannot afford. Let us for once forget percentages and consider people instead. I believe that it is a time for management to decide what is a just payment to men doing an essential and dangerous job in an industry providing an essential fuel in our economy.

Much has been written in the Press and published elsewhere about rates of pay and take-home pay, and the deductions and hidden benefits of miners. When I hear of men earning today less than the average industrial wage—that wonderful economic jargon which we hear so much and use so much as politicians, a figure around £26 a week—I ask myself the question, is it because it is a low wage industry or is it because that particular region of the country is paying lower wages than another area? I have here a pay slip for the first week of January, 1972, issued to a miner of Betteshanger Colliery. He is not a young man. He is older than I am. He is a married man and a surface worker. His gross pay is £18 a week and his deductions for tax and National Insurance are £3.40. His take-home pay is £14.60. He also has to pay £4.50 in rent for the council house in which he lives. I speak with feeling and sympathy. This is a man living today on barely more than £10 a week—10p more.

Mr. Leslie Huckfield (Nuneaton)

If the hon. Gentleman thinks that that is low, I have here a slip which gives a take-home pay of £12.80.

Mr. Crouch

I have spoken this afternoon to a married electrician, with no children, whose gross pay is £19.40. His take-home pay is £14 a week. I have spoken to a surface worker aged 18½ whose gross pay is £15 a week. His take-home pay is £11.30. Admittedly, he is only 18½. I have been told by many miners that their wives and daughters earn more than they do. I have met some young miners this afternoon who have told me that they are taking home less than £10.

The miners are responsible men and I believe that they are reasonable in presenting their case. I agree with what was said to me by that former colliery owner: "They are some of the best men I know and I count many of them as my friends." The question before us is whether this strike should have occurred and whether it could have been prevented. It is a strike which must hurt the miners, industry, our economy and the people. It should not have happened. It is a failure on the part of the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers. I welcome what is to happen tomorrow. As the right hon. Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. Harold Lever) said, somewhere along the line someone has failed to identify with the miners. It is only by identifying with them that we can understand the reality of this strike. Only by identifying with them can we correct this tragedy and save this most important industry.

Mr. Skinner

Vote in our Lobby tonight.

7.43 p.m.

Mr. William Baxter (West Stirlingshire)

This is indeed a very important but sad occasion. It is important and sad not only for the mining community but also for the nation. I have listened to all the speeches and interventions today. I must come to one conclusion. That is that we as politicians, of all parties, have learnt nothing and made little progress over the last 46 years or so since the last miners' strike.

The real problem confronting the House and hon. Members on both sides is that the politicians are seemingly unable to solve a simple problem of industrial relations. This has been mentioned by my right hon. Friend. There is a need for an incomes policy reasonably fair to all concerned. Linked with a proper fuel policy, that would have saved us from this terrible calamity of a miners' strike. Our counterparts in science and technology have overcome what seemed to be insurmountable problems over the last 50 years, but we as politicians have made little or no progress. Political thought and action by Members of Parliament on both sides have practically stood still and we have more or less gone to sleep. It is only on an occasion such as this that we have awakened and recognised the realities of the situation.

Today's events take me back 46 years when, at the age of 14, I was working in a foundry in High Bonnybridge. The call came from the miners and the trade union movement. There was no hesitation. All came out in support of the miners—the black-collar workers, not the white-collar workers. We knew that starvation could be the outcome and that revolution could have followed in the wake of the last general strike. Womenfolk in all the villages and towns associated with the mining community got together and started soup kitchens, to which we had to go for our meals.

Those were the practicalities of the time of the last strike. Ugly thoughts and actions started to grow in the minds of the strikers. I can well remember fish lorries from Aberdeen being overturned, and the sweetest piece of fish I ever ate seems to have come from one of those unfortunate experiences. But let us remember the mood that existed then in the country. Revolution was not far away. The strike was broken by troops, by the police and, not least, by the strike breakers from the universities and the professional classes. This left a bitterness in the hearts and minds of the mining communities that has been difficult to erase.

But today we live in a different age. While political attiudes have not moved the atmosphere and temper in the country have changed. I do not accept the analysis of the position made by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch). People of all walks of life realise that the mining community carries out the most difficult and dangerous task for working men to follow. As a nation we so much depend on the miners' product, the coal that we use in many of our industries. Let us ask ourselves one question in this very important period of our development. Would any of us want our sons to become miners, when their wages are less than those of most of the other sons of toil throughout our land? The answer to that question is indeed in the negative. I have heard very few Members of Parliament suggesting that their sons should become miners.

This is a basic industry whose products we require as a nation. It has been our basic industrial strength for years past. We should well recognise that our industrial salvation and future may depend upon it. As responsible Members of Parliament, should we put the nation in pawn rather than give a reasonable income to the miners? Are we prepared to destroy our industrial future, as this could do? When I entered Parliament 12 years ago, production in the pits was roughly 25 cwt. per man-shift. Today, it is about 50 cwt. We must all agree that the miners do not receive their proper reward. Their wages have not increased in accordance with their productivity. Let me warn the Government that, if they do not take steps immediately to bring about an honourable settlement of this strike, the consequences could be extremely difficult to forecast.

Every hour that prolongs the strike, embitters the attitude of the men on strike. We are all well aware of an incident in recent history when a civil rights demonstration across the water escalated in a few months into bloody near-revolution, the solution of which we have not found yet.

If a general strike is called in a few weeks' time, I do not believe that the Armed Forces or the police will attack or undermine it. There is a different attitude abroad today. The university students are of a different calibre from those of 1926 and their attitude will not be as sympathetic to the powers-that-be if a general strike should come about. The trade union movement and the Labour Party are much stronger than when I was a boy in 1926. The professional and business classes include many people like myself, the sons of miners, who would not stand idly by and see the miners' families destroyed or crippled by a dogma of 7 per cent., whatever Government sought to impose it. This is the challenge that the miners will take up. We who have sympathy with them and come from that background will not let them down.

I say tonight to the Prime Minister, "Here is an exceptional case which requires an exceptional remedy. The fire is started and you have an opportunity to put it out before it is too late". I appeal to the Prime Minister to depart from his previous practice of leaving the Minister in charge to deal with matters pertaining to his own Department. With all due respect to the Minister in question, who is a sincere and no doubt honourable man, he has misjudged his opportunity. These opportunities do not come twice in a man's life. Now is an opportune moment for the head of the Government to step in and make his presence felt. He must, or the consequences could be very dangerous indeed.

We do not seem to realise that this is is a dangerous situation, one which requires the Prime Minister's personal intervention. This is his greatest test. Great issues have been before the House—Ireland, Rhodesia, the Common Market and many more—but they will pale into insignificance beside the great problem of a general strike and the upheaval which that will bring about.

The Prime Minister has an opportunity to show courage, will-power and determination and recognise that, even if these men were at the top of the league table that we talk about, their standards would be far too low. They are the very life-blood of the nation, and they should get the best rewards of their labour.

Let the old slogan go forth—"a fair day's work for a fair day's pay." This is not being done at the moment. The miners have given the nation their lives in many instances. As I said, my father was a miner. They have toiled willingly and well, making no complaint of the dangers that beset them down in the bowels of the earth. They have been law-abiding citizens. Hon. Members opposite have complimented them on their integrity and their standards. Even the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry paid them a glowing compliment.

But a complimena is not sufficient. I say to the Government, "You are warned tonight, that unless this strike is brought to an early close, the consequences the dangers and the responsibilities will be upon your shoulders and the outcome will be difficult to foretell."

7.56 p.m.

Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson (New Forest)

I have spoken in every coal debate since I became a Member of the House. This debate has in many ways followed the way of many of the other debates, It has been essentially a debate about the future of the industry and not about the particular problem.

I spent many years in the coal distributive business and this gave me an opportunity to get to know mining communities extremely well and also to see the switch from coal to oil. Hon. Members opposite have, correctly, expressed themselves emotionally—I am glad, incidentally, to see the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain) back with us after his serious illness—but, at the end of the day, the question has to be regarded with a certain amount of business sense.

Hon. Members have talked about a national fuel policy. We have had a national policy, but the problem with such policies is that they are subject to real change quite unexpectedly. I am not convinced that merely to provide a blueprint for energy demand is likely to prove a solution to the problems either of the mining industry or of any other energy industry. The only criterion in the production of energy is the ability to sell the product competitively against the other energy products.

Therefore, what we must realise is that this debate is about one energy industry in a four-fuel economy—and an economy which is now made up of varying new fuels, some of which are dramatically improving their productivity and their suitability for industrial use. Who would have given the gas industry much of a future 10 years ago? So we must look at the coal industry against the backcloth of gas, oil, nuclear power and coal.

It is true that 75 per cent. of our electricity is generated with coal to fire the boilers, but in the last year alone the use of oil in generating stations has risen by about 20 per cent. and the figure for coal has fallen by 7 per cent.

I am among the first to share the view expressed by many hon. Members that it is unarguable that the miners should receive more pay. As a society, we must realise ultimately that those who do the dirty jobs must be rewarded. However, this does not alter the fact that we must ask ourselves from where the money is to come to give them that extra pay, and in my view there are essentially three ways to provide the extra money.

The first is to put up the price of coal. It was estimated earlier today that an increase of about 15 per cent. would be necessary to meet the demands that the miners are making.

Mr. Harold Lever

Oh dear!

Mr. McNair-Wilson

The right hon. Gentleman may question the accuracy of this estimate—

Mr. Harold Lever

There is more to it than that. Must the hon. Gentleman repeat the folly of the Minister by parroting what the cost would be if every claim of the miners was met? Nobody is suggesting that there should be an unconditional surrender by the Government to the miners. The only question is whether the miners should be called on to make an unconditional surrender to the Government.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

I did not wish to provoke such a violent reaction from the right hon. Gentleman. I was merely referring to a point that had been made earlier. The fact remains that if the miners are given an increase the price of coal will be altered in some respect.

The second way to provide this money would be by subsidising the industry in one way or another. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. Harold Lever) suggested a write-off of capital debt, and that would be one way of doing it. After all, it was done for the steel industry a week or so ago. In any event, the coal industry is already subsidised by the tax on oil. The trouble with subsidisation is that it puts the burden on those who do not use coal just as much as it is put on those who do. The right hon. Gentleman was a member of the Government who, in 1965, stated clearly in their Fuel White Paper: The Government does not favour a continuing general subsidy for coal production. We are, therefore, left with the third possible way of providing this money, and that is by increasing the productivity of the industry. To do this there are various avenues open. There is, for example, the increased use of mechanical means for cutting and loading coal. There are other alterations which could be made in the management of pits which could hopefully lead to better productivity. Face lighting might be an example.

But ultimately productivity increases depend on the miner himself. One of the most serious damages done to the miner in recent years, and certainly since the war, has been the contraction of tie industry—this movement from the old established figure which Lord Robens gave of 200 million tons down to the figure quoted today of 143 million tons—giving the miner the feeling of being in a kind of shifting sand in which he does not know what the ultimate size of the industry will be.

Mr. Spriggs

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that productivity in coal mining has increased at a faster rate than productivity in any other industry in Britain?

Mr. McNair-Wilson

I do not dispute that. I am simply saying that the provision of the extra money could come from extra productivity. The agreements which have been the subject of these negotiations relate in part to productivity deals, and the N.C.B. has been prepared to accept on trust an increase of 2 cwt. per man shift, but has stuck over the figure of 3 cwt., which would have met the claim that is being made. Productivity has certainly increased. I am suggesting that, as one of the three alternatives I have given to provide the money which the miners require, it must rise still further.

The N.C.B. is in a difficult position. On the one hand it must take account of its statutory obligations relating to a return on net assets and, on the other, the Board's Chairman has repeatedly pointed out that it must look to the case which the mineworkers have put forward.

It is obvious that the solution which has been proposed so far is unsatisfactory and will not be accepted. I hope, therefore, that the miners themselves—and hopefully Mr. Victor Feather will be able to bring this about—can once again get round the table with the Board to deal with what I believe is a quite marginal problem at this stage.

Despite the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) the answer probably depends on a re-examination of the productivity agreements to see if somehow the gap between the 2 cwt. per man shift and the figure of 3 cwt. can be bridged, for in my view it is in this area that ultimately the answer will be found.

Whatever the reason, the miners have not wanted to go to arbitration. Nevertheless, it a third body, perhaps a court of inquiry, which must in my opinion ultimately provide the answer; which must find a bridge between these two opposing views. If this does not happen, then I share the gloomy foreboding that this strike could escalate into something much more damaging for the economy.

I hope that we will not see a situation arise where £200 million worth of capital equipment is lost underground for ever, where pits are closed for good through geological collapse and where the industry suffers a blow from which it will never recover.

Despite everything that has been said, I genuinely believe that the coal industry still has a bright future. Indeed, I cannot recall any hon. Member who has spoken today saying anything to the contrary. Nevertheless, we are facing an industry in despair because those who work in it have faced one burden after another, with contraction and the rest, and see themselves no further forward.

I hope that when he replies to the debate the Secretary of State will say that the Government have every faith in this industry and believe that it has a future, because ultimately the only criterion of success for coal mining is the ability to sell in competition with the other three fuels I have mentioned. There is no other road for success which this industry can take.

8.13 p.m.

Mr. Edwin Wainwright (Dearne Valley)

I have had the good fortune to listen to the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson) in the past and I accept that he has expressed sympathy for the miners.

However, he seems to share the view of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—echoed by his hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) and many hon. Gentlemen opposite—that coal mining must operate according to the law of supply and demand.

We are constantly told by hon. Gentlemen opposite that unless the industry operates according to this law, we will find ourselves in a chaotic situation. In other words, unless the industry is profitable in terms of the law of supply and demand, the N.C.B. will not have the money to pay decent wages to miners.

Quite a few kind words have been uttered by hon. Gentlemen opposite in this debate. Having expressed sympathy and admiration for the miners, the Secretary of State made a threatening speech in which he as good as told them that there was no hope for the industry—[Interruption.]—and that they had to battle on in competition with other forms of fuel.

I need hardly repeat the trials through which the industry has gone in recent years while transitional arrangements have been made. It is clear that, at any rate for the time being, saturation point has been reached in productivity. After all, productivity in mining has increased by over 60 per cent. in the last 10 years. If every industry had had that record the Labour Government would not have faced balance of payments problems and we should now be in a position to pay our miners the decent wages they deserve.

The hon. Member for Canterbury said that the timing of the strike was wrong. Unless an employer is hurt by a strike, there is no point in having a strike. Those on strike have to hurt someone in order to win. Unless they hurt someone, they cannot win.

Hon. Gentlemen opposite talk about the miner being a responsible member of the community. They talk, too, about responsible leaders in the industry. Nothing is worse than a bad Government and a bad employer to ruin what is considered to be a responsible leader, because they will never give that responsible leader the kind of increase that he ought to be given for his men. The miners can get what they want only by a show of strength. The Government and the employer will give way because of the strength of the miners.

For many years miners have been brooding over a deep sense of injustice, but in spite of the tremendous dissatisfaction which has been growing over the years, with the exception of one or two eruptions, they have acted with a great amount of tolerance and reasonableness, so much so that people have sometimes wondered what has become of the old militancy and the fighting spirit which the miners had years ago.

Why have the miners become so determined to fight for a fairly large wage increase? During the past 15 years they have seen manpower in their industry cut by about half. During that period hundreds of pits have been closed, leaving desolate villages that were once tightly knit mining communities. Mineworkers have had to move from one pit to another, sometimes to a neighbouring pit, and sometimes to a pit still within the area, but one which meant miles of travel to work.

Many miners have come to coalfields in Yorkshire and the Midlands from Scotland and the North-East. It is not easy for miners to move from one pit to another. Many of them have been transferred two or three times, and some even more often. One of my hon. Friends said that some men in his area had worked at five different pits.

Hon. Gentlemen opposite do not seem to realise—nor, for that matter, do some of my hon. Friends—what it means to a miner to uproot himself from one pit and move to a new one. Many miners never do that if they can avoid it, because the pits are all a little different. They have different methods of working, and it is not always easy to establish with a new team of men the friendly relationship that existed in the old pit.

During all this change there has never been any disruption whatsoever. Reference has been made to the co-operation between the N.C.B. and the N.U.M., and it is of tremendous credit to the mineworkers and to the board that this great change has taken place without much disruption. The miners have always been waiting for fair play, but they never seem to be able to get it to the extent that they deserve.

Concurrently with the reduction in manpower, the movement of labour, and the modernisation of production methods, miners have gone through the experience of seeing coal drop from its status as the foundation on which every industry in Britain was based to being just another fuel having strong competitors. Also during this period the miners have suffered the indignity of seeing their wages fall from the top of the league to the 16th place. The Chairman of the National Coal Board boasts about this increase putting miners back to the sixth position, but wage increases for other industries will be granted, and within six months the miners will be back in 16th place if they accept the recent offer.

A few months ago the Government decided what increase the miners should be paid. The Board was given its instructions in a discreet way. It was told that 7 per cent. was the norm. Twelve months ago the Government took on the postal workers. They thought that they were a weak trade union, that their negotiators were in a weak position, and the Government won the battle after six weeks. No one yet realises the strain that was placed on the postal workers who themselves had always been loyal to the nation.

The Government then picked on the mineworkers because they thought that they were in a poor fighting position. The Government thought that there were plentiful stocks of coal. that other forms of fuel were available, that coal imports would be allowed, and that since 1926 the miners have never struck, because of their reasonableness. The Government must have thought that the miners would run away from a national stoppage. They must have thought that somehow or other the miners' fighting spirit had ebbed away, but the strike is now on.

What about the cost of the strike? The longer the strike, the greater will be the responsibility on the Government for causing increased bitterness and hatred amongst the mining fraternity. Tempers will rise. We have seen it with picketing, and as the picketing continues, so tempers will rise still more.

There is not the slightest doubt in the minds of the miners that their request for a substantial increase is justified, but they have no faith in the Government. It is the Government whom the miners are fighting, not the Board. The Board is the buffer. The Government have laid it down that the Board must not pay more than what it has offered so far.

Mr. R. Carr

Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House what figure his Government laid down for the miners in 1970? Will he confirm that it was between 2½ per cent. and 4½ per cent.

Mr. Wainwright

The right hon. Gentleman cannot justify this case by quoting what the Labour Government did, because the Labour Government did many things with which I disagreed. I do not mind saying that to many of my right hon. Friends, because they did not realise what was developing in this great industry of ours, but it is with us now and this Government should get off their hind legs. I had better not use a nasty phrase, as I am not allowed to do so in this place.

The miners have been watching their position on the wages table, and who will convince them that they are not entitled to the same rate of wages as the dockers and the motor car workers? Even though they know the dangers of the stoppage for the mining industry, they are determined to continue the fight. It is no good the Government arguing that the miners should not strike or take other militant action. The miners are in this fight to win. The odds may be against them, but I believe that they will achieve far greater success than hon. Members opposite think.

The miners are fully aware of the dangers of spontaneous combustion, of the build-up of gas without good ventilation, of water, of falls at the face, and of convergence. The two latter dangers may be what will ruin many faces. The miners know that it costs between £220,000 and £250,000 to man each face with modern machinery, but the miners say that it is not their fault that a strike situation has arisen: it is the responsibility of the Government and of the Board.

Will action be taken to ensure that the Board has the money to pay increased wages? My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. Harold Lever) said that this Government can find the money, as the Labour Government did in 1965. It should not be forgotten that the Board's capital debt is due to the purchase of new machinery, some of which may have been wasted at pits which have been closed, although it is still the Board's financial responsibility. With the high interest rates prevailing there is a heavy annual burden on the Board's accounts. There is nothing to stop the Government from writing off part of the capital debt, thus enabling the Board to have sufficient money to grant a substantial wage increase.

If this is not done, and if the strike continues, it will prove that the Government are not bothered about the mining industry. The Government must decide this week whether Britain wants a mining industry. If they do not decide this week, it will probably be too late, because the longer the strike continues the greater will be the miners' determination to continue their struggle and the greater will be the damage to the industry. The damage to the industry will be greater than hon. Members opposite realise; or, if they realise it, they must be callous, because they know full well that each pit that closes will most probably be situated in an area of high unemployment, which will further aggravate the unemployment situation.

Automated machinery is very expensive and a terrific sum of money is required to build a plant or factory in an area in which a pit has closed so as to provide employment for the 1,000 miners thrown out of work.

There are ways of getting round this. The first way I have already suggested, namely, that the Government should make money available to the Board. Second, the Government should ensure that the Board seeks a basis for finding a solution to the problem. The miners have asked for a large wage increase. I do not expect that the Government would ever grant that amount, but the Government should tell the miners, "By giving subsidies to the Board we will make it possible for you to be back at the top of the wages league table in, say, three years time". That could be done, and if such a guarantee were to be given to the miners a solution could be found to this bitter struggle. If the Government do not do something, the responsibility will rest with them for what the industry will be like when the strike ends.

My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain) gave a graphic account of what it means to a man to work in the pits. Let us have more practical sympathy for the miners and fewer words of the category which has been spoken so glibly this afternoon, because such words only make members of the mining group in the House more determined than ever to give our full support to the miners in this struggle to ensure that they come out of the struggle on the winning side.

8.26 p.m.

Sir Anthony Meyer (Flint, West)

It is possible that miners will be at the top of the earnings league, but not in circumstances which the hon. Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Edwin Wainwright) would welcome.

I, like other hon. Members, have the honour to represent a constituency in which there is a coal mine and where there are coal miners. I do not suppose that many of them vote for me, but there is no group of my constituents among which I would rather find myself or upon whom I would rather rely in adverse circumstances. I agree with other hon. Members that the miners deserve our sympathy for the dangerous job they do.

We should be careful, because if we were to follow too far the very emotional line which was developed by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain) it would lead inevitably to the conclusion that mining was so dangerous that it should be forbidden, as sending children up chimneys was forbidden. I do not suppose that there are many hon. Members opposite who would want to push the argument as far as that.

Some people believe that some elements in the National Union of Mineworkers want to go at any rate a little distance down this road. There is a rather curious conjunction of very radical elements in the union and extreme right-wing economists arguing that the beneficial effect of the strike is that it will result in a sudden and massive closure programme such as no democratic Government could embark upon, and that only the potentially most profitable mines will be worth the immense expense of reopening. The result could be that only a handful of only the most profitable mines will remain open, manned by miners able to produce very large quantities of coal very cheaply and earning very high wages. I do not believe that it is a desirable solution, but it is a possible solution. It is a market solution, a funny kind of solution for any Socialist to put forward.

Most of those hon. Members opposite who have spoken today have been miners or connected with the industry. Almost without exception they have spoken with compassion and a great sense of responsibility. I hope that among their more extreme colleagues none will assume that the Labour Party stands to gain in any way from the spread of industrial anarchy. It is probably true to say that industrial unrest in the early years of this century was of great benefit to the Labour Party and helped to bring it into being.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Stirling and Falkirk Burghs)

Is the hon. Gentleman honestly suggesting that a trade union like the National Union of Mineworkers, with a strike record second to none, the best in the industrial history of the country, is following a path of industrial anarchy by striking at this time in its history?

Sir A. Meyer

I certainly was not suggesting that. I was referring to the shreds of evidence that in some areas the N.U.M. may not be in complete control of the situation. It is a situation that needs to be watched very carefully, because I do not believe that industrial anarchy will serve the purposes of any party. It produces the sort of situation that there is in France and Italy, with a Left so fragmented that it is never capable of producing a coherent opposition.

It is only in the mythology of the Left that a strike brings benefits. It may alter a situation, but it does not bring benefits because, like war, it finds its victims primarily among the innocent and the helpless. As I read this morning about the precautions that the Flintshire County Council has taken to ensure that the available coal is distributed to those in greatest need, it was forcibly brought home to me how much the strike will entail suffering for a large number of helpless individuals.

Why, then, did the N.U.M., with its magnificent record, find itself in a situation where it felt compelled to go on strike? I have said that I understand the miners' refusal of the Coal Board's offer and that if I had been a miner I should probably have voted for its rejection, but that is not mainly on account of the inadequacy of the offer. I am far from convinced that it is inadequate; I am far from convinced that the figure is the direct cause of the strike. It is simply that the combination of working in an extremely dangerous occupation, with the feeling that it is doomed to extinction, perhaps not very far in the future, causes the miners, under stress, to lose sight temporarily of where their best interests lie.

If my analysis is correct, the key to the situation does not lie in a big improvement of the offer. My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson) may be right in saying that the difference between the two sides is not nearly as large as it sometimes seems, and that it is a question merely of adjusting the productivity element in it to reach agreement. If that is so, well and good. But apart from minor adjustments like that, I believe that the answer to the situation is not merely to improve the offer, because I think that it is enormously important, and also in the interests of the miners, for the Government to win the battle against inflation. The hon. Member for Dearne Valley was unfair to talk about the Government picking on the miners. What the Government are doing is to try to apply a norm—I know that they do not like the word—for wage increases, without fear or favour, to all sections of the community. It is in the interests of the nation as a whole, including the miners, that that battle should be won.

I should like to see the climate of opinion transformed, and I believe that that can be done. I found myself in profound disagreement with the extremely able speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro), who argued on the purest economic lines that coal was becoming an increasingly uneconomic fuel and that the future lay with oil. When we can get our own oil, petrol and natural gas from the North Sea, it may be that that will be true, but that is some way away, and I thought that my hon. Friend rather shortened the time scale. We are a long way from being able to depend on oil under our own control. Therefore, we are unhealthily dependent on oil from Middle Eastern sources. It is always said that the Arabs cannot drink their oil and must sell it to us. But I believe that if many Arabs could cause us to choke by drinking their oil, they would do it. British policy should be designed with that point very much in mind. I do not believe that Arab Governments are any more Powellite than is the N.U.M.; I do not think that they decide their selling policies purely on the basis on what will pay them best. The British Government should be acutely aware of this mounting risk. The more rapidly we run down our coal industry, at any rate until such time as we can replace it from sources under our own control, the more we shall be at the mercy of Governments that are well aware of our vulnerability in this respect.

It is necessary, possible and desirable, for the Government now to make a public declaration of their confidence in the future of a reasonably expanding coal industry, and in the certainty of a decent livelihood for a foreseeable period ahead for the people engaged in the industry. This, far more than any pressure on the National Coal Board to increase its offer in an inflationary direction, would transform the situation and enable the strike to be brought to an early end. One thing on which I am quite certain is that the end to this strike must be very early indeed.

8.37 p.m.

Mr. Michael McGuire (Ince)

The hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) has largely echoed the sentiments expressed by all hon. Gentlemen who have spoken on the Government side of the House, with one exception. I am expecting one or two hon. Gentlemen opposite to be in the Lobbies with us tonight because they made out such a powerful case.

The hon. Member for Flint, West referred to the market. He said in effect that the miners had a wonderful case for an increase but the market philosophy would have to be distorted to pay them the proper wage. Does the hon. Member think that this applies to the Concorde workers? Did we not have to make an anti-market arrangement for the farmers? Did we not have to make special arrangements to ensure that they could survive in what is known as the market climate? I will not wear that kind of nonsense. Almost without exception. all hon. Members who have spoken in the debate have conceded the case for a substantial increase for the miners. The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry never came to grips or even looked like coming to grips with the position facing the miners, and I thought his speech was a poor one from a man in his position.

I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. Harold Lever) who said that the miners are facing a grim time in their history. I hope, if I am here long enough, that I may be elevated to become what is known as an elder statesman. We never have any younger statesmen. We have to be either old or dead before we become elder statesmen, but I hope that in the fullness of time I may be elevated to that position so that I may be called at six o'clock or half past six, instead of being called at about 20 minutes to nine and having to make a hurried speech.

Everyone has bags of sympathy for the miners. The newspapers all refer to the co-operation which has been demonstrated by the union over the years. When I was in the pit and was a branch secretary we agreed to every procedural device to increase productivity, and we co-operated all along the line. Yet today the miners are working longer hours than in 1919, when they were given a seven-hour day, which they lost in the 1926 strike. The slogan at that time was, "Not a penny off the pay and not a minute on the day." The miners survived six long, cruel months and then they were driven back.

Nationalisation when it came was much prized and the five-day week was even more prized. At that time the miners were told, "Look, lads, we can demand the earth, but let us not destroy the temple of nationalisation. We shall get rewards in the fullness of time." But they have not had those rewards.

The miners have co-operated and they have not had their hours reduced to the pre-1919 figure. They arrived at an agreement whereby they had a 7¼-hour day in about 1961. The arbitration tribunal recommended that when productivity reached a certain point the men should get that other quarter of an hour and so get back to the 1919 position, since they had shown such magnificent co-operation. The Coal Board and the union decided that to knock off the 15 minutes would not bring any appreciable benefit to the men, so they aggregated those quarter hours to give the men seven extra rest days. So I am right in saying that the miners are now working longer hours than they did 53 years ago.

What has been the end result of all this co-operation? It has not stopped pit closures. It has not stopped men going from one pit to another, and on the promise that the next pit is a long-life pit, and then being told that it is a short-life pit.

We have been chided by hon. Gentlemen on the Government side about the Labour Party's attitude. Certainly we had a wage freeze and the miners suffered like anybody else, probably more. One of my earliest memories is seeing the Southport pit in St. Helens being blasted down in 1931 and 1932 and the men thrown on the dole like old boots.

The Labour Party brought in redundancy payments. The Labour Party for the first time gave to the miners the concession that when a man was 62 he could retire on 90 per cent. of his take-home pay. The Labour Party brought in the wage-related benefits which benefited the miner probably more than anyone else. The record is not entirely black. We will not take this from anyone opposite.

The remarkable thing about this strike is that for the first time the miners have struck on the wages offered. I have a very good source for that, and it is Bill Paynter. When he came to the Lancashire Miners' Gala in 1964 they were holding a ballot on the wages offer. I remember him saying to the audience, mostly miners, when reminding them of the history of solidarity and great affection for the union: We have never in our history struck on a wages offer. We have struck when they have increased the hours or reduced the pay or not given us an offer. Miners see workers in private industries refusing twice what they are being offered. They have been driven to this situation. They cannot be faulted on the Industrial Relations Act procedure, but they can see that unless they assert that whatever the consequences they will withdraw their labour, unless they take this hard and rocky road which they have trodden before, no one will listen to them. They can listen to all the fine words about being marvellous men but that does not put anything into the pay packets.

I will not go over the conditions of service of the miners, but I was in the pits when we paid a couple of coppers a week to give pensions to the old men—ten bob a week. The tears were blinding them when they came into the office to collect it. My old father-in-law received it, and it was as though these men had won the football pools. They did not have to come begging for it. Pensions today are miserable and derisory. Miners see workers in other industries not comparable to their own enjoying a much better status, a more comfortable life and a bigger pay packet.

What shocked everyone about the ballot was the militancy of what had previously been termed moderate areas, areas which previously could have been depended upon to reject a strike call. These were the so-called right-wing leadership areas but these men have now rebelled and said, "We have had enough".

My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) in a most remarkable speech told us about the Nottinghamshire miners who truly practise Socialism. I am sure that he is proud to say that he represents such a mining area. The miners in his area stood still with their wages for almost four years. These men, and others at one or two pits in Lancashire, including my own of Sutton Manor, saw their wages drop from £30 and £40 a week. When the power loading agreement came in, in the interests of their lower-paid colleagues they stood still and allowed the other lads to jump up. Now some of these lower-paid workers would be better off on the dole or sick; so much for co-operation.

Nottinghamshire miners—and I am proud of this as a mining M.P.—who work in the most prolific and profitable area of the country, have stood still in the interests of their colleagues. I do not know how they have done it, but now they are among the most militant areas, not because they want more money for themselves, but for everybody in industry.

The Government's hands are not clean on the question of wages policy. They cannot stop the terrific but justifiable increases in the private industries. And I do not condemn those men for getting their £3, £4 or £5 a week increases. The Government are not so worried about the private sector but are concentrating their efforts on the public sector.

The only man who can put the situation right tomorrow, when the union and the Coal Board meet, is the Secretary of State for Employment. He can give the word and say to Mr. Ezra, "You can stop this strike because these men are deserving of reward." The situation is becoming more embittered as time passes, but the men are still willing to sit round the table following the settlement of the strike and to discuss anything which will improve productivity. They realise that this is one of the keys to the problems in the mining industry and that this can give them even better rewards.

The Government have made no attempt to come to grips with this matter. They can do something about the situation tomorrow. I warn them that the miners' background is very much tied up with what happened to their fathers. When those men were let down by their colleagues in the trade union movement they still took that rocky road, and it must be remembered that in those days there were no social security benefits. But the miners followed the mandate and stuck it out.

They are in the same mood today, and this is after 25 years of solid co-operation which nobody can fault. Yet the miners have slipped from the top of the league down to sixth place. I question whether they are even in sixth place, even taking into account the offer; and if I had more time available to me I could easily demonstrate that this is so.

My final word is to ask the Government to shake themselves out of inaction. They are not dealing with men who will be browbeaten. The men's case is unanswerable. They want more in the wage packet, and the Government can put it there. It must be realised that this strike will damage the industry and will damage the country itself. It will certainly damage the reputation of this already badly damaged Government.

8.53 p.m.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

This is a highly critical and important debate and all hon. Members who have taken part in it have made valuable contributions. This debate is not just about money or about figures or percentages. I am sure that everyone in the Chamber has a well-stocked brief either from the National Union of Mineworkers or from the National Coal Board, or perhaps from both. I believe that both sides have set out in compelling detail the case we are considering today.

My contribution will win me no additional political support or kudos, because there are no mines or collieries in the Macclesfield constituency and the number of my constituents who work in the pits in North Staffordshire and who live in the southern part of my constituency in Congleton are few. Therefore, I can be totally objective about this matter.

At the same time, I do not speak without some knowledge of the subject of mining and of the conditions in the mining industry. I have on two occasions contested the seat held by the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding), and I have represented for a period of five years on the county council a mining town in the north of Warwickshire in the constituency of my hon. Friend and colleague the hon. Member for Meriden (Mr. Speed).

I have made many friends among those who work in the mining industry, both underground and on the surface. At the same time, as a member of a local authority and as the representative of a town, I thought that a way of getting to know what was going on in the area was to be available to and to visit all parts of the town and all associations in the town. For that reason, early in my career as a county councillor, surprising as it may seem to many hon. Members opposite, I was accepted as a member of a miners' welfare club and institute—

Mr. Leslie Huckfield

Not in my constituency.

Mr. Winterton

I agree that it was not in the constituency of the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield). Only last week I visited that miners' welfare club. I was not lynched. I had an opportunity to talk to miners who are on strike about their many problems. Their feelings on this issue run very deep. We are talking about people of great character and of great loyalty. What is more, they are people of great toughness.

We are discussing the future of an important national industry. It is perhaps our only indigenous source of fuel which is not dangerously open to sabotage or interruption in the event of any international conflict. The coal industry is still a great one, despite its ups and downs over the years. I am convinced that it still has a great future.

I oppose the present strike. I believe that it is unnecessary and a tragedy not only for the industry but for those who work in it. I regret that the National Union of Mineworkers decided not to accept arbitration, which is a part of the negotiation procedure that it has accepted in the past. However, there is a minority in the coal industry which is very badly paid, and it is the case of those workers that I wish to put to my right hon. Friend today. They are very badly remunerated for their work, and all the figures of average pay which have been bandied about during the debate mean very little to a man when he sees his pay slip. Pay slips do not lie. They do not blur the vision. They are fact. Certain grades of workers, both underground and surface, earn very little more than they could obtain if they were on social security—

Mr. Skinner

They earn £18 a week. That is less than social security benefit.

Mr. Winterton

When thousands of their fellows in the car industry, in the docks and even in the brewing industry earn substantially higher wages for much less exacting work, I share the sense of injustice that they feel.

Mr. Charles R. Morris (Manchester, Openshaw)

The hon. Gentleman says that he has talked to miners in a working men's club. The hon. Gentleman goes on to say that he opposes the present industrial dispute in the industry. What solution is open to miners against the background of the injustice, which he acknowledges, in terms of remuneration to certain miners?

Mr. Winterton

Perhaps I ought to say that I am optimistic. If the mineworkers had gone to arbitration, I believe that a more generous offer would have been made.

We must get the miners back to work as soon as possible. The miners want to return to work. I urge the Government—I hope that the Minister in his winding up speech will give this assurance—to press the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers to enter into immediate negotiations without strings, for the national good if for nothing else, with a view to increasing the offer to those in the lower-paid grades in the industry even if it is impossible to offer any further increase to the better-paid grades. At the same time, I believe that we must urge the National Coal Board to improve the productivity incentive offered to the higher paid grades.

Let there be a spirit of willingness and constructive thinking, not a spirit of hostility. Let there be a constructive approach on both sides and an understanding of both points of view. This debate will have achieved nothing today if we do not get the miners back to work immediately.

9.1 p.m.

Mr. Alex Eadie (Midlothian)

I think that I have a right to speak in the debate because I have heard hon. Gentlemen opposite speculate to some extent on the negotiations. I am an ex officio member of the National Executive of the National Union of Mineworkers by virtue of the fact that this year I am Chairman of the Miners' Parliamentary Group. Indeed, I took part in the negotiations. I have heard hon. Members talk about the intent of the miners and their leaders to reach a settlement. At our last meeting in London we sat for six hours endeavouring to reach a settlement.

Some sections of the Press have tried to assert that the N.U.M. is controlled by certain predatory forces and that there are people in the coalfields who are holus-bolus all out to take industrial action. This is very far from the truth. My hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire), in a remarkable speech, pointed out that there is a great feeling of moderation in the areas of the N.U.M. Translating it into terms of right and left wing, the majority on the National Executive of the N.U.M. is moderate. Therefore, we are entitled to claim that men of moderation found the offer made by the National Coal Board to be absolutely unacceptable.

It is remarkable that, although we have had lots of sympathy expressed for the miners in the debate, when it comes to giving them money the Government appear to draw the line. I do not think that the Government are entitled to tell Parliament and, indeed, the nation that the responsibility for trying to reach a settlement in this injurious dispute rests with the T.U.C. To some extent it is an indictment that, after the time that this strike has already run, the only people who seem to be concerned about the miners' industrial action are the members of the T.U.C., which has taken the initiative in getting both sides together.

I do not know who is to reply, but it will be a great disappointment to the whole House if, having listened to some of the speeches, the Government are not prepared to say something positive about giving more money to the miners and bringing an end to this dispute.

A lot of Aunt Sallies have been flung around in the debate. The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, opening the debate, flung in some real Aunt Sallies. It is a pity that he did not study the brief submitted by the National Coal Board, rather than just read it. He talked, for example, about arbitration. We were all circulated with the brief from the National Coal Board. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman studied the brief of the National Coal Board on this question of arbitration, which he introduced into the debate. The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) also introduced this question by saying that he was convinced that if it went to arbitration the miners would get a just settlement. There is not a single trade unionist, not only in the mining industry but in any industry in the country, who believes that if an industrial dispute goes to arbitration he will get a fair settlement.

That is why, if the right hon. Gentleman had studied the brief, he would have realised that he was 11 years out of date. It was in 1961 that the miners said they were having no further part in arbitration, because they had experienced what happened in arbitration.

Mr. McGuire

Seven pence a day.

Mr. Eadie

My hon. Friend says "Seven pence a day." We were not Members of the House at that time. We were working in the industry then. At the national conference, my hon. Friend and I cast our votes for ending this so- called independent arbitration. It is a question of the Act. Therefore, let us not discuss arbitration as if something new has been introduced. It is 11 years out of date. For the Government to trot out information to the House which is 11 years out of date is doing a disservice to the House and to the nation.

What miners are concerned about was stated by my right hon. Friend. Indeed, it is a key, to some extent, when we are talking about whether there is more money in the kitty. That is the question of carrying out capital reconstruction of the industry and how miners at present have on their backs the cost of pits that never made a penny profit from nationalisation. In my area, there was a new pit at Rothes, Fife, started by the Fife Coal Company. It never produced a penny profit from the day it was sunk and had to be closed because of geological problems. When one looks at the balance sheet of the National Coal Board today, one finds that costs like that are on the miners' backs. Therefore, when my right hon. Friend talks about capital reconstruction of the industry, he is talking in the language of the miners and the language that our unions have campaigned for. Our unions have been right. We predicted that nuclear power would be a failure and made speech after speech in the House. We said that the 1967 White Paper on fuel and power was disastrous. Now it is a joke. No one regards it as authentic. It is fit only for the waste paper basket.

I hope that the Minister will take cognisance of the debate and will realise that the miners' case is unanswerable and that the nation is backing the miners day by day. Let us not allow this dispute to get out of hand.

9.8 p.m.

Mr. Eric G. Varley (Chesterfield)

The debate has reflected a feeling that exists in the British coal fields, but there must be millions of people in Britain wondering how this strike has come about. Forty-six years have passed without an official strike in the pits. But those who read the report of the debate will begin to understand how this situation has been brought about. Speeches from this side of the House, especially the last one, have portrayed the mood of the mineworkers, and the Government would do well to heed the advice that has come from my hon. Friends.

A few months ago most people were amazed at the remarkable turnround in the coal industry's future and its fortunes. Less than a year ago, for example, Ministers and members of the Coal Board were predicting a new and rosy future for the industry. Even a few minutes ago, the hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) predicted a rosy future even in this situation, as did the Member for New Forest (Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson).

A year ago, the Government went out of their way to anger the miners with the Coal Industry Act, when they decided to hive off the profitable parts. Thank goodness we have not heard much about that lately. Ministers and Coal Board chiefs were talking about stabilising output. They had a modest recruiting drive and we were told that the worst of the pit closure programme was over. Now, as we were told so forcibly by my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Pentland), all the miners' co-operation has been thrown back in their faces. This is how the miners see it. Anyone who has seen the miners' strike meetings, as I and many of my hon. Friends have, over the last 10 days, can understand this militancy.

This is how the co-operation went. The number of those working in the pits was reduced from 703,000 in 1956 to about 280,000 now. The number of pits being worked went down over the same period from about 840 to under 300. This rundown was brought about, as the Secretary of State acknowledged, with the co-operation of the miners. This programme of streamlining could not have been carried out if the miners had not wholeheartedly co-operated.

Many of these measures went against the deep instincts of the miners, but they proved that they were men of moderation. Some of my hon. Friends think that they were too moderate, but certainly men who regarded the industry as the very fabric of their lives co-operated throughout this period. The strength of the militancy expressed now has surprised many people. I think that it surprised the Government; it certainly surprised some of the national union leaders. But the measure of bitterness within the coalfields has gone very deep.

Anyone who has taken the trouble to study the history of the last 15 years knows that this is not the normal posture of men in the pits. No group of workers has done more to help facilitate changes in their industry. They have co-operated in every possible way. No doubt the Secretary of State for Employment will also confirm that tonight. But we want him to go much further than just acknowledging that co-operation. They certainly co-operated at every stage of technological development. We were assured that ultimately the industry would reach a size and a viability which would offer wages befitting the dangerous and arduous nature of the work.

All this must be seen against the background of the industry's capacity for change, with its location and the lack of job opportunities when men were thrown out of work. As has been said, it is a regional industry—70 per cent. of the coal industry is in intermediate and development areas. It is remarkable that there has been this degree of co-operation when miners have seen what is happening in their regions.

Only a few years ago, when the Western European coal industry was faced with redundancy, it took to the streets. We saw, on television, violent scenes on the streets in Belgium, but right throughout the late 'fifties and early 'sixties violence of that kind was never seen in Britain. Far from being mindless militants, as some people now suggest the miners are, they have been absolutely model employees.

What is this dispute all about? Why has this agonising trouble arisen? The miners were lead to believe that, given their co-operation, the industry would be in a better shape to pay decent wages. They were told that they would come top of the wages league and would stay there. They now realise that the opposite has been the truth.

One striking miner told me last week that lavatory cleaners at British Leyland get as much as the top rate in the pits. "Dustmen and grave diggers are paid more than surface craftsmen, and, while I do not begrudge them their pay, miners should receive a fair wage as well," he said.

Miners' conditions have slipped back and it was as clear as a pike-staff months ago that unless the N.C.B. made a decent offer this year this confrontation would arise. It was known as long ago as last June that the miners would not allow their relative position in the wages league to deteriorate further.

The figures must be known and understood by the Secretary of State. In 1967 average mining wages were £2 above the national average and about £1.50 above average earnings in manufacturing. By 1971 miners earnings had fallen below the national average and were £2 less than earnings in manufacturing. Indeed, nearly one-third of miners were taking home less than the money that qualifies a man with two children for family income supplement.

I have followed the negotiations closely. They started in September and throughout the period the N.C.B. has been talking in pence rather than £s. I have seen the minutes and documents prepared by the N.U.M. and the reply from the N.C.B. No set of union negotiators could have been more fair.

Mr. Derek Ezra has admitted that he is not prepared to compensate miners for the increase in the cost of living since the miners last received a pay increase. In his view, the present offer is 2.3 per cent. in real terms lower than the rise in the cost of living. But he says that if one looks at the offer in combination with the wages paid last year, one sees that it outweighs the rise in the cost of living. This is how I understand the way in which Mr. Ezra is putting his case, and I thought that the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) put it in that way.

I agree that, taken over a two-year period, it just about does that, but it does so by the magnificent sum of one new penny per £ per year. In other words, one new penny is the reward that Mr. Ezra is offering the miners for their contribution to the industry's future.

Into this soothing mixture are poured some vague and pious hopes about inflation being eased in the coming months. But every miner knows that his rent and fares will be increased in the next 12 months. For example, the Tory-controlled Chesterfield Borough Council in my constituency will, at the express wish of the Secretary of State for the Environment and his right hon. Friend who is responsible for this matter, put up council house rents in April by 27 per cent., and naturally many of these houses are occupied by miners.

My hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Harper) has informed me that the coal industry housing association in his constituency, whose houses are occuppied wholly by miners, will have its rents increased by £1 a week very soon. In fact, he informs me that rent increase notices went out in the first week of the strike. The Government, in advance of any legislation, are twisting the arms of councils all over the country to put up rents in three months' time by about 50p a week. How much will the miner's penny be worth in those circumstances?

What has angered the miners most is the indecent relish with which the Board has carried out the Government's bidding. In my area during the overtime ban the Board took a delight in cutting miners' wages by deliberately sending workers home during normal working hours. The Derbyshire area secretary, Mr. Parkin, spoke about £1 million wages being lost by these tactics during that period. The Board has conducted the whole operation in a provocative and cavalier manner.

The final piece of crass stupidity was when the Chairman of the National Coal Board said on Friday, 7th January that his offer had been withdrawn and that in any resumed negotiations they would start from scratch. That was absolutely stupid. Anybody knows that in such a situation it is the usual practice to leave the matter on the table to form the basis of new negotiations, and no single action has angered the miners more than that announcement.

Mr. Derek Ezra took over the chairmanship of the Board only six months ago. He was well known within the industry, and he probably received a lot of co-operation at that time, but he has got off to a bad start and it will be a long time before he wins back the confidence of the miners.

Reference has been made during the debate to the Government's rôle in this dispute. The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry this afternoon implied, as no doubt the Secretary of State for Employment will when he replies to the debate, that the Government had given no guidance to the Board, that the Board was a free agent, but who do the Government think they are kidding in this dispute?

On 21st December the N.U.M. National Executive Committee and the National Coal Board met. The union asked the Board about Government involvement, and I quote now from the minutes of that meeting: The Union's Representatives said that they were concerned about the effect of the Government's influence on the board's offer, and asked whether the board, in adhering to the figure of around 7 per cent., were in fact doing so because of Government influence. The Board said that they had very carefully considered the N.U.M. claim on the basis of the Board's operations, and had looked at every possible means of improving the situation. It was for this reason that they had devised their latest package offer. In so doing they had, of course, to take account of what was happening externally. It is nonsense for the Government to keep up this pretence. Only two days ago Mr. Eric Jacobs, writing in the Sunday Times, said: the National Coal Board's … proposals were dictated far more by a sense of what was appropriate within the current bargaining situation, the limits of which had been set by the Government, than by what was appropriate to the future of the industry itself. Do not let us have any further nonsense from the Government about offering no guidance to the Board.

We know, the miners know, and I think the country knows, that the Government are up to their neck in this dispute. That is why we on this side of the House understand the refusal of the miners' leaders to go and play musical chairs last week at the Department of Employment, and this afternoon we had a strange and unconvincing explanation of that episode from the Secretary of State for Employment.

If the right hon. Gentleman is really anxious for talks with the miners' leaders, as he implied this afternoon he was, why is he not big enough, when he replies, to ask the miners' leaders to come and see him? Why does he not say that he is prepared to use the services of his languishing conciliation officers? Does he intend to leave all the initiatives in this dispute to Mr. Victor Feather?

We therefore look forward to the winding up speech so that the Secretary of State can tell us that he is prepared to take some initiatives. The calls for this have come, not only from this side of the House, but also from the hon. Members for Belper (Mr. Stewart-Smith), for Cannock (Mr. Cormack), and for New Forest. It is an insult to ask the leaders of a great union to go to see officials and to tell them the facts—facts which are already on the departmental files. Every informed industrial correspondent knows the facts.

If the Secretary of State decides to announce tonight that tomorrow he will invite the miners' leaders to go to see him, they will go to see him. I have the assurance and the authority of the National Union of Mineworkers to say that to him.

We on this side think that it is right that these two Secretaries of State are taking part in this debate, because they both bear a responsibility for the outbreak of the dispute and it is their responsibility to help to bring about a settlement. The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry did not say much about the prospects for the industry. It is true that he said something that the Minister for Industry was saying 12 months ago; but a year ago the Minister for Industry was making statements inside and outside the House about the industry's bright future. Even Chapman Pincher said something to the same effect in yesterday's Daily Express.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. Harold Lever) put some serious questions to the Secretary of State about capital reconstruction. I hope that the Secretary of State will undertake to examine these matters. There have been many changes since the last capital reconstruction took place in 1965. For example, over 150 pits have closed since then. What is the present capital debt? I understand that we have reached the extraordinary position where miners can win an operating surplus for the Board of approaching £100 million a year without the industry's accounts showing a profit.

If this matter were examined and put right—if the strike continues for much longer, it will have to be examined much sooner than many people think—it would give the Board greater financial flexibility and manoeuvrability.

Even if the present financial structure remains in train, the Government and the Board must realise that it will be less costly to make a fair offer to the miners than to prolong the strike. The Daily Mirror pointed out the other day that the overtime ban and the cost last week alone in loss of production, upkeep of pits, other services and clerical salaries, would have paid for another £1 a week above the Board's offer.

The critical issue in the debate is whether the Government intend to sit back and do nothing to help to end the dispute. Is the Government's only rôle in the dispute to whisper to the Board to stand firm? Are the Government determined to force the miners to sweat it out?

We are told over and over again by Ministers, particularly by the Prime Minister, that we are on the verge of unparalleled economic expansion. Yet this industry, which provides nearly 50 per cent. of our energy needs and powers 75 per cent. of our electrical generation, is in the throes of a dispute which is the direct outcome of the Government's discriminatory wages policy. All we get from the Government is a series of homilies and the pretence that it is nothing to do with them. It is no good their trying to keep up the pretence that they are not involved in the dispute, and I hope that the Secretary of State for Employment will not try to do so. We had it all through the postal dispute. We know that they are involved, that they are whispering to the Coal Board to stand firm. Let us drop the pretence and know the Government's position on the matter.

If the dispute goes on there is no doubt that, with coal being responsible for 50 per cent. of our energy provision, including 75 per cent. of our electrical generation, British industry will grind to a halt and we shall not get the unparalleled economic expansion that the Prime Minister talks about. I do not think that the Government want that to happen. I hope that they do not. Pressurising an industry and those who work in it, who are still doing the most dangerous and arduous jobs in the country, to accept an offer that does not compensate them for the rise in the cost of living and leaves them at the F.I.S. level, is disgraceful.

The mood in the coalfields is of the utmost determination to get a fair deal. Like many of my hon. Friends, before I came here I was a mineworker. I have lived in a mining community all my life and for the first 32 years of my life I lived literally between two collieries in a village of 400 houses, all owned by the National Coal Board. To go to and from school I had to go through the pit yard. My grandfather and my father all spent their lives in the pits. My father retired with pneumoconiosis, and the normal sound of his breathing is now sometimes like the whimpering of a baby, it is so bad. My sister's husband is a miner and my father-in-law was a miner until he retired a year ago.

Therefore, like my hon. Friends I can claim to know something about the way miners are feeling now. There is a resentment and anger in the coalfields that I have never experienced in all my life in a pit village or in my work as a local official of the National Union of Mineworkers.

The Secretary of State this afternoon referred to the risk to the viability of the coal industry and to job prospects that the strike involves, and Mr. Derek Ezra constantly refers to this. But do the Government and Mr. Ezra really think that the miners have not taken that into account? Of course they have. I attended a strike meeting only three days ago when the feelings were best expressed by a man in his fifties who works at the coal face in a pit that he knows may well be at risk if the strike goes on. He said: In 1939 I went to war like many others around here. We went knowing that some of us would not come back, but we went because there was a principle to be fought for. It is the same with this strike. We are going into it with our eyes open but we are fighting for a principle. It may seem logical to the Government and the Coal Board to ask the miners to accept the offer, but can they really expect the miners to accept, after all they have gone through in the past 15 years, an offer that makes it an absolute certainty that their standards fall back even further?

No one disputes that there is massive public sympathy for the miners. I think that it has taken the Government by surprise that there is so much public sympathy. Pretty well every national newspaper has run an article in favour of the miners. Even the Daily Express ran an article under the banner headline: Give them the money, Mr. Ezra". If it is the Government's intention to break the miners—and I hope that that is not the case—and so give notice to other wage claims in the pipeline, they will never do it. They have an insuperable task. They have wholly miscalculated if they think they can do it. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) said, the miners are moderate men. They work hard and play hard, but essentially they are compassionate men, with their strong community spirit. But if they are provoked, as I and my hon. Friends believe they have been provoked in this dispute, if they are trodden on, as many miners believe they are being trodden on in the dispute, and are expected to take a reduction in their standard of living, by God! they will fight, and much harder than any hon. Member realises.

If the Government do not want to see British industry crippled, they had better take these warnings. They are not warnings given in obdurate bravado by the miners but warnings and signs of a deep unrest among men who for 46 years have never been on official strike but are now ready to face a dispute as long as their fathers endured in 1926, but this time they say, "We will win". It would be tragic if the Government allowed the strike to go on a moment longer than necessary. In the end it will be the Government's tragedy and the country's tragedy.

For the miners, it is a fight for the workers of Britain. That is how we on this side of the House see it. Those of us who have had the honour to be sent here to speak for the miners are speaking for Britain's workers tonight. That is why we want the Secretary of State to do something, and why we shall vote against the Government tonight.

9.36 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Robert Carr)

Before I say anything else, may I say that I agree with the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley) about two things, and I am sure that I speak for the whole House in saying this. Whatever may be the merits of any party in the dispute, I am sure that we all agree that the present situation is an unusual posture for the miners and that they are certainly in no way ever to be labelled as mindless militants—to adopt and agree with the hon. Gentleman's own words.

I have one other thing to say, which may not meet with the immediate agreement of hon. Members opposite, but which I believe is completely true. If the offer made by the National Coal Board were studied, it would be seen that the hon. Gentleman was factually wrong in suggesting that it would have led the miners to a relative decline in their living standards in the coming year. That is not true. It is much more for genuine argument whether it is good enough relative to other people. We must put on record, before we get controversial about things that are controversial, that the offer put forward by the Coal Board would lead to an improvement of the miners' position and not the reverse.

Any holder of my office in any government is in a difficult position in participating in a debate about a dispute while that dispute is going on. As Secretary of State for Employment I may well have to be involved in the settlement of that dispute.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why not now?"] Let me say clearly at the outset—and I shall come back to this in more detail—that my door is wide open to either the union or the Board whenever they want to come in. That is the fact.

I must try above all tonight to avoid saying anything that would prejudice my capacity to assist the parties in reaching a settlement. I hope the House will understand if, because of this, I appear more reluctant than I usually am to enter into hard debate on some of the controversial issues involved or to discuss at this moment—and I say this particularly to my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro)—the possibilities of certain courses of action. It would be wrong for me to discuss these tonight, but I assure all hon. Members that the views they have expressed will be carefully taken account of and studied.

Speeches have come in this debate from hon. Members of all three parties with long knowledge of the industry and with deep feelings for the interests and the problems of the miners. Their seriousness and their responsibility must have impressed not only hon. Members of the House but people outside. My hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Mr. Cormack) said he detected in the country a basic and real sympathy with the miners and their problems. That I believe is true, and it has been reflected in the debate on both sides of the House.

I say categorically, in answer to a question put by the hon. Member for Chesterfield, that the Government are not seeking a showdown with the miners. We are not wishing to drive the miners into submission or humiliation. We are seeking a settlement which is just both to the miners and to the whole community, and this double duty is inescapable, not just for this Government but for any Government. So, while we have rightly and properly heard—

Mr. George Grant (Morpeth)


Mr. Carr

I am afraid I cannot give way. To give back benchers the maximum time the hon. Member for Chesterfield and I agreed to limit the time of our wind-up speeches, and nobody interrupted the hon. Gentleman.

While we have rightly and properly heard a lot about the interests, frustrations and problems of the miners, the Government—any Government—and this House of Commons and Parliament must take into account the interests of the public at large. This above all applies to prices. No one—and I make no complaint of this—is louder in crying out against price increases than are the Opposition. … labour costs are overwhelmingly the largest single element in the final prices of the goods and services bought by consumers. That is a fact, and that was a direct quotation from paragraph 111 of the Labour Government's last Prices and Incomes White Paper, Cmnd. 4237, which they forced this House to approve in December, 1969.

An increase in the price of coal not only has its inevitable effect on the amount of coal sold and therefore on the miners' own interests, as my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South, rightly pointed out, but also enters into the cost of electricity, steel and the over- head costs of many other forms of production.

I am sure the House would agree that the C.B.I. initiative to limit price increases to 5 per cent. is valuable and is essentially helping us to get on top of the explosive price rises which were causing so much trouble and hardship The attack on the problem of inflation by breaking into the vicious circle by means of this price restraint was welcomed by the T.U.C. The T.U.C. recognised that it must be a factor influencing pay settlements and pay claims.

The hard fact which cannot just be ignored is that the National Coal Board genuinely believes that the offer it has made is the highest possible one it could have made if it is to keep down price increases within these accepted limits. In saying that, the Coal Board is allowing for and taking on trust an increase in productivity of no less than an average of 2 cwt. per shift.

Mr. Skinner


Mr. Carr

I cannot give way—[HON. MEMBERS: "Give way."] Hon. Gentlemen must be fair. The hon. Member for Chesterfield was not interrupted. [Interruption.] The hon. Member—

Mr. Skinner


Mr. Carr

The right hon. Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. Harold Lever) fairly recognised this hard and difficult conflict between the genuine, particular interests of the miners and the pressures and frustrations which we all recognise and with which we genuinely sympathise, and the general interests and needs of the nation. He was less than fair in some of his other charges, but I will not spend time going into them. The Government have been charged by the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Chesterfield with lack of candour, rigidity and preventing the Coal Board from making a fair offer to the miners. That is not true.

The Board negotiated right to the end and it really did negotiate. It adjusted and raised its offer several times up to within 48 hours of the strike. If the hon. Member for Chesterfield is to talk about constraints on the freedom of the Coal Board, what on earth does he think his Government imposed? His Government laid down a statutory incomes policy. His Government said that in 1970 claims and settlements should be within the 2½ per cent. to 4½ per cent. range. In 1970 under this Government the miners got not 2½ per cent. or 4½ per cent.; they got 12½ per cent. and this year they have been offered 7.9 per cent.

Mr. Varley

I expected this point and it can be answered in this way. Never mind the merits or demerits of the last Government's incomes policy; at least it was applied to everyone. This Government's policy is a discriminatory policy directed against the public sector and the right hon. Gentleman knows it.

Mr. Carr

The last Government's incomes policy was applied in such a way in the first six months of 1970 that when this Government took office we found a situation in which earnings were rising six times faster than output. The Labour Government's incomes policy was applied unfairly, arbitrarily, and with an eye on one thing only in the last six months—and that was trying to bribe voters.

Mr. George Grant


Mr. Carr

What is undoubtedly the Government's concern is that we have made—

Mr. Grant


Mr. Speaker

Order. If the right hon. Gentleman does not give way, the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. George Grant) must resume his seat.

Mr. Carr

We have made clear, with the greatest candour and frequency, that the interests of the whole community must be taken into account in all pay settlements, including this one. From the moment we took office we stressed the vital importance of striving to bring the level of pay settlements progressively down to a much more realistic level, not only in the public sector but in the private sector, too. The latest figures published by my Department show that this is happening. Since the earnings and wage indices which show de-escalations are made up overwhelmingly by private sector settlements, we could not produce such figures if the de-escalations were taking place only in the public sector. This is the basis of more stable prices, and for everyone, from pensioners right through the working population, it is the most urgent need. It is the basis of the growth and expansion which alone can bring this country to full employment again—[Interruption.]—which we all desire to see.

Mr. Orme

Are you going to the meeting tomorrow?

Mr. Speaker

Order. On the whole this has been an orderly debate, and questions from a sedentary position about whether I am going to a meeting tomorrow morning are not in order.

Mr. Carr

We all wish to achieve this major advance—the de-escalation in pay settlements and prices which is going on. The rate of increase in prices has been falling. In the first six months of 1971 the rate of increase was 11 per cent. In the six months to November that rate had dropped to 6½ per cent. This is the basis of further advance and it is this basis which this Government, any Government, have the duty to maintain because it is in the interests not only of the whole country but of the miners—

Mr. Orme

Tell us about the strike.

Mr. Carr

There has been a call for special treatment.

Mr. Skinner


Mr. Carr

This may be so, but how can it be achieved? No one has suggested how this can be done.

Mr. Skinner

I can help.

Mr. Carr

The hon. Member for Rhondda, East (Mr. G. Elfed Davies) expressed the fear that any relative improvement won by the miners would be overtaken by further settlements. If the Opposition are saying that the miners are to get relatively more do they realise that they are saying that others must get less? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Who do they say should get less?

Mr. Swain


Mr. Carr

The hon. Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Edwin Wainwright)—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The right hon. Gentleman is replying to the debate. He must be heard.

Mr. Carr

The hon. Member for Dearne Valley, for example, asked for the miners to be given a promise—

Mr. Swain

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sorry to draw your attention to the fact, but you just said that the right hon. Gentleman was replying to the debate. He is doing no such blasted thing.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The reason why I made that observation was that the right hon. Gentleman was seeking to deal with an argument of the hon. Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Edwin Wainwright).

Mr. Carr

If hon. Gentlemen opposite will give me a chance—

Mr. George Grant

On a point of order. The right hon. Gentleman is asking us whether we—[HON. MEMBERS: "Get on with it."] The right hon. Gentleman is asking us—[Interruption]—whether we—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I ask the House to remember that this is an extremely serious debate. What is the hon. Gentleman's point of order?

Mr. Grant

I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for reminding us that this is a very serious debate. The right hon. Gentleman is asking hon. Members on this side of the House not to push the miners' case and thereby to stab them in the back. This is what this debate is all about.

Mr. Speaker

That is a point of argument. It is not a point of order.

Mr. Carr

I appeal to the House. This is a serious matter. Voluntarily, I gave up five minutes of the normal time in order to allow more back-bench hon. Members to contribute to the debate. The House allowed the hon. Member for Chesterfield a quiet hearing, and I should be given an opportunity to say things which may be important to people outside this House even it they are not to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite.

If we are asked to make a relative improvement in the miners' position, other people must be held back, relatively speaking. That is a matter of clear definition. Unless or until the Opposition, individual union leaders and the T.U.C. make it clear that they are prepared to co-ordinate the making of claims to bring about this state of affairs, that is an idle hope.

Hon. Members have made clear why they think that the miners have resorted so untypically to strike action. They feel that it is because, over a period of years and not suddenly, they have been pushed about and driven down. This is a serious problem, but it is not a party political problem. It is a national problem.

It happened under the last Labour Government. It may have been happening before, but, when the last Labour Government took office, the average earnings of miners were slightly above the average earnings for the whole of industry. When they left office the average earnings of miners were below the average earnings in industry. So this is not a matter of party difference.

If we want the maximum reconciliation, it is important that this should be recognised and stated. We have here a national problem on a major scale in getting reasonable relativity between the pay of one section of the people and another, and of finding some way of changing established relativities if, at any time, we wish to do so. Those are the realities by which we are all constrained in this dispute—the Government, the Coal Board and the miners.

Within those constraints, what can be done to end the strike? I hope that tomorrow's talks may help in bringing some light. I have already said that my door is open. I assure the House that I shall neglect no opportunity which, in my judgment, offers a reasonable chance of successfuly bringing the parties to a settlement which is fair to themselves and to the community. I shall miss no opportunity to do that. But that opportunity must be my judgment, just as it always has been the lonely and very difficult judgment of all my predecessors, of whatever party, who have faced industrial disputes.

That is my rôle, and it is a rôle that I shall fulfil. But I say again to the House—and this is what the country will expect Parliament to realise—that there is a double duty. It is a duty to reconcile what is a genuine conflict of very real interests. There are the interests of the miners, who feel that they wish to re- establish themselves in their old position in relation to other people, quite regardless of their actual pay. There are also the interests of the whole community to win back the stability of prices which is

Division No. 33.] AYES [10.0 p.m.
Abse, Leo Ellis, Tom Loughlin, Charles
Albu, Austen English, Michael Lyon, Alexander W. (York)
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Evans, Fred Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)
Allen, Scholefield Ewing, Henry Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson
Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis) Fernyhough, Rt. Hn. E. McBride, Neil
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Ashley, Jack Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) McCartney, Hugh
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Atkinson, Norman Foot, Michael McGuire, Michael
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Ford, Ben Mackenzie, Gregor
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Forrester, John Mackie, John
Barnett, Joel (Heywood and Royton) Fraser, John (Norwood) Mackintosh, John P.
Baxter, William Freeson, Reginald McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)
Beaney, Alan Galpern, Sir Myer McNamara, J. Kevin
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood
Bennett, James (G'gow, Bridgeton) Garrett, W. E. Mahon, Simon (Bootle)
Bidwell, Sydney Gilbert, Dr. John Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)
Bishop, E. S. Ginsburg, David (Dewsbury) Marks, Kenneth
Blenkinsop, Arthur Golding, John Marquand, David
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Booth, Albert Gourlay, Harry Marshall, Dr. Edmund
Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur Grant, George (Morpeth) Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy
Bradley, Tom Grant, John D. (Islington, E.) Mayhew, Christopher
Broughton, Sir Alfred Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside) Meacher, Michael
Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,W.) Griffiths, Will (Exchange) Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Mendelson, John
Brown, Ronald (Shoreditch & F'bury) Hamling, William Millan, Bruce
Buchan, Norman Hannan, William (G'gow, Maryhill) Milne, Edward
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn) Hardy, Peter Mitchell, R. C. (S'hampton, Itchen)
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Molloy, William
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Cant, R. B. Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
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Cocks, Michael (Bristol, S.) Huckfield, Leslie Oakes, Gordon
Cohen, Stanley
Coleman Donald Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey) Ogden, Eric
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Cunningham, G. (Islington, S.W.) Jeger, Mrs. Lena Padley, Walter
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Dalyell, Tam John, Brynmor Palmer, Arthur
Davidson, Arthur Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.) Pardoe, John
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Johnson, Walter (Derby, S.) Parker, John (Dagenham)
Davies, S. o. (Merthyr Tydvil) Jones, Barry (Flint, E.) Parry, Robert (Liverpool, Exchange)
Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.) Jones,Rt.Hn.SirElwyn(W.Ham,S.) Pavitt, Laurie
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Dell, Rt. Hn. Edmund Kinnock, Neil Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg.
Dempsey, James Lambie, David Prescott, Pohn
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Dormand, J. D. Latham, Arthur Price, William (Rugby)
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Duffy, A. E. P. Leonard, Dick Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)
Dunn, James A. Lestor, Miss Joan Rhodes, Geoffrey
Dunnett, Jack Lever, Rt. Hn. Harold Richard, Ivor
Eadie, Alex Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Edelman, Maurice Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Robertson, John (Paisley)
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Lipton, Marcus Roderick, Caerwyn E.(Br'c'n&R'dnor)
Edwards, William (Merioneth) Lomas, Kenneth Rodgers, William (Stockton-on-Tees)

the foundation of growth and of full employment. That is what we shall do.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 268, Nose 300.

Rose, Paul B. Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John Watkins, David
Sandelson, Neville Strang, Gavin Weitzman, David
Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne) Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R. Wellbeloved, James
Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney) Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Short, Rt.Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne) Swain, Thomas White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)
Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton.N.E.) Taverne, Dick Whitehead, Phillip
Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford) Thomas.Rt.Hn.George (Cardiff,W.) Whitlock, William
Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich) Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery) Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Siliars, James Thomson, Rt. Hn. G. (Dundee, E.) Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Silverman, Julius Tinn, James Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
Skinner, Dennis Tomnney, Frank Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Small, William Torney, Tom Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Smith. John (Lanarkshire,N.) Tuck, Raphael Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)
Spearing, Nigel Urwin, T. W. Wilson, William (Coventry. S.)
Spriggs, Leslie Varley, Eric G. Woof, Robert
Stallard, A. W. Wainwright, Edwin
Stewart, Donald (Western Isles) Walder, Brian (B'm'ham, All Saints) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael(Fulham) Walker, Harold (Doncaster) Mr. Joseph Harper and Mr. J D. Concannon.
Stoddart, David (Swindon) Wallace, George
Adley, Robert d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Holland, Philip
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Maj. -Gen. James Holt, Miss Mary
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. Hordern, Peter
Amery, Rt. Hn. Julian Digby, Simon Wingfield Hornby, Richard
Archer, Jeffrey (Louth) Dixon, Piers Hornsby-Smith.Rt.Hn.Dame Patricia
Astor, John Douglas-Home, Rt. Hn. Sir Alec Howe, Hn. Sir Geoffrey (Reigate)
Atkins, Humphrey Drayson, G. B. Howell, David (Guildford)
Awdry, Daniel du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.)
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone) Dykes, Hugh Hunt, John
Baker, W. H. K. (Banff) Eden, Sir John Hutchison, Michael Clark
Balniel, Rt. Hn. Lord Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)
Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,N.) James, David
Batsford, Brian Emery, Peter Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)
Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton Farr, John Jennings, J. C. (Burton)
Bell, Ronald Fell, Anthony Jessel, Toby
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport) Fenner, Mrs. Peggy Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead)
Benyon, W. Finsberg, Geoffrey (Hampstead) Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.)
Berry, Hn. Anthony Fisher, Nigel (Surbiton) Jopling, Michael
Biffen, John Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith
Biggs-Davison, John
Blaker, Peter Fookes, Miss Janet Kaberry, Sir Donald
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.) Fortescue, Tim Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. Elaine
Body, Richard Foster, Sir John Kershaw, Anthony
Boscawen, Robert Fowler, Norman Kilfedder, James
Bossom, Sir Clive Fox, Marcus Kimball, Marcus
Bowden, Andrew Fraser,Rt.Hn.Hugh(St'fford & Stone) King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John Fry, Peter King, Tom (Bridgwater)
Braine, Sir Bernard Galbraith, Hn. T. G. Kinsey, J. R.
Bray, Ronald Gardner, Edward Kirk, Peter
Brewis, John Gibson-Watt, David Kitson, Timothy
Brinton, Sir Tatton Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.) Knight, Mrs. Jill
Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher Glyn, Dr. Alan Knox, David
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Goodhart, Philip Lambton, Antony
Bruce-Gardyne, J. Goodhew, Victor Lane, David
Bryan, Paul Gorst, John Langford-Holt, Sir John
Buchanan-Smith, Alick(Angus,N&M) Gower, Raymond Leggue-Bourke, Sir Harry
Buck, Antony Grant, Anthony (Harrow, C.) Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
Bullus, Sir Eric Gray, Hamish Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone)
Burden, F. A. Green, Alan Longden, Sir Gilbert
Campbell, Rt.Hn.G.(Moray&Nairn) Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds) Loveridge, John
Carlisle, Mark Grylls, Michael Luce, R. N.
Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert Gummer, J. Selwyn McAdden, Sir Stephen
Cary, Sir Robert Gurden, Harold MacArthur, Ian
Channon, Paul Hall, Miss Joan (Keighley) McCrindle, R. A.
Chapman, Sydney Hall, John (Wycombe) McLaren, Martin
Chataway, Rt. Hn. Christopher Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Maclean, Sir Fitzroy
Chichester-Clark, R. Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) McMaster, Stanley
Churchill, W. S. Hannam, John (Exeter) Macmillan,Rt.Hn. Maurice (Farnham)
Clark, William (Surrey, E.) Harrison, Brian (Maldon) McNair-Wilson, Michael
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Clegg, Waltor Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) McNair-Wilson, Patrick (NewForest)
Cockeram, Eric Haselhurst, Alan Maddan, Martin
Cooke, Robert Hastings, Stephen Madel, David
Coombs, Derek Havers, Michael Maginnis, John E.
Cooper, A. E. Hawkins, Paul Marten, Neil
Cordle, John Hay, John Mather, Carol
Cormack, Patrick Hayhoe, Barney Maude, Angus
Costain, A. P. Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward Maudling, Rt. Hn. Reginald
Critchley, Julian Hicks, Robert Mawby, Ray
Crouch, David Higgins, Terence L. Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.
Crowder, F. P. Hiley, Joseph Meyer, Sir Anthony
Curran, Charles Hill, John E. B. (Norfolk, S.) Mills, Peter (Torrington)
Davies, Rt. Hn. John (Knutslord) Hill, James (Southampton, Test) Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)
Miscampbell, Norman Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter Taylor, Robert (Croydon, N.W.)
Moate, Roger Redmond, Robert Tebbit, Norman
Molyneaux, James Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.) Thatcher, Rt. Hn. Mrs. Margaret
Money, Ernle Rees-Davies, W. R. Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)
Monks, Mrs. Connie Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David Thomas, Rt. Hn. Peter (Hendon, S.)
Monro, Hector Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)
Montgomery, Fergus Ridley, Hn. Nicholas Tilney, John
More, Jasper Ridsdale, Julian Trafford, Dr. Anthony
Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm. Rippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey Trew, Peter
Morrison, Charles Roberts, Michael (Cardiff, N.) Tugendhat, Christopher
Mudd, David Roberts, Wyn (Conway) Turton, Rt. Hn. Sir Robin
Murton, Oscar Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey) van Straubenzee, W. R.
Nabarro, Sir Gerald Rost, Peter Vaughan, Dr. Gerard
Neave, Airey Royle, Anthony Vickers, Dame Joan
Nicholls, Sir Harmar Russell, Sir Ronald Waddington, David
Normanton, Tom St. John-Stevas, Norman Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Nott, John Scott, Nicholas Walker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester)
Onslow, Cranley Scott-Hopkins, James Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek
Oppenheim, Mrs. Sally Sharples, Richard Wall, Patrick
Orr, Capt. L. P. S. Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby) Walters, Dennis
Osborn, John Shelton, William (Clapham) Ward, Dame Irene
Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.) Simeons, Charles Warren, Kenneth
Page, Graham (Crosby) Sinclair, Sir George Wells, John (Maidstone)
Page, John (Harrow, W.) Skeet, T. H. H. White, Roger (Gravesend)
Parkinson, Cecil Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington) Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Peel, John Soref, Harold Wiggin, Jerry
Percival, Ian Speed, Keith Wilkinson, John
Peyton, Rt. Hn. John Spence, John Winterton, Nicholas
Pike, Miss Mervyn Sproat, Iain Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Pink, R. Bonner Stainton, Keith Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard
Pounder, Rafton Stanbrook, Ivor Woodhouse, Hn. Christopher
Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch Stewart-Smith, Geoffrey (Belper) Woodnutt, Mark
Price, David (Eastleigh) Stodart, Anthony (Edinburgh, W.) Worsley, Marcus
Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M. Wylie, Rt. Hn. N. R.
Prior, Rt. Hn. J. M. L. Stokes, John Younger, Hn. George
Proudfoot, Wilfred Stuttaford, Dr. Tom
Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis Sutcliffe, John TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Quennell, Miss J. M. Tapsell, Peter Mr. Reginald Eyre and Mr. Bernard Weatherill.
Raison, Timothy Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)