§ 11.7 a.m.
§ Mr. John Farr (Harborough)
I beg to move,That this House, noting our immense reserves of North Sea oil, sufficient alone to meet 75 per cent. of our crude oil needs by 1980, and the additional huge reserves of natural gas, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to introduce an accelerated programme for their usage and, in conjunction with the expanded use of nuclear power, markedly to reduce the nation's dependence on coal as a source of energy.
§ Mr. Speaker
I should inform the House that I have not selected the Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Torquay (Sir F. Bennett), at end add:'and to the same end remove the present artificial fiscal protection of coal as against imported oil, and devote new resources to developing nuclear energy for electricity generation, in order progressively to relieve coal-miners of difficult, dirty and dangerous work so distasteful to them as to entail demands for commensurate remuneration impossible to concede without an unacceptable accentuation of the inflationary spiral'.
§ Mr. Farr
Before I attempt to deal in detail with that vitally important topic of the coal miners' strike, I would ask the House to remember what was said by a famous Parliamentarian, the late Aneurin Bevan. In 1947 he said words to the effect that only an organising genius could produce a shortage of food and fuel in an island like ours which stands on coal and is surrounded by fish. However, even Aneurin Bevan in his far-seeing wisdom would not have foreseen that the coal on which this very island is built would become too expensive to win and that the sea, though still containing declining numbers of fish, produces far more in the way of wealth from its natural reservoirs of oil and gas which surround our shores.
I should like to refresh hon. Members' memories about the outcome of the miners' strike which began on 9th January and of the result of the Wilberforce settlement in the period following 18th February. The House will recall that the increase in wages awarded by the Wilberforce tribunal to the coal miners was in the region of 25 per cent. The total cost of the settlement to the National Coal Board will be about £100 million per annum. Since the settlement was reached the National Coal Board 1825 has announced price increases which will shortly take effect and which average about 7½ per cent. These will yield only about £55 million of the extra cost which has been placed on the board as a result of the outcome of the strike. The Government have coughed up a grant of £100 million to assist the National Coal Board in its financial difficulties.
I do not intend today to deal in depth with the thorny topic of social benefits paid to dependants of strikers or the question of picketing. Other hon. Members may be concerned to deal with those aspects. I suggest that this is a very good time to look at our total national energy requirements and to recognise the fact that our requirements for different types of fuel change annually. I suggest to the Government that the emphasis should be shifted from the present dependence on coal to take in three or four alternative sources of energy which are available to us in abundance.
During the strike we all came to realise uncomfortably just how dependent we are on coal, for instance for firing our generating stations. Something like 75 per cent of our electricity generating stations are coal-fired and industry as a whole is dependent on coal for its energy to the tune of over 50 per cent.
Until fairly recently there was virtually no other alternative source of natural energy available to the country. We had a minute supply of hydro-electric power available. But it has only been in the last 15 or 20 years that the exciting prospects of nuclear energy and, more recently still, North Sea gas and oil have become apparent.
It will probably be for the benefit of the House if I deal one by one with the alternatives which are available to us to meet our national energy requirements. As I see it we have three major alternatives to coal from which to choose. We have North Sea oil, which is available in abundance, we have North Sea gas and we have nuclear energy. In addition we have vast potentialities for increasing our consumption of imported crude oil.
On 8th November the Under-Secretary of State for Development, Scottish Office estimated that by 1980 something like 75 million tons of oil would be available from our sector in the North Sea. That will be sufficient to meet about 75 per cent. of our crude oil requirements. That 1826 is from the North Sea oilfield alone, and that B.P. Forties field is probably piloting the way ahead in this respect. The reserves in that field are immense. It lies about 110 or 120 miles off the coast from Aberdeen, and B.P. forecasts that by 1975 it will be piping crude oil from it to the Grangemouth refinery at the rate of 20 million tons per annum.
Later estimates of the capacity of this field, which is just one of a number of fields in the North Sea, are even more optimistic, and hon. Members may have heard on the radio this morning that an oilfield has been discovered off the coast of South Wales which it is thought may equal the tremendous potentialities which exist in the North Sea. I understand that my right hon. Friend will let blocks to bidders ranging 20 miles outwards from the coast of South Wales, and initial preliminary tests show that the reserves of oil in this field are very exciting.
Not only are we blessed with ample supplies of North Sea oil which are literally lying there and will shortly be coming to our shores to help meet our energy requirements. In addition we have found tremendous reserves of natural gas. The latest drillings in the North Sea gasfields have indicated a huge new reservoir of gas lying on the boundaries of the Norwegian and British sectors of the North Sea. The latest estimates of the production potential of natural gas from the North Sea is 8 billion cubic ft. a day, which is one-third of our present total national energy consumption. As I say, the latest gas finds straddle the British and Norwegian Continental Shelves and later estimates which we should be getting in a few months may even exceed this striking figure of 8 billion cubic ft. a day.
North Sea gas is already in use in many parts of the country. It is safer and cleaner and, although it meets only about 5 per cent. of our national energy requirements at the moment, plans are afoot for North Sea gas to meet them to the tune of about 15 per cent. of our total by 1976.
The third of the alternatives is nuclear energy. Despite the very striking finds that international oil companies have made in the North Sea and are making off the South Wales coast, in some respects the possibilities for the expanded 1827 use of nuclear energy are even more exciting. At the moment nuclear energy provides about 3½ per cent. of our total national energy requirements. In Anglesey we have the latest of the nuclear generating stations which came into use in February last year. It is now playing a useful rôle in supplying electricity to the national grid from Wylfa.
Since the world's first industrial scale reactor commenced supplying electricity to the national grid as long ago as 1956, a string of nuclear power stations have opened. For 20 years now we have had a history of the generation of power by nuclear energy. At the moment the capital costs of providing electricity by nuclear energy are markedly higher than those of providing power from an oilfired generating station, although they are cheaper than providing power from a coal-fired station. The capital costs of a nuclear power station are about 25 per cent. higher than those of providing an equivalent amount of electricity from an oil-fired station. But one of the many exciting attractions of nuclear power is that, once the power station is constructed, the running costs are only about one-third of those of a fossil-fuel station. The third generation of gas-cooled reactors which it is expected will shortly be ordered by the Central Electricity Generating Board will slice about 10 per cent. off the existing capital costs of the construction of new nuclear power stations.
§ Mr. Eric G. Varley (Chesterfield)
The hon. Gentleman is giving some very important information about the relative costs of nuclear and traditional power stations. Will he give us the source of his information so that hon. Members can make a proper evaluation?
§ Mr. Farr
All my information was culled from the reference section on energy in the Library of the House of Commons. I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman which extract I am referring to at the moment but I believe that it is from a recent Financial Times survey on nuclear energy.
The other point that makes nuclear energy extremely attractive is that, although world supplies of what are termed fossil fuels can be estimated and although a limit can be envisaged, no 1828 one has yet been able to estimate when world supplies of nuclear fuels will come to an end. The reason is that world reserves of uranium are virtually untold. Only recently—I think in the last few weeks—fresh reserves of truly immense capacity have been found in Australia. As hon. Members are aware—I have learned this fairly recently—when nuclear energy is developed by burning uranium 235, plutonium 239 is formed which can be recovered and burned in the same way as uranium 235.
§ Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol, Central)
While sharing the hon. Gentleman's feeling about the importance of nuclear power and its potential for the future, may I point out that he should not overlook that, in relation to the second generation of nuclear reactors, there is as yet no advanced gas-cooled reactor working in this country?
§ Mr. Farr
I accept what the hon. Gentleman says. I merely say that there are exciting potentialities and prospects which should command the Government's attention.
I should like to turn from our three, so to speak, natural forms of energy—North Sea gas, North Sea oil, and coal to our one large—scale imported form of energy in crude oil. What part will imported crude oil play in our future energy pattern? At the moment it plays a dominant part in that 45 per cent. of our national energy needs are supplied from imported crude oil. The House can gauge how big this rôle is today by comparing it with the equivalent rôle in 1951 when only 11 per cent. of our national energy needs were met by imported crude oil and by comparing it with the figure for 1961 which showed that only 27 per cent. of our national needs were met by imported crude oil. So imported crude oil has been playing an important rôle and today it plays a vital rôle. Every year since the war that rôle and that percentage has been increasing.
From the total energy picture a pattern is emerging, which the House can probably project for itself, which indicates that we shall reach a situation shortly when our imports of crude oil by tanker start to decline. We have all the other forms of natural energy available. But even if that were not to come about, if 1829 due to some natural hazard it was impossible to pipe ashore all the North Sea gas and oil that we wanted, we have still planned ahead the capacity to import even more crude oil by vessel than we import today.
For instance, a few days ago we discussed the Anglesey Marine Terminal Bill which, if it meets with the approval of the House, will provide for an oil terminal off the Anglesey coast with a single buoy mooring capable of accepting and receiving crude oil from 1-million-ton oil tankers which will then be piped inland to Shell refineries. In the Humber we already have a single buoy mooring working on the East Coast. Therefore, plans are already well in hand to step up the total amount of imported crude oil which this country needs for its energy pattern.
I think that most hon. Members—certainly most of my constituents—feel that never again mast we be in a position to suffer as a nation in the way that we suffered from the last miners' strike. We were literally held over a barrel. Over 70 per cent. of our electricity is generated from coal-fired generating stations. I sincerely hope that, with all the alternative sources of natural energy which are available to us, the Government will take a major initiative in shifting the emphasis towards the use of those alternative fuels.
I hope that when my hon. Friend replies to the debate, he will announce exciting new plans to step up imports of oil from our North Sea oilfields. I hope that he will explain to the House why it was necessary for Motion No. 227, in the names of some of my hon. Friends, complaining that the amount of natural gas being used to generate electricity today is less than it was a year ago, to appear on the Order Paper, because it seems an extratordinary state of affairs when we have on our doorstep a field of natural gas of almost limitless quantity.
I hope that my hon. Friend will also announce striking plans to assist the Central Electricity Generating Board to obtain more of its energy requirements from nuclear energy and to take advantage of many of the exciting new prospects in this sphere which lie ahead and which, indeed, already place nuclear energy on a comparable cost basis with other forms of fuel.
1830 It seems extraordinary that only the other day the Central Electricity Consultative Council felt it necessary to write to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Industry and to make, at the conclusion of a long letter, three points. The chairman, in a letter written on 7th March, asked the Minister why the Governmentrestrict the freedom of the Central Electricity Generating Board to buy the most economic fuel mix for electricity generation",why the Governmenthave imposed a tax on the heavy fuel oil used for electricity generation purposes—a tax which is not imposed on the gas industry",and why the Governmentprevent the Generating Board buying natural gas direct from the producers".We must not have shackles on these fields of natural energy which are available to us. I look to my hon. Friend, when he replies, to recognise that action has to be taken.
Finally, in connection with the use of different fuels for our energy purposes in the next few years, I should like to mention one aspect relating to environmental pollution. In the sphere of energy provision this topic has not attracted a great deal of interest. However, I forecast that in the years ahead the amount of filth emitted by an energy provider will have more interest paid to it by the public in general than in the past. In the list of alternative sources of energy which we have available to us—nuclear power, North Sea gas, North Sea oil, imported crude oil and coal—much the most filthy polluter of the lot is coal. It is a dirty and inefficient source of energy. It always seems to me a nonsensical fact that in London one can be prosecuted for burning a pile of leaves on a bonfire in one's back garden and yet, looking out of the garden, one can see the filthy chimneys of Battersea coal-fired power station pouring all its sulphurous fumes into the London atmosphere, apparently without let or hindrance.
§ Mr. Palmer
As one who has worked at Battersea power station, may I point out to the hon. Gentleman that it is one of the cleanest power stations in the country because its working has a legislative enactment which compels it to wash its gases before discharging them. 1831 Therefore, the hon. Gentleman is completely wrong on a point of fact.
§ Mr. Farr
I probably live as near, if not nearer, to Battersea power station as the hon. Gentleman, and my views are shared by all my neighbours.
To summarise, I suggest to the Minister that we have to find as a source of energy an alternative to the present reliance we place on coal. The cost of coal today has made it a luxury fuel and the miner's strike has made it into a product which many people will never again be able to afford to buy. Coal mining is a dirty job, as the miners have told us time and time again. We recognise it as such and we want to get out of the industry as many people as we can who are not satisfied with working in it, get them retrained for more useful and productive occupations and use the alternative sources of energy available to us.
Coal is an out-of-date fuel. These alternatives should be considered by the House and the nation as a matter of priority.
§ 11.32 a.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol Central)
The House should be grateful to the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) for raising this most important topic.
The first point that I want to make, because I had rather hoped that the hon. Gentleman was going to deal rather more extensively than he did with the subject, is that it is very difficult to decide with any objectivity about fuel policy. This is one of the greatest problems, I should have thought, in connection with it. The truth is that fuel policy in this and most other countries remains a highly subjective affair. I suspect that there are many on the opposite side of the House who feel perhaps that the best kind of fuel policy would be no fuel policy at all. Equally there may be still my hon. Friends here and there who think that one could from on high plan a fuel policy, through the Ministry or some other mechanism. In my submission both views are unrealistic. It was said of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire that it was an autocracy tempered by inefficiency. I think one could say of the fuel situation that it is competition tempered by subsidisation. That perhaps 1832 sums up the nature and limits of the fuel scene.
Coal production in this country is subsidised, for excellent social reasons, and nuclear energy certainly had to be subsidised to come into existence at all. It is perfectly true, as the hon. Gentleman says, that the tax on oil was brought in in the first place to protect the coal industry, but that, of course, assumed at the time a two-fuel economy dominated by coal, with oil newly coming in. Now we have a four-primary-fuel economy. The hon. Gentleman did not seem to grasp the point when he criticised the tax on oil that that tax not only artificially protects the coal industry, which it does for social reasons, but equally protects nuclear energy costs and also protects the natural gas price. Therefore, one must not see the tax on oil as something which is just helping the competitive prices of the coal industry. It has a use, perhaps accidentally, these days, much beyond that point.
I agree, and we must all on both sides of the House agree, that the aim should be a low-fuel-cost economy; but, of course, fuel prices are affected by many things other than the initial production costs. The question of taxes and subsidies enters into the picture. Prices are also affected, by the arbitrary rate of return on capital demanded by the Government from the nationalised industries. It is a common grievance with the industry with which I have close connections, the electricity supply industry, that the rate of return demanded has consistently over the years been greater than the rate of return demanded from its nearest competitor, the gas industry.
Prices are also affected by standards of safety and by the amenity considerations and services required by the law and by the public. A good example is that of the gas boards. They have been concentrating, particularly since the changeover to natural gas, upon getting prices down, relatively at any rate, allowing for inflation, but anyone who has any experience of dealing with the gas boards in recent years will have found that this relatively lower cost of gas has often been at the expense of good service to the consumer. These are all factors not to be overlooked.
Another factor which affects electricity costs is the rising public demand that 1833 transmission lines should, if possible, be placed underground. That is for amenity reasons, but, of course if applied as a policy, it adds to the total cost of electricity.
There is a whole interaction, I would suggest, of primary costs, Government demands, social requirements and so on, which affects the price of energy, and it is altogether not quite as simple as the hon. Gentleman's speech might have led us to believe.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his Motion, as I have said, because it permits this Friday debate on energy policy, but what I disliked about his remarks and about the Amendment is the obvious bias against the coal industry which runs right through them. Even the leaders of the electricity supply industry—and, heaven knows, we have been restricted too much in our choice of primary fuels—do not share the hon. Gentleman's view. I have here, for instance, Mr. E. S. Booth's paper "Whither Nuclear Power?" Mr. Booth is a very distinguished engineer and has for many years served as the chief engineering member of the Central Electricity Generating Board. This is a paper which he gave to the Power Division of the Institution of Electrical Engineers in 1971. I quote his words:The extent to which coal is used in the generation of electricity will depend largely on the progress of the coal industry in minimising its cost and assuring the availability of adequate supplies.
§ Mr. Palmer
That would be common ground; but let me go on:The substantial capacity of coal-fired plant in operation or under construction means that the C.E.G.B. rely heavily on the coal industry remaining healthy and also that the Board already possess, or has in hand, more than enough boiler plant in which to burn all the coal likely to be produced at competitive prices. Given a competitive coal industry, the contribution of coal to power generation is not expected to vary greatly from its present level in the next 10 years or so.It is evident that the electricity supply industry still looks to coal and is likely to do so for a number of years, perhaps a considerable number of years, as its main source of primary energy. I have some figures about the C.E.G.B's forward predictions, but I shall not weary the House with them.
1834 There is nothing new about the gradual contraction of the coal industry. The remarkable thing is that this has been combined, year by year—and very few other industries can show this kind of record—with greater productivity. Provided that coal prices are held reasonably steady, not at the expense of good wages in the industry incidentally, and provided that supplies are forthcoming, the decline in the coal industry is not going to be a rapid process, as the hon. Gentleman seems to think. It will be a decline, undoubtedly-that is an evolutionary, historical development—hut it will be spread over a considerable number of years. What is overlooked when we talk about changing to other fuels is that the total demand for energy always increases in any advanced economy like ours by between 5 and 7–8 per cent. per annum. If the present recession comes to an end, we shall be hard put to it to find all the energy we need from every source available. That is why it is absurd to throw away sound capital resources anywhere.
The best hope for the coal industry is not simply at the production end but also at the point of use. A great deal of development is going on, and the National Coal Board is spending a great deal of money on this and working with various research organisations in studying the efficient utilisation of coal in large and small boilers.
It is hoped that the fluidised bed system of combustion can be successfully developed. If it were, the sheer efficiency of the utilisation of coal would be greatly improved. Remember that the C.E.G.B. and the Scottish generating boards look at these things solidly in terms of price. If a boiler can be developed which uses coal much more efficiently than present types, that again will make a vast difference to the relative cost of coal against nuclear power and even oil.
I agree—as does the electricity supply industry—with the hon. Member's emphasis on the need for a flexible, four-fuel economy. It is well known that predictions about the future of the energy "mix" are notoriously unreliable. Even many of the predictions in the Labour Government's 1967 White Paper, when Mr. Richard Marsh was Minister, are out of date. One assumption then was 1835 that nuclear energy use would advance by a considerable percentage. It has advanced, but by nothing like as much as was thought then. Also, coal has not declined at the predicted rate. It is mainly oil which has come in to fill the gap.
If I may say so with all humility, because I was the Chairman at the time, the best study of the nuclear reactor situation in this country is still the First and Second Reports of the Select Committee on Science and Technology. It is a great pity that the previous Administration and the present one have not carried out all the recommendations of that Select Committee. General fuel policy would be sounder if they had.
We shall fairly soon have to have one nuclear design and construction company, as the Committee suggested. If Sir Arnold Weinstock has his way, we shall now get there rather faster than some people once supposed. Such a company must be able to succeed in selling British reactors abroad. One of the most remarkable things is that, although we were pioneers in this field, for 12 or 14 years we have not sold one nuclear reactor abroad. This is due largely to the bad organisation of the manufacturing side of the industry and also to the inability of the C.E.G.B. to make up its mind about future reactor types for the domestic supply system, which affects foreign orders.
The mysterious Vinter Committee, headed by a senior civil servant, is considering reactor types for the future. In a devastating Written Answer, the Government—I am a little unsure which Minister is responsible—has said that the Vinter Committee Report in any case will not be published. I regret that. I can assure the Minister that many of us will press very hard for its recommendations to be published.
The Select Committee argued that there would be continuing problems with the advanced gas-cooled reactor. Many of them have not been solved yet, and it will be necessary for us to have a flexible reactor type to fill in until the fast breeder comes along. The reactor type which the Select Committee advocated for the intermediate stage—this is my view also—was the steam—generating heavy water reactor. This has the 1836 enormous advantage that it can be made in relatively small sizes and, therefore, has a considerable export potential.
Although one does not want to be too hard on the C.E.G.B., which has its problems, for it to behave these days as if competition in the home market for reactors was any longer significant is absurd. It is international competition which is important. If British reactors could be sold abroad successfully in competition with German and American reactors, they would probably be good enough for the C.E.G.B. to use.
There is a worrying rumour that the Vinter Committee may be thinking of recommending the purchase of American reactors. If that is so, it would be hard indeed upon the British manufacturing industry and the Atomic Energy Authority and on all those who have done so much work for so long in this technological sphere.
The two new sources of fuel near our shores, natural gas and oil, will have an enormous impact on the immediate future of British energy policy. In Committee we are discussing the Gas Bill—at some length. We are taking our time, because it is an important Bill. I argue now, as I have argued in Committee, that in the use of natural gas and oil everything depends on the rate at which it can be brought in. If it is brought in too fast, a vast amount of waste can be caused in the other energy industries, where there is much capital investment. Therefore, to allow the proposed Gas Corporation ruthlessly to exploit its advantages at the expense of the other fuel industries and their investment would be wrong.
Equally, however, it must be accepted that we must have a rate of flow of natural gas and oil into this country which will ensure an adequate rate of cash return on the new capital investment. So everything depends upon the rate of use. The Minister has answered our questions up to a point in Committee, but I should he glad if he could give the House further enlightenment on that point.
The rate of use is also important for the reason that the hon. Member for Harborough gave—he took this point very well—that fossil fuels will eventually be exhausted. Incidentally, it is thought 1837 that coal will last as well as any, and that natural gas and oil will disappear first. This is the view of most of the geological experts. But we know that these fuels will all go eventually. The last report of the Gas Council says that the council is looking into the possibilities of "synthetic natural gas". This seems an extraordinary combination. When natural gas runs out, the gas industry will take to making it itself presumably. One would have thought that it could have shortened that phrase by calling it "unnatural" gas, but it is an indication that supplies of natural gas will be exhausted eventually.
In the United States the large oil companies are already investing in the nuclear power industry. It is a great pity that with the present Government our nationalised industries are not allowed to diversify their operations in a similar way. In the view of many of us who have thought about the subject, the undoubted final solution for the energy problem is that the fossil fuels, with the toil, pollution and all the other problems they cause, will eventually, by the year 2000 and beyond, make way for a new fuel economy based upon nuclear fission, and probably by that time upon nuclear fusion as well. But all this will not happen overnight and it is more than likely that the four-fuel economy will last for our time.
The hon. Member for Harborough has done the House a service in raising this subject, but it is a pity that he should have predicted that the death of the coal industry would happen so soon.
§ 11.52 a.m.
§ Sir Frederic Bennett (Torquay)
Like the hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer), I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) for raising this matter, which is already topical and is even more so in the light of the news which we received this morning about the great new oil and gas finds off the Welsh coast. These may represent a substantial accretion of new fuel and may also create fresh employment in South Wales, where the oil will be landed at the refinery.
One query I have for the Minister, which was not touched upon by my hon. Friend, concerns the tax position if we start to import oil, as opposed to natural 1838 gas, in large quantities from off our own shores. Will these supplies be subject to the same tax as overseas oil or will there be some differentiation?
This does not affect my feelings and those of my hon. Friends that it is high time this discriminatory tax was removed altogether but no doubt we shall have to await the Chancellor's Budget proposals for any news about that. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will also no doubt hear more about this in due course.
I had only one criticism of my hon. Friend's introduction to this important debate, and that was when he was totting up the price that we would have to pay for the coal strike. I do not propose to carry out a post mortem on the dispute because this is not the occasion to do so. He said that, in addition to causing a direct 7½ per cent. increase in the price of coal, the Government would have to "cough up a grant" of £100 million or so. It is all-important that we do not mislead the public with phrases like "the Government are coughing up a grant" when we mean that the taxpayer, whether or not he uses coal, has had another £100 million added to his tax bill in addition to the 7½ per cent. that will be paid directly on the price. Do not let us fool ourselves that the Government have found a method to prevent the cost of living rising by using this device. It is only moving the burden from one part of the community to another by taxation or borrowing in due course.
The hon. Member for Bristol, Central said that I had a bias against the coal-mining industry. He is quite right, but I hope he is not inferring that I have in any way a bias against coal miners, which is quite different. There are a score of reasons why I am biased against the coal industry. I will not give them all, but they include the pollution caused by coal. Extracting raw materials is not the rôle for this country in the second part of the 20th century because of the nature of work involved, which the new generation should not be expected to do. I could give a whole host of reasons for my bias.
I first felt sympathy towards miners in 1945 when, while still in the Army, I was adopted as parliamentary candidate for a constituency in the Potteries. It was certain that I would not be elected and that my return to the Army would he 1839 a very quick one after the result of the poll, and it was. I did not even have time to buy a civilian suit; I had to wear battledress with the Crown knocked off during the campaign. I had a fairly active war service, but I do not remember any more unnerving experience than when I thought it best to broaden my education and spend some time in a deep mine on my hands and knees. I do not think I was ever more unhappy or frightened during the whole course of the war than I was during that experience. I was even more unhappy when there was a minor accident, for which I do not say my political opponent was responsible, when a large piece of coal fell on the back of my neck. I still have the blue scar to commemorate that occasion. From that moment I felt that if we could find an alternative way of producing coal we should do so as quickly as possible.
Seriously, there is one reason above all others why we should phase out the deep coal-mining industry as soon as possible. I do not mean that we should phase out the surface, open-cast operation. I do not pretend to know a lot about it but there are arguments in favour of it because it is far less dirty, far less dangerous and far less difficult work.
But it is not in accord with the future of our country, if there are other means of producing energy, that we should now use potentially skilled human material to perform tasks of the sort that deep coal-mining entails. I do not believe that this is the sort of future that Britain is planning for itself as the decades pass. If we are to resume our position as one of the leading, rather than one of the de-dining, traders in the world, we should be thinking more and more about concentrating our energies on what we can do best, which is in the very highly skilled manufacturing industries. In these industries it is much easier, too, for the working man to earn high wages without undergoing the difficulties and dangers of coal mining.
I well realise that I could be asked how the change of jobs could be accomplished. The coal-mining industry is already declining steadily, but I want it to decline rather faster than the hon. Member for Bristol, Central. I appreciate that it is not just a matter of five or ten years. We must think more and 1840 more, as the coal industry declines, of having a commensurate retraining programme so that the men who would otherwise have gone into the coal mines are able to play a useful, active and employed rôle in the community where the jobs demanded of them are different from those which their forefathers had to carry out underground. The suggestion has been made that my hon. Friend and possibly I want a sudden end to the use of coal generation. No one but an idiot would suggest that that is feasible.
§ Sir F. Bennett
I do not think it does, but I prefer to make my speech in my own way. I am pursuing logically the point that no one but an idiot would say that this aim could be achieved overnight; nor did my hon. Friend suggest it. It can only be a matter of decline and not of cut off, but we are entitled to press that the decline should be accentuated and that nothing shall be put in the way of that decline following its normal course—for example, by the imposition of discriminatory tax against oil. We should not try to stop something happening which is logical in every way—socially, economically and from the humanitarian point of view. We have to accelerate the slow progress which is being made at present.
The stumbling block about which I feel most incensed is the maintenance of the oil tax, which is not justified except on social grounds. But I believe that this is the wrong way round. I do not accept that the way to tackle a social problem is by perpetuating an economic absurdity.
§ Mr. Palmer
The hon. Gentleman also takes my point that the tax protects not only the coal industry but natural gas and nuclear power.
§ Sir F. Bennett
That is a perfectly fair point, but the whole course of my argument is that we should proceed on economic grounds. I would not press for nuclear energy or anything else if I did not think it the most sensible economic policy to adopt. I am willing to be instructed that the best way forward is by nuclear energy or by natural gas or by oil. I simply want the best way forward, and I do not want artificial barriers to 1841 be put in the way of the most sensible development.
As my hon. Friend quoted statistics I need not give many more, but I have one or two figures which indicate that, obviously, this process of decline of the coal-mining industry can only be steady, albeit hopefully much accentuated, because of the long way it has to go. At the moment there are seven nuclear power stations, seven diesel, ten gas turbine, eight hydro-electric, 15 steam oil-fired, 14 steam oil fired or coal alternative and one of steam, duo fired coal/natural gas. Finally, there are 125 steam-coal only. Thus, with all the other options open to us, we still have 125 stations out of 187 limited to coal. Therefore, no one can say that coal generation is being put upon particularly hard. One can go a long way to reducing that preponderance before one can say that one is cutting off coal generation.
My hon. Friend quoted the percentage of '71.5 for coal. The percentage for coke is 0.1, for oil 20.6, for gas 0.4, and for nuclear 7.4. Here again, therefore, more than 70 per cent. is still monopolised by coal generation. Again, no one can call the coal industry the poor relation.
It is also fair to point out in favour of nuclear as opposed to coal that coal stations are not always in operation, whereas nuclear power stations continue and never cease to be used. That is a clear advantage of another sort.
I want to emphasise that there is no question of animus or bitterness against the miners, but I end my remarks with one relevant lesson which I drew from the strike. I do not think that reasonable miners can expect reasonable people to accept that they can have it both ways. They cannot say, on the one hand, that their work is so dangerous and so difficult and so distasteful that they create a special case and, therefore, should have, as I concede they should, special treatment, while at the same time getting really angry at any suggestion that the country should move towards another form of generation. Either the coal industry is dangerous and dirty and is one to get rid of, or it is not. I tabled my Amendment which has not been selected, largely because there was such a harouche opposite after the strike because it was 1842 suggested that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had sanctioned during the strike the possible conversion of four stations into a dual-fired system. That is not a particularly helpful attitude to adopt if, as a community, the miners themselves hope to have the sympathetic feelings of the public, as I believe they still do at the moment.
§ 12.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)
The hon. Member for Torquay (Sir F. Bennett) suggested that no one should get angry about what is being said in good faith by hon. Members opposite. I do not intend to get angry, although I am perhaps sorry and rather sad at some of the things I have heard from them today and the inadequacies and inaccuracies which they take seriously. The hon. Member told us a moving story about his visit down a mine at Stoke-on-Trent, when a lump of coal fell on his neck, where he still carries a scar. I was almost tempted to say that it was a pity that it was not a larger lump but as he went on I reflected that at least, if there are to be Conservatives, I prefer the true blue type like the hon. Gentleman to some of the others.
§ Mr. Ogden
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will put that in writing. There are those on these benches and at home who think that I am on the Right Wing or am too moderate. It is sometimes good to be called "of the Left".
The Motion calls attentionto conclusions to be drawn from the coal miners' strike ".The hon. Member for Torquay said that he would not hold a post mortem on coal. Coal is very much alive and kicking. It will long be with us. The hon. Member said that no one but an idiot would call for a rapid cut-off of the coal industry. But the Motion calls for an "accelerated" programme so asmarkedly to reduce the nation's dependence on coal as a source of energy.I would be the last to suggest that the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) is either a fool or an idiot. He may be many things but it would be stupid for anyone to assume that he has not some 1843 knowledge of coal, oil, nuclear power and world oil. My complaint is that he has inadequate, erroneous and incomplete information, so it is not surprising that his conclusion is as false as the information he has. A collection of newspaper cuttings does not make a fuel policy.
§ Mr. Farr
The hon. Gentleman must not assume that because what I have said does not meet with his favour I have based my case on inaccurate information or merely on newspaper cuttings. I will not weary the House by recounting my experience of the mining industry. Suffice it to say that I have been down many pits, including one of the most modern British pits—at Sutton-in-Ashfield in Nottinghamshire—and that there are few mines of any type in the world that I have not visited at one time or another.
§ Mr. Ogden
I was quoting the evidence the hon. Gentleman has presented and I hope to show that it is in many ways inaccurate. I would be the last person to suggest that because people do not stand up and declare where they have obtained their information or experience they do not have as much knowledge on a particular subject as I do. I should perhaps declare my interest as a sponsored member of the National Union of Mineworkers. We do not have to do this every time because everyone knows who are the miners' Members and who represent other groups in the House. I am proud to be such a Member. Yet I do not say that a person has to be a member of a miners' group to know something about mining.
Naturally enough, those of us in that group take an interest not only in our own industry but in alternative energy sources. We have been out to oil rigs in the North Sea and we have visited nuclear power stations. We are interested in all kinds of fuel and we have learned much from each other. We are not isolationists and certainly not Luddites.
I join with those who have thanked the hon. Member for Harborough for making it possible to have this debate today. I was not certain whether it was to be a debate dealing with the conclusions of the coal strike or whether it was to be a debate about a fuel policy. At least the Motion recognises the de- 1844 pendence of the country on British coal. In the past we have heard cries in this House of "Where will we burn all the coal we have?" During the last two years it changed to "Where will we get the coal to burn?" The vital part that coal production plays has not always been recognised, even by members of the N.U.M.
If anything has proved that dependence it is the miners who have done so in a completely lawful and democratic way. The Motion implies that that strength and dependence must be taken away—the miners may have won this struggle but they must be so weakened that they can never again use their strength to improve or maintain their standard of living. The Motion says:calls upon Her Majesty's Government … markedly to reduce the nation's dependence on coal as a source of energy.It implies that this could and should be done because of the ready, economic and speedy availability of alternative sources of fuel such as oil, natural gas and nuclear power. If the Under-Secretary is to get up and make the dramatic statements that he has been asked to do by his hon. Friends and say that the Government's fuel policy is to be on the basis set out in the Motion, it would be a recipe for disaster for every section of the community and every part of the country.
I said that some of the hon. Gentleman's information was erroneous and I hope to show briefly what are the mistakes and fallacies. His Motion says:noting our immense reserves of North Sea oil, sufficient to meet 75 per cent. of our crude oil needs by 1980".That is surely an assumption. This is a hope, an estimate, but it is far from reality. Over the last few days I have gone to some trouble to find out what the oil companies claim. They are very cautious and say "We hope", "We think", "We are putting in money on the basis that it will happen". No company in Great Britain will give an undertaking that it will be able to get out 75 per cent. of our needs by the 1980s.
§ Mr. Farr
I must correct the hon. Gentleman at once because he is continually challenging the basis of my assumptions. The source of my estimate that 75 per cent. of our crude oil requirements will be met from the North 1845 Sea by 1980 is my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I am repeating a statement which he made in this House at the end of last year. He has information which is probably not available to most back benchers. I am prepared to accept that.
§ Mr. Ogden
My hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Milne) is right. The Prime Minister may know a good deal about the surface of the sea but I do not think he is able to forecast the availability of oil from the North Sea. It is an assumption and it is not confirmed by any of the major oil companies, British or foreign-based. The hon. Gentleman may accept the figures but I do not and no one I know in the industry does.
Even if that amount of oil is available, the oil from the North Sea is of a light grade which has to be mixed with heavy grade oil which is imported. We will be bringing in lighter oil from the North Sea and mixing it with heavy crude oil and we may be an oil exporting country. The figure of 75 per cent. drops considerably.
The hon. Gentleman's argument about North Sea oil may be right but no Government could afford to base their fuel policy on something that may or may not be there. The same applies to natural gas. Lard Robens once described natural gas as an old flame tarted up. It has been a success story and I admire those in the gas industry who have achieved it, importing first of all liquid gas and then using our natural resources.
Let us be optimistic and say that North Sea gas will produce not 15 per cent. of our country's needs but 30 per cent. Let us double the expected life of the gas-fields to 60 years. If we are to use these resources in greater quantities more quickly as the hon. Gentleman suggests, how long will they last and what happens then? We will have reconversion hack to other forms of energy. This is a useful short-term exercise but we are not discussing the fuel policy for five or 10 years; we have to think about the year 2000 and afterwards. It is useful for the balance of payments and for our natural and strategic resources but it is not long-term.
1846 Dealing with the world oil situation I am able to quote from information given by one of the oil companies which says:A serious situation is facing the world, including this country, and there are certain ineluctable facts which have to be faced. The principal one is that hydrocarbon reserves can now be clearly seen to be being used up more quickly than they are discovered.If the shales and oil-bearing ground in Alaska and elsewhere are being exhausted and if we are discovering no new reserves, if we go on using energy at the rate predicted we shall use as much oil in the next decade as in the previous 100 years. The conclusion is that we are in for a four-fuel economy. There is a part for each to play. There are new factors at work. These include the consequent improvement in the competitiveness in some of our indigenous coal reserves. The oil company states:Current circumstances should slow down the decline of coal, provided the necessary manpower can be found to produce the economic seams; and provided the coal industry can keep its costs within manageable limits.The oil companies are not claiming that they will be able to supply 75 per cent. of Britain's needs in the foreseeable future.
A third claim of the hon. Gentleman is that we can look forward to an expanding future for nuclear power. It could be exciting, but it is also extremely expensive. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer) pointed to the information provided by Mr. Booth, a director of the C.E.G.B. The point in that paper by an expert in his own field is that the Central Electricity Generating Board and all those concerned with nuclear power for peaceful uses in this country are facing a dilemma, and that dilemma is outlined in the paper by that director.
The dilemma is whether we should go forward with the A.G.R. —Magnox type of generator or go for the H.T.R. or for the S.C.H.W.R., which is, apparently, the favourite of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, Central, or go for the light reactor or for the thermal reactor.
There are five possibilities, and Mr. Booth says:It is the easiest thing in the world, or almost, for nuclear scientists and technologists to dream up this new sysetm or that, with this claimed economic advantage or that special feature, but the cost of launching and then sustaining the system in reliable service for its working life is another matter.1847 So we have five alternatives. If we pick the right one it will he a winner in the long term, with the possibility of working with Europe and to go on to a European basis instead of a United Kingdom basis. If, however, we pick the wrong one we will be in trouble all along the line. That is a dilemma which has to be solved, but whether in the next 12 months is another matter.
I think I have given sufficient information to show that the information which the hon. Gentleman gave in support of his recommendations is insufficient and erroneous in many ways. The reasons which I have given so far are only economic and practical reasons. There are social and political reasons why the Motion is wrong, and I think it would be a tragedy if the House were to accept it or if the Government were to say they would give it serious consideration.
There are many other conclusions which can be drawn from the coal strike, and I wish the hon. Gentleman had said a word about the causes of the coal strike. It seems to me that this is a strike which few if any people wanted. We can draw conclusions, but it is a little early to start drawing long-term conclusions. We are too near the time of the strike. But there are some conclusions that are valid now and I would mention some of them.
First, it was a strike which few if any people wanted. The public did not want it. The National Coal Board certainly did not want it but it was not master in its own house. The N.U.M. did not want it but had to accept it eventually as the only way to obtain and to maintain, in the society in which we live, the miners' standard of living. I do not think the Government wanted it, but they thought they could meet and overcome it on their own terms. That was a mistake which they made.
The leaders of the N.U.M. were obviously right to use all the procedures inside the industry except arbitration, since arbitration was considered not to be free, and including a ballot of its own members, not an open-air hands-up ballot but a secret ballot organised by an outside, independent body, to get the opinions of its members. The N.U.M. was equally right to recognise that if the 1848 strike was to be effective, once it had to take place it had to hurt and to hurt very much. It is better in the long term to have a short, hard struggle than to have a long skirmish.
Equally it was clear that the N.U.M. was forced to challenge the Government on this narrow basis about wages because of the intervention or the non-intervention of the Government. But it was not seeking to usurp the authority of the elected Government. It did not seek to overthrow the Government. It sought lawfully to change some of the unfair and wrong policies of the elected Government.
There is a lesson in this for us on this side of the House as well as for Members on the Government side. Looking back it seems that while support came from the public for the miners and from the local levels of national unions, there was not too much support from some unions at the national level. There were some union leaders, seldom backward in coming forward, who seemed to go into hibernation to see all and say nothing, only to come forward with songs of praise when the victory had been won. They joined the victory dance but never expected there would be one. We should not under-estimate the amount or the importance of the support which came from the public. This was vital. The public had a very important part to play.
There are many valid conclusions which can be drawn from the strike. The N.U.M. is a national union; it is in many ways a federation with area independence, but it has national organisation, in one industry. It is one union in one industry. The Post Office workers have learned a lesson from this. The Post Office has 26 different unions represented inside its organisation. There might have been a very different story last year if one union instead of 26 had been involved. The teachers have roughly half a dozen representative organisations to cover the profession. Motor car workers have between 12 and 15. The nurses have six. There is a great deal to be said for the extension of one industry, one union. That has been the aim of many inside the union movement over these last years, and it has been supported by the T.U.C.
I would utter a warning about productivity, especially arising out of the Wilberforce Report. In 15 years productivity increased from 24.8 cwt. Per 1849 manshift to 44.2 cwt. per manshift. This is an old industry. Many coal mines are old. The deeper and the farther away the coal is, the more difficult it is to get. It is not simply a matter of using more machines faster for longer periods. It is not as easy as that. The more we increase productivity, the harder it is to increase it again. Therefore let us not be too optimistic about possible future increases in productivity.
The hon. Member
for Torquay complained about subsidies. He said that the taxpayers were subsidising the coal strike. He gave figures. The National Coal Board has now increased the wages bill by £100 million, and the Government are to subsidise the industry by £100 million. A short while ago the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), was introducing a Bill to provide for Government subsidies for exploration of minerals inside the United Kingdom and for a total subsidy of £50 million. Was it not to be a subsidy to private enterprise for exploring?
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Nicholas Ridley)
First, it was not I who introduced the Bill, but my hon. Friend. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that those loans are repayable if minerals are found.
§ Mr. Ogden
If the Secretary of State so decides. But subsidy is there in the first place. I am sorry I confused the hon. Gentleman with his hon. Friend, but it is a little confusing to know which Minister of that Department is speaking for the different matters for which it is responsible. The point is that the Government are providing money to subsidise exploration by private enterprise.
§ Sir F. Bennett
The hon. Member has used my name in connection with the word "subsidy". There is a very considerable difference. The £100 million is being found to maintain the current position, but the other money is an investment for an ultimate capital return. They are very different things.
§ Mr. Ogden
The hon. Gentleman argues so, but I do not.
I would make the further point to which I was coming. If it requires £100 1850 million to provide the miners with a living wage, and if the taxpayers are subsidising the miners, surely the miners over the last years have been subsidising the country. We have been getting cheap coal. The miners have been subsidising the taxpayers. It is true. If they should have been getting this money before, the money which it was suggested by an independent tribunal should be paid to them, if it is necessary to use this amount of money to bring them up to a living wage, if they have not been getting from society what they were entitled to, they have been subsidising society.
It is no secret that the motor car industry—ask anyone in it—has been getting cheaper steel than otherwise it would have had. This argument applies not only to the motor car industry but all the way through industry. Coal has been subsidising the rest of the country.
§ Mr. Cecil Parkinson (Enfield, West)
Will not the hon. Member agree that Wilberforce said that a marginal increase only in the price of coal was very likely to be reflected in the market? It is a little simplistic to say that the miners have been subsidising the public. It is a question of whether the public would have bought the product.
§ Mr. Ogden
That depends on the prices of alternative fuels. We have always argued in the coal industry that we have to consider the price of the product lest we price ourselves out of the market. It is a question of the availability of alternative fuels and their prices. Cheap oil is a thing of the past. We cannot pick off one oil-producing country and bargain with it; we now have to bargain at international level, so the price of oil has gone up.
An independent court of inquiry decided that the miners were underpaid and the country ought to help. Therefore, the miners must have been subsidising the country for many years——
§ Mr. Edwin Wainwright (Dearne Valley)
Does my hon. Friend realise that from 1947 to 1957 the coal mining industry produced coal which was £2 or £3 a ton cheaper than coal produced on the Continent? Here was an exporting market which could have been used, but the industry was not allowed to increase its output of coal or to export it.
§ Mr. Ogden
I agree. I have been trying to bring my remarks to a conclusion during the last two or three interventions.
My conclusion to be drawn from the coal miners' strike is that this is a mad way of settling industrial disputes and the rate of pay for any job. If three wise men can come in as an ad hoc prices and incomes board and say what they did, that can only mean that we should never have scrapped the National Board for Prices and Incomes which could have done the same thing. I supported the Labour Government's attempt to introduce a prices, productivity and incomes policy. It may have produced rough justice and it may have been harsh and sometimes wrong, but the intentions were right. Had we been able to continue that policy we should now have a better system than the present economic jungle.
The Under-Secretary of State has some influence—whether it be for good or ill I will not say—and it is time he and his Government came forward with proposals for a long-lasting fuel policy. I hope that he will tell his hon. Friend the Member for Harborough that he was interested in what he said but that if the Government were to accept the Motion both they and the country would be in even more difficulty than they are now.
§ 12.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Rost (Derbyshire, South-East)
I add my appreciation to that which has already been expressed to my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) for giving the House the opportunity to have this most important debate. I will not take up the points raised by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) because I wish to concentrate on the longer-term issues involved in a national fuel policy. I am particularly pleased to note that the Government are undertaking a review of a longer-term energy policy. This is urgent, not because of the miners' strike and the consequences of it. but because of other developments which have taken place in recent years, particularly the new discoveries on our Continental Shelf.
The discussions this morning have concentrated upon the question of conservation and for how long our resources can last. Various estimates have been made. 1852 Some say 30 years and some 130 years, but this depends upon how much is discovered and how it is used. What nobody can dispute is that the hydrocarbons not only on our Continental Shelf but throughout the world are a wasting asset. Whether they last for 30 or 130 years, they are still a wasting asset and, therefore, they must be conserved. Future generations will not thank us if we talk in terms of national energy policy without looking far enough ahead at the question of conservation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough and the hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer) have referred to reserves and conservation, but I do not believe that they have drawn the right conclusions. We must conserve our hydrocarbon resources in the same way as we have to preserve the soil fertility of the globe if we are to keep alive and in the same way as we must control population. We must preserve our fuel resources just as we must ensure that there is no increase in environmental pollution. For these reasons we must look to a longterm policy for energy, and not just for this country but globally.
It can be argued that if hydrocarbons run out we shall have alternative sources of energy which our technology will harness. Nuclear power will no doubt play a more important part in 50 years' time than it does now. Tidal energy has a vast potential, and solar energy will no doubt come one of these days. But this is looking very far ahead, and the Government have a responsibility in formulating a national energy policy to look not just 100 years ahead but at the intervening period over the next two or three decades. It is over this period that the main argument have been put today.
We accept that there is a wasting asset and that there is a need to conserve that asset, but surely the conclusion must be that we must find a more efficient way of using that asset. The debate in the nation and in the Press recently and in the House has not referred to the more efficient use of our hydrocarbons. The hon. Member for Bristol, Central touched on this, but he did not develop it in the way in which I wish to do so.
A national fuel and energy policy must work towards seeing whether we are converting our hydrocarbon fuels as efficiently as we should. My contention is 1853 that we have radically to rethink our whole system of fuel conversion. Over the past few generations the system has been based upon the gradual emergence of a grid system of hydro-electric power from increasingly larger power stations without increasing the efficiency of fuel conversion. Even the most efficient and modern power station today obtains only about 35 per cent. of energy out of the fuel input. In future generations, not many years ahead, that will not be regarded as adequate. Our technology has moved on—just as it moved on after the industrial revolution from the steam engine—to the stage where we can no longer be satisfied with burning up our hydrocarbon resources merely to obtain an average of 35 per cent. of electricity in terms of input of fuel.
There are developments here and there which are improving on this percentage. There are one or two examples of district heating which are absorbing the waste gases and heat from our power stations which go up in the cooling towers and pollute the atmosphere and the rivers by over-heating. We are getting a little bit of conversion of the surplus energy which would otherwise be wasted. But we are not moving fast enough on, or thinking hard enough about, this problem. The time has surely come when the traditional system of consuming our energy must be rethought to take account of the improvements in our technology so that we can move, over a period of years, to a more economic conversion of our fuel.
In other fields of anti-pollution and environmental control, any developments of this sort are costly. For example, we can produce quieter aircraft today, but it is costly. We can produce an internal combustion engine which produces no pollution, but again at extra cost. Yet in the field of energy conversion it is now possible to produce a much higher efficiency of energy conversion not at extra cost but with economy. It is exceptionally important that we plan ahead for a higher conversion of our energy, because it will be cheaper. Developments in other parts of the world have proved this.
We also have the possibility of converting our waste municipal rubbish through efficient combustion systems. That is something we are beginning to 1854 develop in this country, but not fast enough. Other parts of the world are both solving pollution problems of waste rubbish and then using the waste to produce electricity. That is something which ought to be developed here.
I am concerned about a more fundamental improvement in our conversion of energy into electricity. I believe that the only solution is to move away from this traditional concept of large power stations which cannot be efficient, and the grid system, which again cannot be entirly efficient. In ten years' time the debate on conservation, on pollution, and on conserving hydrocarbon fuels, will concentrate more on moving back to the smaller power stations for on-site generation of power, because this is a far more efficient and economical method and is far more pollution-free. That is certainly beginning to happen in other parts of the world.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor)
Would my hon. Friend not agree that one of the difficulties is that there are isolated units, and it is essential on the grid system to have a load which is spread throughout the country, and, indeed, even across the Channel?
§ Mr. Rost
I am not proposing that one should dispense with the traditional grid system. What I am saying, however, is that we can no longer afford, and in future years we shall no longer be able to afford—even if this is looking 10 or 20 years ahead—to base our consumption of energy primarily upon such a grid system. We should be thinking now not in terms of building more large power stations but of giving encouragement in our national fuel energy policy to more on-site generation. This is not only because it will produce more economical power, more reliability, and more pollution-free generation, but because technology has now moved on, especially with the availability of natural gas where on-site generation of electricity can be produced—not just electricity but all the other energy needs which are required.
I should declare an interest here because I am interested in the one field of technology which has now become a practicality, whereby one can generate electricity on site in a far more economical way than has hitherto been possible 1855 through total energy installations. I should declare an interest because I am a director of a company interested in this development, which is already extremely successful in other areas of the world where natural gas has been with us for longer—especially Holland.
The point about total energy on-site generation is that it is not just an installation which provides electricity in the way that one has an auxiliary supply in this building, for example. A total energy installation provides all the different energy requirements of a building or an industrial complex—lighting, power, heating, refrigeration, air conditioning, process steam, hydraulic power and whatever else is needed—all supplied on plant from one input fuel with an overall efficiency which can be up to 80 per cent. compared with 35 per cent. through the grid system. This is why I believe that we must in future think more along the lines of converting our energy more efficiently because it has become a practicality. It has happened in other countries. It is not only more economical for the consumer, but it reduces pollution and conserves in the national and the local interest the hydrocarbon resources with which we have been endowed.
I have mentioned total energy very briefly because it is one of the systems which are at present available. It is being installed in Holland in increasing amounts. I have seen some most efficient installations. I am prepared to accept that there will be other developments which will make it possible to convert our energy more efficiently in the future than the existing traditional system which we have employed. It is for this reason that I believe the Government are absolutely right in restricting the C.E.G.B. from using natural gas through the existing power station grid system. I believe that natural gas is far too valuable a primary fuel to be used for inefficient conversion. It ought to be employed, in the sense of national energy policy, more efficiently than that. Therefore, I believe that the Government are absolutely right.
I hope that when the long-term review finally emerges more attention will be paid to the main point I have tried to make, the more efficient conversion of our energy, rather than just arguing, as we have been doing in this debate so far, 1856 about which fuels ought to be used and in what percentages. It will be more relevant, and will increasingly become so, to argue not so much about what fuels and in what percentages but what percentage conversion we can get out of our overall use of energy in this country. This will become increasingly relevant to the concept of the national fuel energy policy.
§ Mr. Ogden
On the point the hon. Gentleman mentioned of on-site total energy, is he thinking of the Alcan site, where there is a coal mine generating into electricity and the acual plant, or is he thinking perhaps of smaller plants that would not take the place of the national grid but would support the national grid; that is, of a major chemical plant with its own source of energy which could then feed out energy to an industrial estate? This has important implications for regional policy.
§ Mr. Rost
Both are adaptable. There are existing total energy installations already in this country. For example, Player's in Nottingham has successfully installed one recently, and another has been started at Singer's in Glasgow. Full-scale feasibility studies have been conducted for other new projects in this country which show that it is an efficient and far cheaper method than any other form of fuel. The system is adaptable—not in every case, but particularly for hospitals, housing developments, large blocks of offices and, for example, Foulness airport.
§ Mr. Rost
I hope the House will accept that, although I have declared an interest, my main interest is in the wider national context. I should like to see this process developed not just because I have an interest but because I believe it is something which inevitably will be discussed increasingly in future years, particularly when we see what is now happening in Sweden, the United States and on the Continent. This ought to form a most important part of a Government review of our longer-term national energy rethink, and I believe that such a rethink is important.
I maintain that so far the Press and the national debate on this subject have not got to grips with the point that this is 1857 not so much a question of what fuels we use and whether the coal industry should be allowed to go into a decline, or whether we should allow supplies of natural gas to increase. It is more a question of how efficiently we can make the fuel we use suit the interests of antipollution control, economy and conservation. Therefore, I welcome the opportunity provided by the debate for a general airing of the longer-term views, and I particularly look forward to a further debate at the time when the Government come forward with their longer-term plans.
§ 12.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Milne (Blyth)
The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost) is to be congratulated on his interesting and constructive contribution to this debate and on the points he has raised. He will appreciate that I have neither the technical know-how nor the time to take up all his remarks. He is also to be congratulated on his forthrightness in declaring his present interests in this subject, which is in direct contrast to others who make similar contributions in this House.
There is one matter to which I wish to refer since it has a bearing on my own area of the country and on this debate. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the question of the Alcan aluminium smelter in Northumberland. The basis of the smelter going to Northumberland was that it would be coal-fired; indeed, a private power station was built by Alcan to provide the million tons of coal annually which that smelter will need when going at full production. A simple equation shows that a million tons of coal per annum means 2,000 mining jobs. My reason for mentioning this issue arises not only from the fact that this matter was raised by the hon. Gentleman, but from the fact that this was the basis of a promise that there would be a use for coal in the Alcan project in Northumberland for 25 years ahead.
Close to the Alcan project is the Blyth power station, which is capable of burning between 3½ and 5 million tons of coal a year. Following the equation of 2,000 jobs per million tons of coal, obviously there will be a considerable employment problem in the area if we are to consider the conversion of fuel for energy requirements. Therefore, it was 1858 with some alarm that during the dispute we heard the news that oil was being pumped into Blyth power station. Our fears have not been completely dispelled despite semi-assurances that we have received from the Minister that Blyth, as a dual-fired power station, could go to oil in future. I hope that either today or in subsequent debates we shall receive definite assurances about the use of coal at that power station.
One hon. Member opposite spoke of the crazy situation of retaining coal-fired power stations for an indefinite period. Like most other people who have been fortunate enough, either through their employment or for other reasons, to be drawn into contact with the mining communities, I have been surprised and somewhat disturbed by the fact that in all the discussions about coal and the coal communities of Britain—over a much longer period of time than that occupied by the latest dispute—there has been too much an attitude on the part of the nation to regard those communities on a "them" and "us" basis—as if the coal-mining communities were different and distinct from the rest of the country. If the mining dispute is to lead to lasting benefits, one offshoot will be the fact that we as a nation have dispelled this attitude.
Unfortunately, the nation has failed completely to understand the tremendous contribution made by the mining industry to our post-war recovery. The present major industries, such as the motor car and chemical industries, got off the ground in the immediate postwar period and have become internationally technically competitive because of the contributions made by the coal industry. I know this to be so from both sides of the fence since I spent the first 10 years of the post-war period in Birmingham when our nation was virtually going on its hands and knees pleading for more coal production so that we could get the recovery about which we are now talking.
If we look at the reverse side of the coin it may be that we in Britain shall move into an era—this perhaps is further ahead than most people think—when coal is no longer required as an energy producer. If we reach that stage, we must do so only on the basis of first seeing that coal production is replaced 1859 by alternative jobs in the areas where the coal mining is now taking place. It must be understood that those jobs are to be available before we begin to talk about redundancy, and not after.
If we look at the hard facts of the situation of conversion and the search for alternative fuels, we must realise that on whatever side of the fence we sit—and in this matter there may not even be two sides of fence—we in this island will have to live with coal for a considerable time and will also have to look at the matter on the basis of a viable industry. The Wilberforce Report had this to say on the wider considerations of the coal dispute:We bear firmly in mind the national interest, which requires the survival of a viable coal industry in competitive conditions, with a contented and efficient labour force.The nation, the House and the Government ought to be ashamed of what we allowed to happen in the coal industry from 9th January onwards, and of the fact that very little was done about it until the attitude, the dignity and the solidarity of the mining communities forced the Government into facing the problem.
When the Wilberforce increases were announced, many people spoke as though there had been a major break-through in industrial relations and in wage negotiations, with an underground worker in the coal industry being raised by £6 to £25 per week. Many people, including a number of hon. Members opposite, spoke as thought some very high wage level had been reached——
§ Mr. Parkinson
Will the hon. Gentleman agree that in the accounts of the National Coal Board for last year the average wage of the 286,000 employees in collieries was £28.10, with average benefits of £1.84? I am not saying that £28.94 is a big wage, but it is a great deal bigger than the hon. Gentleman suggests. I can assure him that that is the average figure taken from the audited accounts of the National Coal Board.
§ Mr. Milne
If the hon. Gentleman had been more patient, he would have heard a number of other figures bearing out what I was saying. However, even taking his figure of £28.4;94 for a week's work in an arduous industry, if the hon. Gentle 1860 man is prepared to defend a wage rate of that kind he is perfectly entitled to do so. It is true that as a result of an increase of £4.50 those under the power loading agreement reached £34.50. But will anyone argue that for the type of work that is done it should have needed a major dispute in the industry to secure a wage of that kind?
Let me give the hon. Gentleman one other illustration, since he has referred to the National Coal Board's annual figures. According to last year's accounts of the hoard, a sum of £33.4 million was paid out in interest charges for loans given to the industry. If the hon. Gentleman flicks over a few pages of the report, he will see that the board paid out £13..7 million to provide pensions for men who had given a lifetime to this vitally important industry. In short, over £33 million went to the money interests of the country, whereas little more than £13 million went to pay pensions for those who had spent a lifetime in the industry.
With the hon. Gentleman's intervention still in mind, perhaps I might refer to the concluding paragraph of the Wilberforce Report, which says:Clearly we must now expect that the promised review of the industry's finances will shortly come aboutThat is the next stage of the situation that we have to discuss in this context. If we are to draw conclusions from it, they must be based on fact and reality.
When we talk about cost inflation and about the wages paid in the mining industry, we must remember that on the basis of wages and salaries alone British miners are producing coal in 1972 at less than £3 per ton. The average pithead price of coal is between £5 and £6 per ton. When this Government decided to allow in imported coal, it was found that it could be done only at double, or more than double, the pit-head price of coal in Britain.
There are two lessons to be drawn from this. The first is the obvious one that British miners were underpaid. The second is that the miners not only made the type of contribution with their industrial efforts to which I referred earlier but by their contribution they put Britain into the very favourable balance of payments position that we have seen in the last two or three years, Not only has 1861 the mining industry made a major industrial and economic contribution on the basis of the country's past industrial efforts; it has also laid the foundations of a much more prosperous country in the years ahead.
This is not a situation in which the mining industry is arguing from a position of weakness on the basis of a generous nation giving it what it needs in terms of wages and conditions. It is a sector of our economy which has to be regarded as vitally important in the years ahead if we are to become the type of industrial nation that we intend to become and if we are to get the economic security from those efforts to which the mining communities and the nation are entitled.
Considering the terms of the Motion and the need for further discussion, I make only three short points. The first is that it is disappointing that a major issue of this importance should have to he tagged on to a Motion on a Friday which does not measure up to the needs and demands of the situation. This debate must be just a forerunner to two or three other major debates in this House. Today we have only touched on the fringe of matters. We have been able to underline only sketchily the conclusions to be drawn.
My second point is to draw attention to the absence of the Minister responsible for the industry. I understand fully the difficulties involved in being here on a Friday. In order to be here, I have had to cancel four or five constituency engagements. While we appreciate the presence of the Under-Secretaries of State, any real conclusion from this debate can only come with the presence of the top Minister responsible for policy.
My final point concerns the National Coal Board's financial position. We have already had mention of the £33 million interest charges that have to be met by the mining industry. The time has come for the Government to write off this capital investment because it belongs to a bygone age. It is a millstone round the neck of the industry and is doing the nation no good.
I suggested to the Prime Minister and to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry that we should do what a past chairman of the Coal Board and past member of the General Council of the 1862 T.U.C., now Sir James Bowman, did at the commencement of nationalisation; namely, put a levy on each ton of coal mined to provide the coal industry with the capital assets which it needs to make it the viable industry it still has to become.
Considering the amount of money which has flowed into the finance houses of this country as a result of 25 years of nationalisation, I think that my approach to the Prime Minister and to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry for a Royal Commission on the coal industry is well overdue. I can understand the Government's reluctance. A Royal Commission would probably take more time than we have got to put the industry in order. It is a pity that we needed a major strike to draw attention to the tremendous contribution that the mining folk of Britain have made to both the pre-war and the post-war periods.
§ 1.12 p.m.
§ Mr. J. R. Kinsey (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) has chosen an important topic for debate today with many consequences attached to it which the miners' strike and wage settlement have thrown up in the face of the whole country.
The strike has revealed some of the most important issues which we have to face in this nation's modern and complex life. We must consider fuel policy not only on the economic side but, as my hon. Friends have rightly said, from the social point of view because mining is one of the dirtiest and most dangerous jobs in industry. The further that we can get away from that kind of job the more pleased the nation will be to think that there is not this desperate situation facing workers. However, I agree with the hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Milne) that we must put industries into mining areas to replace mining jobs before we leave the industry altogether.
I am not sure that we shall get away from coal mining entirely. It still has a large and increasingly important part to play, but only that part which is economic and viable. We shall have to consider reducing the coal industry, as we have over the years under the previous Administration. I will not follow my hon. Friends and hon. Gentlemen opposite who have 1863 spoken on that aspect, because I want to concentrate on other major effects of vast social importance with which we have to deal.
First, constitutionally on the law and order issue, although I will not go deeply into this matter, I suggest that some hon. Gentlemen who organised and participated in picketing might have a lot to answer for not only to their own consciences but to the laws of this country which they themselves helped to formulate and pass.
I should like to refer to the economic situation and the effect that the settlement has had on the cost of living, employment, industrial relations and social policies. All these issues have been important enough to cause my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition to make television appearances to put their views to the nation. The House will not be surprised that I much preferred the appearance of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to that of the Leader of the Opposition. My right hon. Friend was constructive and reflected the nation's concern in his broadcast, whereas the Leader of the Opposition was divisive, depressing and party political, as I think the nation recognised.
§ Mr. Kinsey
It is terrible in such a situation. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman agrees.
We must look to the inflationary nature of the agreement. Lord Wilberforce had a difficult job to do in difficult circumstances. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, in his statement to the House, commented on the general need for wage restraint. He said that the miners were a special case. I hope that the miners and trade unionists recognise that they are a special case. If not, if they press themselves forward as a special case, leap-frogging, we shall be in very grave danger indeed. It is obvious that the miners will not consider themselves as a special case. They are already lining up, foot in the gap, trying to widen the position to include many more people in the category of special cases.
1864 I think that the B.B.C. television programme "24 Hours" on the night of the settlement and last Friday evening made excellent viewing, because it revealed not only the concern of the nation and the moderation of some trade union leaders but the immoderation of other trade union leaders. I warn the Government not to give in to any widening of the gap to any large degree.
The Government have set a norm of between 7 and 8 per cent. which is supposedly non-inflationary. We have won through to this after almost two years. What effect will this have on a man aged 21 earning £16 a week? If we go forward at an 8 per cent. annual increase—we know that it is an annual ritual of the trade unions to try to get through annual increases-by the time that man reaches 64 he will be earning the colossal sum of £430 a week. It is self-evident that this is inflationary. Looking at it from this point of view, we obviously have to take some steps to go forward. No amount of increased productivity can offset this kind of wage increase. What will the weekly grocery bill be then?
§ Mr. Concannon
Has the hon. Gentleman worked out what a man earning this sum now will be getting by the time he is 65?
§ Mr. Concannon
I am talking about people who are already on that sum. What would they be getting at the age of 65?
§ Mr. Kinsey
The figure I have given. If we went forward at £16 a week at 8 per cent., that is what it would give rise to in the 40-odd years to retirement time. That is a fact that is known. But the hon. Gentleman, unfortunately, does not seem quite to grasp it.
§ Mr. Concannon
I am afraid the hon. Gentleman does not grasp what I am talking about. He is talking about percentages. I am saying that there are people already on that sum. What would it be at 8 per cent. for the same number of years for somebody already drawing £400 a week? It is absolutely fantastic.
§ Mr. Kinsey
The hon. Gentleman is only underlining the argument I am putting forward. It is bad enough at £16. 1865 It would be fantastic indeed to go forward at that rate. I am arguing against its going forward at that rate.
The Government must look again at this position, because it is a blueprint for disaster; there is no getting away from it. But it is difficult to accept what is real need in the economy of the country to protect those who are on poor wages at the present time. I agree wholeheartedly with the Opposition that there is a quite obvious need to look at some of the poor wage structures that prevail in industry. It is absolutely impossible to live decently on some of those wages.
With due respect to the mining industry, it was not in that category. With the increased offer which was made to the miners, it could not be said that their wages were at that level. I recognise that the miners were aiming to put themselves back into the No. 1 position in the wage structure which they had occupied but lost over the last decade, merely because of the policies of the Opposition. However, it was wrong to attempt to make that jump in one step forward, particularly because it put their fellow-workers in other industries in a far worse position, and the pensioners, those on fixed income and the social welfare cases, to which I shall return later, in a much worse position.
This is a sphere in which, obviously, the Government must act. Industry, commerce and the trade unions must define more clearly the workers with a wage case, and the workers with a wage case, having been fairly recognised, others must not use the results of this absolutely important social survey as a means of restoring their own differentials, which has all too often been the case when workers have been recognised as a special case. The other trade unions then come forward and use their strength to restore the differentials. It sounds as if I am advocating here a further inflationary measure. I do not intend to do that. We must say—and I am sorry I have to say it to one particular group, the trade unions—"Grow up and take your responsible place in society", because the Socialists made this the absolute cornerstone of their industrial policy, and they were let down by the unions. The Conservatives are saying much the same thing now: "Be reasonable, then we shall see 1866 the results eventually in everybody's interests."
The trade unions seem to be the only section of industry not cost-conscious in their demands on the economy, because when we examine the motivation of industry itself we see the buyers who go for the cheapest possible commodity to get the best possible prices for their industry, the executives who plan to make administration and production cheaper in the interests of the consumer, to sell more goods and, in the interests of the workers, to provide employment. The wage demands that are being put upon industry completely ignore the final cost at which the item has to be sold in the markets of the world.
I have already mentioned the effect on inflation. It is imperative that all sides—Government, management and workers—get together and try as an experiment to make one year a price-reduction year. Let us do a productivity deal: not to put wages up but to bring prices down; and if prices do not come down, no deal. Together we could see what could be done, to the benefit of all sections of the community. We would not have to pay tax on that sort of productivity deal, as we have to do on increased wages, which are inflationary in themselves. This is a factor we ought to take into account.
I want at this stage to take up the point on social policies made by the Leader of the Opposition in his broadcast. That has been taken up dutifully by trade union leaders, and, frankly, it is the weakest and most dishonest of all the arguments that the Leader of the Opposition could have put forward, because it is based primarily on school milk, a policy that the Opposition themselves put into operation for children from 11 to 14 years of age when they were in office, and they paid no compensation to the poorer sector or the elderly sector of the nation. There is also the question of council rates. The Opposition ignore what is the biggest success story of the present Government, its superior policy on the welfare front: increased pensions, new pensions, new allowances, new services, the family income supplement, new hospitals and new school buildings—all that in two years of Conservative Government. The Socialists talked about it, but I am afraid they never did that.
§ Mr. Kinsey
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding me of that.
Surely when we talk about social policies we mean help to those in real need. If that is the case we must honestly face up to the people who really are in need. In housing, of 10 people who receive help from Government subsidies only one is in real need. This must be of real concern to those who are worried about the social means of the nation and those whom they should be helping to reach through the Housing Finance Bill, helping those in the lower income group whom it is intended to help, whether they be council or private tenants, and the pensioners in particular, the old people who really need help. Those are the real social cases.
To keep the social balance of those people who are on a reasonable wage—and there are many; not highly paid or over—paid, but on a reasonable wage-let them have the chance to purchase their Own council houses, as we do in Birmingham, for a deposit of £5, at a price of £2,000 or £3,000. It is an absolutely socially balanced policy and could not be better. This is the policy that the Government are carrying out at present, and that the Opposition are trying to stop: yet they talk about a socially balanced policy in this connection.
We need to examine social needs against the miners' settlement in particular, because the industry cannot absorb the cost that was put on it. This is why the Government and the National Coal Board had to take the attitude they did at the outset of the strike, because the coal industry could not afford to absorb it. Wilberforce recognised this, and the Government have come forward with a grant of £100 million to the industry, because it cannot afford to take it. Here we get £100 million going to the strong and able-bodied people of our community. This has always been an argument of mine against Socialists, but it is a pity to have to use it in this context. This money should be going to the pensioners, the disabled, the widows and the sick. The Secretary of State for Social Services could use it in many ways.
The settlement and the effects of the strike have been calamitous for the 1868 nation. They have damaged the nation considerably and deplorably. We cannot continue to carry on industrial relations in this way. It is mad, and the nation is heartily sick of it.
The Industrial Relations Act is an attempt to tackle this, but it has still to come into effect fully. It was not in effect during the strike. But, apart from that Act, the unions must keep the ordinary laws of the country. They are doing themselves a disservice if they do not; this also affects the individuals within their ranks.
The anarchists latched on to the miners' strike: it was not just the miners who took action——
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I am afraid that I have not heard all the hon. Member's speech, but this is really a debate on energy, not industrial relations. I think that a passing reference is permitted, but I hope that the hon. Member will remember the purpose of the debate.
§ Mr. Kinsey
I would not dream of arguing with your interpretation, Mr. Speaker, but the Motion contains the words:To call attention to conclusions to be drawn from the coal miners' strike"—
§ Mr. Speaker
But the operative part comes after the words "and to move", and shows that it is meant to be a debate on energy.
§ Mr. Kinsey
I was discussing the conclusions which I would draw, on the social side, from that strike.
I particularly welcome the new talks between the Government and the unions. We should forget the political fights and work together to overcome the social problems. This will benefit all the workers, including the miners, and the nation itself.
§ 1.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Varley (Chesterfield)
We can always rely on the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Kinsey) to introduce controversy into our debates. I do not complain about that. I hope later to be able to take up some of his remarks.
The hon. Member started with some novel concepts about party politics by suggesting that the party leaders should not go on television and make controversial political points. I have never 1869 accepted or experienced this. He complained that, after the Prime Minister had made an uncontroversial broadcast, the Leader of the Opposition made a wholly controversial one. Any fair-minded person who read the transcript of the Prime Minister's speech could read a lot of controversy into what he said. I will come back to this, because the right hon. Gentleman referred to the consequences and conclusions to be drawn from the miners' strike.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) on his good fortune in the Ballot but not on the terms of his Motion. He squandered his good fortune, because the Motion can be interpreted as having been born out of malice and nurtured in ignorance of coal questions. His speech was followed by speeches from some mindless militants on the Government side of the House, particularly the hon. Member for Perry Barr.
We do not complain about having this debate, which is necessary and proper. Some of the things which have been said about the coal industry and our energy policy will go down very well in Market Harborough and Torquay, although I am not so sure that they would go down well in South-East Derbyshire. But a subject of this importance—the energy needs of the nation—cannot be dealt with purely by a Private Member's Motion on a Friday.
Some hon. Members on the Government side seem to have learned nothing from their experiences over the past few weeks. There are many lessons to be drawn from the dispute. They should start to understand the nature, character and the mood of British miners. We told the Government when the strike began that they would never force the miners back down the pits on the basis of the then offer. In the debates on 18th January and 8th February we said that the miners would fight much harder than hon. Members opposite realised.
Despite our warnings, the Government persisted with their propaganda and with the hints that dozens and even hundreds of coal faces might be closed permanently if the strike lasted any time. But at the end of seven weeks' strike, only 20 coal faces were shut, about half of which had only a few weeks' life left anyway. The Government also warned the miners of the limitations that a prolonged strike 1870 would impose on their working opportunities, yet within the first week after the strike production was already back to 70 per cent. of normal.
Certainly the Government's scare stories throughout the dispute did not achieve the object of panicking the miners and forcing them to go back. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite, particularly the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and the Secretary of State for Employment, made much of the fact that the strike had only a 59 per cent. majority backing. It soon become 100 per cent. solid, as we had always warned that it would. That supports what my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) said—that although there was no great enthusiasm at first for the dispute, once they were forced into it, the miners were absolutely solid and determined to get a fair deal. The two Secretaries of State were at their sanctimonious best on television, warning the miners and the nation as a whole that their livelihoods would be affected.
The hon. Member for Harborough talked about the miners having the nation over a barrel. The public believed the Secretary of State for Employment when he said the same thing, but they did not blame the miners during that period: they blamed the Government. Other workers demonstrated their sympathy. The miners were throughout sustained by the general public support and the support of other unions.
So, contrary to what the Prime Minister said on television, the Government lost in this dispute. The immediate consequence is today's Motion and the Amendment by the hon. Member for Torquay (Sir F. Bennett), both of which we see as being intended to seek vengence for that defeat.
§ Mr. Varley
I am not associating the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost) with those comments. His comments constituted one of the most tolerant and liberal speeches he has made since he came into the House of Commons and if it will do him any good 1871 in South-East Derbyshire he can say that I have said so.
The hon. Member for Perry Barr referred to picketing, and we have heard the ritual demand from the 1922 Committee that supplementary benefits for strikers should be ended and other such comments. The Prime Minister, in his conclusions on the miners' dispute, used extreme words when he warned about violence and linked the miners' dispute with violence. When he appeared on television he said:undermines our country and our way of life.He deliberately created the impression that the miners were some kind of branch of the I.R.A.
The one person killed during the seven-week strike was a young miner engaged in peaceful picketing. The Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Employment both acknowledged that most of the picketing was peaceful, but to hear the Prime Minister and other hon. Members on the Government side talk about the country being submerged in new and sinister manifestations of violence, much of it caused by trade unions, is largely nonsense.
There is nothing new in what has been happening in these disputes as I hope to show. My noble Friend Lord Shinwell could match the recent silliness in the House of Commons with examples going back over 40 years. But when it comes to menacing demonstrations, the miners have a lot to learn from the farmers who threw things at Labour Ministers of Agriculture and bounched them about when they were upset about the Farm Price Review.
§ Mr. Varley
I will come to that. I do not want to duck the issue but I want to show that it is not new. We can remember farmers demonstrating under the last Government against the Price Review. No Tory leader at that time actually stood up to talk about this undermining the very nature of our society or anything of that kind. I dis 1872 cussed this matter with hon. Members from the Liberal Party and I am sorry they have no representative here today. They made great play about it. But the miners have a lot to learn from young Liberals who developed their own far from peaceful methods for disrupting sporting events.
If the Prime Minister believes that industrial disputes help in some new way to increase violence and make it more manifest, it is well worth pondering the words of a Prime Minister when he said:…there are rare elements in the country that would like to see anarchy in the trade unions—in my view the most dangerous thing for the country that could happen."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th May, 1937; Vol. 323, c. 1185.]That was Mr. Stanley Baldwin speaking in this House in 1937 about a miners' dispute at that time. The dispute concerned the Spencer Company Union. It is interesting that in 1937 a Prime Minister should be saying that this anarchy in the trade unions was something sinister and new, exactly as the present Prime Minister said on television recently.
There is nothing new in the situation. For generations industrial disputes in this country have contained elements of violence on their fringes. It is not nice but it is not new and it does not do the Prime Minister or any of his hon. Friends any good to pretend that this is something novel which is threatening our way of life. It does no one any credit to give the impression that some of the incidents which took place in Ulster are in any way comparable with what happened during the strike.
This tactic was used largely as a smokescreen to distract attention from the genuine lessons of the strike. The first lesson showed that the Government must consider a long-term fuel policy for Britain. Here I come to the main points contained in the argument of the hon. Member for Harborough this morning. It needs to be a real fuel policy and not the botched-up nonsense contained in the Motion. If anyone believes that our future energy needs can be supplied by oil and gas from the North Sea and an extended nuclear power programme, he must be living in a dream world. I hope that the Under-Secretary will confirm this. I am glad 1873 to see the nods of approval from the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East.
Hon. Members on the Government side must be living in a dream world if they believe in the ability of:an accelerated programme for their usage and, in conjunction with the expanded use of nuclear power, markedly to reduce the nation's dependence on coal".If anyone believes that, I do not know where he has been living. Of course, we must develop nuclear power as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer) said, and we must do so as much as possible. But it would be idle to deny that so far it has been a costly though justifiable, gamble.
Nuclear power provides less than 3 per cent. of our total energy needs and all of that is supplied expensively. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, Central told the House that no operating nuclear power station can today compete with our cheapest coal-fired power station, nor is there anything to suggest that the cost of nuclear power will fall in the foreseeable future. The first Magnox stations will never work efficiently. All have irreparable corrosion problems and the new A.G.R. stations are in danger of suffering from corrosion problems too. The A.G.R. Dungeness B Station is two years behind schedule and the cost is at least double the original estimate. I agree that we must develop nuclear power but in a controlled way. To build the string of nuclear power stations which would be needed to fulfil the claim made in the Motion would be sheer economic madness. I hope that the Under-Secretary will confirm this when he replies.
Nor is natural gas equal to the burdens which the Motion seeks to place upon it. Here, too, it makes every kind of sense to develop a new indigenous fuel as much as possible. But it would be folly to hide from ourselves that proven reserves are strictly limited and will ensure only about 20 years' supply at the level they are planned to reach by 1975. There is an interesting story in today's Financial Times concerning the situation in France which is comparable to Britain. It says:
§ "GAS SHORTAGE WORRY
§ A serious shortage of natural gas is beginning to hit French industry. The problem will become acute by 1975, with supplies run 1874 ning out and demand rising at a rate of around 20 per cent a year."
§ The article goes on to refer to the increased price of oil and so on. Therefore France, which has not as much dependence on coal is already getting into trouble with supplies of natural gas. Assuming that the gas exists in the quantities which the hon. Gentleman suggests, none of it is cheap either. The cost of manufacture, installation and maintenance of pipelines and other equipment to bring it ashore and distribute it continues to rise very fast.
But, of course, the hon. Gentleman's main hopes rest on North Sea oil. The Motion says that North Sea oil resources are:
sufficient alone to meet 75 per cent. of our crude oil needs by 1980'.
§ He says that the Prime Minister gave this figure to the House. I am always anxious to learn from the Prime Minister and I shall take an early opportunity of finding out exactly what he said and in what context. But that sort of estimate is not in any way confirmed by the research that I know of.
§ Oil demand in Britain last year was just under 150 million tons of coal equivalent and on the basis of only a 10 per cent. increase in demand this would mean 350 million tons by the hon. Gentleman's target year of 1980. Let us be more modest and say that the demand will not go up by 10 per cent. a year but that by the end of this decade it will edge up to about 200 million tons of coal equivalent, 75 per cent. of which would be 150 million tons. Can the North Sea meet that requirement?
The Petroleum Press Service, a very highly respected journal, says:
… extrapolation of the drilling successes thus far obtained would suggest a good chance of trebling the estimated output to 150 million tons a year (3 million b/d) during the coming decade".
§ One can say that that is the 150 million tons I am talking about, but there is a little problem which the hon. Gentleman did not mention—that this 150 million tons will have to be shared between all the countries of Western Europe which have an interest in North Sea oil, since demand for oil in Western Europe is growing at about 10 per cent. a year and the ultimate potential of the North Sea may represent no more than two years' 1875 growth in Western European oil requirements. It is not very likely that the Norwegians, the Dutch and the Danes will stand aside politely and say, "After you, Mr. Farr. You can have it for your requirements in Britain". It is a shared amount.
Even if we can meet the peak availability, which by no means is certain, there is also the question of cost. A view is taken that the oil will be very cheap and is there to be had at any price. Sir David Barran, Chairman of Shell Transport and Trading Company, pointed out two weeks ago in the Financial Times:
… development costs of a field capable of producing 250,000 barrels a day could well be of the order of £250 million, 'or as much as a space shot to the moon'.
§ Therefore, since even the hon. Gentleman would not wish to base the fulfilment of British energy needs on the capriciousness of the Middle East, and in any case even if supplies are reliable there is a built-in cost escalation to make imported oil increasingly expensive, he will have to admit on any reasonable basis that we will still have a very large market for coal in Britain. Anyone looking objectively at the figures will see that. There is also the question of the O.P.E.C. countries. In the Financial Times again, there is an article about the interruption of supplies. If oil producing countries, through what they call "participation", although Lybia calls it "confiscation" or "part-confiscation", interrupt oil supplies, they put us over a barrel.
§ Mr. Varley
I am not discounting anything. I welcome that find as a useful addition to get away from the sort of turmoil and hoops through which British Governments have been put in the Middle East. I welcome it to replace imported oil. I think that there is a great role for British oil to replace some imported oil and help alleviate the escalating costs of imports.
There is a place for a British fuel policy, much of it based on coal, and it is only sensible to realise the fact. The 1876 coal is there waiting to be taken out of the ground as a guaranteed 100 years' supply at current consumption. It is a defence against the balance of payments troubles into which the country is likely to slide again, according to some economic forecasts. Although the hon. Gentleman made only a passing reference to this aspect, it provides employment in areas with the greatest unemployment problems, since 70 per cent. of our coal is mined in assisted areas—development areas, special development areas and intermediate areas. A cut-down of 1 million tons in production puts 2,000 men out of a job.
Coal is mined by men who have been moderate and who have certainly not behaved in the way claimed by the hon. Gentleman. They have been moderate in their demands. They are as responsibly led today as at any time in their history. They work hard. Through their union they have a superb system of reaching decisions in which a spectacular proportion of them take part. They have an unrivalled record of operation in productivity and there has only been one official dispute in the last 46 years.
Yet the hon. Gentleman talks about the miners holding the country over a barrel. It would be wise of him to remember the last time that our fuel supplies were interrupted. It was in 1967 at the time of the six-day war, when the Suez Canal was closed, when the Arabs wanted to drive the Jews into the sea. Our supplies were interrupted before that in 1956, at the time of Suez. But in 46 years in the coal industry there has been only one official dispute, yet the hon. Gentleman says that the miners are holding the country over a barrel. I cannot understand him. There is need for a coherent fuel policy with coal as a staple element.
The second conclusion is that the Government must now finally abandon their divisive policy of industrial confrontation. The past few weeks have shown that they are learning a few lessons, and I think they are abandoning a few dogmas.
In the past 10 days the Government, who we were told opposed public expenditure, have forked out £250 million of public money—35 million for Upper Clyde Shipbuilders, which must stick in the throat of the Under-Secretary, £30 1877 million in food subsidies for sugar and potatoes and £150 million in grants and loans for the National Coal Board. The £100 million of which the hon. Member for Perry Barr spoke was the exact cost of the dispute, for all the weeks it went on.
We have moved during the last 20 months from brute force to Wilberforce. The Government should continue along their new-found path of righteousness. I hope that the talks at Downing Street with Mr. Victor Feather will be fruitful. I hope that they take place. If the Government are serious about having a sensible incomes policy so that we can get away from the difficulties of the last few weeks, what Mr. Feather wants to hear from the Prime Minister is that the Government have stopped discriminating against workers in the public sector. In the cause of social justice the best thing the Prime Minister could tell Mr. Feather is that he agrees that it would be a good thing to drop the Housing Finance Bill.
The hon. Member for Harborough is right. There are important conclusions to be drawn from the miners' strike and the Government would do well to heed them. The conclusions are not contained in the hon. Gentleman's Motion, which all serious Members will dismiss with the derision it deserves.
§ 2.2 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Nicholas Ridley)
I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) on his good fortune in the Ballot. Contrary to the rather unctuous and tart remarks of the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley), I consider that my hon. Friend has performed a service in bringing this subject before the House. If there is one thing which the remarks of the hon. Member for Chesterfield have cleared up completely it is his utter and sincere belief, indeed conviction, in the need for fast-rising prices. His total commitment to supporting anything likely to increase prices and cause inflation was couched in language which might have been more moderate. Certainly my hon. Friend did not merit the unpleasant things said about him and his approach to this subject.
1878 There could not be a more difficult time for the House to be called upon to debate this Motion.
§ Mr. Ridley
The fuel policy of this country has been reviewed for a little while past by the Government and now we have more uncertainty about the future than we have had for many years. We have the uncertain future of Middle East oil and its price, indeed the uncertain nature of the international oil market. The Americans, too, are experiencing problems in supplying oil to their industries.
We do not know the amount of oil and gas in the North Sea. The full potential is far from known, but it could be very great indeed. Its extent is far from understood. We are at a time when the cost and performance of different types of nuclear reactor are far from known. Apart from all this we have had the miners' strike. It is not my intention, nor my departmental responsibility, to discuss questions of picketing or incomes policy. The debate is about energy——
§ Mr. Ridley
I must correct the hon. Gentleman. The debate has centred on energy policy, and it is with energy policy that I wish to deal.
The 7½ per cent. rise in coal prices has been a considerable increase, but subsidies will still be needed to meet the cost of coal. The 7½ per cent. increase will bring in £60 million in a full year, assuming there is no reduction in take-up of coal, whereas the cost of Wilberforce was £90 million in extra wages. There is an additional element to be considered as a result of this gap. Even without that it is true that the coal industry has not been profitable in the last few years and the exact extent of that can be discovered from the accounts of the National Coal Board. It must be remembered that it has had large sums of capital written off in the past. In addition, there has been the cost of the strike, which has been a once-for-all cost of considerable size.
1879 Those are the factors that have caused the Government to think about all these matters, and I am not in a position today to give the answers for which the House will be waiting. This is a new situation brought about by the miners' strike. Hitherto the Government's fuel policy has not been greatly different from that of their predecessors. There has been no need for change, by and large. There was too little coal two years ago and a little bit too much at the end of last year, but within the ups and downs of normal supply and demand the fuel policy was worked well. There are, however, these new factors which make a review of the situation desirable.
I doubt whether a fuel policy will take the form of published targets for 1975 or 1980 of the amount of coal, oil or gas or nuclear power that will be needed. This has been the line of the 1967 White Paper. We all know that these targets are not met, and within a short period of their being published it is known that they are unrealistic. Then it is necessary to publish another target or admit that the whole exercise is out of date. It is not what a fuel policy should comprise. There are too many unknown events, too many uncertainties, which make it impossible to work to firm targets. If we have such targets they are really targets which people attempt to change, people whose interest in one fuel or another might be to obtain a subsidy or protection for it. Those targets are, therefore, attacked, to be revised upwards rather than to become targets of value to the industry.
Even the hon. Member for Chesterfield talked about coal as a staple element in the new fuel policy, prejudging the results of the review and deciding that what he wanted to see coming out of that review was a certain assured stake of some particular size for coal. That is the wrong way to look at it. It may well have such a future, but it is wrong to look at a fuel policy as something which will give, as it were, a definite promise to one sector of the fuel market or another.
To talk about the factors which the Government must take into account, there has been a steady decline in coal from 197 million tons 11 or 12 years ago to 138 million tons last year, with a corresponding growth in oil take. These figures 1880 are not very far away from those in the 1967 White Paper. Generally speaking, they are smaller for coal and about the same for oil.
The fall in the use of coal has been brought about through commercial pressures: first of all, its inconvenience, and, to some extent, its dirtiness; secondly, its price; and, thirdly, the cost of transporting coal from the pits in the centre of England, those pits which, on the whole, have been the cheap producers. The relative economics of coal, unlike the economics of other fuels, vary very much according to the distance the user is situated away from the central coalfields.
There can be no doubt that the miners' strike has resulted in a competitive setback for the coal industry. Some pits have been lost due to the strike—not many, but some, as the hon. Gentleman said. There has been, to avoid being caught again in a coal shortage, some switching by individuals and industries from coal. Perhaps there will be more. There will be a further switching due to the immediate price rise.
It may help the House if I try to fill in some of the details of prices which I think are perhaps the important element in determining fuel use. They have not often been taken into account sufficiently in understanding the future of the various industries.
Between 1960 and 1970 the average price of oil at a power station close to the coalfields would probably have risen from about 1.6p per therm to 2.1p in 1970. During the same period at the same place—these are only approximate figures to give an indication of the scale—the price of coal has risen from 1.7p in 1960 to about 2.1p per therm in 1970. Of course, further away from the Midlands coalfield the differential would be quite great in favour of oil. On the Wilberforce settlement of a 7½ per cent. increase in coal prices, the price of an average ton of coal to a power station will increase as much as from £6 per ton to £6.45p per ton, an increase of 0.2p per therm. So in a situation where the competitve advantage of oil is already evident the price of coal may well go up by another 0.2p per therm. I must emphasise that these figures are just for guidance to the House, and they would vary from one part of the country to another.
The hon. Member is taking a ridiculously high figure of £6 as a figure for the Midlands. In the East Midlands, in Nottinghamshire, the average price is £5.12 a ton. We are selling coal at about 12 million tons a year to the C.E.G.B. Even if there were an increase it would be nothing like 45p per ton.
§ Mr. Ridley
The prices I have quoted include costs of handling, transport, stocking, and perhaps rehandling. I said the figures are approximate and that they would vary from one part of the country to another. What costs they would include would depend upon what happens in transporting and handling coal. I would advise the hon. Gentleman that I am only trying to help the House by giving a guide as to the increase in the price of coal and the competitive disadvantage which it will suffer as a result of the increase in price.
Another point which must be taken into account in considering fuel policy is that it is not only the 7½ per cent. increase in the price of coal but the fact that there is going to be a subsidy to enable the National Coal Board to balance its books, and that is obviously a factor that my right hon. Friend will have to consider.
So there can be no doubt that coal is going to face very strong competition in the future as a result of recent events. But I would agree with hon. Gentlemen opposite in one thing—and I think it was the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer) who said this first—that much coal will be needed for a very long time to come; and also that insecurity of supply, which has become an added competitive disadvantage which coal now suffers from, would also be applicable to other fuels besides coal.
Therefore, I think I should consider some of the other fuels. It might help the House to confirm what has been said about the position in relation to them.
First of all, North Sea gas is an indigenous fuel and one entirely under our own control. The known and proved gasfields on the United Kingdom Continental Shelf are expected—so far as is known—to reach a yield by the middle '70s of 4,000 million cubic feet per day, which is the equivalent of about 15 per cent. of our fuel requirements and 1882 roughly equivalent to 60 million tons of coal. This is a very great benefit indeed.
I also confirm that the known discoveries are unlikely to last for more than 20 years, after which there will be a declining yield from the known gas-fields. I would emphasise that it is only 15 per cent. of our fuel requirements. Twenty years may see out most of us in the House today, but that is not a very long time in the history of the nation. I would say to my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough that these are hardly "huge reserves"—to quote from his Motion—and I do not believe it would be possible to step up their exploitation quite as he suggests, but I will not argue that at this stage, for this is the minimum, and what the maximum would be is not known. We may well find that there is a great deal more, but let us not, therefore, take firm decisions on fuel policy without more knowledge of this.
§ Mr. Farr
I think the latest estimates which have been given for the North Sea reserves are doubled from 4,000 million cubic to 8,000 million cubic feet a day, in as much as the Gas Council has made only exploratory drillings on the Continental Shelf line which divides the Norwegian sector from the British. I think the potentialities are very much greater than my hon. Friend has indicated.
§ Mr. Ridley
I must give my hon. Friend the firm opinion of the experts, and I have done. I admit that there is a possibility of more discoveries on the Norwegian-British median line, and I admit there is a possibility that we may succeed in getting gas from the Ekofisk field, but I think it is very difficult to say either, as my hon. Friend does, that there are huge reserves, or, as hon Gentlemen opposite say, that there is not so much that it is not going to be of very much value. The truth is that the answer is not known.
§ Mr. Ogden
We on this side did not say that there is not very much there. We know that there is a certain amount, and we would hope that there will be a great deal more. Of course we would, for that would be an advantage to our country, which is just as much our concern as it is of hon. Members opposite. As the Minister has said, we do not know how much there is there. We cannot fix a 1883 long-term policy on suppositions. That is very different from saying that we said that there is very little there.
§ Mr. Ridley
It is a pleasant surprise for me to be violently interrupted to be told that I am right, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman.
The Norwegian finds straddle the median line and the company which has made the strike on both sides of the Norwegian line is the French group Total, so there is no certainty that the finds on the Norwegian side will come to this country. It is not known what Total intends to do with those discoveries.
I will say a word about North Sea oil. In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Sir F. Bennett), the fuel duty is on the use of fuel oil and is not a tax on the import of crude oil. From whatever source fuel oil comes, it is the internal use of that fuel oil which attracts tax. Therefore, crude oil found in our own waters which was converted to fuel oil would bear tax.
The latest estimate for North Sea oil is that probably an extraction rate of 25 million tons a year is possible by 1975, and 25 million tons a year is equivalent to one-quarter of our present use of oil. It has been estimated that by 1980 that figure of 25 million tons might rise to 75 million tons. The figure given by my hon. Friend is quite right and has been given by many Government spokesmen, but I would make two qualifications. One is that it is much more in the nature of a guess than an estimate and, secondly, 75 million tons is three-quarters of our present-day oil consumption but it might well not be 75 per cent. of our oil consumption in 1980.
As with North Sea gas, the possibility remains that a great deal more will be found. So I come back to my point that no Government will publish a fuel policy with firm targets. What we have to do is to consider the impact of all these factors on the situation and make the adjustments, if any, which seem to be necessary. We cannot therefore say about oil that it is available in abundance, as my hon. Friend said, and we must take into account the time factors. The gas and the oil are perhaps 10 years ahead, and this is also true of nuclear power.
1884 I can add very little to the news this morning about the existence of oil off the South Wales coast. Licences will be issued soon for this part of our waters. One applicant for those licences—I cannot say whether the application has been successful—has said that seismic work already done has suggested a high yield of hydrocarbons in the area but that it is not possible to say what the field will contain, and no drilling has been done. It would be wrong at this extremely early stage to over-estimate the certainty of hydrocarbons being found. I do not say that they are not there, but this has been presented as a fait accompli when it is not.
I am sure that there is a great longterm potential for nuclear power. Magnox stations, which are using 10 million tons of coal equivalent and supplying 3 per cent. of our energy requirements, are a finished line of development. They have been satisfactory but they are not economic, as the hon. Member for Bristol, Central said. The hon. Gentleman also said that none had been sold abroad, and that is right, but it was a little unfair of him to blame the design and contracting companies alone for that. We must accept that these have not been economic reactors and that all those responsible—the A.E.A., the contractors and the electricity boards—must take their share of responsibility for this lack of success.
§ Mr. Palmer
The hon. Gentleman, I am sure not deliberately, has misquoted me. If he looks at the record he will see that I, and the Select Committee, thought that the blame lay with the organisation on the manufacturing side. I did not blame the manufacturers.
§ Mr. Ridley
I am not sure that that is right. I am expressing the opinion that we cannot place upon the design and contracting companies responsibility for whether this was an economic reactor which customers were likely to buy.
The advanced gas-cooled reactors have been delayed and none is yet working. Indeed, Dungeness B is four years and not two years late. The fast reactors on which we pin great hopes are not likely to be in serve before the 1980s. It is possible that a first plant could begin in the mid-1970s and be supplying fuel by 1980. There is an obvious gap 1885 here and the Vinter Committee will soon report to my right hon. Friend on the best way of filling that gap. I cannot give the House any further information at this stage because the report has not been received, but the House will be informed as soon as possible.
§ Mr. Edwin Wainwright
Will the Vinter Committee be inquiring into whether the long delay at Dungeness B power station arises from the C.E.G.B. continually changing its requirements or is the fault of the firm responsible for building it?
§ Mr. Ridley
The Committee is not investigating Dungeness B. It is considering which reactor type to select for the gap which I have mentioned. It would be wrong for me to stand at the Box and allocate blame between parties for the delays at Dungeness B, but I should be pleased to write to the hon. Gentleman giving him any information which it would be fair for me to give.
I am sorry to be unable to announce the Government's conclusions on any of these vital matters——
§ Mr. Palmer
Will the hon. Gentleman say whether it is the Government's intention to publish the Vinter Report?
§ Mr. Ridley
I am against saying whether or not a report will be published before I have seen what it contains. It may well be an unsuitable document to be published because it may contain commercially sensitive details. I should not like to give the hon. Gentleman a straight answer to what I admit is a straight question.
In conclusion, my hon. Friend has done a great service in bringing these important matters before the House. If the extent of the unknowns, the gravity of the problem, the importance of the issues and the consequences of the miners' strike are more fully understood as a result of the debate, he will have done the country a great service. We must ponder the implications of the strike on our fuel policy just as on another occasion we must ponder the implications of it on the incomes policy and the law of picketing. I hope that I have given the House enough information for it to start at the point at which the Government will start in considering what our policy should he and that the House will 1886 forgive me if I have not been able to announce any conclusions.
§ Mr. Ridley
It is not for me to advise my hon. Friend. I have listened to the whole of the debate except for two speakers. Nobody has passed comment on what my hon. Friend should do with his Motion.
§ 2.30 p.m.
§ Mr. J. D. Concannon (Mansfield)
We have had a strange debate. Something seems to have been lost between the time when the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr), having been successful in the Ballot, said that he would table a Motion about the coal mining strike, and the time when the Motion appeared on the Order Paper. All I can assume is that in that short space of time the hon. Member for Harborough and his hon. Friends must have spent some time on top of those cooling towers that we have been talking about, or have been got at by the Ministry. The heading in hold type is "Coal Miners' Strike", but whatever has been taking place has had nothing to do with the title. I know that is the short title, but the long title underneath does not seem to go with the short title.
There is political spite which is now being voiced by some of the backwoods men on the opposite side of the House. I do not blame them for this, because I think everybody knows that I, too, am a bad loser. I will completely exonerate the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Kinsey) from what I am now going to say. He, among hon. Members opposite, has at least said what he feels. I do not think the others have. The speeches that I have heard from the hon. Member for Harborough, the hon. Member for Torquay (Sir F. Bennett) and the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost) have been completely out of character for those three from what we know of them in this House.
I should like to take up the point raised by the Minister recently: namely. the 7½ per cent. increase in the price of coal. I know the Minister was guarded in what he said about the 7½per cent 1887 increase in the price of coal meaning that domestic consumers would have to pay nearly £1 a ton extra, or, in fact, over £1 a ton if it was smokeless fuel. This is a fact, and we are talking about 133 million tons of coal per year. If one were going to get a price increase like this for domestic fuel—and I would add that people think this is the price per ton not just for domestic fuel but for the whole of the 133 million tons—the revenue account of the National Coal Board would increase not by £60 million a year but a good deal more.
The figure the Ministry is working on is the average that the National Coal Board got for the 133 million tons of coal last year, which is basically £6 a ton. If one takes 7½ per cent. of £6 a ton for 133 million tons, it works out at exactly £60 million extra per year. If one then goes from there and talks about 7½ per cent. of £6 per ton, that works out to about 45p per ton across the board. If the Minister's statement was correct when he came to the House and announced these price increases, one must assume that if the average is 45p per ton and the domestic user is to be asked to pay £1 per ton industrial coal will cost a lot less than 45p per ton more. It is obvious that if the domestic coal user is going to pay more for his coal, industry will pay less.
I would like now to say a few words about the coal industry and the strike. Obviously, some hon. Members opposite have not learned a single lesson from the coal strike. There has been no talk about what plans can be made, what kind of policy can be pursued, to make sure that something like this never happens again. I would not like to go through this experience again. It is a well known fact that I represent a constituency which lives and breathes coal. If I draw a circle from my town hall in Mansfield with a 9-mile radius, within that radius are 28 coal mines. Near enough 10 of those in a normal year are coal mines producing a million tons of coal, and others are pretty close to it. One talks about an average productivity of 42 cwt. per man shift, but these coal mines average 60 cwt. per man shift. Somebody talked about the price of coal and how the coal industry cannot pay its way. One coalfield in my area since nationalisation has made a 1888 profit of £264 million; that is, after paying interest. That is why I am surprised that the initiation of this discussion today came from the hon. Member for Harborough, who lives on the fringe of this coalfield. The whole of the prosperity that we have in this part of the Midlands depends on, and is sustained by, the coalmining industry in this area.
With a strike of the proportions such as we have just had, a town such as that which I represent goes through a traumatic experience. The whole town near enough ceases to exist or to have any economic force. For myself and for many other people, this is the first time since the war that we have seen families existing on social security arrangements. This is the first time that many of the miners have ever been out on strike or have ever even threatened to strike.
Those are the lessons one should be learning. The sociologists of this country ought to be looking at why the Nottinghamshire coalfields—where, since the 1920s and the 1930s, there have been suspicions of trade unionism; and my hon. Friend talked about Spencer unionism—reacted this time as they did. They reacted in a way which was entirely foreign to what has become expected of the East Midlands coalfields. Not quite 55 per cent. accepted the executive's recommendation, but these lads accepted the democratic decision of our union and came out on strike. A very short time after they had been out on strike this figure could have been 100 per cent. I more often than not bump into some of my colleagues with whom I used to work. They had voted against coming out on strike to start with, but after they had been out on strike for some while and got to know the fundamental issues, they wished they had voted for the strike.
It is lessons like this that the Government must learn, not only this Government but future Governments. We did not nationalise the coal or other industries to make them loss leaders for Government fiscal policy. These people cannot be browbeaten into accepting low wages as the price of Government fiscal policy. They will kick, and when they kick they kick hard. This was the year when the mining industry decided to assert itself again.
When we are talking about 25 per cent. increase in wages, what are we talking about in the mining industry 1889 today? We must remember that we are still talking about highly skilled, technically qualified miners, undertaking a very dangerous job, who take home only £34½50 per week. This is surely not something the country need squeal about. Indeed, pit-top men are taking home £23 per week. This again is nothing to shout about.
§ Mr. Edwin Wainwright
I hope my hon. Friend will make clear to the House that £23 is the sum that appears on a surface worker's pay slip before deductions are made.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu)
Order. The hon. Gentleman will understand that I am reluctant to interrupt him, but this is a debate about energy, and he is beginning to turn it into a debate on industrial relations.
§ Mr. Concannon
This is a difficulty to which I drew attention at the beginning. The title "Coal Miners' Strike" appears to have nothing whatever to do with the words of the Motion. I do not know whether this is due to the fact that the hon. Member for Harborough between winning the Ballot and tabling a Motion containing a good deal of political spite, was got at.
§ Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I regret having to intervene and break my hon. Friend's line of thought. It is surely fair that those of us who have sat through this debate, who have heard every point put forward on both sides of the House, and who have heard all the economic arguments in this debate should be able to refer to those matters themselves.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
There will be no objection at all from the Chair to passing references. However, I hope the hon. Gentleman will not go too deeply into the industrial side of the matter.
§ Mr. Parkinson
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should like to point out that the heading on the monitoring screen which is shown throughout the House is "Coal miners' strike".
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I am not responsible for that, but I am responsible for keeping the House in order and keeping hon. Members to the terms of the Motion.
§ Mr. Concannon
I am sorry to cause any difficulty, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but, as I said earlier, the heading of the Motion is different from the terms of the Motion itself. I feel that between winning the Ballot and tabling the Motion the hon. Member for Harborough had a change of mind. I wish he had altered the title of his Motion. Certainly had I won the Ballot I would have mentioned the lessons to be learned from the coal miners' strike.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr mentioned picketing and the effect on social security benefits. I am sure that these matters will crop up again from time to time as part of the political spite which will be shown on the Treasury Bench. They must have their pound of flesh from the mining industry in view of past events. They refused to listen to hon. Members on this side of the House when we told them what would happen if they attempted to treat the miners badly and depress their wages. We all know that that ended up in a seven-week strike.
On the question of picketing, I, too, saw many of the incidents on television, but, since some 60,000 pickets per day were involved, it is obvious that only a very few were concerned in any incidents. Frankly, I do not believe a similar group of people, with 60,000 workers involved on picketing, would have behaved so well and that so few incidents would have arisen.
If the coal-mining workers had not carried out picketing and driven it home to the country how dependent we are on coal, I believe the strike would have lasted even longer. It is a strange coincidence that the first time the light went out in London the emergency regulations were imposed. If the coal miners' strike had not begun the fight when it did, I believe the Government would have been prepared to sit it out and starve them back to work. But this did not happen, because the Government learned their lesson. Public sympathy was on the side of the miners because the public knew how underpaid the men in the industry were.
In conclusion, I should like to tell the Government that when they come forward with spiteful legislation directed at the mining industry we shall be ready for 1891 them and will go through the Lobby against them.
§ 2.45 p.m.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor)
I am pleased to follow the remarks of the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) for a number of reasons, not least because he knows a great deal about coal mining and has said that he has in his area 28 pits. One of the most important comments by the hon. Gentleman was that we should never let this sort of strike happen again. This is the most important lesson the country has to learn from recent events.
I wish to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) for bringing the Motion before the House. This undoubtedly is a matter which concerns the whole nation in the effects that it will have. The hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley) has obviously looked at the small print of the Motion and has addressed himself to both sides of it and has sought to examine the effect on our economy.
The way in which the Motion is drawn divides itself into two different spheres. First, in part it deals with the necessity of a fuel policy with the object, as I see it, of obtaining the cheapest possible power supply for the nation so that we may be competitive in the modern world. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State addressed himself to this aspect of the matter.
Secondly, the Motion seeksto call attention to conclusions to be drawn from the coal miners' strike".That aspect is worthy of close consideration.
Everybody agrees that mining is a dangerous, difficult and dirty job and that however necessary it may be in the twentieth century, the rôle of coal mining has been on the decline and will of necessity probably continue to decline. If this is to happen in the future, we must be extremely careful to see that suitable training exists and that there are jobs for those who can no longer continue in an industry which has been so useful in the past.
A number of hon. Members have referred to the tremendous contribution made by those engaged in the mining 1892 industry in the post-war years. It is only fair to say that in the aftermath of the last war it was the coal miners who helped the country get back on its feet. That is an historic fact. Having said that, it is also the fact that, rightly or wrongly, the need for coal is declining. However the decline should not come to pass without tribute being paid to what was done by the miners in the post-war years.
What we really need to know is the estimated extent to which the cost of coal is likely to rise in comparison with that of oil and nuclear power, and how long it will be before the cost of coal as an energy producer is greater than that of power produced by oil and nuclear fuel. As I understand it, the Central Electricity Generating Board has always placed its first priority on oil and its second on nuclear fuel, with coal at the bottom of the list. Having listened with attention to what my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said, I am not sure that the first two should not be reversed. As my hon. Friend rightly stressed, the world's oil and natural gas resources are considerable. However, it is impossible to make an exact forecast of how long it will be before we can replace some of our coal-fired power stations. If we could make an exact appreciation of the number of years that resources would last, taking into account the demands of other industries, it would be possible to make the calculation. But it is very difficult for any Government to assess exactly when coal will no longer be required as a fuel for the generation of power.
An important point has been made about the existing links between our own grid system and that of Europe. As I understand it, the facilities for switching over from the Continent to this country are limited. I look forward to the time when the links are increased so that at peak periods in this country, which are not often the same as those of Europe, power can move across the Channel. Obviously this will be in the interests of both Europe and this country. A balanced power system between ourselves and Europe can only benefit both parties.
§ Mr. Ogden
When the hon. Gentleman talks about the trans-Channel link, I hope he will bear in mind that it is 1893 still extremely expensive to put electricity through a cable. It is not the most economic way of moving power. It is all very well for making use of spare capacity, but not as a base load.
§ Dr. Glyn
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Anyone who knows anything about electricity knows that the moment that electricity is transmitted from one end of a cable to the other, there is a voltage drop. However, one gets the same effect even with overhead lines. That point was brought out from this side of the House when one of my hon. Friends suggested that the answer might be to have more smaller power stations. My only worry about that is that if they failed it would be difficult to link them to a grid system which was already overloaded.
I know that a number of hon. Members opposite wish to contribute to the debate, because their interests are on the coal side whereas mine are more on the energy side. In view of that, I confine myself to a few brief comments. I shall not go into the merits of the recent coal strike. However, I hope that the country realises how much the strike has cost industry. I do not believe that it will be easy to estimate that cost. It may take six months before anyone is able to appreciate how many thousands of million pounds has been lost to the country as a result of the strike.
I add only two points, which I know will not be well received by hon. Members opposite. First, I wonder whether we ought not to include in the lessons to be learned from this national calamity the need to look at and revise the law of picketing and to make sure what is legal and what is in the country's interest.
My second point is an even more unpalatable pill. I wonder whether during a strike the pay for those who are on strike and their dependants should not be found from union funds. In my view it should be, rather than being added to the national burden.
The Motion calls attention to conclusions to be drawn from the coal miners' strike. In that connection I believe we should look closely at the two matters to which I have drawn attention: the law on picketing and whether strikers and their families should receive money not from the State but from union funds. I know 1894 that neither of those points will be palatable to hon. Gentlemen opposite. However, I hope that my earlier remarks were not so unpalatable.
§ 2.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)
On behalf of all my right hon. and hon. Friends, it is right for me to say that if measures could be found agreeable to all concerned which would make strikes unnecessary, we should be only too pleased to co-operate. We realise that when workmen go on strike they do so because of a very serious reason.
We are discussing a special case. I believe that the National Union of Mineworkers officially has an industrial relations record which is second to none. If anyone attacks the miners, for whatever cause, it is necessary to look at the position in general rather than at specific cases.
Let me give an example. When the question of illegal picketing was raised in this House, I made it my duty to visit the picket lines at power stations. I found that many hundreds of my constituents were a credit to the law on picketing. No physical force was used The drivers of tankers and lorries were simply invited not to cross the picket line. Matters were left at that. Drivers were allowed to proceed or to turn back.
Concerning hospital services, old people and the sick, I felt exceedingly proud of the miners in Lancashire. They had a scheme whereby the local branch of the N.U.M. arranged visits to old peoples' homes, the sick, and hospitals in the area to ascertain whether supplies of fuel had run out. Where fuel was required to heat the homes of the old and the sick and to provide the needs of hospitals in the region, the miners saw to it that the fuel was delivered. I believe that the miners in my area have vindicated themselves.
I turn now to industrial relations. For at least 45 years the miners have resisted resort to strike action. They have always negotiated. Industrial relations with the National Coal Board are second to none. The N.U.M., a great union, has conducted itself extremely well and restrained its membership from taking industrial action whilst at the same time the miners saw the real value of their wages reduced week by week. They used to be somewhere near the top of the industrial wages 1895 table in the United Kingdom and they dropped to about sixteenth or eighteenth position. Therefore, they decided to take official strike action for the first time in approximately 45 years.
I do not blame the miners for their action. I blame the Government for tying the hands of the National Coal Board. The board was not a free agent in the negotiations. The miners have seen different treatment between the private and public sectors of industry. Therefore, they were quite right to say "Enough is enough. The only way now is to fight."
When the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) put down his Motion under the heading "Coal Miners' Strike" he really had a strike in mind, because when he opened the debate this morning he said that the miners had the Government over a barrel. The Government lost the battle. It ill becomes any Member of this House to attack members of the National Union of Mineworkers who are asking for a fair return for their labour and skills to bring it up to the level at which it ought to have been many years ago. I blame more than one Government for not making sure that the miners received a fair return for their labour. I do not point only at the present Government. I believe that the Labour Government should have taken action to ensure that there was peace in this great industry which was responsible for the Industrial Revolution 100 years ago and is still responsible for a great percentage of the economic needs of the country.
The fuel needs of this country, to which reference has been made this morning—I will not repeat them—show that coal is just as great a necessity today as it was a few years ago. If it comes to deciding where we are to put the nation's finances, I should prefer to vote £X million to the coal industry than give it to the Arabs, because they will not think twice if they believe that they can cut our throat. We cannot blame them for this. The autonomy of each of the Middle East States gives them the right to take over their own indigenous fuels such as oil. Some of them have commenced to do it and have given Britain and other countries notice that we will have to pay a higher price for our oil; and while we are so dependent on oil, not only for peaceful and commercial purposes but also for 1896 military purposes, they have a stranglehold on us.
I believe that it would be wrong to do as the hon. Member for Harborough proposes and run down the coal industry, because Britain is at the heart of international affairs today. She is playing a role in world affairs. She can do that only while she has strong economic power, and it would be ruinous to more than one of her policies, including foreign policy, to run down the coal industry as the hon. Gentleman suggests.
§ Dr. Glyn
The hon. Member has referred to the phrase which my hon. Friend used about having the nation over a barrel. What my hon. Friend meant was that the miners were in such a strong position because by withdrawing their labour they could virtually bring the economy of the nation to a standstill, rightly or wrongly. That was the point he was making.
§ Mr. Spriggs
That is the idea of a strike. Unless one has made one's strike effective, it is useless; one has lost the battle before one starts. But not only were the miners in a strong position: the workers of Great Britain as a whole lent their sympathy and support. I have never known an individual trade union in this country receive the sympathy of the great working-class section of the country as did the miners in the last dispute with the National Coal Board and the Government.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Harborough is not in his place—I wish he had stayed to hear the end of the debate—because if anyone is prepared to attack the subsidising of an industry as he did it ill becomes a farmer to do so, since over the years the farming industry has with our help received many hundreds of millions of pounds in subsidy for one thing or another throughout the whole range of agriculture. Therefore, it is not quite fair to level the finger of accusation at the coal industry and to try to show, as the hon. Member did to his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary at the Dispatch Box, how the coal industry could be run down. I am glad that the Minister answered him in the way he did, because the reserves of oil and natural gas beneath the sea around our shores are not guaranteed. The quantities that have been suggested are guesswork, and 1897 if we accept the advice of the experts and things go wrong in the long term those people will not accept responsibility for the advice they have given. It would not be the first time that a British Government had been let down by so-called experts from outside.
The Minister referred to the supplies of North Sea gas and the latest reports of oil supplies being found off the coast of South Wales, but he went on to say that it might be necessary to look at the law on picketing. There is nothing wrong with the present law: we should simply see that it is carried out. Picketing can be most effective, without force. In the St. Helens area, my mining constituents behave themselves very well——
§ Mr. Spriggs
As my hon. Friend says, they have one of the best Rugby League teams in the country.
The Government must realise that more and more workers demand the right to work, to exchange their labour for wages and to maintain the real value of their wages. When Governments try to pass legislation like the Housing Finance Bill, workers living in houses the rents of which will rise by an average of 50p a year in the next five years are entitled, as working-class economists, to say that each time costs go up, so must the value of their wages.
The Government might point to what they have done about butter, potatoes, sugar and perhaps meat, bust I am con-concerned with what they have done since the 1970 General Election, when the Prime Minister promised to deal with prices and unemployment at a stroke. Today, there are over 1 million unemployed and a reversal of Tory policy on subsidising prices. Admittedly it is only a flea-bite, but I would welcome any real offer to reduce the price of food to the housewife and to enable men like the miners and all workers in the public sector to say "This is how workers in the private sector are dealt with. Now the Government can at least claim that they are dealing with us equitably".
I appeal to the Government, whenever there is danger of a strike, to act on the lesson that we have learned. Preventive action is better than any cure. Can we apply the principles of Wilberforce 1898 to other claims in the pipeline? I appeal to the Government to do all they can to achieve stable industrial relations with all unions, and not to pick fights as they did with the postmen and thought they could with the miners. The miners have taught us all a lesson. I appeal to the Government to ensure that the country does not have to suffer the consequences of another major strike.
§ 3.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Joseph Harper (Pontefract)
May I ask your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to speak to the Motion? I was not present for Prayers but I have heard every speech in the debate except that of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Kinsey), who has now taken his bat home.
The Motion is crystal clear, and it is an attack on the coal-mining industry. The Amendment, which Mr. Speaker rightly would not accept, is even more damaging and drastic. The hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) said he wanted, as we all do, to see the time when miners would be relieved of their difficult and dangerous work. Having worked down a mine for 34 years I could say "Hear, hear" to that if it had come from the heart and not from the head. It is not love for the miner which prompts the hon. Member for Harborough to say he wants to see the miners relieved of their difficult and dangerous work.
Let us consider what happened in the mining industry from 1949 to 1971. During that period 629 pits closed—I am not making any political point—of which the Tories closed 350 and Labour closed 279. Labour does not have much to crow about in that direction. By closing those pits, many of which were no longer worth operating, 439,000 people were displaced or "relieved of their difficult and dangerous work". The figure of nearly half a million in 22 years makes one gasp. Due to capitalisation in the industry productivity rose between 1947, when the pits were nationalised, and 1971 by 101 per cent.
No other industry in the country except agriculture can approach that figure. Agriculture is also a very low-paid industry and so workers in two main industries, coal and agriculture, have borne the brunt of the economic situation. At one time shortly after the war this country was a 1899 One-fuel nation, and that was when we missed the boat. If the mining fraternity had been able to utilise that nebulous phrase that everyone keeps using—"the free market"—it would have been able to finance all its own capital investment and would not have had to pay the huge increases in interest on the money it had borrowed over the years from the various national institutions. This would have obviated the writing off in 1965 of £415 million—and that is not the end of the story because more will have to be written off yet.
The mining industry borrowed the money on the assumption that coal would play a bigger part in the energy requirements of the country than events have since proved. By 1960 we were supposed to have produced 250 million tons of coal a year and everyone knows that that forecast was far from accurate. Even the figures put in the White Paper by Mr. Richard Marsh in 1967 have been proved false. We want a proper fuel policy so that we can allocate fairly the energy requirements of the country, and we must be careful to avoid the same estimating mistakes.
Attention has been drawn to the findings of the Wilberforce tribunal and to the evidence given to it. The tribunal did a magnificent job in such a short time. I mean not only concerning the wages award which it recommended but the way it sifted evidence and compiled it in a form which everyone could understand.
The hon. Member for Harborough said that the country's energy requirements would amount to 100 million tons of coal equivalent by 1980 in addition to what is needed today. The National Coal Board said that it was not hostile to oil and natural gas, which, it said, were our own resources and must be used.
The best speech from hon. Members on the Government side today came from the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost), who said that we have to use our resources as carefully as we can because they are not inexhaustible. The board says that what the coal industry wishes to do is to remain approximately at the present level of about 140 million tons of coal a year.
We are discussing four fuels-coal, natural gas, oil and nuclear energy. Much 1900 play has been made of the 2d. a gallon tax on fuel oil as being, it is said, to protect the mining industry. I want to give the lie to that. When he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Speaker had this to say about hydrocarbon oils:I consider that for revenue reasons heavy oils should now bear some duty. I propose. therefore, to reinstate the duty, at the rate of 2d. a gallon on heavy oils at present free of duty, that is fuel oil, gas oil and kerosene."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th April, 1961; Vol. 638, c. 818.]That statement makes it clear that the tax was not imposed to protect the coal industry. The only people who have protected the coal industry are the National Coal Board and the miners and others who work in the industry.
Natural gas has failed in its purpose so far. The service is not too good; all sorts of anomalies have cropped up in the converted equipment. The consumers are not getting the full worth of the product as yet. But it will come. Everything has teething troubles. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer), who is very expert in these matters, has said that the Magnox stations have outlived their usefulness and have not been competitive with coal. Advanced gas reactors are meeting many snags and we are a long way from the fast breeder reactors which will be the end of our troubles because they provide so much heat and energy that we do not know what to do with all of it.
The workforce in the coal industry now totals, at the latest figures, 278,450—the previous figure being 282,000—and 68,383 of the men are aged 55 or over. The National Coal Board is projecting its figures forward over the next 10 years and, providing we do not keep knocking the industry and do not destroy confidence, by getting younger men into the industry we shall gradually reduce the average age of the workforce, which at present is 43.9 years.
Another good piece of work done by the Wilberforce Tribunal was on the productivity agreement which later this year will lead to an increase. But let us realise that we shall not again get increases of 7, 8 or 9 per cent. a year. Those days have gone. We know why: we have now changed from the old-fashioned methods, first to mechanisation and secondly, at modern collieries, to automation in some respects. Thus we 1901 cannot keep getting the high rates of increase in production which we have seen in past years. That is now virtually impossible. Sometimes for example, everything hinges on whether a fault is reached in a coal seam so that there is not a clear run.
I was hoping that the Under-Secretary of State would not reply until about 3.30 so that he would have had an opportunity to answer my points. If he makes some coal-fired stations dual fired, I hope that he will not toy with the idea of switching from coal to other fuels. That would worsen the social consequences. Many people who have been displaced have not worked since. The hon. Member for Windsor (Dr. Glyn), in a very thoughtful speech which I could not have bettered, hit the nail on the head.
We hear a lot about the taxpayer subsidising the National Coal Board. I remember saying on public platforms that I would be happy to pay income tax and other kinds of tax because it would mean that I was getting a wage high enough to enable me to do so. I particularly felt that way as I had a medium-sized family to raise. In the first 12 months from 1964 when I was a Member of the House I paid more in tax than ever I took away from the pits in wages, and I am still happy to be doing that. It is a mistake to eliminate tax and give it back to those who have enough.
The miners and the National Coal Board have a good pension scheme in operation. For years it was £1 a week and two years ago it went up to £1.50. At once the Inland Revenue came in and took away the 50p. This is where we are subsidising the State. I hope that this kind of problem will be examined.
§ 3.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Edwin Wainwright (Dearne Valley)
I feel like the last of the Mohicans. I have waited here all day and find that almost everything has been said. When I first saw the Motion I was told that it was of a nasty and naughty character. I said that I knew the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) and he would not put down such a Motion with any ulterior motive. What worries me is the intention behind it. My mind has been eased a good deal after listening to the speeches because 1902 the Motion has not been interpreted in the way I feared.
The miners did strike. They stood on their own feet, which is what the Government have been recommending that people should do. If the miners had not picketed they would not have won the battle. There is no point in going on strike unless it is to win the battle. To win, someone must be hurt. Unfortunately too many people were hurt. The miners are thoughtful people and they tried to ease the amount of suffering. The Motion was tabled with the intention of teaching the miners a lesson, and I hope that the Government will not try to do that. There have been some assurances but they have not been as plain as I would like.
If the Government were to adopt that kind of attitude there would be a struggle between the Government, the employers and the union movement. Do the Government want that? If so, what is the point of the Prime Minister calling the T.U.C. to No. 10 Downing Street? There is a headline in one of the papers today,Heath makes a good start".Now we have hon. Members on the back benches on the Government side trying to instil into the mind of the Government that the miners must be taught a lesson.
Let us have a look at the industry. It has played a very important part in building up the economy of the nation and it has done so for a hundred years. For a great deal of that time coal was the major fuel. Had we not found coal before a great many other nations did, we should not have had the start we had in the Industrial Revolution.
The Motion talks about "an accelerated" usage of other fuels to run down the coal industry. If we run down the coal industry, what guarantee have we that we shall have sufficient supplies of other fuels? We cannot as yet depend on North Sea gas or oil. We would have a tremendous dependence on oil from the Middle East, which is an unstable part of the world. In all these circumstances it would be foolish to run down the mining industry. Furthermore, if we wanted to develop it again we should have to train people to work in the pits and that would not be an easy matter. 1903 Coal mining is not an easy occupation, and it is not an attractive one either. I say to the Government that if they want to run down the coal mining industry they had better bring some other jobs into the coal mining areas, because that is where the greatest amount of unemployment exists. Those parts of our country are denuded of employment.
Let us compare the wage rates in the mining industry with wage rates in other industries, the motor car and other manufacturing industries, and in the docks. Are these wages too much to pay for the miners' work? Shall we say to the miners "We are sorry you have a very difficult, arduous and dangerous job, but your wages must be such and such because you cannot make your end product as competitive as it ought to be if you want more money"? That is what some people are saying, and I hope that the Government have sufficient common sense not to say it.
If the Government were to bring a large motor car factory or a large chemical plant to south Yorkshire, they would suddenly find themselves short of miners. In the last 10 years in my constituency we have had only two or three new enterprises employing mostly women. There are not enough jobs for male workers.
Consideration must be given to the mining industry to make certain that there will be jobs for miners in the mines or in other occupations offering comparable remuneration and close to the collieries. The Motion suggests the closure of pits, but the Under-Secretary knows that if 1,000 men are thrown out of work because of pit closures it will take a tremendous amount of capital to provide employment for them in these days of automation. The Government had better think more deeply than they appear to have done about the pressure being put upon them from their back benches.
With regard to the strike, it is a great pity that someone did not move earlier. Everyone, including the Government, knew that the miners' faith in arbitration had been broken years ago. They knew that the miners wanted something better and separate from the ordinary method of arbitration. I sometimes wonder whether the Government thought that this would be an easy fight and that 1904 they would be able to run the power stations at half-cock and make the strike last for 10 or 12 weeks. It is a pity if that thought were in the Government's mind because a strike of that nature would have been much worse than the one we had, and that was bad enough. As my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs) said, we should be thinking about preventing strikes and not about fighting them and finding a cure afterwards.
The question of benefits has been in the minds of one or two back benchers on the Government side. The wives and children of the miners received supplementary benefits but the single men received nothing. I know of one man who was paying £7.50 a week as a boarder. He was out of work during the whole period of the strike and he faces a heavy bill now that he is back at work again. He did not receive a penny in supplementary benefit. Not everyone received supplementary benefits and those who did were not persuaded by them to stay out on strike. The miners stayed out on strike to win.
I do not like the term "victory". In a strike of this nature the country loses. It will take us and the miners a long time to recover. The miners have weekly commitments and £34 is not a great sum of money after the deductions have been made and even now the lowest paid get only £23, from which deductions are made.
I hope that the Motion does not represent the Government's intentions. If so, in any future debate my hon. Friends and I who represent mining constituencies will be on our feet. We love the country just as much as hon. Gentlemen opposite love it. The country belongs to the people and we work to benefit the country as a whole. No one should expect men to go down in the mines and do this dangerous and arduous job for such a low rate of wages. If there is a threat of unemployment caused by a rundown in the mining industry and suitable jobs are not made available for the miners, we shall be on our feet again. We are dissatisfied about what is not happening in the intermediate and development areas and we are continually warning the Government about the high unemployment in our districts. The Government must not further aggravate the 1905 situation by making the standard of living of the miners not the lowest but well below the lowest in the nation.
§ Mr. Ogden
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. With respect, is it not possible for the hon. Member for Hariborough (Mr. Farr), who moved the Motion, to have an opportunity to indicate that after a debate which has provided an opportunity for us all to take part, and for which the House is all grateful, he wishes to withdraw his Motion?
§ Mr. Farr
I was about to say. Mr. Deputy Speaker, that, whilst I am not entirely satisfied that the Government are seized of the urgency of this change-over from coal to other forms of energy, we have had an interesting and useful debate, and in the circumstances I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.