HC Deb 20 March 1972 vol 833 cc1048-50
3. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on the progress made towards full production in the mining industry following the recent strike.

Mr. John Davies

I would refer the hon. Member to my hon. Friend's reply of 13th March to the hon. Member for Dudley (Dr. Gilbert).—[Vol. 833, c. 5.]

Mr. Hamilton

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that normal production in the coal industry was well on the way at a far faster pace than was anticipated both by the Government and the National Coal Board? Does he accept that this seems to lend credence to the view that the Government and the N.C.B. consciously and deliberately exaggerated the effects of the coal miners' strike in an effort to scare the public and the miners into submission even before the Wilberforce Committee was set up?

Mr. Davies

No, that was not the case. I am sure that the country is happy that the resumption of production in the mines turned out to be better than both the Government and the N.C.B. had anticipated. This was largely due to the strenuous efforts of management and officials in preparing for the return to work.

Mr. Tom Boardman

Is it not inevitable that the consequences of the strike will be reduced demand for coal and reduced employment for miners?

Mr. Davies

This is a matter of great importance to me and I am addressing myself to it now in the form of a major study of the industry.

Mr. Harold Lever

Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that whatever arguments may be adduced about the miners' picketing of coal stocks on the ground, it was the fact that those stocks were on the ground that, when the strike was settled, prevented the Government's ruinous gamble from being pursued to the point when the industry would have been put out of action for several months after the settlement?

Mr. Davies

From the industry's point of view, the interruption caused by the strike was very damaging in any case; but the way in which coal stocks from the pitheads were moved in, particularly to the generating boards, was indeed remarkable

4. Mr. Grylls

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will issue a general direction to the National Coal Board to accelerate the closure of uneconomic coal mines.

Mr. John Davies

No, Sir. This is a matter for the board in discharging its statutory responsibilities.

Mr. Grylls

Is it not necessary to have a crash programme for the retraining of miners in uneconomic pits? Would not that ensure that those working in economic pits would have a secure and very good future?

Mr. Davies

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment has published a Green Paper on the subject of the development of training facilities generally, and this may be of help in the event of there being any redundancies.

Mr. Ewing

Will the Secretary of State say how many mines would be closed in the constituency of the hon. Member for Chertsey (Mr. Grylls)?

Mr. Davies

I have had no proposals for closures of mines from the National Coal Board following the miners' strike.

Mr. Kaufman

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that if the European Communities Bill is passed he will no longer have any power to give general directions to the National Coal Board? Is he further aware that this would deprive the House of Commons of the device whereby it is enabled to ask him detailed questions about the National Coal Board, so that the coal industry is answerable to the House? Will he therefore try to find some other device which will continue his answerability on these matters?

Mr. Davies

It seems that hon. Members find many devices of their own for raising matters relating to the National Coal Board.