HC Deb 06 December 1973 vol 865 cc1447-9
Q2. Mr. Skinner

asked the Prime Minister if he has plans for holding future talks with the leaders of the NUM ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Barber

I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply which my right hon. Friend gave to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) on 29th November.—[Vol. 865, c. 207.]

Mr. Russell Kerr

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May we have the Chancellor of the Exchequer repeat that answer? This is a very important Question. We want to hear what the right hon. Gentleman has to say, and it was impossible because of the noise.

Mr. Speaker

I have great sympathy with the hon. Member for Feltham (Mr. Russell Kerr). I could not hear the answer. I ask hon. Members on both sides of the House to be a little quieter. Will the Chancellor of the Exchequer please repeat that answer?

Mr. Barber

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply which my right hon. Friend gave to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) on 29th November.

Mr. Skinner

If the Chancellor of the Exchequer does not have an opportunity to meet the miners' leaders in the very near future, will he explain to the House whether it is good housekeeping to send half a million tons of steam coal to France in the middle of an energy crisis? Will he also state specifically whether the £45 million offer which has been made by the National Coal Board to the NUM is the maximum?

Mr. Barber

My right hon. Friend and I have said on a number of occasions that there can be no question of any settlement outside the guidelines of stage 3.

Mr. Skinner

I did not ask that.

Mr. Grylls

Does my right hon. Friend agree that apart from the damage the miners are doing to the nation and to full employment they are also prejudicing their own future and standard of living by their action, especially at this time of the year, and that it is very unwise?

Mr. Barber

Yes, and I think that the House and the country will note the point which I put a short time ago to the Leader of the Opposition, namely, that the nation is entitled to know whether the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to speak out against industrial action in support of a settlement outside the limits laid down by this House. That has never been answered by the right hon. Gentleman or by any right hon. or hon. Member on the Opposition Front Bench.

Mr. Concannon

On the next occasion that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer meet NUM representatives, will they explain to the national executive members, and, through them, to a great many of my constituents, how it is that even the highest paid men in the industry, working five days a week in one of the most energy-sapping, dangerous and unsocial jobs in the country, will, if they accept the coal board's offer, still be getting under £40 a week? [Interruption.] I repeat that the highest-paid miners will still be getting under £40 a week. Will the right hon. Gentleman also try to explain to them how that situation can exist when miners read every day about the profiteering going on in the country? Did the right hon. Gentleman read in this morning's papers how a painting was sold for £340,000 in an auction which raised more than £2,600,000—a painting which, if it were hung up in a miners' welfare club, would probably have darts thrown at it?

Mr. Barber

I am happy to say that the points which were put by the miners' leaders when they came to see my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and other Ministers at Downing Street were a little more pertinent than those put to me by the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon).

The coal board's offer is more than most other groups will be able to negotiate under the code and will improve the miner's relative position. It is the best offer made to the NUM in negotiation. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said, if a comparison is made between average weekly earnings in coal mining and average weekly earnings in manufacturing industry on the basis adopted by the Wilberforce Report, the full offer of the NCB will more than restore the relative position of coal miners established as a result of the Wilberforce recommendations.