§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)
Before I call the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) to move his motion, I should tell the House that I am directed by Mr. Speaker to announce that he has selected the amendment in the names of the hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Adam Butler) and some of his hon. Friends to insert after "mining industry" the words :within the provisions of the Pay Code approved by Parliament and".
§ 11.34 a.m.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
I beg to move,That this House calls attention to the need for a settlement of the pay dispute in the mining industry on terms acceptable to those who produce a fuel indispensable to Great Britain's energy requirements, and to the need, in the interests of the industry and the nation, for an energy policy, both short-term and long-term, balancing indigenous and imported fuels in a manner most beneficial to the balance of payments, full employment, the restraint of inflation, and economic growth.The debate gives the House an opportunity to examine the latest situation in the mining industry and provides my hon. Friends with an opportunity not only to consider the industry itself but also to take into account the background to this affair.
Initially, it is important to make it abundantly clear and to put it on record that, whatever the political pundits think about the economic crisis surrounding us, the mining industry's problem is part of the overall problem but is not the root cause of the crisis. Over and over again during the next few weeks it must be clearly stated what the crisis is all about.
To examine the situation thoroughly I could go back to June 1970, but I do not want to weary the House with those details. Nevertheless, it is as well to go back to the period 13 months ago, when the Prime Minister and the Government were acclaiming the beginning of the freeze and the possibility that it would result in a general toning down of inflation, the net result of which would be the almost immediate end of the economic crisis.
That has not happened. Those halcyon days have passed quickly by, and even though the meetings at Chequers in the summer between the CBI, the TUC and the Government were held with a view, so the Prime Minister said, to controlling inflation, safeguarding the position of those on low incomes and ensuring growth in the economy, the net result is that we have a balance-of-payments deficit of about £2,000 million, a forecast today from the National Institute that the figure will be greater in 1974, a 13 per cent. minimum lending rate, which is reflected in local authority borrowing at 15 per cent., and the possibility of that being worse in the relatively near future.
Sterling guarantees, which will probably be running at about £200 million to £300 1661 million by the end of March, will have to be paid as a result of the rate of exchange against the dollar being down to 2.33. If the pound were pegged now against currencies on the Continent and the dollar, it would have to be set at about 2.46 to escape paying these heavy sterling liabilities. Inflation is running at a rate of about 10 per cent., we are told today by the National Institute that it is likely to be at least 11 per cent. next year, and there are many people, and particularly my hon. Friends, who think that the figure will be very much higher.
It is no wonder that the Financial Times index was running down faster than London and Counties was last week. One could watch the tape in the corridor and see the index falling hour by hour, it was going down that fast.
§ Mr. Skinner
When looking at the tape and seeing the financial index falling rapidly, one did notice one bright spot on the horizon, and that was that Clay Cross—not the council, although it could have been—went up by 4p, while National Westminster Bank—or was it ICI?—fell by 17p.
That is the background to the situation, and if we argue this case during the next few weeks, and perhaps longer, and if we argue it during the period when people are talking about going to the polls, it must be made abundantly clear to the electorate that the situation in the mining industry is only a minute part of the real problem that surrounds and is almost submerging us. That is why this debate is important.
If there is to be additional Budget, it will have to be a winter one. I challenged the Prime Minister way back in July on the suggestion of an autumn Budget, but the right hon. Gentleman will have to wait until after 21st December—the winter equinox, I think—when the House goes into Recess before considering the matter. He can then think in terms of coming forward with massive cuts in public expenditure, increases in taxation and various other measures which he may find necessary. What is needed is a massive cut in public expenditure in areas such as Concorde, Maplin, the Channel Tunnel and by slicing off the 1662 massive amount of defence expenditure that is earmarked at this time.
It is against that background that we examine the real reasons for the conflict in the mining industry. It is not necessary to travel back too far to examine that conflict, but one needs to take account of the situation as it has developed. We must think in terms of the Robens era—the noble Lord, the man whom we all remember was to run Great Britain Limited but who ran down the pits at a rate the industry had never known before.
§ Mr. Skinner
The hon. Member mentions the Labour Government. But I have to remind him that the man who set the noble Lord on us was Harold Macmillan. He appointed him in 1961 ; the plans were laid then. It was argued that the plans were to take advantage of the mechanisation programme which had been already started in the mining industry. But what Lord Robens did, in concert with the Tory Government and subsequently with the Labour Government, was to run down the pits at a rate we had never known before, so much so that the work force of 700,000 miners was reduced to about 350,000 by 1970.
At this point we should dwell upon the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell). There are few Opposition hon. Members—for multifarious reasons—who imagine that what the right hon. Gentleman says is terribly important when he is in conflict with the Prime Minister and the Treasury Bench. He gives the impression that there is only one alternative to the present conduct of the economy. Some people might be taken in by his arguments, but what happened in the 1950s in the mining industry was the implementation of the market forces about which the right hon. Gentleman is always telling us. The reason for today's energy problem—not totally but partially—is to be found in what happened in the 1950s and the 1960s when the oil lobby was allowed to take control of our energy position so that pits were shut at that rate.
When we listen to the arguments of the extreme right and those of the Front Bench, who do not know where they are 1663 going, let us be abundantly clear that the philosophy of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West certainly did not provide any answer to the mining industry problem and would not provide it now. Nor would his philosophy provide an answer at the general economic level.
But that is what happened in the 1950s and the 1960s—the oil lobby was allowed to move into the field in such a way that it devastated the mining industry. Market forces were permitted to operate, pits were shut and men were transferred from one mine to another. They were described as "industrial gipsies".
With the country's coal stocks at the 30 million to 40 million tons mark for most of that period, the National Union of Mineworkers' had no bargaining power. I was in the industry and have full knowledge about why we were unable to raise more than tenpence a day. On one occasion we had a demonstration in Chesterfield in the late 1950s. My hon. Friends the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley) and Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain) were present. We marched to try to get out of the Tory Government of the time more than tenpence a day. Such was the bargaining power of the miners then that we did not get a penny more, because of the market forces then prevailing.
Even worse, when all those retired miners were thrown on the scrap heap, so important were they regarded that when they needed a few bags of coal to warm themselves in the winter, such was our bargaining power when we attempted to get the National Coal Board to provide them with coal, they told us to "Get off". The only reason those retired miners got their few bags of coal a year was that the miners themselves made their own sacrifices from their allowances. That was the position. Yet people today wonder why the miners are so frustrated, and why, having been blessed with a little bit more bargaining power at this time, they are prepared to examine the possibility of getting more money by using that power.
The pattern changed in the late 1960s. The market forces that allowed the oil lobby to infiltrate into our energy market in toto regarded any run down that took place as too fast ; and the net 1664 result was that we found ourselves short of coal in the late 1960s. Anyone who examined the situation in the late 1960s could see that there was bound to be a strike sooner or later.
§ Mr. Skinner
The hon. Member is correct—there was an unofficial strike of a week or two in 1969 in some of the coalfields. It did not matter whether it was a Tory or a Labour Government. The bargaining power that the miners had never had before had to some extent been obtained and the net result was that the miners, at the grass roots, decided that action would need to be taken.
That is why editorials in The Times and most of the Sunday Press last weekend, which examined the credentials of the NUM executive, should have understood that that unofficial strike in 1969 was the beginning of the election of some of the people now on the executive. But it was also something else. The existing members of the executive were told that they would be expected to adopt a different attitude towards industrial action.
That is what people have to understand. These people are not attempting to wreck the economy deliberately. The reason that they have adopted their present attitude is the frustration that existed beforehand and the fact that the mood of the union changed and the industry elected leaders who reflected that mood. The position would be the same in a General Election. That is why governments change—because the mood of the people changes. The net result is that we sometimes have Right-wing, Left-wing or semi-Left-wing Governments.
That is the situation as we see it today. It is important to recognise, when we hear this talk about public sympathy which existed in the 1972 strike, that it was not as clear cut as that. When that strike commenced, most of the newspapers were acting in the same way as they do today. It was only in the later exchanges, after the five or six weeks strike, that most newspapers came to the conclusion that, because the miners were winning, it would be as well to support their cause. Let no one imagine that, 1665 because the newspapers are not of necessity behind the miners now, that makes any difference to the claim or to their cause. My view is that the situation will change just as surely and readily as it did in 1972.
With coal at £7.50 a ton and wages £6 behind the Wilberforce settlement I went to my constituency last week to address miners. After the meeting I spoke to one from Shirebrook, who told me that, as a coal-face worker, he earns £31 a week. Yet, his 17-year-old daughter, who works possibly very hard on contract piecework, brings into the house £33.
§ Mr. Peter Rees (Dover)
So that we can understand the figures, will the hon. Gentleman say how many shifts that person worked, and whether he is talking about pay after tax or before?
§ Mr. Skinner
The miners, like everyone else when talking about their pay packets, talk of what is at the top of the ticket and what is at the bottom. My constituent at Shirebrook told me that his take-home pay was £31.
§ Mr. Skinner
He worked five days, a full week. The rate on the coal face is £36.75. After tax and stoppages he brought home £31. His daughter who worked in the textile industry close by in Mansfield brought home for a five-day week, that same week, £35. That is not uncommon.
§ Mr. Skinner
The hon. Member for Belper (Mr. Stewart-Smith) nods assent, because he lives in an area in the Midlands where more job opportunities are available than are available in the North-East, Scotland and Wales. He knows that that is not an isolated case, and that this is the situation in many households.
A miner working on a day rate down the pits—perhaps suffering from pneumoconiosis—takes home perhaps £25 or £26. If he works on the surface he could be taking home as little as £18. The hon. Member for Belper knows that as well as I do, because he included similar figures in a letter he wrote. 1666 That Shirebrook man in telling me this said, "You have a debate on Friday, for God's sake tell them about the situation that I and people like me are in"
§ Mr. Stewart-Smith
A more dramatic example of contrast between different types of miners is the miner to whom the hon. Gentleman referred and the contract miner who may have left the industry, worked for private contractors, come back to the same pit and takes home about £70. That is even more niggling to the miners.
§ Mr. Skinner
The hon. Gentleman is correct in what he says about contract miners. My only regret is that on the many occasions when we have debated mining in 1971 and 1972, the hon. Gentleman proceeded into the Government Lobby and supported them every time. Only when the hon. Member for Belper and others like him who represent some miners in their constituencies collectively decide to go into the Lobby with Opposition Members will the Treasury Bench understand that they must do something.
§ Mr. Stewart-Smith
With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, I was the only member of my party who did not go into the Division Lobby with my party at that time.
§ Mr. Skinner
There is an argument still about that question. The hon. Gentleman knows that when we debated this issue in 1971 and 1972 and more recently the state of emergency arising from the mining situation and the shortage of oil he supported the Government.
§ Mr. Eric G. Varley (Chesterfield)
My hon. Friend is substantially correct. There were two debates on the coal dispute in 1972 and two votes, one on 18th January, when the hon. Member for Belper (Mr. Stewart Smith) supported the Government, and one on 8th February when he abstained.
§ Mr. Skinner
Notwithstanding that the hon. Member for Belper is in a precarious position, with reorganisation taking place, and hoping to rely on the support of the Swadlincote employers, I understand his dilemma. He should continue as editor of the East West Digest. He now knows a little bit about Parliament and a little 1667 more about Opposition Members so he should be able to make a few bob editing that deceitful magazine.
The tragedy is that the lessons of 1960 and 1970 have not been learned, and that we have come back almost full circle. I had a letter recently from the new director of the North-Derbyshire area in which he informed me that Oxcroft colliery in my constituency, not a hop, skip and jump from where the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost) lives, is due to be closed in March. It is true that there are little or no reserves at Oxcroft colliery. It is not true that there are no reserves. There are some that could be exploited. What is worse is that in Glapwell colliery in my constituency, which is recognised by all sides to have a life of 10 to 15 years, the National Coal Board initially wanted to get rid of 270 men to make the pit more uneconomical. That was the idea. Because the men resisted that, the National Coal Board has allowed the pit to run down and no development work is taking place. The existing faces are being mined, but once they have been used up there will be nothing for the Glapwell miners to work. There are 10 to 15 years life in that colliery, yet at a time of severe energy crisis that coal will not be worked. We understand why the mood of the NUM has changed.
In yesterday's The Times Bernard Levin exposed certain letters that had appeared in the Press. It is reprehensible that, in trying to answer the miners' case, the Government should stoop so low as to have planted letters published in The Times, The Guardian and other newspapers, letters which are identical in text and which refer to wastage in the mining industry.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)
My hon. Friend will know that The Times is widely read in West Fife and Derbyshire.
§ Mr. Skinner
That is true, The Times is read avidly, and the Financial Times is another newspaper that is compulsive reading.
Whatever the Government say, and no matter how often the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. John Page) and his hon. Friends send planted letters to The Times, the Government must acknowledge that in the first 30 weeks of this 1668 financial year more than 14,000 left the industry. The present rate is 600 a week.
§ Mr. Peter Rost (Derbyshire, South-East)
The hon. Gentleman is making great play of the wastage in the mining industry. Will he explain why the present manpower is only about 1½ per cent. below the budgeted manpower, compared with a manpower shortage on the railways of about 7 per cent. and in the Post Office of about 9 per cent.? Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the mining industry is the only industry that is suffering from a manpower shortage? Will he not admit that the shortage is far less in coal mining than in many other industries?
§ Mr. Skinner
That has been answered adequately. About the only place which is not short of men at present is the Stock Exchange. More than 600 men are leaving the mining industry every week. That is the highest figure, with one exception, that the industry has ever had to tolerate. The only reason it was higher during the late 1950s and almost all through the 1960s, when it was over 30,000 a year, was that there were a far greater number of men being made redundant because of the many pits being closed on grounds of their being uneconomic.
However, the correct comparison is not with the 30,000-odd in 1968 or 1969. We must compare the present wastage with a truly comparable figure, which is the figure for the early 1960s when coal was necessary and in demand, as it is today. If that comparison is made, the figure is twice as relevant.
What the Coal Board has done in its handout—we have all read it—is to compare the 14,000 who have left in the first 30 weeks of this year with those who left in the first 30 weeks of 1968, at which stage there were 34 pits in the process of being closed. One-quarter of those 30,000 men were taking advantage of the three-year redundancy scheme introduced by the Labour Government. The figures in the Coal Board handout should be seen in their correct perspective.
§ Mr. Skinner
One need not take too much account of the Coal Board's handout. Let us examine the matter in one's own area of the coalfield. There is no need to do a thoroughgoing survey. I have examined the matter in relation to a colliery in my constituency. I asked the union branch secretary to give me the names, ages and addresses, and to list the types of work they did, of all those who were leaving, not merely this week, but throughout the last three months. Most of them have not reached the age bracket 45 to 50. They are those who are capable of making a fresh start in another industrial field.
Those are the people who by and large are leaving the industry. That is what the Government must recognise as a plain fact, whether they like it or not. I referred to the Shirebrook miner in my constituency. He is not leaving the industry, but if he gets a chance to work in Mansfield in a factory at £45 a week he is likely to go there. He is under 45.
§ Mr. Skinner
The simple answer to the hon. Gentleman was contained in a speech by the now Prime Minister on 1st December 1966.
§ Mr. Skinner
I will not relate the exact column in HANSARD. The hon. Gentleman can look it up for himself. The present Prime Minister said that, although the pits were closing at a fairly rapid rate, they should be closed even faster. [Interruption.] To make it abundantly clear that the other party, those missing today, are in the same boat, it is in order for me to emphasise that their junior partner in "Heathco Ltd." the representative of the Liberal Party—he is now a noble lord—in that same debate and on other occasions made it clear—[Interruption]—not only that the pits should be closed at a faster rate than they were then being closed but that all the coalfields in the United Kingdom 1670 should be closed completely—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. We have an enormous number of speakers and I hope that the House will let the hon. Gentleman get on quietly as much as possible. I hope that there will not be too many interruptions, so that the hon. Gentleman can keep the thread of his speech going well.
§ Mr. Skinner
It must be all right, then.
The Government must realise also that there is a different situation now from that which existed even in 1971 and 1972. Only this week one of the other unions, which is not engaged in the dispute but which is engaged in ensuring that the pits are maintained—the National Association of Colliery Overmen, Deputies and Shotfirers—met in conference and by a majority of two to one decided to continue with the measures its members are carrying out at weekends. In 1972 it was the unanimous view of those people that they should carry on with that work—and that was a unanimous view in a situation when a strike took place. At present there is only an overtime ban. The Government should acknowledge that the position is much more serious, not only as regard the NUM members, but also as regards the deputies and overmen.
The reason all the area directors were down at Hobart House yesterday was that the members of the British Association of Colliery Management are also very concerned, not only about the present situation, but about what will happen over Christmas. The Government should realise that they are concerned, not only because they are fed up with having to carry out the work at the weekends but also because they believe that the miners have a justified case and that they should not be seen too willingly to be acting on behalf of the Government.
I do not want to spend too much time on the NCB offer. I have no doubt that the offer has been examined by everybody in the House. When the first meeting took place between the NCB and the NUM, hon. Members on this side will be startled to learn that the negotiations were all over in a few minutes. The offer was pushed forward to the NUM 1671 executive. The executive was told to take it or leave it. That was the end of the meeting. There were no negotiations and hardly any speeches. That was the way the first offer was made.
A subsequent meeting took place because the Coal Board said it thought it had made a mistake. It had—it had got its calculations wrong. The offer was increased by 1p a day for surface workers and 2p a day for those working underground. There are not too many hon. Members on this side who know that that was the style in which the negotiations occurred early this autumn. That is the way in which they have been conducted. That is the amount of money that has been offered.
The National Coal Board talks about a New Year's holiday. That applies to every other worker in the country. It is not something that the board is offering differently from the rest of British industry. The New Year's holiday was announced at the presidential-type Press conference at Lancaster House several weeks ago when we were told that the success story of phase 3 would continue after the success story of phase 2.
We have been told that arrangements will be made early in the New Year for a productivity agreement. Can we be satisfied that the pits can produce coal more efficiently than they do at present? Hon. Members must understand that the coal mines are 98 per cent. mechanised and it is quite possible—I am not saying that it is likely—that we have reached the zenith of productivity and efficiency in the coal mines with the present type of equipment. When the National Coal Board offer a 3½ per cent. productivity deal next year, people must understand that that is something which is not realistic. It might be achieved but it might not and it could be stopped at any time.
We have been told that there will be a sick pay agreement, yet the small print says that it is only a statement of intent. We have been told that there is a third week's holiday in the offing but, once again, the small print says "when circumstances permit". What will happen as regards the unsocial hours payment? The National Coal Board, saddled with a bigger bill in order to pay out 17p 1672 an hour for unsocial hours, will change over the night-shift operation. The board is already doing that. It will reorganise the shift arrangements so much that there will be fewer men working between the hours of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. The net result will be that not only will the payment not be made to the number of miners the Coal Board say will get it, but it will be paid to even fewer than we are prepared to concede would get it if it were applied at the present time.
§ Mr. Edwin Wainwright (Dearne Valley)
Would my hon. Friend like to make a comparison between this country and the other Western European countries? I understand that the number of days lost through strikes and disputes in this country is less than the number of extra holidays that they have on the Continent.
§ Mr. Skinner
That is absolutely correct. I do not want to enter into an argument about Common Market promises. I do not want to enter into an argument about Derek Ezra's statement that the miners would get £7 a week extra to bring them up to the level in the Community. I do not want to enter into an argument about continental holidays. The miners tell me, and I agree with them, that they have been waiting a long time to be brought up to the continental level and they know that our entry into the Common Market was the biggest confidence trick that has ever been perpetrated. They have no confidence in a Government who tell them that they will get a £7-a-week increase to bring them up to the continental level, and that they will get the same holidays as continental miners and other industrial workers, when as soon as we get into the Common Market what the miners get is a freeze, followed by £1 plus 4 per cent., followed by phase 3, which is a continuation of phase 2 with a little added, although inflation is rising at an even faster rate than previously, and we have the possibility, if this Government remain in power, of a phase 4 to follow.
The miners know what is happening. They know, when the Government say that there will be no exceptions to phase 3, as the Chancellor reiterated yesterday, that there has been £5,000 million invested by the property spivs in the Common Market, with £2,000 million in Paris alone, with 1673 massive returns. They know what is happening on the Stock Exchange. They know what is happening with regard to jobs outside. I read about one yesterday in the Evening Standard. It talked about forgetting the problems of phase 3, and said that a substantial British company was planning phase 4 of its redevelopment programme. It was a four-year plan, and the advertisement mentioned all the money that could be gained. There would be a four-figure salary, around £2,000, which would be negotiable, in addition to a monthly bonus scheme and other incentive payments, such as free life assurance, a generous pension scheme, four weeks' annual holiday and a four cylinder car. That is a phase 4 opportunity, and at what cost?
I have another advertisement here which refers to a small equity holding. When the miners read these advertisements and listen to the Prime Minister talking about the rigidity of phase 3, they know that it is a big "con". They read about people getting perks in outside industry. They read about the people on the Fleet Line. There was a letter in the Daily Telegraph about the Fleet Line, which I have quoted before in the House. The man who wrote it said :Blame the miners you say and yet in the same issue in the Daily Telegraph magazine you talk of the labourers on the new London Fleet Line earning 'every new penny' of their £150 a week! I have worked on the coalface with a big shovel, five miles from the shaft, in falls of roof as high as church halls ; I now work in the tunneling industry, and I have indeed seen the very 'hell on earth' that you describe at Green Park. Let me say that compared with any coalface worker in this land those men on the Fleet Line have got the proverbial bobby's job—it's like a Sunday school picnic.That is a fellow who has worked five miles from the shaft and who has also worked on the Fleet Line—and the Daily Telegraph, for some obscure reason, made his the first letter a fortnight ago.
The miners understand what is happening outside. They know, because I have told them. They know that if it is right under phase 3 for the Leader of the Liberal Party to open banks in supermarkets on the south coast at £100 a time—
§ Mr. Skinner
This is a story which I read yesterday. He received £100 a time for opening banks in supermarkets—more than Elsie Tanner can command—and he gets 10,000 shares for a penny piece—
§ Mr. Skinner
That is the position, and that is what the miners read about. They read in the newspapers about company directors and others taking shares in lieu of dividends, in order to avoid paying surtax. If surtax on £10,000 was paid at the rate of 90 per cent., only £1,000 would accrue to them. But if payment is made in the form of shares and capital gains tax is not avoided—I suppose that in some circumstances it could be—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I take it that the hon. Gentleman understands me when I say that he must leave that particular line and proceed with his speech in the terms of his motion, I really mean that.
§ Mr. William Hamilton
On a point of order. The motion specifically refers to the need to restrain inflation and to encourage economic growth. It is an extremely wide motion, and I think that my hon. Friend is perfectly entitled to point out that the miners know about the enormous profiteering that is going on, whether it is by the Leader of the Liberal Party, who is now absent—perhaps at a meeting of London and County Securities—or anyone else. I think that my hon. Friend is perfectly entitled to refer to the gross unfairness between the spivs in the City and the miners in the coal mines.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Yes. I understand what the hon. Gentleman means, but these are questions of degree. Although he can touch upon these matters, to develop an argument in great detail as he has done, especially with the knowledge that so many people also want to speak, is a little unfair on the House. That is all.
§ Mr. Skinner
I shall not dwell on the matter any longer. But I thought it was necessary to quote about six examples in order to make it absolutely clear to the House that I was not talking about an isolated situation, and that there are 1675 literally scores of examples of phase 2 being broken, and phase 3 will be broken as well, although the miners and millions of other industrial workers will be held back.
It is my job as one of the miners' representatives to expose what is happening on the other front. Those who have had to live on £31 a week and less are being taken for the biggest confidence trick ever. The miners are being offered £2.30 with an accident rate of 80 in the past year, with 700 more dying as a result of pneumoconiosis ; 17,000 have died from that disease and associated diseases during the last 20 years. We should compare the life of the miner with that of the property speculator. I am told there has not been a single accident in the whole history of property speculation.
The struggle will continue. I will not go into the realms of a national energy policy—some of my hon. Friends may develop that argument—except to say that it is perhaps summed up in these words. The oil policy of this country until the present day has been based on the words "We should be all right for oil, chaps, because King Hussein was trained at Sandhurst." That has been the philosophy of successive Governments. The present Government must understand that the oil crisis which they face can be solved only by a national energy programme which, so far as we on this side of the House are concerned, means the nationalisation of North Sea oil.
I want to conclude by referring to the words of somebody who has been connected with the mining industry for 50 years. I saw these words in a local newspaper last week. They are very important words, and the House would do well to listen to them. They are :Repeatedly miners' leaders have warned the Government that miners would not be available to get the coal the country needs because of wastage and the fact that men were leaving the pits because there were no incentives for them to stay in an industry that did not give them a standard of living commensurate with their labours in such an environment.Those that are leaving by hundreds every week are acquiring new skills for more congenial and better-paid jobs. I would not utter one word against them going, nor encourage others to take their now vacant places. Miners today are a different class 1676 from those of us of the 'Hungry Thirties'. They realise that life has something better to offer than 'the daily trudge down smokey lane to gloomy mine then home again'. Education has broadened their outlook and given them a sense of new values which can enrich their lives outside the hazards of mining. They have a much better opportunity of being able to say at the end of the day 'Life has not passed me by'.I have talked to many of them and without exception they have said 'I wish them all the luck in the world in their struggle for a just settlement. They deserve what they seek. May success crown their efforts' ".Those are the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Beaney) in an article which appeared in a Hemsworth newspaper. He has had more than a little difficulty in expressing those thoughts in the House during the last few years. I thought it necessary to utter a few words which represent the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth, and I echo every one of them.
§ 12.24 p.m.
§ The Minister for Industry (Mr. Tom Boardman)
I can understand the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), in his opening remarks, expressing reluctance to look back. Indeed, he said, he was reluctant to look back beyond June 1970. He then proceeded to do a few leapfrogs over a period of six years and delved back into a good deal of the past.
He was an active member of the National Union of Mineworkers during the period of the last Labour Government I can well understand something of the bitterness that he feels about what happened then, when over 250 collieries were closed. During the last three years 31 have closed. Under the Labour Government in the coalfields the numbers employed fell by over 200,000. In the last three years the numbers have fallen by 40,000. During the six years when the hon. Member was in the collieries and not in this House, when hon. Members opposite were in government, the miners' wages league table, according to Wilberforce, dropped from third position to 12th place. I remind the House that under the current offer in March, if accepted, the miners would have a higher ratio to manufacturing wages than immediately post-the-Wilberforce settlement.
The hon. Gentleman was in the coalfields and not in this House under a 1677 Labour Government when pensions were less than half their current rate. He was there when the miners were made redundant at 55, after three years on the RMPS and were left on supplementary benefit and no right to a pension. I could go on, but the hon. Member knows that he suffered these things in the coalfields under a Labour Government.
§ Mr. Boardman
I will come back to that point in due course.
I remind the hon. Gentleman, who attacked Lord Robens who was indeed appointed by a Conservative administration, that the responsibility for the contraction of the pits under a Labour Government cannot be shuffled off on to the Conservative administration of the day. It was the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) who recently admitted that the Labour Government in that periodgravely damaged Britain's overall industrial strength and long-run international competitiveness".That was the record of those six years.
In June 1970 all that changed. The hon. Member for Bolsover left the coalfield and entered this House. Now he has the frustration of seeing a Conservative Government doing for the mining industry so many of the things that he wished his own party had done when in office and which they neglected to do.
§ Mr. T. W. Urwin (Houghton-le-Spring)
The Minister has referred to the Labour Government's record in closing pits during about six years of office. Surely he must be aware, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) said, that Lord Robens was appointed by Mr. Macmillan, the Tory Prime Minister, with specific instructions to carry out the biggest industrial job of dismantling the mining industry that has ever been known. It was specifically for that purpose that Lord Robens was appointed. By the time our Government left in June 1970 that task 1678 had been largely completed. We were at the peak of the dose down by the time that hon. Members opposite took office.
§ Mr. Boardman
The hon. Gentleman cannot shuffle the responsibility of the previous Labour administration on to Lord Robens or anyone else. The responsibility must rest fairly and squarely on the previous Labour administration. I do not appear here in a white sheet and claim that previous Conservative administrations were without fault, but it ill befits any hon. Member opposite to criticise our record. Indeed, there are hon. Members opposite—the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley) is one, and there are others—who during the passage of the Coal Industry Act praised the action which the present Government took in the mining industry. Indeed, perhaps I will return to that.
I do not want to spend too much time in embarrassing the hon. Member for Bolsover about his party's record. I prefer to remind him of what we have done, which he seems to have forgotten, in providing the foundations for the future which awaits the mining industry. I remind him of how the Government initiated the meeting of both sides of industry with the Government which led to the production of the 20-point plan in September last year. The three mining unions and the Chairman of the National Coal Board, in response to my invitation, met and agreed on the plan and sent me a letter saying that they unanimously subscribed to its proposals and believed that if implemented they would provide a real opportunity for the coal industry to be restored to a viable basis, thus enabling it to make a major contribution to the nation's energy requirements.
In that document they said that they believed that the combination of the measures being pursued by the industry and the recommended Government assistance would provide a framework within which the industry could play a fruitful and effective rôle in the provision of energy in Britain. Hon. Members opposite should refresh their memories about that document.
§ Mr. Varley
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you help to clarify the procedure? You told us earlier that Mr. Speaker had agreed to select the amendment standing in the name of the 1679 hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Adam Butler). I understand that you will call him at some stage. Do you not regard it as highly irregular for the Minister to reply immediately after the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) without having listened to his hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth moving his amendment or to other points raised in the debate? Is that not irregular for a Friday?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The proprieties or otherwise of the situation are not my concern. It is the custom of the Chair to call a Minister if he rises at any stage of the debate. What is done about the proprieties mentioned by the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley) is not a matter for the Chair.
§ Mr. Varley
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not a discourtesy for the Minister to behave in this way? I understand that he will not take the opportunity of replying to the debate and that there is to be no reply by another Minister. That means the House will be deprived of a proper and considered reply to the points made. Is not that highly irregular?
§ Mr. Boardman
After my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Mr. Adam Butler) has moved the amendment, if I am able—
§ Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)
I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley) said, but if there is any doubt under the procedure whether the Minister will reply later, surely we should have that cleared up now and surely that is within the province of the Chair.
§ Mr. Boardman
Perhaps I may assist here. After my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth has caught your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and has moved his amendment, it will be in order, I understand, for me, without seeking the leave of the House, to reply to points that may arise at the end of the debate.
§ Mr. William Hamilton
Is it quite clear that the Minister may do that without the leave of the House?
§ Mr. Boardman
May I remind the House of what has been done by the Government for the coal industry because that will set the scene against which we can look at the future prospects. The hon. Member for Bolsover, with his great knowledge of the mining industry, omitted to refer to the provision made in the Coal Industry Act for the £1,100 million which was provided for the industry. He failed to refer to the £100 million which was provided towards the redundant miners' payments scheme ; to the £40 million which was provided for the doubling of pensions ; to the £100 million provided for the extra coal burnt to support the coal industry by providing outlets for the coal ; to the £70 million provided for increasing stocks, again to support the coal industry ; to the £75 million to support the coking coal industry ; and to the £210 million being provided to keep open the pits which would otherwise be uneconomic and would close.
In a very long speech the hon. Member for Bolsover did not find time to refer to what had been done for the industry.
§ Mr. Boardman
I remind him that the total investment amounted to some £4,000 per man employed in the industry and that is worthy of a reference by the hon. Member.
§ Mr. Boardman
This was something which was welcomed by the hon. Member for Chesterfield and others. They recognised that this was an opportunity for the industry to provide a sound financial base, secure employment and better provisions for pensions and for those affected by closures. I pay tribute to 1681 the co-ordination, co-operation and discussion that went on between the unions, the NCB and the Government which led to that Act. It is right that I should remind the hon. Member for Chesterfield what he said on that occasion.So although it is a little late, the Bill is very welcome … With this Bill we now have an opportunity of setting the coal industry on a path of co-operation and progress, with the National Coal Board and the unions working more closely together than ever before.The hon. Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire), who was then on the Opposition Front Bench said :The Bill will help to arrest the decline of a great industry which in the past was the foundation for our industrial greatness and which will be just as necessary for our future prosperity. It will most certainly act as a bastion in the future and prevent us from being held to ransom in the energy supply market."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st December 1972; Vol. 848, c. 1615 and 1693.]Having settled the short-term future of the industry through that Act, we and the NCB turned our attention to the long-term prospects and the rôle which coal could play in meeting the country's energy requirements of the future. The NCB pressed on with exploration of areas such as Selby, perhaps the greatest coal development of this century. We were right to sit down with the board to discuss how its plans could best be implemented. That, of course, would lead to discussions with the unions on questions such as training, recruitment and the retention of the labour force, and the particular skills which would be necessary in this modernised industry with a great opportunity ahead of it.
What a contrast with the Labour Government who declared in their fuel policy White Paper of 1967:The Government have concluded from their analysis".—the analysis, I remind the House, of the previous administration—… of coal's position and prospects in relation to competing fuels that, on any tenable view of the longer-term pattern of energy supplies and costs, the demand for coal will continue to decline.Luckily for the coal mining industry and the country we have not taken such a view. We believe that coal has a future and we have backed it with that view in the past and we shall continue to back it. We find it a matter of great regret that 1682 at this time miners are taking action which cannot but damage the prospects for the future and which some Labour Members seem to support.
It was against that background, of a future which offered so much for the industry, the men in it, and the nation, that the National Coal Board made its present pay offer. The hon. Gentleman said that the offer was put on the table with a take-it-or-leave-it attitude. I remind him that the settlement will not take effect until 1st March 1974. I remind him also that the union asked for an offer to be put to it.
§ Mr. Boardman
The board's negotiators proposed the offer, gave it to the union and suggested that the union should consider it. It was left for the union to consider the offer and to go back and discuss points arising from it. As the hon. Gentleman knows, or should know, there have been a number of discussions, and adjustments and alterations have been made. It is still open to the parties, within the framework of the pay cede approved by Parliament, to redistribute parts of the package in a way which would be most satisfactory to the industry and the union.
The terms give an average increase of 13 per cent., plus the possibility of an extra 3½ per cent. under the incentive scheme, plus a threshold agreement to keep earnings ahead of price rises of more than 7 per cent. since last October. Those terms would give the average face worker, working five shifts on rotation and an average amount of overtime, a possibility of earning £55.38, while for a surface non-craftsman on the same shifts there would be a possibility of earning £42.84. In addition there would be improved fringe benefits, lump sum benefits on retirement and improved terms for death benefit.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Peter Rees) intervened with a pertinent question when the hon. Gentleman was talking about take-home pay, asking him what deductions there had been and what shifts had been worked. The take-home pay can sometimes be a misleading figure. I accept that it is the pay in the wage packet which goes home which counts towards meeting the household bills, whether a 1683 man's income is £20 a week or £20,000 a year. It is the net cash received that can be spent.
Distorting figures are canvassed about take-home pay. I was told the other day of take-home pay of £30. Then I was given the figures, because I asked the person who was concerned. It appeared that in a period of 15 weeks he had not worked for a full week ; some weeks he had not worked at all, and during other weeks he had worked only two shifts.
§ Mr. Boardman
That information was given to me in confidence. It was also told of someone whose take-home pay was £2 a week. When told about this, I exclaimed "How could it be so?" The circumstances were that the wife of the man concerned was working, the man did not want to have the cash at the time, and so he applied under the board's scheme to have the majority of his earnings put into a savings scheme. This deduction meant that his take-home pay amounted to little more than £2 a week. [AN HON. MEMBER : "Do not be silly."] These are hard facts. When we make comparisons of earnings we should compare like with like. We should take the gross figure, the gross figure less tax, or the gross figure less tax and deductions for savings, but we cannot have distorted comparisons.
§ Mr. Peter Hardy (Rother Valley)
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that he is now in danger of repudiating the National Coal Board's statements and advertisements which have set out the case very clearly and which are remarkably different from the estimates and assessments he has given? Will he tell us, for example, what proportion of production workers at the coalface could possibly earn £55 a week and what proportion work on a production shift on a rotating basis of three different shifts over a three-week period? The Minister knows, because he has made some study of the coal mining industry in the last two years, that less than 8 per cent. of miners are likely to qualify for that sort of wage. If he looks at the accident rate, he will see that remarkably few will get that sort of benefit.
§ Mr. Boardman
I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's figures. The number of miners working entirely unsocial hours is very small, about 14,000. The number on rotating shifts is considerably larger. If I have more figures which I can make available to the hon. Gentleman, I shall certainly let him have them.
The terms of the offer were all within the pay code approved by Parliament, as all settlements must be. If the NUM is dissatisfied with the distribution of the total, it can negotiate with the board on how to reallocate within the code. If it wants to take some off the top and put more on the bottom, that is fine. That is provided for within the code.
The pay structure within the industry was complex and had rough edges, but recent settlements and the present offer have done much to improve it especially in the unsocial hours provision.
§ Mr. Callaghan
The Minister's abrasive manner is not conducive to a settlement. Can he answer one question that I have been waiting to hear answered but have never heard answered satisfactorily? If he is so sure that it is a good offer and that the NUM is not really representing its members, why does he not take advantage of the provisions of the Industrial Relations Act and submit the offer to a ballot of the members in the areas? Most of us who come from places adjacent to coal mining areas are pretty clear, on our limited information, that the miners will not accept the offer, no matter what their executive says. Therefore, where does the Minister propose to go from here?
§ Mr. Boardman
The union has its own procedures for balloting if it wishes to ballot. It is meeting and considering whether and when it wants to do so. It must be a matter for the union to decide. The ballot is binding on the union. Whether it wishes to conduct a ballot is obviously something it has under consideration. [Interruption.] When there is a procedure which it can adopt if it wishes, and the executive is considering the matter, that must be the right course.
§ Mr. Boardman
I have given way a great deal, and a number of hon. Members want to take part in the debate.
1685 I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) would return to the relativity of weekly earnings referred to in the Wilberforce Report. That is a comparison of coal mining earnings and earnings in manufacturing industry. In October 1960 the coal mining figure was 107.4, taking manufacturing industry at 100. In October 1970 the coal mining figure was 96.9. As the Wilberforce Report made clear, the coal mining industry had slipped substantially compared with manufacturing industries. In April 1972 coal mining had re-established itself at 107.1, after the Wilberforce settlement. Then there was the erosion of that advantage by the free-for-all that followed, and the figures slipped to 104.7 in October this year.
The offer to the miners will by March, given the estimate of the increases to those in manufacturing industry, put the miners at a figure of 107.8. That is a higher position relative to manufacturing industry than at any time, including 1960, and is a higher ratio than after the Wilberforce Report. We should bear this in mind. The hon. Member for Bolsover was wrong to refer to miners earning £6 a week below the Wilberforce figure, and he should do his sums again.
Much has been said about men leaving the industry. The big jump from 390 per week to over 600 per week in the numbers leaving the industry came immediately after the pay claim was put in, with the threat of industrial action. Men who can take other jobs do not want to suffer the loss of earnings caused by such action. To put the matter in perspective, the voluntary wastage in mining in 1972–73 was the lowest in all industrial groups. Recruitment has been around 300–350 a week—despite the raising of the school leaving age, which had an impact on the juvenile entry—and well over half the entrants are former miners returning to the industry.
§ Mr. Boardman
No, I cannot give way. I have already taken up a considerable amount of time. Adult recruitment in the first 30 weeks of this year was 35 per cent. up on last year's figure.
§ Mr. Boardman
The hon. Gentleman knows that there are juvenile entries and that a number of jobs are taken by school leavers.
There is much in the motion with which I fully agree, even if I do not agree with the presentation by the hon. Member for Bolsover. We recognise the importance of coal. We have not suffered a sudden conversion because of the Middle East situation. We have only to refer to speeches made by many of my right hon. Friends, and indeed my own speeches, over a long period of time to know that this has not been a sudden conversion. There has been a full recognition of the value of indigenous fuels—coal, North Sea oil and North Sea gas. Recent events have underlined the correctness of our action. They show that our judgment was wiser than that which was displayed in the 1967 White Paper. We know the benefits which coal can have on our balance-of-payments situation, and this matter also is dealt with in the hon. Gentleman's motion.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman's recognition of the need to restrain inflation. For that reason we brought in our counter-inflation policy and the pay code which was approved by Parliament. It is essential that such a code is observed by all. To date, 1 million workers have accepted settlements which have been notified to the Pay Board and conform with stage 3. I make it clear beyond all doubt that there can be no settlement outside that pay code. For this reason I trust that my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Mr. Adam Butler) will have an opportunity a little later to move his amendment.
The motion also refers to the need for full employment. Of course we support that view, but I should warn the House of the consequences to employment which inevitably will follow from continuation of the present industrial action. The situation in the mining industry is not, as the hon. Gentleman said, only a minute 1687 part of the energy problem. Coal represents over two-thirds of total fuel supplies for the electricity industry. One of the provisions in the Coal Industry Act sought to assist the situation in the use of excess coal to be burned by the Central Electricity Generating Board and the South of Scotland Electricity Board. Following that, the CEGB was able substantially to reduce its oil burn below last year's figure and replace the balance with extra coal—a move which I am sure the hon. Member for Bolsover welcomes. But, because of the miners' action, we have had to reverse this trend and arrange for the oil companies to increase their supplies to generating boards. It may be necessary to carry this process further and to transfer from industry to electricity generation even more of our fuel oil—because the security of our electricity system must and will be maintained.
If we are to ensure, as we must, that the demands for electricity do not exceed the supplies that can be maintained over a long period, we can be involved in electricity cuts at a level which must inevitably bring unemployment, loss of earnings and hardship for many people this winter. During the last week motorists in some parts of the country have been concerned at the inconvenience they have suffered in petrol station forecourts. I can understand their problems, but I do not particularly sympathise with the cause of much of their difficulties. But the curtailment of electricity supplies could cause much more than inconvenience. It could affect every employer, every employee, every household and every activity. If coking coal is not available, steel will be cut back, with effects on employment in those areas. Serious as this will be—and let nobody underestimate the impact—it would be even more serious if we were to abandon our policy of counter-inflation and if we were to allow the code approved by Parliament to be breached.
The motion rightly stresses the need for continuing economic growth. It recognises, as do the TUC and CBI, the importance of growth to full employment and to an increase in earnings. Indeed the motion accepts the need for most of the main components of a successful growth policy save one component. I refer to the linchpin without which the other components would fall apart— 1688 namely, the need for a settlement, which we all want to see, between those who produce the coal and the National Coal Board within the provisions of the pay code. I hope that, in the interests of everybody, such a settlement can be quickly achieved.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Before I call the next speaker, I should like to remind the House that there are many hon. Members on both sides who wish to speak in the debate. Therefore, it will be helpful if contributors to the debate keep their speeches reasonably short.
§ 12.58 p.m.
§ Mr. T. W. Urwin (Houghton-le-Spring)
I should like first to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) on having tabled this motion for debate today and on the excellent manner in which he presented his case.
I represent a constituency which, despite cut-backs in the mining industry in the last few years, contains six pits. I have lived in a mining area all my life and my constituency lies in the Durham coalfield. I must at the outset of my remarks, sound a warning note to the Minister and to the rest of his colleagues about the mood of the Durham miners. Durham is a county whose trade unions have always been noted for their moderation in approaching difficult problems. However, I am alarmed at the changing situation which I observe in my constituency, especially among many of my friends who work in the coal industry. I now observe, not a mood of moderation, of which they have been proud for many years, but a growing mood of militancy. This change in attitude has arisen because of the frustrations resulting from the Government's obduracy in approaching the miners' pay claim.
The Minister for Industry took advantage of his position this morning—and this was a most inopportune moment to make those remarks—to use the most abrasive language in approaching this question. I suggest that he has done nothing to alleviate the serious problems of morale which face mine workers. The note set by the Minister in this debate today may have the gravest possible effect on any prospect of reaching a satisfactory settlement to this long-drawn-out dispute.
1689 We must ask ourselves a rhetorical question. Why is it that there has been such a change in the attitude of moderate people? Let there be no mistake. Like every other section of industry, the mining industry is well aware that it is dealing with what can only be described as a profligate Government who have dissipated a huge balance of payments surplus and run into one of the biggest deficits of all time. The miners know that this is true. They live in a situation where inflation abounds, where prices are escalating to astronomical levels, and where they have no redress in terms of wage increases because the Government refuse their claims.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) dealt at some length with land and property speculators. Your predecessor in the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, ruled my hon. Friend out of order when he began a dissertation about the financial dealings of the Leader of the Liberal Party. Unfortunately the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) is not here, and I do not want to incur your wrath by continuing that argument. But it is a fact that there are quick fortunes and very large ones being made out of activities of this kind.
As a matter of interest, I was speaking to an ex-miner in this building on Tuesday night. He had been sensible enough to leave his dirty, difficult job in the South Wales coalfield to seek fame and fortune in London. He had struggled along for a few years and acquired enough to invest in property. He now owns several properties, including a block of flats. A year ago he bought for £6,000 a detached house sitting in two acres of land in Wales. Last week, just a year later, he sold the property and the land, in respect of which he had successfully obtained planning permission, for the huge sum of £60,000. That is 10 times the amount that he had invested just one year ago. I do not know what that makes him. It may be a case of, "If you cannot beat them, join them." However, his fortune pales into insignificance when it is compared with some of the fortunes from land speculation being made by a number of hon. Members on the Government benches which have been brought to light in recent months.
It is against that background that the mining industry is highly suspicious of the restrictive and repressive legislation that 1690 this Government have introduced in the form of the Industrial Relations Act and of their incomes policy as it is carried out by the Pay Board. It is interesting to recall that it took Mussolini, as the head of a corporate State, two years to introduce a pay code. It has taken this Government only a few short months to achieve what a dictator did in two years. It is often suggested by the Conservative Party that the Labour Party is on the way, especially when in government, to the creation of a corporate State. Government supporters should take note of the fact that they have taken some fairly massive strides themselves along the road towards a corporate State.
The miners are also very suspicious of the Government's present attitude to the emergency in fuel supplies. People working in the coal industry are deeply suspicious when the Government try to make the coal miners the whipping-boys for the present fuel shortages.
There have always been perennial problems over the supply of oil to this country. The Middle East is a seething cauldron of political unrest which frequently boils over into military action, and it is understandable that the Arab nations should have decided that they can best achieve their political ends by the use of a crude form of blackmail. Inevitably there is a threat to the continuing flow of oil to this country, and it is materialising fully as a result of the present conflict.
There is another developing situation of which the Government must have been aware for a long time, and I refer to the international energy crisis. I read in The Times of 3rd December a report of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, in the course of which it was said :Even if the Arabs restore full oil supplies in the near future, industrial countries will face a deepening energy crisis up to and beyond the year 2000.We should be planning to meet this contingency. Indeed, it is with us already. It underlines the outstanding requirement for a fully co-ordinated fuel policy. Many hon. Members have talked for a long time about the desirability of, indeed the necessity for, a properly co-ordinated national energy policy. But there is a shift of emphasis present. We need not only a co-ordinated national energy policy but one 1691 of a multinational nature as well, having regard to the rapid developments in different parts of the world.
It also means that we must have increasing development of our indigenous resources, and in such a development coal must continue to play an increasingly important part. I suggest to the Minister that it is not enough to tell miners that the future of the coal industry is assured. They know that. They also know that there are very deep problems involved in assuring themselves that their future lies in the coal industry.
Despite all that the Minister said, I am sure that he and his colleagues do not overlook the filthy nature of the job that the miner has to do. Those of us who have worked in the mines for many years, as I have, have experience of the real difficulties which confront the miner when he goes down the cage and of the inconveniences that he has to put up with resulting from weird hours when he is working shifts, especially overnight shifts. Such inconveniences cannot be rewarded too highly.
It must not be forgotten that there is dignity among miners. The dignity of the job must be recognised by all who have responsibility for those who daily burrow deep down under the earth and, in my constituency, several miles under the sea. They are entitled to the highest rewards which can be bestowed upon them.
In view of the developments internationally in the energy situation, I suggest that the present Pay Code operated by the Government has been rendered virtually irrelevant. There are so many developments occurring in the world today which demand a different look and a fresh approach to the Government's policy.
When the Minister was speaking, my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) asked repeatedly what the hon. Gentleman proposed to do. In his remarks the Minister made it quite clear that the Government intended to do nothing and that from their point of view the confrontation was ended. In the best interests of the miners and of everyone else in the country, the Prime Minister must meet the miners again quickly and listen to what they have to say.
§ Mr. Urwin
He has done, I agree, but his ears have been plugged with cotton wool. He refuses to move from the stand that he has taken. There is no flexibility in his attitude.
Let the Prime Minister listen to the miners. Let him discuss with them certain improvements which can be made. Let him talk to them again, for example, about pre- and post-shift overtime. Men have to spend a considerable amount of time at pits before going down to the coal face and after coming up before they leave the precincts of the colliery to go home.
Let the right hon. Gentleman talk to the miners about the possibility of a return to the bonus shift payment on the old five-day week agreement. Let him talk to them about danger money. Which other sections of the working community is more entitled to have a clause in its agreement compensating its members for the terrible dangers that they have to face every minute of every shift below ground?
Let the right hon. Gentleman consider with them the possibility of introducing a clothing allowance. Anyone who has crawled around in the lower seams in the pits, as well as encountering all the difficulties in the higher seams, must be fully aware of the heavy wear and tear on clothing, even though not much is worn in certain circumstances in different seams.
The most important aspect is being told that the future of the industry is assured. We on this side of the House accept that the future of the industry is assured. But we must improve the conditions under which miners work to a level which will halt the alarmingly high drift of manpower away from the collieries. I refer not only to the miners but to the ancillary workers. My hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley) and myself were among that category when we worked in the pits. These people have the heavy responsibility of maintaining powerful and expensive machinery. They are always in short supply. There are never enough of them.
Let us not have any illusions about this matter. Much higher paid jobs are available for people with the requisite skills in factories which provide a cleaner 1693 and healthier environment than the one in which miners work in the pits. It is possible for miners of whatever category or calibre to leave the collieries—the evidence is that 600 a week are leaving at the moment—to walk on to a building site where there is a complete lack of control over wages—the Pay Code is meaningless mainly because of the operation of labour-only contracting—and to earn £50 to £150 a week, compared with £25 a week in the pits, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover indicated.
The interests of the country and of the miners demand some departure from the present rigid stance. The miners should be offered something. Even a small upward movement might result in the miners demanding or determining that a ballot should be taken among their members. I ask the Government to realise that the difficulties will not be surmounted by the attitude adopted by the Minister today.
§ 1.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Adam Butler (Bosworth)
I beg to move, as an amendment to the motion, to insert after "mining industry" the words :'within the provisions of the Pay Code approved by Parliament and'.I should like to express my gratitude to Mr. Speaker for selecting the amendment.
I shall inevitably have quite a lot to say about the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), so I hope that he will return to the Chamber. I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman has the interests of the miners and of the coal industry very much at heart. He has described the situation and the mood in the pits at this time, but in a somewhat colourful way which is not exactly as I see the picture. The hon. Gentleman is entitled to speak to his motion as he thinks fit, but I am bound to say that he largely ignored it and spoke generally only about the coal industry.
The motion contains an assortment of ideas, many of which are acceptable. The point about the amendment is that it provides the necessary cohesion and sense of reality to make the amended motion palatable.
The first part of the motion, which was slightly borne out by some of the hon. Gentleman's remarks, shows some 1694 encouragement to selfishness on the part of the miners. But such unworthy thoughts were dispelled by the admirable sentiments in the second half of the motion concerning energy policy in general which pays full regard to the national interests.
My hon. Friends and I have introduced the amendment not to confront the miners with the Government's pay policy but because we believe that stage 3 is in the same national interest that the hon. Member for Bolsover appears to seek. Therefore, it is also very much in the interests of the miners.
The miners have a right to expect fair wages. They should be somewhere near the top of the wages ladder. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry has already pointed out that that is the situation. There are strong arguments for improving the pay of miners at a faster rate than the national average and, indeed, to improve their relative position still further. This would be a recognition of the conditions of work referred to by the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Urwin). I do not think that miners' conditions are unique, but there are certain aspects about their conditions which make mining a very special occupation.
My hon. Friend has dealt with the question of relativity. I thought that one of the principal planks of the opposition to the National Coal Board's proposals was that the relativity of miners would fall. That is not the case.
I am not sure whether this document is an advertisement or a circular put out by the Yorkshire area over the signature of Mr. Scargill and others, but in it reference is made tohaving to fight to prevent a wage reduction".Clearly that is nonsense. The text goes on to point out that the Wilberforce award was fair and just and that it placed the miners in a position comparable with other manufacturing industries but that the present proposals will lower that position. That is not so. There will be an improvement in the relative position after Wilberforce when the proposals are accepted. It is reasonable to ask whether the rewards to miners which will come from acceptance of the proposals are fair and represent a recognition of the work that they carry out.
1695 The hon. Member for Bolsover—I shall try to follow him in his style of presentation—referred to an advertisement he had seen which said, "Look to stage 4 and earn a four-figure salary." The four-figure salary was £2,500. I should like the miners to consider an advertisement which says, "Trust in stage 3, earn nearly £3,000 a year, and at this time of energy and fuel shortage have a good supply of free coal."
That is what has been offered by the National Coal Board to certain face workers on a shift system with normal overtime. There is a strong argument for saying that surface wokers are not being offered enough, but, as has been said—it should be repeated—if the union were prepared to negotiate with the National Coal Board and rejig the offer, some of the increase could be applied to surface workers.
The significance of the amendment is in its reference to the pay-code approved by Parliament. I want to make this point as clear as I possibly can. First, the pay code permits the miners to benefit more than any other group of people because of the unsocial work they do. Probably no other workers will be able to achieve as big an increase as the miners under stage 3. It follows—this must be stressed again and again—that under stage 3 other groups of workers will not be able to leapfrog the miners. My hon. Friend said that since Wilberforce the miners lost out due to the leapfrogging that inevitably takes places in a free bargaining system. Under phase 3, that leapfrogging is not possible and, therefore, their relative position will be improved and cannot be undermined.
Mr. Scargill goes on to say in this document :This union cannot tolerate a reduction in our members' living standards.Of course it cannot, but can a 13 per cent. or 16 per cent. increase set against a cost-of-living increase of 7 per cent., before the threshold agreement comes in, be regarded as a reduction in the living standards of the union's members? The offer represents a substantial increase, with the safeguard of a cost-of-living increase. That is part of the pay code, and that is why we have introduced this wording in the amendment.
1696 The other question that has been asked is whether, in the context of today's energy crisis, wages are sufficient to attract or to hold enough men in the industry. It is said that every week hundreds of men are chucking in their jobs and pouring out of the pits. By implication, nobody is going into mining ; but the figures have been given. This year there has been a 35 per cent. increase in adult workers going into mining. There have been twice as many new entrants to the industry, which means that it cannot be as unattractive as all that. The number of re-entrants has increased, so their recollections of the industry cannot be as unattractive as all that.
Then we are led to believe that the 600 men who are leaving each week are doing so because they cannot tolerate the conditions in the industry and because wages are too low. The fact is that four out of every 10 who left this year did so because of redundancy, or because of some non-voluntary reason. I have no doubt that, of those who are leaving voluntarily, many are doing so because they are fed up with having their pay packets slashed due to industrial disputes. It is said that the men are voting with their feet. I believe that some of those to whom I have referred are doing just that. They are voting against the decision of their executive to turn down the National Coal Board's proposals.
What is the effect of the ban so far? The hon. Member for Bolsover referred to the minute part that the miners' ban is playing in our present fuel crisis. We have seen in electricity generation the reduction of coal stocks and the need for voltage reductions and power cuts. Most serious of all, however, is the switching of oil to electricity generation. Given the availability of coal, up to half the oil normally used in electricity generation could be diverted to industry. The capacity for burning more coal is there. That half of the oil consumed in electricity generation is equal to 10 per cent. of the nation's total oil consumption. Nobody can possibly say that the cutback in our total oil supplies is due to the miners' action—it would be stupid to say so—but one can fairly, rationally and quietly state that, if that coal were available for electricity generation, our industries would not be suffering as they are beginning to do now.
1697 Fuel shortages in industry are being intensified by the overtime ban at a time when coal could be easing the situation, and these shortages threaten not only growth but jobs. If the activity on the Stock Exchange yesterday is anything to go by, it will be the ghost of the 1929 depression that will be hovering over every family dinner table this Christmas.
The hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring talked about the energy crisis being with us until the year 2000. I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. I believe that it will be short-lived, in the sense of lasting for between five and 10 years, but I shall not now argue with the hon. Gentleman.
The motion calls for an energy policy. It is impossible and would be wrong for the Government to produce a rigid and narrow policy. The experience of the last two months, if nothing else, shows that to be the case. But I add to the hon. Gentleman's admirable list of objectives for an energy policy the essential matter of availability and the certainty of a continuing supply of fuels. One part of any policy should be a deliberate intent to ensure an over-supply of fuel. Investment should be geared to produce a surplus, with the additional money being considered as an insurance premium against the kind of situation in which we find ourselves today. There are, of course other important considerations involved in such an approach, but I must leave those on one side.
In his motion the hon. Member for Bolsover calls for a short-term energy policy beneficial to full employment, the restraint of inflation and economic growth. Will he now, with his not inconsiderable energy, urge his miner friends to adopt such a policy and call upon them immediately to stop this overtime ban which, through its effect on electricity supplies and the diversion of oil from vital industries, already threatens growth, which if it were to continue would contribute to mass unemployment and which, if it broke phase 3, would help to bring about an inflationary flood that would drown the legitimate economic aspirations of all our people?
§ 1.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Walter Padley (Ogmore)
The extraordinary conduct of the Minister today in intervening immediately after the 1698 motion had been moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) confirms my alarm at the complacency that the Government have shown during the last 10 days since the meeting at Downing Street. It contrasts with the energy with which the state of emergency was declared within 24 hours of the overtime ban beginning in the mining industry.
The Minister's speech today and the Chancellor's speech yesterday seem to indicate that the Government's attitude is one of simply waiting upon events. In view of the speech made by the hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Adam Hunter), perhaps I may tell the House that the only reason why the miners are being accused of taking action that is in some way unpatriotic is that the warnings of the mining community, of the NUM and of those who represent mining constituencies were ignored in the '50s, the '60s, and, yes, the '70s.
During the miners' strike two years ago, at a meeting of the Welsh Grand Committee I said that experience to date had shown that we should trust the miners and not the oil sheikhs. Little did I know then that at a time when the miners would be engaged in the climacteric of yet another struggle to maintain and improve their standards of living there would be a war in the Middle East and a substantial threat to our oil supplies, a threat of which we have warned throughout the years.
As I have already said, I represent a mining constituency. It is one of the major centres of the South Wales coalfield. Last Saturday, I was a guest at a large demonstration at Sophia Gardens in Cardiff under the chairmanship of the about-to-retire president of the South Wales miners, a constituent and friend of mine for the last 25 years. I assure the hon. Member for Bosworth that there is strong feeling in the coalfields. Throughout the period since 1958, when pit closures and contraction of the industry began, my own position was rather different from that of most of my hon. Friends who represent mining constituencies. The problem throughout my three mining valleys—Maesteg, Garw and Ogmore—has been a shortage of manpower and not one of pit closures.
By some geological miracle, coupled with human effort and labour relations, 1699 not one pit has been closed in my area to the closing of which the National Union of Mineworkers was opposed. That means that throughout the years my voice has been added to those of my hon. Friends representing the Rhondda on one side of my constituency and the Afan Valley and the anthracite on the other side in South Wales. As they were complaining about the industry's rundown, pit closures and employment problems I was warning successive Governments that in my constituency the problem was one of manpower shortage and not of closures. I warned of the damage being caused to morale, which was threatening the industry's future.
The Minister will know that one of the reasons that my part of the South Wales coalfield has been prosperous throughout the years is that it is principally concerned with coking coal for the great Abbey Steelworks at Port Talbot, sited there by Hugh Dalton, built with hundreds of millions of taxpayers' money, employing 14,000 to 15,000 and producing 3 million tons of steel a year. It has a massive demand for prime coking coal.
The Minister knows about the then Labour Government's decision to build an iron ore terminal to take ships up to 100,000 tons and that the Abbey steelworks is to be doubled in size to a capacity of 6 million tons. The future of the steel industry in mid-Glamorgan, and this doubling of the already giant works, will depend upon maintaining manpower in my constituency to dig the coking coal on which the giant steelworks of today depend. The even greater steelworks of the future will depend upon it, too.
It would certainly be a grave tragedy if the present loss of manpower continues. Frankly, I find the NCB brief sent out a couple of days ago alarming in its figures and complacent in its comment. To be happy to talk about a 1½ per cent. loss of total manpower when the last 30 weeks show a drop of over 14,000, coupled with the admission that men are leaving the industry at 600–700 a week, is ridiculous.
Since there has been much reference to history, I recall that vote of censure to 1700 which my hon. Friend for Bolsover referred, when the present Prime Minister, with asinine ignorance of the industry, stood at that Dispatch Box and complained than men were returning to the mining industry in December 1966. The vote of censure had a particular irony for me because my constituency was suffering not from pit closures but from a shortage of manpower to dig coking coal. That is why I remember the incident so clearly.
The Prime Minister complained because the industry was not an exporting industry. The right hon. Gentleman went on to incite my right hon. Friends to accelerate the rate of pit closures, and it is time now for the humbug to stop. The mining communities know the history, that 60 per cent. of our pits were shut by the Conservative Party and 40 per cent. by the Labour Party. They know that both parties acted against the advice of the NUM and those of us representing mining constituencies. We got precious little support from the Tories in those days.
§ Mr. Padley
My hon. Friend says we got none. But there was an honourable exception. He died a few weeks ago—Sir Gerald Nabarro. My hon. Friends will remember that he alone on the Tory benches used to argue the case for electricity generating plants, although his proposals were restricted to Yorkshire and Nottingham. Sir Gerald was our only ally in emphasising the enormous need to exploit the indigenous resources of Nottingham and Yorkshire coalfields for the generation of electricity. That need still remains. We have a long-term problem. Whether it is a problem for a decade, as has been suggested or, as I think more probable, a problem that will last for the rest of this century, something needs to be done. There cannot be an arid refusal to discuss a settlement of the miners' dispute.
We all know from past experience that, if the present deadlock continues, if next Wednesday arrives with no initiative taken, if the miners' leaders go into deliberation again without any further offer from the Government ; whether the decision by the democratically-elected executive is for or against a ballot, the future of Britain will still be in jeopardy. No one would know the outcome of the 1701 ballot. The ballot might well, if I am any judge of the strength of feeling in the South Wales coalfields, tie rather than liberate the hands of the negotiators.
I ask the Minister and his colleagues to realise that they are playing with the nation's safety and cannot escape their responsibilities by seeking to make a scapegoat of the mining community, because the crisis is one of oil supplies as well as a dispute in the mining industry. In the old days the Minister of Labour, as he then was, would have been actively seeking a solution, given the issues at stake for the country as a whole. Instead there has been masterly inactivity and a waiting upon events.
We now have a new Secretary of State for Employment who has come back with laurels from Northern Ireland. I hope that, even at this late stage, he will take the initiative in seeking to get an agreed solution to the problems of the industry. Let us emphasise today that, no matter how the figures are broken down, with the industry run down since the war by half a million men and by 100 million tons of production a year, and with men leaving the industry at the rate of 600–700 a week, this is a threat to the economic survival of Britain.
The problem will not go away by being ignored. The history of mid-Glamorgan in this period has been a relatively happy one because of the growth of the giant steelworks, alternative industries and the mines, which have been short of manpower.
But there is the lesson that in this age of the motor car jobs are available that carry far higher wages than those earned in the mines. Given the incidence of pneumoconiosis, the broken limb and the shattered life, the days have gone when Britain can call upon relatively low-paid labour in the mines.
This issue must be faced. If the coal industry is as essential as the Minister recognised it to be at the Box today, the nation will have to pay the price. Even at this late hour I beg the Minister and his colleagues in the Government to seize the initiative, commence realistic negotiations and recognise that the path of confrontation is one of national folly which can lead only to disaster both in the short run and the long run.
§ 1.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Spencer Le Marchant (The High Peak)
I find the motion inhuman because it speaks only of those who produce fuel According to The Guardian this week production is down by between 35 per cent. and 40 per cent. The motion contains no word of the effect that the go-slow is already having because of the refusal to work overtime.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) as a Derbyshire Member, will be sorry to hear what is happening in a school in Glossop in my constituency. The school ordered coal on 1st November. By 28th November the headmaster had to close the school except for one day a week, apart from providing for the scholars who were doing essential external examinations. The parents of those children have written to me deploring that their children are being deprived of education. I am sure that the Derbyshire miners do not want that to happen to Derbyshire children.
I am not surprised that the hon. Member for Bolsover should table such a motion. The motion refers to the national interest and the hon Member for Bolsover said :I have come here to speak for the miners, the working class, the trade union and Labour movement and no one else. … We are always hearing about this so-called national interest and having it rammed down our throats."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th February 1972 ; Vol. 831, c. 98.]I suggest that that is exactly how he still feels.
The Government have a good record Under the Labour Government in six years there were 249 pit closures. In 1964 there were 34 closures with a loss of 26,000 miners. In 1965, 44 closures and the loss of 37,000 miners. In 1966, there were 61 closures and the loss of 32,000 miners. In 1967, there were 29 closures and the loss of 32,000 miners. In 1968, there were 70 closures with the loss of 57,000 miners. In 1969, there were 26 closures with the loss of 24,000 miners. In 1970, there were 10 closures with the loss of 16,000 miners—that was when the Conservative Government came to office. In 1971, there were four closures with the loss of 4,000 miners. In 1972, there were eight closures with the loss of 12,000 miners. This year, with the industrial unrest, the number leaving the industry has 1703 risen. From January to October 16,000 miners left the industry, and there were 14 closures.
§ Mr. Hardy
I recognise the honesty with which the hon. Gentleman has admitted that the number of pits closed this year has risen. It would be fair if he were to give the House, not necessarily year by year, the number of pits closed and the number who departed from the industry in the six years leading to October 1964.
§ Mr. Le Marchant
No doubt the hon. Gentleman will be able to give those figures if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. On average, the loss of coal during the period of the Labour Government was 50 million tons a year. The Liberal record is no better. The hon. Member for Bolsover mentioned the then Member for Orpington now Lord Avebury, who said :… in so far as it is socially and economically practicable, the coal industry should be run down as fast as possible".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th July, 1967 ; Vol. 750, c. 1940.]No Liberals are present today. They do not often take part in debates and appear not to show very much interest in national issues. This week Lord Avebury said that he had changed his mind. That appears in the House of Lords HANSARD, Volume 347, column 623.
The Government assistance of £1,100 million will stop the decline in the industry, maintain jobs, help sales and provide higher benefits for those who become redundant. There is a secure future for the industry, far more secure than for many decades past.
For example, there is the subsidy to the Scottish Electricity Board to buy 1 million tons of coal and save 2,000 jobs. Investment is up by £7 million to £80 million. The Central Electricity Generating Board plans to use between 65 and 69 million tons of coal, 8 million tons more than was expected. That figure is expected to go up to 90 million tons by 1980. In the United Kingdom production is expected to rise from 330 million tons in 1970 to 470 million tons in 1985. The coal is there in large new seams at Cannock, Selby, Ranby and off the 1704 Durham coast. It is "all systems go" if only we can get the coal out.
The offer that has been made to the miners is a fair one. The Minister spoke of the 1972 settlement bringing wages in the coal industry up to 7 per cent. above those in manufacturing industry. After a leapfrogging in manufacturing wages in October 1973, the miners were only 4¾ per cent. above. The new offer brings miners' wages up to nearly 8 per cent. above that.
We must take account of the fact that average wages have risen, too. Between 1970 and 1973 miners' wages went up by 52 per cent. against an average 47 per cent. Between October 1971 and July 1973, miners' wages went up 29.3 per cent. against the general average of 26.7 per cent. From October 1971 to August 1973 basic hourly rates went up by 39 per cent. against a national average of 13.8 per cent. Surely the miners should consider all these factors at a time like this.
The output per man-shift figures are interesting. They have gone up steadily, from 36.6 cwts. in 1967 to 45.8 cwts. now. The percentage figures are 6.6 per cent. in 1968, 9 per cent. in 1969, 2.1 per cent. in 1970, 1.6 per cent. in 1971, 0.5 per cent. in 1972 and 9.3 per cent. in 1973.
If the dispute is settled within the terms of phase 3 it will be of enormous benefit to the country as a whole and to the mining industry.
§ 1.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric G. Varley (Chesterfield)
The Minister, by seeking to reply immediately after my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and before his hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Mr. Adam Butler) had had chance to move his amendment, was highly discourteous to the House and breached a convention which Governments and Oppositions observe on Private Members' motions on Fridays.
I thought at one stage that there was a good reason for it and that the Minister would announce that the Government's conciliatory services would be used and that the Department of Employment would be used in the old Ministry of Labour rôle to get both sides talking again. Not a bit of it. Instead, the Minister decided just to catalogue 1705 speeches and put before the House points which he had already made in debates. Far from improving the situation, he has made it much worse.
The trouble with this Government is that they do not want to listen. They bring down the tablets from the mountain and say, "This is the law. This is what we propose." They do not listen to hon. Members on this side and some hon. Members opposite who have important contributions to make on subjects such as this.
The House is very grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover for giving us an opportunity to debate this subject in depth. This is a subject which will dominate the industrial scene for many years to come, not only the coal situation, but the energy situation. Certainly within the time span of the current miners' dispute it will seem like a passing shadow. In the years to come, when this dispute is recalled, it will be recalled with amazement that the Government should have deliberately set out to allow a dispute to continue which is now rapidly getting into confrontation proportions, at a period when we are to be deprived of other essential fuel supplies. The nation is to be deprived of the maximum output of an essential fuel at a time when other fuels will be in short supply and oil will be in permanent shortage.
The Government's behaviour towards the miners and the coal industry has been incredible. The Trades Union Congress called for talks with the Government on energy policy and coal policy. The Government appeared to respond with enthusiasm. Yet there has been no meeting between the Government and the TUC about energy policy since last July.
How often, for example, has the Prime Minister met the leaders of the National Union of Mineworkers, apart from his meetings in February 1972 and last month when he met the union leaders about this current dispute? The truth is that the only occasions when this Government even acknowledge the existence of the National Union of Mineworkers is when their own provocative policies have created disputes which need to be sorted out and cleared up. We would never have had the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry's much vaunted Coal In- 1706 dustry Act had it not been for the pit strike of 1972.
§ Mr. Tom Boardman
Is not the hon. Gentleman aware of the very numerous meetings I have had with the union leaders during the whole of the negotiations up to the 20-point plan, during the whole course of the Coal Industry Bill, and on a variety of other occasions?
§ Mr. Varley
That took place before the Coal Industry Bill was introduced. I will not go into details about that, because that would take too long—[Interruption.] I know that. I would certainly take much longer if it were only the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) who wanted to speak. I will refrain from going into the matter out of deference to my hon. Friends, who have important things to say.
It is about time we killed the myth which is trotted out again and again that this Tory Government saved the coal mining industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Padley) made this matter absolutely clear. Perhaps next time this myth is trotted out those who do so will refer to what the Prime Minister said during this period.
I have said publicly on numerous occasions that the 1967 White Paper was wrong. It was wrong. Far from modifying it, the Government were saying that it was not wrong but that it should be done much more quickly and the pits should be closed much faster than they were being closed at that time. It was totally wrong and the Government should not take any credit for the situation since they came to power. When we go back to even the Eden-Ridley axis we know precisely what they thought about the coal industry.
When the historians come to write the history of the activities of the Central Policy Review Staff of the Cabinet Office I suspect that it will be found that Lord Rothschild has had much more to do with this than the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State.
It sometimes seems that this Government acknowledge the miners only when they are conveniently available as scapegoats to carry the blame for the failure of the Government's own economic policies. There are honourable excep- 1707 tions to this. The hon. Member for Belper (Mr. Stewart-Smith), who at least has some contact with miners, has consistently warned the Government time and again that they have failed to understand the nature of the men with whom they are dealing. He did so during the coal dispute in 1972 and he has been doing so during this last dispute. I do not believe this particular problem will go away, because it is apparent now that the Government are not going to use their conciliation services to get together.
We shall have to return to this. We shall be debating the coal industry and perhaps the industrial situation arising out of the coal industry. I hope I am wrong ; because we want to bring this dispute to an end as quickly as possible, and when we table motions of censure on the Government we shall expect to see the hon. Gentleman in the Labour Lobby with us. He had better be consistent. He is writing letters to the Minister for Industry, which I have seen, and to the Press in Derbyshire, and he has threatened that he will vote against the Government. I hope that other hon. Members will, too, if it comes to that.
There are some hon. Members opposite who have no understanding of the coal situation. We all remember very well how in March of last year, when the pit strike was over, the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr), who won first place in the Ballot for Private Members' motions on Friday, like my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover, chose coal as his subject and called upon the Governmentmarkedly to reduce the nation's dependence on coal as a source of energy.That is what the hon. Gentleman said. That was only last March. The hon. Gentleman claimed that the miners must be punished for that incident. How wrong can people get? I think that there are hon. Members on the other side of the House even now—I think it came over in the speech of the hon. Member for Bosworth—who forget how utterly indispensable coal is to any viable energy policy for Britain. Again it has come up trumps.
§ Mr Adam Butler
Can the hon. Gentleman refer to one remark I made which suggested that the coal industry at this present time was dispensable?
§ Mr. Varley
I want to be fair to the hon. Gentleman. If I suggested in what I said that the hon. Gentleman had argued that the coal industry was dispensable, I withdraw. I thought that the hon. Gentleman said something to the effect that the present energy crisis would not last very long. I disagree with him about that, because I think that the oil shortage will last probably for the rest of my lifetime, until other forms of energy come on stream. The coal industry is not dispensable. It has come up trumps. Just when we needed more coal, there has been this very important find of coal at Selby. The latest estimates are that it will be about 1,000 million tons of the highest quality coal, and the find is certainly more exciting than the Forties oilfield find in the North Sea.
It is a funny thing, but when it comes to North Sea oil the sky is the limit. Astronomical sums are invested and workers are practically bribed to help land the oil. I read recently a report in the Financial Times to the effect that Mr. R. A. G. Haggie, Manager of the Oilfield Division of British Ropes, complained that the Government's incomes policy was hampering the harvesting of North Sea oil. At least that industry is gaining workers. The coal industry is losing workers.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite, such as the hon. Members for Bolton, West (Mr. Redmond) and Cheadle (Mr. Normanton) have, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover said, suddenly taken to writing inspired little letters to the "posh" newspapers, as my hon. Friend put it, explaining that the mines are not really losing as many workers as the figures might imply. They are certainly very sensible to write those letters to newspapers which hardly any miners buy. There is no point in quarrelling with the experts, and the experts are the 13,800 miners who left the industry between April and October this year—nearly three times as many as in the same months last year.
As one who lives in a mining community, I can assure hon. Members opposite that those men did not leave a well-paid industry purely because they did not want to get involved in the impending dispute. For most of the period the dispute was not pending any way. They were leaving an ill-paid industry for cleaner, lighter, safer work 1709 with more sensible hours and better pay. I do not want to make too much of this point, but I can assure hon. Members that the biggest single reason for miners in North Derbyshire leaving the pits this year has been the Markham Colliery disaster. Immediately after that disaster, miners' wives came to me and said that they were frightened to death by it and would urge their menfolk to get jobs with better conditions.
The country will not get that coal from the Selby coalfield, or any of the other proven reserves which can last us for another century, without the miners to dig it, and juggling figures in letters to the Press will not get those men. The only way of getting them is by juggling the right kind of figures into the miners' pay packets—and I mean basic pay, because that is essential. It is no good talking about what they could earn if they worked all the hours God sends, and the most unsocial hours.
The most overworked word in the Secretary of State's vocabulary is "exciting". But the Secretary of State will not wheedle men down the pits by rhapsodising that they can work permanent overtime on permanent night shift, for which they will get only a little more than a man sweeping the floors in a motor car factory. If men are to do dirty work and sacrifice their family life, they want commensurate pay. The NUM has expressed the feeling extremely well in its current newspaper advertisement, which says,Coal is our life, it is no longer our prison".Certainly, that is how miners are viewing the position. I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite are not misjudging the situation, because the miners really believe what that advertisement says.
In fact, a correspondent writing to The Times last week, from that Socialist hotbed of Esher in Surrey, put the position very well. He said :In the area where I live, there is extensive drainage work in process. The tunnelling which is required is dirty and sometimes dangerous, but no more dirty and dangerous than the work of a coalminer. The men engaged on the tunnelling are earning at least twice the pay of a miner, but then they are working for a private contractor and not a nationalised industry.The point is that all income policies, imposed by whatever government, press most 1710 heavily on those employed by public authorities or publicly-owned industries. That is why so many of our public services are running down and why all these policies are unfair in practice.If ever there were a public service, it is winning fuel to heat our homes and hospitals and schools, and to keep the wheels of industry turning, especially since the days of ample supplies of oil, cheap or expensive, have probably gone for ever. When I see Sheikh Yamani on television, I do not know exactly where we are going, because sometimes he says that we can have the oil, sometimes he says that we cannot have it, and when he says that we can have it he tells us that we shall have to pay twice as much for it. Certainly, if we get it we shall have to pay a lot more for it than we paid earlier. It is not too much to say that we have come to a turning point in the history of the modern industrial world, as the oil stops flowing as freely as it has done over the last few years.
Sir Eric Drake stated this week—and I quote from Press reports in order not to breach the confidentiality of a meeting that I attended—that he had warned the Government of the looming energy crisis months before the Middle East war. He said that the Middle East war was virtually irrelevant, and that long before fighting broke out it was becoming clear that we would not get enough oil this winter.
Sheikh Yamani has very kindly told us that, if we are all very good, we shall continue to get oil at the September 1973 level, but that level is not sufficient to meet our winter needs and is nowhere near sufficient to sustain even the Government's modified growth programme. Sheikh Yamani may change his mind, but if he does he will change it not for political but for economic reasons. He assured us this week that, whatever happens, oil will be much more expensive than it was in the past.
The implications of this situation were spelt out in a report by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, which stated that by 1980 the combined annual demand of Western Europe, the United States and Japan for oil imports could be double the 1970 level, even taking full account of such additional assets as the North Sea and Alaska. A secret report of the European Commission estimates that, instead 1711 of increasing by 4 per cent., the Community's GNP may well fall by between 2 and 3 per cent. and unemployment may double. Today, the Minister for Industry still peddles the theory that growth will go ahead, and the Government still cling on to the tattered rags of phase 3. Phase 3 has gone. It is busted already. Phase 3 depended upon the stability of import prices, and that has gone. As regards oil prices, stability has gone completely so we should stop this pretence.
I have some suggestions to make about the economic situation. First, action must be taken to bring some sense and order into the international oil situation. Sheikh Yamani and others will no doubt do whatever they decide is best in their interests, regardless of our protests and our difficulties. That does not mean that we must sit down and accept the situation as it exists, with all the implications that I have outlined.
At present, the allocation of international oil supplies is being decided by the oil companies. This was made perfectly clear this week in statements by Mr. Gerald Wagner, the Chairman of Royal Dutch Shell. I do not criticise his company or any of the others. They are trying to make sense out of a chaotic situation on the basis of their own commercial judgment, which is the only basis on which they are qualified to work. But the economic well-being of the industrialised world cannot be settled in the board rooms of multinational companies. It must be decided by governments working in co-operation with each other to ensure that supplies are allocated in a way most beneficial to maintaining economic activity and international trade.
At present, this is not happening at all. Each of the countries in Western Europe is treating the oil that it is managing to get like a dog treats a bone. It is growling over it, it is worrying it and it is trying to bury it where no one else will find it. Are Britain and France so short-sighted that they fail to realise that recession in West Germany and Holland means recession in Britain? Certainly it means recession in Britain and France if there is recession in Western Europe, and especially in Germany and Holland. Does the Minister 1712 believe that the Dutch and the West Germans are worse off for oil than we are? Does it occur to him that they may be in a position to help us?
It is certainly time to call an urgent meeting of representatives of the Governments of the main importing countries to bring some kind of sense into an oil allocation system. Oil is far too important to be left to the oil companies, as is the case at the moment. The oil companies are deciding that they will try to allocate oil, instead of the importing countries deciding what they should do collectively.
On the question of the international oil allocation, the position of this country is chaotic. I do not want to go into this in great detail, but action is surely called for now. We see this demand in the newspapers every day, asking for some comprehensive plans to deal with the situation. The Daily Mail, the Daily Express, The Guardian and The Times have all realised how widespread is this requirement.
If I had time I should like to talk about some other forms of energy. The only other point on this subject to which I want to refer is nuclear power. Nuclear power will be a lifeline, along with more coal-fired power stations. It is time for the Government to make up their mind about the kind of reactor we shall have in the next stage of nuclear power stations. Do not let us take the advice of Mr. Arthur Hawkins of the CEGB who, I understand, is besotted with the American light water reactor. Mr. Hawkins has been wrong on so many things. He was wrong about the change over from coal-fired power stations to oil-fired power stations, and it may be that he is wrong about nuclear power, too.
Meanwhile coal remains the safest resource. It is typical of the prevailing attitude of the Government, under totally irrational plans, that the coal famine which is likely to come means that more oil will have to be used in our power stations. The blame rests squarely on the confrontation policy of the Government. The Minister for Industry today, I think, said that he hoped this situation would not escalate. It would have been better for him to have announced that the new Secretary of State for Employment would use some of his persuasive powers to get both sides together. The 1713 Government hang on to this rigid approach, that stage 3 is sacrosanct and inviolable. This is what the present Home Secretary said, when he was Secretary of State for Employment, on 8th February, 1972:To mention norms publicly and to try to lay down precise criteria would not lead either to economic success or to industrial harmony …To be fair to him he added :… just as the Labour Government's policy did not."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th February 1972 ; Vol. 830, c. 1156.]We can argue about the Labour Government's policy, but I think the Secretary of State for the Home Department, as he now is, was right at that time. It is indisputable that today we lack both the economic success and the industrial harmony that the right hon. Gentleman thought was essential at that time.
§ Mr. Tom Boardman
Can the hon. Gentleman tell me whether he believes that a settlement outside the code should be approved for the miners, and if so who else should be allowed to go outside the code and who should be required to forgo what might be their rightful due in order to compensate for this?
§ Mr. Varley
I am afraid that even now the hon. Gentleman has not got the message. I have said that phase 3 is already busted—totally busted. Growth is totally busted. It is not busted on account of wages ; it is busted on account of prices. Section 4(4) of the Fuel and Electricity (Control) Act, which was before the House the other day can set aside the counter-inflationary measures, if necessary, on prices. If this is the attitude which the hon. Gentleman takes—
§ Mr. Varley
If the hon. Gentleman is saying to me over and over again that nothing can be done further and that no additional negotiations can take place for an improved offer, then by January of next year this country will be in a most dreadful economic situation. I hope that if we debate this question at that time, as we surely shall if it is not settled, the hon. Gentleman will remember our suggestions today.
§ Mr. Varley
Even the Prime Minister would not regard the present coal dispute as one of the problems of success. The Government should free themselves from these self-imposed shackles. The Secretary of State for Employment has taken office with high hopes and with a great deal of good will. His conciliation did a great deal of good in Northern Ireland. Let him use some of those talents for conciliation to bring back industrial harmony into the coal fields.
I have a suggestion to make which I hope the Minister will take seriously. Let the Secretary of State for Employment call the leaders of the National Union of Mine-workers together. Let him sit down round the table with them and start talking about bringing an end to the dispute and arriving at a reasonable solution. That is all the men in the pits want. That is all the country wants, too. That is certainly what the country needs.
Two winters ago the Government misjudged the miners. As a result of that, the Government had to capitulate and I think the Government were humiliated at that time. I do not think that does anyone any good at all. I cannot speak for the Opposition on this, but I speak for myself, I do not want to see that kind of situation arise again. I do not want to see the Government humiliated, because it serves no useful purpose.
I warn the Government that if it is a fight to the finish—if that is what they are suggesting—I know the miners, and they will not be the first to go on the floor. We on this side of the House do not want that kind of fruitless and damaging confrontation, nor does the country. The people will judge the Government very harshly if they now sit back and do not use the officers of the Department of Employment and the right hon. Gentleman, the new Secretary of State, to get the people together and get them talking.
§ Mr. Varley
No. I will not give way. I am about to finish. I have already taken too long. It is necessary that there should be overtime talking rather than this overtime ban. It would be much better to get back to full production in the pits so that the life of 1715 the country is not disrupted. The only way to do this is to get the matter sorted out by conciliation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover has done the House a service today by arranging for this motion to be debated, because this energy situation is probably the most serious situation with which we are likely to be faced in the weeks ahead. It should be regarded as a short-term dispute. The problem is that it could be a long-term dispute, in which case it would be very damaging to the nation. Please let talks now begin and let the Government use their good offices to get them going.
§ 2.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Rost (Derbyshire, South-East)
The House expected to hear the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) speak as if someone had granted him a monopoly franchise to represent the mining industry. However, I was disappointed to hear the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley), for whom I have a great respect, speak with equal irresponsibility about phase 3 and about how it apparently did not matter whether the country made a genuine attempt to cure its economic problems or not.
Labour Members who appear to claim a monopoly to speak on behalf of the miners may not like to be told that I, too, have miners in my constituency. Unfortunately I do not have any mines. The previous Labour Government closed them down, throwing many of my constituents into redundancy and retirement. The House might like the record to be put straight after it has been so grossly distorted by the hon. Member for Bolsover. One of my constituents who was in the pits for 47 years and now lives in Stanley Common in my constituency was made redundant six years ago at the age of 60. He has lived in a mining community all his life and has expressed views which are different from those expressed today by the hon. Member for Bolsover. I shall tell the House of one or two of the things my constituent has said, because the House will be interested to know that there is another point of view and that the hon. Member for Bolsover speaks only for a minority of miners—the minority that he managed to stir up.
1716 My constituent says that there is a strong sense of national interest among miners, and in his view 75 per cent. of the miners would prefer a more moderate attitude to the current confrontation. He believes that 25 per cent. of the extremists are leading the majority astray. It is extremely important for some of the moderates, who I believe are in the majority, to stand up and be counted.
It may also interest the House to know that my constituent knows the hon. Member for Bolsover "very well". He said that the hon. Member for Bolsover does not have the interests of miners at heart but is a trouble-maker. He says that the hon. Member does not speak for the majority of miners. [Interruption.] That is not my comment ; it was expressed by one of my constituents who has been a miner all his life. It is useful for the House to bear in mind that there are miners and that there is a mining community who do not support the militancy of the dispute.
§ Mr. Skinner
Does the hon. Member realise that when I was elected vice-president of the NUM in Derbyshire it was by a two-to-one majority and that when I was elected president on the last three occasions it was by unanimous vote, which must have included the fellow referred to my the hon. Member?
§ Mr. Rost
No one is disputing that. I am merely expressing the point that there are miners in my area, who appear to be a majority, who do not support the extremist views expressed by the hon. Member for Bolsover. It is tragic that the moderates have not had the opportunity to stand up and be counted. It is tragic that, because the moderates have been misled by certain extremist leaders, they have forfeited public sympathy which we believe the mining industry is entitled to maintain. It is also tragic that the majority of the sensible, patriotic mining community has been misled by a minority of militants.
May I now turn to the hon. Member for Chesterfield? He does not deserve any credit for attacking the national interest and phase 3. I ask him three questions. He represents the Opposition Front Bench and a mining constituency and he has said some forthright things this afternoon. First, is he prepared to 1717 blame the Government for the current dispute, because that is what he said? If he blames the Government, why has there been no ballot so far? Why was the overtime ban imposed before the expiry of the current agreement in March? Why has action been taken now rather than negotiations continuing during the current agreement period?
Why has there been no productivity deal between the miners' unions and the NCB? This was one of the most powerful recommendations of the Wilberforce inquiry. The board has tried hard to get the miners to agree to a productivity deal and various proposals have been put forward. The miners have been split on this issue. The militants have been against such a deal because it would involve some sort of differential. The result is that all attempts to get a genuine agreement have been frustrated. If a productivity deal were now in operation, it would provide under phase 3 for a valuable bonus to the current offer.
I want to confine the rest of my remarks to considering what might lead to a solution of the dispute. Phase 3 must stand. The country needs it just as much as it needs the coal, and it must not be breached. On the other hand we are in a stalemate situation and we must find a solution which will get everyone off the hook. That is the dilemma. I propose that consideration be given to finding a solution by proposing a three- or four-year long-term agreement.
There is nothing revolutionary about such a proposal. It is common practice in civilised industrial relations in other parts of the world, particularly among our more progressive competitors. I should like to see a three- or four-year binding agreement between the miners and the board which would allow in each of the years an increase in earnings at about the average national rate, plus a substantial bonus to allow the industry to move up the industrial wages league, at least putting it much higher than it was at the end of the previous Labour Government, during whose period in office it had been allowed to sink.
There is a case for arguing—I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will agree—that the miners have a grievance because they have slipped down the 1718 league in recent years. There is also an argument that over the longer term one can justify a grievance from an industry in which the average earnings, even if substantial in relation to industry as a whole, are still much lower than in other industries.
It does not make sense that a building worker or a car worker can earn £70 or £80 a week or even more while a miner, even under the proposed agreement, would probably earn £50 to £60 a week. There is scope, over the longer term, for an adjustment in the status of the industry to enable it to move higher up the league and even to the top.
A possible solution is that the miners' union gets together in a room with the National Coal Board, and possibly with my right hon. Friend the newly-appointed Secretary of State, with all the doors locked, with no refreshments, tea, beer or sandwiches—
§ Mr. Rost
And without heating—until they have all knocked their heads together and found a solution. They should stay there, even if it takes until next March. The country expects and demands this.
A solution should be based on four points. First the present offer, made under phase 3, should be accepted as the maximum allowable. Secondly, as a condition of that acceptance, a long-term contract should be agreed which would guarantee the miners being allowed substantially to move up the industrial league during the next three years. Thirdly, a genuine deal should be worked out on productivity. Fourthly, there should be improvements in deferred benefits, particularly pensions.
An agreement on those lines would not break phase 3. It would concede the main grievance of the mining community—that its longer-term security should be provided for and that its status should not be merely restored but should be substantially improved over the longer term, in relation to the rest of industry.
I hope my hon. Friend will not regard these proposals as too outrageous. They offer a possible solution to the deadlock. The country would like to see the dispute settled before we all suffer even more 1719 and before the nation is brought completely to its knees.
§ 2.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Hardy (Rother Valley)
I hope that the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost) will not expect me to deal with his points at great length, although some of the things I shall say may be relevant to his speech.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) for raising the subject and moving a broad motion, because we face very broad energy problems. Perhaps it is a pity that so much of the debate has concentrated on the problems facing the mining industry and that it has concentrated rather less than it should on the serious oil situation which is developing.
Unfortunately, many Conservative Members and many people outside the House apparently do not look further than the front of a queue at the forecourt of a filling station. Our main anxiety seems to be whether we shall have enough oil. Far too little attention has been given by the House and the Government to the implications of the increased cost of oil. The consequences of that increasing cost are likely to be somewhere between dreadful and catastrophic. [Interruption.] I do not know whether the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) disagrees but if he takes a light view of the increase in the cost of oil I am surprised.
If we can obtain adequate quantities of oil we shall have to pay large sums. My information is that the balance of payments next year is likely to be affected by £1,000 million on the basis of increases which have applied over the past few weeks. That being so, we must turn our minds to making sure that the right alternatives are used to the maximum extent.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley) was right to say that nuclear power can offer a lifeline, but he was also right to suggest that prudence is necessary rather than any mad rush to accept a particular kind of reactor. The Westinghouse reactor may not be the answer Britain needs. In the straitened economic circumstances we face, we cannot afford to risk spending huge sums on more nuclear disappointments.
1720 Therefore, we must make the best use of coal, which means that we do not merely need to persuade men to work in the pits to extract the amount of coal which had been planned but must try to ensure that we increase our production, because we need it.
It is no good Conservative Members saying that phase 3 applies, that there is something sacrosanct about it, that it must not be broken. It is time they realised that it has been broken. Movements of wage rates over the past two or three months show that as phase 2 was broken, phase 3 is being broken, and the miners will not be the only people tied to it.
§ Mr. Skeet
I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's argument that phase 3 has been broken, but let us assume for the sake of argument that he is right. If it were broken, what would he be prepared to pay the miners as a percentage increase—20 per cent., or 25 per cent.? What would he be prepared to allow all other industries—a runaway inflation?
§ Mr. Hardy
That is a serious question, and the hon. Gentleman is right to ask it. The answers must come from the Government, not the Opposition. I will try to answer, but the hon. Gentleman must let me answer in my own way. He must not be impatient.
The hon. Gentleman first made the point that so many of his colleagues have made, that phase 3 has not been broken, and I shall first deal with that. This weekend I went into the Silverwood Miners' Welfare Club in my constituency. The Silverwood colliery is large and profitable. I spoke to many of the men at the club. They were concerned about the present economic and energy situation, almost as much as about their own pay, but not exclusively, because many members of the club no longer work in the pit. I spoke to several men who would have been face workers, because they are comparatively young, but who had left the pit in the last few months.
It has been suggested today that men were leaving the pits because a dispute was pending. There may be some in that category, but those to whom I spoke got out because they could earn far more outside. I was told of ex-miners from South Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire coming down to work in 1721 London building office blocks, which will probably stand empty, and earning £50 to £60 for two days' work at the weekend. I spoke to a number of men who work on building sites who told me they would not work on the face below ground when they could earn twice as much on a building site. No one can tell me or those men and their neighbours in the mining industry that phase 3 is of universal effect.
But I want to make it clear, because apparently there is an assumption that the miners are all clamouring to accept the offer and that only a few extremists are trying to persuade them not to, that whilst I am a moderate and want to see a solution, I would not suggest that there should be a rush to a ballot. If there is a ballot, I personally hope that the result will recommend acceptance. I believe that this is essential in the national interest, but I hesitate to suggest that the miners should be pushed into a ballot and I advise the Government not to compel the holding of a ballot. The result of their being compelled to do so would be serious because it might cause the most appalling aggravation of the situation.
When I spoke to miners in my area they were certainly not militant extremists of the sort about whom the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. John Page) seems to dream. Unfortunately, too many hon. Members have been writing silly letters and making stupid comments on the situation. They live in the wrong half of England and do not understand the half with which hon. Members such as myself are familiar. The miners are not aggressive extremist militants. For example the group I spoke to on Sunday were much concerned about the whippet section of the club. They are putting on a show and they hope to raise money for deprived children and they are very much taken up with that side of their activities. In fact, I hope to judge their show in the spring next year.
I repeat that those miners are not extremists, and they are certainly not fools. Therefore, it is highly regrettable that the Minister should have adopted the attitude which in fact he adopted in his speech. It was regrettable, extravagant and abrasive. He need not have quoted the silly figures which presupposed 1722 that every group of workers below ground worked three shifts round the clock, never had accidents and were never ill and would earn £56 per week. That is £15 less than building workers can earn on building sites in my area.
On the other hand, the Minister's attitude was probably less foolish than that which was displayed by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on Wednesday. When asked a series of questions about the oil situation, he treated an important sheikh with a contemptuous dismissal which was apparently supposed to be an attractive mannerism in this House. The power of the Arabs is such that extravagant gestures and comments of that nature could cost this country dear. It is high time that Ministers began to think about the national interest a little more rather than constantly to search for party advantage or current popular applause by the use of extravagant mannerisms.
I hope that the Under-Secretary of State—and indeed the Prime Minister and the rest of the Cabinet—are concerned about this matter and will accept that we must get a settlement of this issue. Although the Government may at the moment have a 5½ per cent. lead in the Gallup poll, or even if the Conservatives were to win the next General Election, they must still face the fact that in solving our problems we need to forget about temporary political advantage. The national interest demands a settlement in terms of an energy policy.
In that policy might lie the opportunity to provide an answer to the present situation. We may then be able to find a system to provide full-time employment guarantees for miners. It may be possible to provide a clear commitment in terms of washing-time and winding-time payments in 1974. It may also be possible to provide a far better deal for those who have worked 50 years in the industry and who have now retired and find themselves in poorer health than most people of a similar age. If they, too, can be brought into whatever settlement is reached, we may find that this will yield a solution which the moderate majority will be prepared to accept. But they will not be prepared to accept proposals while the Government seek to score party advantage in a way which is causing anger in the mining areas.
§ 2.46 p.m.
§ Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)
I wish to say at the outset that I support entirely the amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Mr. Adam Butler). It is a wise amendment, and I support the Government in general on the proposals which it contains.
I have not enjoyed this debate today, although I did enjoy a little the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost). He at least put forward a number of proposals which the Government should examine with great care. All my life I have had a lot to do with miners, and it is important that the country should know why I feel such comradeship with the miners. In two world wars the recruitment of miners into the Armed Forces had to stop because so many miners wanted to join up.
This brings me to one point made by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). I did not agree with his scathing remarks about defence cuts. Had he been alive in the First World War, or even in the Second World War, he would have realised that we had to stop recruiting because the miners were so anxious to join the country's fight against Germany. I know that those miners were always very welcome in the Services, particularly in the Army.
§ Dame Irene Ward
Yes, that is true and I am very proud of the number of miners who were in the 50th Division. I know that the Army always enjoyed having miners in their units because they were responsible, creative, courageous and would always, on their own initiative, take reasonable decisions.
When I read some of the letters that appear in the Press, I come to the conclusion that many people forget the part which the miners played during two world wars. Having said that, I hope that the miners and Labour Members who represent mining constituencies will realise that I have always had a tremendous admiration for the part miners play in our lives, but this does not mean that I agree with them in their attitude over this particular dispute.
1724 I should like to say a few words about the motion moved by the hon. Member for Bolsover. I do not know how many hon. Members have been down the Bolsover pit. I was associated with Bolsover years before the pit was nationalised, and I have always taken a great interest in that colliery. I was interested to hear the hon. Gentleman refer to the Blackwell colliery which he said was in his division. I found that the Blackwell colliery was a very much better colliery, both for the miners and for the country before nationalisation.
§ Dame Irene Ward
I know that this may sound extraordinary to the Opposition, but I do not know whether they listened closely to the speech made by the hon. Member for Bolsover. What he said did not reflect very well on the National Coal Board. I have found that very interesting. I have been very surprised to hear no reference made in the debate to the disadvantages of nationalisation, although we have heard a number of references to the advantages of it. I believe in private enterprise, but I readily understand that in many sections of the mining areas a great deal of work ought to have been done to help the miners which was not done.
However, I wish to comment specifically on the Bolsover colliery. In life in general we get good, bad and mediocre leaders on both sides of the House, and I like to remember with pleasure people who were good supporters of private enterprise and good employers.
The hon. Member for Bolsover moved his wild motion in rather wild terms, with most of which I did not agree. I should have liked to hear from him why he did not describe the conditions which existed and the control which was exercised at the time that I knew the Bolsover Colliery Company well. I am sorry that this point has not been developed in the general arguments that we have heard today. I think that it is fair to say that in my part of the world—
§ Dame Irene Ward
I intend to have my say, just as the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain) wanted his.
§ Mr. Swain
It looks as though the hon. Lady has something to talk about. Is she aware that the Bolsover Colliery Company was one of the major companies which constructed and encouraged the Spencer Union which caused more trouble and black-legging in the mining industry than any other in Great Britain.
§ Dame Irene Ward
The Bolsover colliery was controlled by private enterprise and by a chairman who was more progressive in his views than the chairman of any other colliery company in the Midland area. I mention his name with pride. I refer to Sir Cecil Cochrane. Bolsover was at the time a very modern pit, and there was always plenty of money available. The chairman was a man who did not believe in paying high dividends even when high profits were made—
§ Dame Irene Ward
The hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East can have a go at me afterwards. I could not care less. I can be torn to bits by Opposition Members, and it does not make any dent in my personality or in my views.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)
Order. There is nothing about the hon. Lady's personality in the motion. I think that she ought to keep a little closer to the terms of the motion.
§ Dame Irene Ward
I have noticed with interest that there has been quite a lot of straying from the terms of the motion. However. I shall say no more about that.
When the chairman of the Bolsover Colliery Company found year by year that profits were being made and the miners were working very hard and very satisfactorily—this refers to productivity, and so on—he always arranged that they should have a bonus over and above the wages which they were paid.
§ Dame Irene Ward
The miners do not believe in special wages from good collieries. They have their overall agreement, and I am not discussing that. But every year when Bolsover miners did well, which they did for many years, they always got a bonus at Christmastide.
§ Dame Irene Ward
This decision of the chairman of the Bolsover Colliery Company was not welcomed by the chairmen of other colliery companies in the NAB district. I remember that very well. But the chairman of the Bolsover Colliery Company had a great interest in the miners and he enjoyed doing whatever he could to help them along.
Going back to the 1926 strike, which lasted for quite a long time, and to which the hon. Member for Bolsover referred, the then leader of the miners, who was a bit of a militant anyhow, Mr. A. J. Cooke, said that he wanted pit committees. That was part of the proposal for the settlement of the dispute, which lasted for quite a long time.
The chairman of the Bolsover Colliery Company said, "If the miners want pit committees, they shall have them", and he instructed the management at Bolsover to set up a pit committee. It was set up in very lovely grounds which had been purchased for the use of the company's workers.
§ Dame Irene Ward
The miners were instructed that they could have details of the whole of the commercial arrangement of the company, and it was put forward to them at the pit committee. They were told that they could ask questions and that they would be answered. The depressing feature was that after the miners had attended monthly meetings of the committee for about four months, they became bored. Everyone gets bored in life—
§ Dame Irene Ward
—and the miners got bored. The fact that the chairman of the Bolsover Colliery Company had 1727 met one of the demands included in the terms under which the strike in 1926 had been settled was quickly forgotten, and the meetings of the pit committee were abandoned.
I am making these comments about Bolsover only because I should have liked to hear from the hon. Member for Bolsover what his view was of the conditions at the Bolsover colliery and its four associated companies.
§ Dame Irene Ward
No. I am not talking about obscenity, either. I am trying to point out some of the problems of the mining industry. I know the industry very well because in my younger days I went down an enormous number of pits all over the country—in Lancashire, in Northumberland, in Durham and in the Bolsover district. I remember very well how at one Lancashire pit, instead of going down in a cage, I sat on a tray and went down a slide. That was a long time ago.
The Northumberland and Durham coalfield was developed very early in the production of coal. Therefore, its whole layout was anything but modern. I recall crawling on my front up to the coal face. It was not an easy task for anybody.
I disagree violently with most of the comments made by the hon. Member for Bolsover. It would have been beneficial to his argument if he had explained the conditions in which modern mining is carried on and as it will probably develop in the newly discovered Selby coalfield. Compared with the methods that were in operation in the early days of mining in Northumberland and Durham, conditions now must be much better in collieries such as Bolsover. This is part of the problem that the country has difficulty in understanding because people do not know very much about the mining industry.
I do not want to detain the House too long. I felt I had to intervene in view of what was said by the hon. Member for Bolsover. Fortunately, he was not the Member when I was interested in Bolsover. It is tremendously important to bear in mind the extraordinary claim that has now been made about miners' pay and conditions and the action that is 1728 being taken before their current agreement comes to an end. It is a bad development in industrial relations. Part of the problem among industrial and some professional workers is that they make an agreement and then get bored with it when they see others getting certain benefits. Therefore they want to abandon the agreements that they have signed. That is a bad way to conduct industrial relations. I might have sided more with the miners if I had not realised that they were not prepared to wait until their current agreement had run out.
People may wonder how I got to know anything about mining. My first fight in the Morpeth division was against Robert Smillie, that great leader of the Miners' Federation. My second fight was also in the Morpeth division against Ebby Edwards, who was General Secretary of the Miners' Federation. I should like to cheer hon. Members opposite—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Lady is getting a little wide of the mark. I hope that she will appreciate that I have a difficult task ahead of me and that many hon. Members still wish to speak in the debate.
§ Dame Irene Ward
I shall not be more than a minute or two longer. I was about to finish. I thought that it would cheer hon. Gentlemen opposite to know that after five years of hard work in the Morpeth division on behalf of the Conservative Party I doubled the majority against myself. That was that.
I should like to make it plain that the miners would certainly have been better off if the Labour Party had not won the 1945 election and nationalised our important mining industry.
§ 3.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Joseph Harper (Pontefract)
I have great respect for the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward), but today she has deliberately wasted the time of the House of Commons. She has not touched upon the motion. Her speech would have been quite all right had we been listening to it over a cup of tea in the Tea Room or perhaps as a bedtime story.
§ Mr. Harper
I was intrigued when the hon. Lady said that the best speech that 1729 she had heard today—all the speeches have been very good—was that made by her hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost). The hon. Lady said that her hon. Friend put forward some good proposals. I thought that they were stupid. I wonder whether the proposal that attracted the hon. Lady most was that the leaders of the NUM. the National Coal Board and the Minister for Industry should be locked together in a room without tea and scones until next March.
§ Mr. Harper
I suggest, as an amendment to that proposal, that someone else ought to be locked in with them.
We must thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) for tabling this motion and speaking to it. My hon. Friend said that he did not have time to discuss an energy policy, and I shall therefore direct my few remarks to that subject.
In 1967, during the time of the Labour Government, a White Paper was issued—actually it was a Blue Book, which sounds paradoxical—entitled "Fuel Policy", but it was not a policy. It contained merely up-dated figures, and we have since found that those figures were based on wrong assumptions and wrong premises. Subsequent events showed the figures to have been materially incorrect.
An energy policy is necessary for three reasons. First, we should at all times have adequate fuel supplies, because they are essential for the smooth running of the economy. Secondly, major changes have taken place, and are taking place, in the supply of each fuel available. Thirdly, investment in industry tends to be long term, often with years elapsing before a return is shown. Even if we were to start exploiting Selby coalfield today, it would be at least three years before any coal was obtained from it.
The aim of an energy policy should be to provide adequate and secure supplies of the most suitable forms of energy to meet the needs of the nation. I do not mean fuel at any price. It should be there at the lowest resource cost commensurate with secure employment, satisfactory earnings and good con- 1730 ditions for those working in the fuel industry.
I now come to consider the fuels that are available. I agree with the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East that coal is the most important fuel. Other forms of energy are being developed, but our grandchildren will be better equipped and more able to deal with them. I am thinking particularly of energy from the solar system and from the sea itself.
In both the short and the long term coal is the most important fuel, and we know that ample resources exist. In the short term, we are faced with a crisis, and the immediate aim must be to maintain the industry at its present size. To do that the Prime Minister and the Cabinet must move quickly in a determined effort to solve the miners' dispute. In the long term, it is important for the country to have a large and viable coal industry until other forms of energy come on stream. It goes without saying that there is virtually no balance-of-payments cost in the production of coal, because it is our coal.
Secondly, the coal industry is still labour-intensive, and the production of coal generates employment, especially in the development and assisted areas. There are still five large pits in my area, and if these were closed the result on employment would be catastrophic. This is now an assisted area, but it would rapidly deteriorate and require development and special development area status if the pits were to close. That is something that we do not want.
Twelve months ago the Government gave considerable financial help to the National Coal Board, and the Labour Government provided help to the board in 1965. It would be foolhardy—and I am not being political—to allow all that help to be dissipated through short-sightedness, and that could happen. Provided that we do not lose too many men during the next few years, the productive capacity of the industry should and can be increased with higher investment and recruitment.
I now propose to say something with which I know Conservative Members will not agree. I have always felt that the supply industries which provide the pits with the equipment they need should be under public ownership.
1731 On the question of the other three fuels, there have been Private Notice Questions, Standing Order No. 9 debates, statements and everything else. Enough has been said about oil. By the early 1980s, North Sea oil could be supplying two-thirds of our consumption needs, but I warn the present Government—and the warning should be heeded by any Government who follow them—that the supply of this God-sent windfall is not limitless, and that if we use it indiscriminately our children will curse us for wasting their heritage. A vast amount of capital has been spent on nuclear power. The fuel that we have must be used to the best advantage, but we must ensure that the safety factor in using nuclear power is borne in mind. It must be produced safely and economically to take us into the 1990s. After that, nuclear power will have an ever-increasing rôle in supplying our energy needs.
If we deploy the resources properly in the short term or in the next decade, the coal industry can play such an important part that we have no need to toy with the idea with which the Government are toying, that they can buy the light water reactors from America, which, to say the least, are not safe enough for us.
As for natural gas, the North Sea reserves should not be consumed at a rate higher than is necessary for guaranteed supplies in the long term. In other words, you do not drink all your milk at one go. In still plainer terms, you must make it last a long time. These resources should be used to replace imported oil whenever possible.
Last, there should be some tightening up of ministerial responsibility. A special Minister should be put in charge of fuel. If I were criticising the Government of which I was a member, I would say that my constituents felt that we should never have done away with the Minister of Mines.
There is now a need for closer cooperation and co-ordination between competing fuels. In fact, in the Committee debate on the Statutory Corporations (Financial Provisions) Bill last week, I said that all sectors of the fuel and power industries should be under public ownership and control, and not in competition with each other. There should be one national fuel board, answerable through a 1732 Minister to Parliament, adequately financed, and responsible for all fuel and power activities. If we took first things first, got the miners' strike over and got a just settlement and then got on with a proper fuel policy, we should be doing what we should have done at least a decade ago.
§ 3.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Stewart-Smith (Belper)
I am unashamedly a Conservative dissident when it comes to the mining industry. I have been in this position before. On a previous occasion, I said to the Government "Unless you raise your offer to the miners, you will have a strike on your hands." My advice was turned down, they had a strike on their hands and in the end they settled for twice what I had recommended.
I should like to paint a scenario of what will happen over the next critical eight weeks. The Government will make it clear that there is no move whatever. Next week the national executive of the NUM will decide not to have a ballot immediately. After Christmas, as the bitterness builds up, it will decide to have a ballot in January. We shall not know the wording, but the miners might decide to strike. Then we will have a most serious situation—not only an oil crisis but, on top of that, a coal crisis. This nation could be brought to its knees, with millions unemployed. This is the seriousness of what we are discussing.
Of course we know that the National Coal Board's offer is limited by the Government's policy. I waited until the Government's consultative document on phase 3 came out, and on 11th October, nearly a month ago and within hours of publication, I wrote to the Minister :Locally, in the South Midlands area, the main continuing problem is the high and increasing rate of miners leaving the industry. Because the mining industry provides the power and light for the whole nation, my recommendations are that the basic rate should be increased still further. If this is not done, terrible damage will be done to the mining industry and the nation as a whole will suffer.Again, my advice was turned down flatly.
That advice was given before the draft Bill became law and the Government, if they had wanted to, could have made certain changes in those previous few weeks without breaking their own law. There was a slightly improved offer, but even if 1733 it is accepted now it will not keep men in the industry on the scale that J should like to see.
I then kept silent for several weeks, hoping that the Government would make further concessions, until the Prime Minister had met the national executive of the NUM. No change was permitted, no further concessions were made. Now, of course, we all have to decide whether or not the anti-inflationary level set by phase 3 should be broken.
What is good in the long term for the mining industry? We have a duty to the nation to create an efficient, contented and well-paid mining industry which can make the maximum possible contribution to our energy needs. If the basic rate is not raised somehow, there will be a strike. I am sorry to be gloomy, but I must speak the truth as I see it.
If the Government cause the miners to go out on strike, I hope they will think carefully about what they will have to do to get the miners to call off that strike. They will smash not only phase 3—and it is arguable whether it has been smashed already ; they will smash the entire counter-inflationary strategy from A to Z. The miners are a special breed of men. Last time the Government miscalculated the nature of the mining industry, the men and the life they lead. Every week one or two men die and the miners are faced with disasters like Markham and others. That being so, I do not regard phase 3 as sacrosanct.
If a strike is to be avoided, skilful and flexible negotiations must be carried out. The miners' tempers are frayed not only by what they have been through because of the overtime ban but by the concessionary coal arrangement which is creating great anger in my area.
In considering what rates we pay the miners, we must consider also the problem of manpower wastage. The scheme for apprentice training run by the National Coal Board is the best in the country. Men come in, they are trained by the NCB, they look at the wages in the industry and they rush out. That cannot be right for the nation.
We argue about the numbers who leave the industry. The men who leave are the most vital men of all, the skilled men, electricians, engineers and men who 1734 do the development work on the advanced road heading equipment. Those are the men who are leaving. It is an ageing industry.
To mention a point that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Peter Rees) may seek to make, if we do not raise miners' pay sufficiently and work starts on the Channel Tunnel, there will be no coalfields in Kent.
§ Mr. Peter Rees
That was the mischievous comment made by the right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. Harold Wilson). If people opt for working on the Channel Tunnel rather than in the pits, it will be because of the continued uncertainty ensured by some leaders of the NUM. They would prefer to take a short-term highly remunerative job on the tunnel rather than take the chance of an annual confrontation year by year in the pits. I am completely at variance with my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Stewart-Smith
I will come to the NUM leaders in a moment, and I will defer to my hon. and learned Friend's judgment on Dover. If there are alternative requirements for skilled miners, they will be sucked out of the industry. What I am after is the raising of the total tonnage of coal extracted. That is not possible with the proposed wage rates. It will not be done.
Unfortunately, both sides are now imprisoned. The Government are imprisoned by the ceiling of phase 3 and the union appears to be imprisoned by the floor of not having a ballot. Because of the Government's inflexibility, the moderates—and the majority of the members of the NUM are moderates—have been thrashed in the NUM national executive.
What is so depressing is that I believe that we are close to a settlement ; it is just within our grasp. Even at this late hour I beseech the Government to find a way of raising the basic rate. I hope that this can be done within phase 3. It might be done by bath-time arrangements and incentive bonuses—certainly the national power loading agreement is not possible in South Derbyshire. It may be possible to negotiate a productivity agreement with the union. I beseech the Government to think twice before heading for a showdown on this issue.
The NUM national executive has more power in its hands now than it has 1735 had since the war. That gives an idea of the scale of the problem that confronts us. If the Government were to give a little bit at this stage, they might just persuade the national executive to hold a ballot, and sufficient miners might vote to accept the offer. I hope that this will happen. If the Government do not raise the offer, they must take the consequences of their decision.
If there is no increased offer, in my opinion next week the executive of the National Union of Mineworkers will not recommend a ballot. The longer a ballot is delayed, the more likely we are to be heading for a strike. Our one hope is that the next time the executive meets—next week—it will follow the advice of its own president. However, why should the union president call for a ballot again if the Government have given nothing and have given no indication of movement?
I feel free to point out that perhaps the more militant members of the executive of the union hope that the longer the ballot is delayed, the more bitterness will be built up and that, when the ballot comes, it will vote for strike action. Perhaps such people should decide once and for all whether they want to act in the best interests of the miners or whether they are using the mining industry for their own political purposes, which takes up the point raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover. I warn them that if they think they will make political capital to the advantage of their political views by doing this, it may boomerang. Therefore, if they are spoiling for a fight in that respect, if they think that they can bring the Government down by using the mining industry, what they are trying to do may boomerang utterly against them. If we are compelled by such activity to have a General Election, I have no doubt that the Tory Party will be returned to power.
I hope that for the sake of the nation, which is suffering so much already, both sides will approach future negotiations with restraint and flexibility to avoid the mass misery which a prolonged and bitter coal strike will cause. I can think of no section of the community which deserves more than our miners. They deserve our respect and sympathy and, 1736 given the correct leadership from the House, they can feel that they have a great future and they can make a great contribution to the well-being of the nation as a whole, not only in this country but in Europe as a whole.
§ 3.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Woof (Blaydon)
In the present situation in the mining industry, the miners want to make it clear that there is just as little comfort in it for them as there is for the rest of the nation. We are used to all the hoary arguments to the effect that, when the miners band together to hold the country to ransom and to endeavour to force their will on the Government, it is not democracy but anarchy.
However, all things considered, the Government have been deriving great benefit from the national media of the Press, the radio and television, because the mining industry has been made to look unpopular, partly because it has been forced to take unpopular steps. It is therefore hardly surprising to learn of the wave of criticism against the miners, since many of the critics are keen supporters of the Government's economic policies.
It may well be that man, by continually changing his environment and his conditions of life, changes not only his attitude and his behaviour, but his whole thinking. So how can the Government hope to gain the confidence and support of the miners in the present disastrous fuel and energy crisis unless they intend to pursue, and are seen to do so, a policy of fairness and justice in economic matters?
Can anyone claim that the Government are doing so when substantial tax and fiscal concessions have been given to the richest and most prosperous in the community? Surely it must be that those who have so benefited have in some cases massively increased their take-home income, unlike a great many who are now involved in the present dispute.
In dealing with the restraint of inflation mentioned in the motion and the question of counter-inflation mentioned in the amendment, I am reminded of Sir John Mandeville. He was famous as a writer of the fourteenth- and fifteenth-century travel stories and legends. There was one with a particularly sinister 1737 beginning. It is the tale of a young man who was deeply in love with a beautiful lady. Realising that his misfortune was to be recorded in the book of fate, he was driven to desperation when she died. One night he broke into her tomb and lay with her. Nine months later a voice came to him in his sleep, telling him to go back to the tomb to see what he had engendered on his lost love. When he did so, a dreadful dragon broke out of the vault and proceeded to ravage the country and destroy its people.
That story comes aptly to my memory when thinking over the present solemn events. The state of things expresses my thoughts on the motion, that the dragon in our midst could be spelt in three letters—"£ s. d." The subject of money may be very mysterious and difficult to understand. It is true that it requires hard thinking. Economists and experts are partly responsible for the mystery that surrounds it, but I would imagine that one of the advantages of being an economist would be to know, working an overtime ban, or have the misfortune to fall on the dole.
In these days, in seeking remedial measures to combat inflation, it is hardly surprising that miners, or anyone else for that matter, go all out to protect their standard of living, especially when some of the largest trading companies have announced massive profit increases. The profits were all made during the periods of phase 1 and phase 2, and much of them came from the products which the Price Commission was supposed to be monitoring and controlling. Further, how can one expect miners who have to risk hardship and danger producing the nation's wealth to ignore the millions being made day by day by property developers, commodity speculators and a host of others who do not know what it means to soil their hands?
In applying my mind to the motion, one of the reasons why the miners are seeking this increase, if I may take an example, is the Anglo-Dutch giant, Unilever. It upped its pre-tax profits for the nine months to the end of September this year to £236 million as compared with £192 million for the same period of 1972. When miners or other wage earners understand what is going on around them, at a time when we are supposed to be dealing with both infla- 1738 tion and other economic problems, they realise that it is not love that makes the system go round but as much profit as can possibly be made. As a consequence, who can blame workers for demanding higher wages in order to keep up with never-ending price increases?
Today, we are of course concentrating our attention primarily upon the situation in the mining industry, and to say the least it is a very sad day indeed. There were those of us on this side of the House who participated in innumerable debates on the industry, the intensity of which we were capable of understanding, whether in government or in opposition. I myself often came to the conclusion that our brains must have been made of mutton fat compared with those experts who, possessed of the wisdom of economic knowledge, collected, classified and predicted what was best for the industry. We never claimed to have close-knit knowledge of all the economic mechanisms. We tried, as far as we understood the importance of the industry, to conform to long-term requirements. We endeavoured to argue on the range for coal output that should be considered in addition to the reserves available, with the balance-of-payments cost saving and the security of supply.
Now, everyone is faced with the stark reality that every section of Britain's industrial and manufacturing industry requires fuel in some form or another. In fact, every school, household, office building and shop needs to be lit and heated at various times of the year. Such is modern technology that it could not exist without some form of energy, and it is to that end that we advocated that our own indigenous product should be vigorously developed and exploited and planned, to ensure adequate supplies for the future in making a greater contribution to our energy problems until the end of the century.
Looking back on the conduct and standard that we tried hard to set, we might as well have talked to statues at Madame Tussaud's for all the notice that anybody took of our pleas. Throughout the years we continually pressed upon Ministers responsible, both Labour and Tory alike, the dangers of the too rapid rundown of the industry with the consequences of such a shortsighted outlook resulting not only in the slaughter of human happiness 1739 but also in the deliberate cutting back of valuable coal production. In the main, it is the substitution of such fuel for coal that has created many of today's problems and difficulties to satisfy the increasing thirst for oil, which will continue for a very long time to come.
The international upheavals which we are experiencing, gravely jeopardising industrial growth and living standards threatened, prove that there is no long-term security for imported oil supplies. The warning that Governments which neglect the coal industry do so at their peril is not a new one, as one of the sharpest lessons to be learned from the present situation affecting the distribution of oil, to place emphasis on an intelligent move with any reasonable degree of success, would be to ensure substantial production of indigenous fuels and so reduce misguided dependence on imported oil which is vulnerable to political manoeuvre.
The vastly changed situation brought about by the contraction of the coal industry has also meant costly coal imports shipped into this country. To illustrate the position, certain figures need to be borne in mind. For the month of October last, anthracite coal imported from Western Germany and South Africa cost £19.85 a ton as against the pithead price here of £12 a ton ; coking coal imported from the United States of America and Western Germany, £14 a ton as against the pithead price of £7 to £8 a ton here ; steam coal imported from the United States of America, £9 a ton as against the pithead price of £7.50 here, and manufactured fuels imported from France at a cost of £21.5 a ton. But over the year to the end of October total imports were 1,416,758 tons at a cost of £18,392,806, averaging £12.98 a ton.
Now that the overtime ban in the mining industry is potentially grave in meeting the nation's primary source of energy needs, are the Government intending to embark on importing more costly foreign coal, thereby contributing further still to the huge balance of payments deficiency, rather than being prepared to meet the miners on the wage settlement? It is well known that the reduction of the rôle of coal has been dominated by the dramatic use of oil, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday in- 1740 formed the country that we face a permanent big increase in the price of oil, which will impose an unavoidable burden on the standard of living.
As cheap oil has gone for ever, where is the argument about price increases if the miners' pay claim were to be settled and passed on through higher costs? Does that not equally apply to other industries when the rising price of oil could fundamentally alter the pattern of those industries?
Out of regard for the massive task that we face, it was interesting to read a report in The Times yesterday. It was a response from the Government, industry and the unions to hold an emergency meeting in an attempt to defuse the growing industrial troubles. It is a motive that we highly welcome. We cannot escape our responsibilities. In the same report Mr. Ronald McIntosh, Director-General of the National Economic Development Office, is quoted as saying that higher oil prices which have still to take effect would bring about trading deficits for industrialised countries, which would have to be accepted, and there must be joint effort to avoid a progressive recession. The overall aim of such an exercise should be, among other things, to consider retrieving the policy, to which the coal mining industry has been pushed into the background by market forces.
Much more co-ordination and cooperation is vitally needed for the industry to be recognised as a most valuable asset to the nation. After all, coal costs nothing in foreign exchange. It is mined by responsible workers, making full use of their experience, ability and skill in operating machinery, and guided by first-class colliery management having all the technical know-how for the everyday running of the pits. With the use of their brawn and muscles, the miners should be paid in the context of their working conditions and of what they produce, rather than our having to pay, where it is not necessary to do so, exorbitant prices to the oil-producing countries.
If it is possible to learn from that lesson and to profit by it, and if those employed in the mining industry are given further consideration for a more generous offer, it would go a long way to preserve the industry and in many areas of industrial activity, which would 1741 prefer the use of coal, it would help to arrest the fall in production, goods and services. It would be the real test to dissipate serious doubts about the future of the economy and no one will be happier than those employed in the industry.
§ 3.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)
That is not a point of order and I have no knowledge of the matter.
§ Mr. Cormack
Just to set the record straight : as a matter of courtesy earlier this week I saw the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and told him that I had a very long-standing and brief engagement. I did not leave the House until after one o'clock. I was speaking for an ex-Labour Member, but all that can pass. I handed the hon. Member for Bolsover a note as I left the Chamber telling him what I was doing.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Blaydon will forgive me if I do not pursue the points he was raising. He speaks with great feeling and real emotion. It is understandable that those who speak on this subject should speak with emotion. It is impossible to divorce deep feelings from the subject, particularly for hon. Members who have spent a lifetime in the industry. Those of us who have enjoyed the privilege of representing mining constituencies or contesting them, as I once contested Bolsover, appreciate the tremendous sense of spirit and community in those areas.
I should like to keep the temperature of the debate down because I genuinely feel that what we should be doing and what for the most part we have done today is to concentrate on the national 1742 interest. We would all agree on one thing—that whatever our interpretation of the details might be, the national interest demands an early settlement of this dispute. I sincerely hope there will be no disagreement about that. There used to be a splendid tradition in Britain that in times of trouble we try to sink our differences and come together in order to solve the problems that confront the nation as a whole. I suggest that this is just such a time. It is different from the period of trouble nearly two years ago. Hon. Members on both sides know that the views I then espoused were not markedly different from those expressed this afternoon by my hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. Stewart-Smith).
The difference this time is that there are external factors to contend with and the energy situation generally is so critical that I hope that moderation will prevail and that we shall have an early resumption of proper work in the pits. Everyone will suffer if we do not, particularly the poor and the old. In the mining communities there are probably more pathetic cases of old people, often with the sort of diseases which the hon. Member for Bolsover mentioned in his moving speech, than in any others.
The storm confronting the nation can be easily weathered if we do not panic and if we all pull together. If as a result of this dispute there is a prolonged confrontation, no one will be the winner. If the dispute is brought to the ultimate it can only result in all-round difficulty, disadvantage and even disaster for everyone. I remind those who, no doubt with what they regard as good reason, loathe the Government and all their works, that there will be an opportunity, which cannot be more than 18 months off, for the nation to pass its verdict.
§ Mr. Concannon
I sat on the Government benches from 1966 to 1970 when Labour were in power. During that time I would have liked to have heard the Opposition make from time to time the sort of speech I have just heard, containing the sort of request which the hon. Gentleman is now making. Why should it always happen when a Conservative Government are in power and never when a Labour Government are in power?
§ Mr. Cormack
I can plead innocence on that, if on nothing else. I was not in the House when the hon. Gentleman's party was in Government. I hope that what I am saying will not fall on entirely deaf ears. People will have an opportunity to pass an opinion on the Government in not more than 18 months' time. The verdict must be given in the nation's ballot boxes.
Those who seek to manipulate the controversy, with all the genuine feelings it has engendered, to create out of it a challenge to the Government and to the will of Parliament, are ill advised. Inflation has been with us for a long time and has been increasing progressively in recent years. Neither this Government nor the previous Government are free from attack on this front or on any other. I always deplore the "me-too-ism" when we debate so many economic subjects. But the Government have attempted to come to grips with the problem and the nation will be able to say how successful or otherwise they have been. It is beyond doubt that if the present policy is shipwrecked the nation as a whole will suffer.
Let us get away from statistics, average earnings and the rest. It is easy to bandy figures across the Chamber and for both sides to be right. Let us consider the ordinary people in my constituency and in the constituencies of other hon. Members, those on fixed incomes, the pensioners, the disabled and those who are so dependent above all else on the heat and light which make a winter tolerable, if not enjoyable. As they prepare for Christmas, how can they feel anything but bitterness if they think that their whole lives will be threatened?
§ Mr. Stewart-Smith
We have been bandying figures around—the wrong figures. There is a constant reference to £31 a week as the face worker's take-home pay. There are surface workers taking home £25 a week. There should be respect for the law. But with men on £25 a week one can understand the source of the bitterness at this time.
§ Mr. Cormack
I have made the same points many times. Neither the House nor 1744 any other body has the presumption to say what the miners truly deserve. People cannot be adequately rewarded for doing that sort of work, but we must examine the matter in the national context.
The Leader of the Opposition recently appealed to the railway drivers to cool it, in effect, until after Christmas, to think carefully about what they were doing. I only wish that he had addressed a similar appeal to the NUM. It is only by taking stock of the situation, by considering the consequences for the nation as a whole, that people can appreciate what they are about to bring upon us.
What will happen if there is confrontation? If—to use the shorthand phrase—there is victory for the miners, it will be a hollow victory. The policy will be smashed, and any award which they obtain will be even more quickly eroded than the last one was. There will be nothing at the end of it but profound and widespread despair and bitterness. If the Government "win", there will be equal bitterness. If a General Election is fought in that sort of climate, in un-heated and badly lit halls throughout the country, will that be the sort of trial of democracy that we should want to thrust upon the British people?
I am critical of much that has been said from my own Front Bench. I think that there has been a disturbing conflict of views on the fuel situation in general. There are suspicions of the way the oil industry is behaving which have not been satisfactorily allayed from my point of view by my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench. There is an impression of drift. There is certainly need for a crash energy programme, as hon. Members on both sides have said.
I make no bones about it. I agree with the Leader of the Opposition when he talks of the need for, perhaps, a fuel supremo, a Minister entirely in charge of these matters, because, for example, the lack of co-ordination revealed by the sort of statement we had this morning, which showed that the Minister of Agriculture had not consulted the Minister for Aerospace and Shipping on the allocation of fuel to the fishing industry, is obviously not satisfactory.
I do not claim that everything my Government have done or said is right. Of course not. But I plead with all the fervour at my command that those in 1745 charge of the National Union of Mine-workers at least give their members the opportunity in private and secret ballot to register their verdict on the offer which is open to them. I do not know what the result of that ballot would be, any more than does any hon. Member on either side. But from what has been said to me in my surgeries and what has been written to me or said on the telephone by constituents, I believe that there would be a general wish to accept, to go back to normal, to have a decent Christmas and to try to have a reasonable new year.
I believe that the offer would be acceptable, and in the context of the time I believe that it should be accepted. I hope, therefore, with all my heart, that hon. Members opposite will do what they can to say to the miners, "Keep your powder dry till June 1975, or whenever it may be, and in the meantime make sure that whoever inherits the Government of the country on that day has a country which can be governed and an industry which is prosperous and making real progress, not a country which has been brought to chaos and confusion by the ill-considered actions of a few."
§ 3.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Hamilton
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Some of us have sat here throughout the debate. The Minister made a very long speech earlier in the day when, contrary to all general practice on a Friday, he intervened immediately after the motion had been moved. Since this is a Private Members' day, I feel that it would be better to let back-bench Members have the rest of the time. The Minister will have ample opportunities before Christmas and after to answer all the points which have been made in the debate. It would be a gross abuse of the House if he now sought to make an equally abrasive speech in the remaining 10 minutes, to the detriment of back-bench Members who have remained here throughout.
1746 Not one Scottish Member has been called. Our problem in Scotland is extremely difficult and quite different from the problem in England. [Interruption.] I do not want help from the Minister. That is the last thing I want. I make the plea that back-bench Members should be allowed to use the remaining 10 minutes. At some subsequent time, before Christmas I hope, the Minister will have his opportunity. On Monday, for example, there is to be a debate about the landscaping of New Palace Yard, a half day devoted to a subject—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) is not in order in raising this point. The Minister has a perfect right to reply to that part of the debate dealing with the amendment. It is in the discretion of the Chair who is called. I regret that the hon. Member for Fife, West was not called, but it was not possible on this occasion. Mr. Boardman.
§ Mr. Boardman
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The occupants of the Opposition Front Bench made it clear that they wished me to respond to the debate and to answer their points. It is my hope to condense all that I have to say into five minutes. I hope that the Opposition will allow me that five minutes so that I may deal with their questions.
§ Mr. Swain
My point of order is this. This is a Private Members' day. We are discussing a motion ably moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), and I am not grumbling because I have not been called. Two Derbyshire Members—my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover—have both spoken, so I have no grouse. My 1747 point is that this, as I say, is a Private Members' day. Instead of having any lunch today, I took the trouble to look through back numbers of HANSARD. I have been unable to discover in 18 months of Private Members' days any occasion when the Minister has intervened twice. I was very careful to check this. I was rather worried when the Minister rose when he did. I thought—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain) is doing a disservice to his hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) by continuing on that line. The Minister gave an undertaking to allow the hon. Gentleman a few more minutes.
§ Mr. Hamilton
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May we get the position clear? Is the Minister undertaking not to intervene before five minutes to four?
§ Mr. Benyon
On a further point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. With great respect, no Member has been called today other than those who represent mining constituencies or have mining connections. The voice of the rest of the country has not been heard at all.
§ Mr. Hamilton
Is the Minister undertaking to allow another back-bench speaker from this side of the House? Is he giving that undertaking?
§ Mr. Boardman
I am content to rise at five minutes to four in order to condense my remarks into the remaining five minutes.
§ Mr. Boardman
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was called. I hope that I can assist the House by condensing my remarks into the remaining five minutes. A number of points have been raised in the debate to which I must respond. It was in an endeavour to assist the House that I said that, provided I could be assured of getting the last five minutes, I was prepared, at your discretion, to remain seated until I was called. As the time is now—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I understood that an undertaking had been given by the Minister that, provided that the hon. Member for Fife, West undertook to use the remaining time until five minutes to four and no more, he would condense his reply into those five minutes. That is why I called the hon. Member for Fife, West—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I hope that the hon. Member for Fife, West will give that undertaking to the Chair.
No. I am sorry, but I must preserve the Minister's position. He undertook to remain seated in order to allow the hon. Member for Fife, West time to speak, provided that he was allowed to rise again at five minutes to four.
§ Mr. Padley
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have had 24 years' membership of this House and I say, with great respect to you, that you did not call the Minister. The Minister indicated, without being called, that he would defer to my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton). You called the hon. Member for Fife, West as your last act. I submit to you that my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West is on his feet and you cannot overrule him.
§ Mr. Hamilton
On a point of order. My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Padley) put the point succinctly by saying, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you called me and that presumably I still had the Floor.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
It must be made clear that the Minister gave an undertaking, and it was on that supposition that I called the hon. Member for Fife, West.
§ Mr. Hamilton
It is within the clear recollection of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you called me. I was the last Member called and, presumably, I am in possession of the Floor of the House.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I called the hon. Member for Fife, West on the understanding that he would sit down at five minutes to four o'clock.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I wish to explain that the Minister gave an undertaking that he would allow the hon. Member for Fife, West to speak until five minutes to four. The Minister gave the undertaking, he had the right to hold the Floor, and he gave way. In consequence I called the hon. Member for Fife, West.
§ Mr. Boardman
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You had called me and points of order were raised by Labour Members. I said that if I could condense my remarks into a period of five minutes, it would assist the hon. Member for Fife, West. The hon. Gentleman said that that would satisfy him. 1750 There are a number of important questions which I am sure the House will wish me to answer, and I would like, with the leave of the House, to have the opportunity now to make those observations.
§ Mr. Ogden
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not wish to embarrass the Minister, who intervened at an early hour in the debate, but I must point out that he spoke for 33 minutes and told us nothing we did not know long before he made his speech. Is it possible for a Minister to say whether he will allow another hon. Member to speak? Is that not within your prerogative, Mr. Deputy Speaker?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
May I make it quite clear that the Minister spoke to the main Question and the amendment was moved thereafter.
§ Mr. Ogden
Further to my point of order. May I make it clear that many Members in the House have not been able to speak on any matter. I complain not on my own behalf but in the interests of those who have been trying to obtain an opportunity to make their contribution. The Minister did not help very much when he did speak. In fact, instead of seeking to be constructive he made a most destructive speech.
§ Mr. Padley
Further to my earlier point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The point of order I raised was based on 24 years' experience of this House. The Minister gave an undertaking that he would take only five minutes. Meanwhile, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you called my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton). Therefore, he has the floor. It is not a question whether a Minister has the right to be called—
§ It being four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.