HC Deb 10 December 1973 vol 866 cc12-4
7. Mr. Cronin

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a further statement on the situation in the coal industry.

Mr. Peter Walker

I have nothing to add to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry in the debate which took place on 7th December.

Mr. Cronin

Will the right hon. Gentleman indicate how long the Government propose to continue this obstinate and foolish confrontation with the miners and so grossly reduce coal production at a time when other sources of fuel are critically reduced? Is it not obvious that, in view of the rundown in manpower as well as the present dispute, sooner or later the Government must pay the miners much more than the present offer if they are to get them to do work which is dangerous, inconvenient and grossly ill-paid?

Mr. Walker

The present offer guarantees the miners a substantial improvement in their living standards. It is an offer which also gives them an incentive for further productivity. With all the problems in both energy and counter-inflation, I deeply regret that the miners do not accept the offer and get back to work. [Interruption.]

Mr. Jeffrey Archer

Has my right hon. Friend noticed—[Interruption.] Has my right hon. Friend noticed—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member must be allowed to put his supplementary question without these sedentary noises.

Mr. Archer

Has the Secretary of State noticed the CEGB's total energy scheme in which it suggests that for the total good of the country the coal, electricity and gas boards should work together rather than always be rivals?

Mr. Walker


Hon. Members


Mr. Walker

I withdraw what I said about the miners getting back to work. It is purely the overtime ban with which we are concerned, not full-time working.

We have had a series of meetings with all the nationalised industries combined to look at the energy resources problem. Considerable liaison is going on between the various industries concerned with energy supply.

Mr. Varley

May we take it from the right hon. Gentleman that before Thursday his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment will take the initiative to try to break this deadlock? If not, why not?

Mr. Walker

That question should be addressed to my right hon. Friend, who will have to decide what he considers the best way of obtaining a settlement of this matter.

Mr. Crouch

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the most important requirements for a negotiator in an industrial dispute is flexibility? Are not the terms of stage 3 unnecessarily restricting his right hon. Friend's hand in achieving a settlement of this dispute?

Mr. Walker

No. One of the considerable advantages of stage 3 is that it provides considerable flexibility. Indeed, stage 3 provides the flexibility that enables the miners to have available to them an offer far greater and more generous than most sections of the community can enjoy.