HC Deb 12 November 1973 vol 864 cc22-4
23. Mr. Golding

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what is his policy towards expanding the British coalmining industry.

27. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will now announce plans for the extended use of coal and its exploitation, in view of the prospective fuel shortage.

The Minister for Industry (Mr. Tom Boardman)

My right hon. Friend told the House in his statement on 24th October that we were discussing with the National Coal Board its plans for the further development of the coalmining industry. These discussions will inevitably be affected by the decision of the Executive of the National Union of Mineworkers to ban overtime. The effect that such decisions will have upon these plans must, at this stage, be uncertain.

Mr. Golding

Is the Minister aware that the possibility of oil rationing makes the rapid and immediate expansion of the coalmining industry imperative? Is he further aware that we shall not achieve an expansion of the coal industry without a substantial increase in the pay of coal miners?

Mr. Boardman

The hon. Gentleman must recognise what the present Govenment have done for the coalmining industry in the advances of grants to provide better redundancy terms and in making better pension schemes. In return, we have received from the coalmining industry an assurance of security of supply. I hope the hon. Gentleman will support the plea of the National Coal Board that at a time when we are facing energy problems the miners should not inflict on this country the shortage which will inevitably follow if they go ahead with the decision that they have announced.

Mr. Skeet

As this country is in an energy crisis, may I ask my hon. Friend to take a leaf out of the American book and encourage the private sector to enter further into mining to produce the coal required for electricity?

Mr. Boardman

I note what my hon. Friend has said.

Mr. Skinner

Referring to the suggestion by the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) about developing the private sector, does the Minister realise that firms like the Cementation Company are already offering jobs at £15 a day, and that the National Coal Board in some areas is in fact employing such people? Does he not understand that there must be something wrong with a system that allows outside contractors to work alongside miners at twice their wages and then him to attack the miners for what he calls blackmail? What sort of a set-up is that?

Mr. Boardman

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will therefore give his wholehearted support to the Government's counter-inflation policy, which produces for the miners an average increase of 13 per cent., which will enable those working full-time on the coal face with normal overtime to earn over £50 a week. I believe that the Government have made fair offers to the coal industry and that the NCB has put forward proposals which members of the National Union of Mineworkers should consider individually.

Mr. William Hamilton

What conceivable relationship, as suggested in the Minister's original answer, is there between the decision by the National Union of Mineworkers to ban overtime and the long-term possibility of developing our indigenous fuel resources? Will he stop this nonsense and realise that the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is substantial, and requires an answer? If we are to have a counter-inflation policy it must be fair and apply to everybody.

Mr. Boardman

The National Coal Board has put forward its long-range plan, which we were in the course of discussing with the industry. The plan has been discussed with the unions. It was and is a constructive plan, which provides for expansion of certain areas of the coalmining industry. Unfortunately, the action taken, so far as it results in a contraction of parts of the industry, must inhibit elements of that long-range plan. It would not be realistic, at any rate until we are able to see a little more clearly what will happen, to discuss the long-range plan while at the same time there is a contraction which will flow if the overtime ban is implemented in the way that is threatened.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. Hon. Members must allow me to move on to Questions to the Attorney-General, which should be not later than 3.20 p.m. We are already two minutes late.