§ Message from Her Majesty [13th November] considered.
§ Mr. Speaker
The Message from Her Majesty is as follows:The Emergency Powers Act 1920, as amended by the Emergency Powers Act 1964, having enacted that if it appears to Her Majesty that there have occurred or are about to occur events of such nature as to be calculated, by interfering with the supply and distribution of food, water, fuel or light, or with the means of locomotion, to deprive the community, or any substantial portion of the community, of the essentials of life, Her Majesty may, by Proclamation, declare that a state of emergency exists; and the present industrial dispute affecting persons employed in the coal mines and the electricity supply industry having, in Her Majesty's opinion, constituted a state of emergency within the meaning of the said Act of 1920 as so amended:Her Majesty has deemed it proper, by Proclamation dated the 13th day of November 1973, and made in pursuance of the said Act of 1920, as so amended, to declare that a state of emergency exists.
§ 4.0 p.m.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Robert Can)
I beg to move,That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, thanking Her Majesty for Her Most Gracious Message communicating to this House that Her Majesty deems it proper by Proclamation, made in pursuance of the Emergency Powers Act 1920, as amended by the Emergency Powers Act 1964, and dated 13th November 1973, to declare that a state of emergency exists.
§ Mr. Speaker
I think it will be for the convenience of the House to discuss at the same time the following motion:That the Regulations made by Her Majesty in Council under the Emergency Powers Act 1920 by Order dated 13th November 1973, a copy of which was laid before this House on 13th November, shall continue in force, subject however to the provisions of section 2(4) of the said Act.
§ Mr. Carr
I will first deal with the regulations, then mention the few changes that have been made since the House last approved a set of emergency regulations and, briefly, the two orders that came into effect today and then turn to the case for introducing these regulations at this time.
It has been the practice of successive Governments—I am sure that it is a wise 681 one—to make a complete set of emergency regulations at the outset. No Government can forecast precisely the course of any emergency, and this emergency is no exception.
The first substantive regulations are Nos. 3, 4 and 5 which are concerned with the regulation of ports. It is not expected that the need for them will arise in the immediately foreseeable future.
Regulations 6 to 15 give power to relax restrictions governing the use of road vehicles, and here again the need to make use of any of these regulations is also unlikely in the immediate future.
Regulations 16 to 20 are concerned with various public services and public utilities. Regulations 17 and 18 in particular are concerned with the supply of electricity and gas respectively. It may be necessary to relieve some electricity boards of their statutory or contractual obligations to supply electricity or to maintain a supply of a certain standard. I draw the attention of the House to certain additional powers which my right hon. Friend will have to give directions to various river and water authorities and sewerage authorities under regulations 19 and 20.
The 1972 regulations—the last ones we had—allowed the various water undertakers and water boards and sewerage authorities, acting under any general or special authority granted by or on behalf of the Secretary of State, to disregard certain restrictions imposed with respect to the taking of water or the discharge of the contents of sewers. The additional powers proposed are designed to facilitate the task of water and sewerage authorities in doing what is necessary or expedient to maintain supplies of water or to secure the most effective draining of the sewers under such directions as the Secretary of State may wish to give. In both cases there are reserve powers for the Secretary of State to take appropriate steps if his directions are not complied with.
It is not expected that immediate use will have to be made of these new powers, although, if we remember the lessons of some earlier disputes, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that if the electricity supply situation deteriorates drastically this could interfere with the provision of water supplies and the operation of sewage disposal plants. I hope that 682 the House will agree that this is a prudent and useful additional to the corpus of emergency powers.
Regulations 21 to 29 deal with consumption and supply. My right hon. Friend has already made orders under regulation 21 restricting the consumption of electricity for certain purposes in connection with space heating and display and advertising lighting.
§ Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol, Central)
Has there been consultation with the Electricity Council on regulation 21? I have it on good authority that there was no consultation whatever and that the Electricity Council has protested strongly.
§ Mr. Carr
I am sure that there has been consultation. My hon. Friend the Minister for Industry will give the House details of it when he winds up. I assure the hon. Gentleman that there has been consultation.
An additional power is included under Regulation 21 which enables the Secretary of State by order to regulate or prohibit the supply or abstraction and consumption of water in terms similar to the existing powers relating to fuel refinery products, electricity and gas. Again, it is not expected that early use will need to be made of this power to regulate the supply or consumption of water, but I thought it proper to draw the House's attention both to the existence of the main power and the addition to which I have referred.
Regulation 22 gives the Government power to regulate solid or liquid fuel or refinery products. This may be particularly relevant at a time when a serious disruption of coal supplies coincides with a period of grave uncertainty about oil supplies. It has always been customary to include this provision in emergency regulations, and Regulation 22 is in the same form as in the last set of regulations we had before us.
The remaining regulations—30 to 40—are in the normal standard form. Perhaps I should draw to the attention of the House once again the proviso to Regulation 38(1) whereby no person shall be guilty of an offence against the emergency regulations—and that includes breaches of orders made under the regulations—by reason of his taking part in or peacefully persuading others to take part in a strike. These regulations, therefore, are 683 not directed against the lawful activities of trade unions. Their sole purpose is to grant the Government the necessary powers to safeguard the essentials of life. That again is normal, but I thought it was worth underlining this fact so that there may be no misunderstanding, perhaps not so much inside the House as outside it.
§ Mr. Norman Atkinson (Tottenham)
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that if the operations centre in Scotland Yard, which has been set up in an attempt to minimise the effects of picketing, is to have the teeth and power to carry out the job which he envisages it will do it will require to act under the regulation to which he has referred?
§ Mr. Carr
Certainly no regulation is required for that. The Police Act 1964 provides powers for co-operation between police forces. The centre to which the hon. Gentleman refers is not an operations centre but an information centre, which I think the hon. Gentleman will agree is rather different. The object of this regulation is not in any way to help the police to prevent peaceful, lawful picketing, but simply to help the police generally throughout the country to make sure that the law of peaceful picketing is adhered to and is not broken. If no one breaks the law about peaceful picketing I shall be delighted because that will mean that the centre will have nothing to do.
§ Mr. Harry Ewing (Stirling and Falkirk Burghs)
In view of what the Home Secretary has just said, does he consider on reflection that it was wise to refer to the setting up of this information centre in Scotland Yard when he appeared to give a stern warning to those concerned with picketing duties when he spoke recently on television?
§ Mr. Carr
I do not think so. This is something I have said on a number of occasions, as I told the House on Tuesday. There is nothing new in it. It is important that the people of this country should be reminded of the law and who has the duty to enforce it. That was all I did. It is a perfectly proper thing to do, and it is better to do that occasionally than to speak too late.
I now turn to the basic case for introducing these regulations at this time. The basic, overriding reason is that the present 684 Government—indeed any Government, as I hope Labour Members will accept—have a primary duty to safeguard the ordinary life of the community both at work and at home and the services which it needs. In modern society few things can disrupt life more than a failure of fuel supplies.
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Ardwick)
The Home Secretary mentions life at work and at home. What about the schools? Are the children in my constituency, because of his regulations, to be expected to go to cold schools?
§ Mr. Carr
The hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) had better wait for the debate to develop that point in his own contribution. I hope that nobody will have to go to a cold school or cold office, but we may all have to go to somewhat less warm ones than we would otherwise do. This is a matter to which we shall give very careful consideration, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry will deal with it when he comes to reply to the debate.
Few things can disrupt the lift of the community more than a failure of fuel supplies. It is no good waiting until that disruption has become serious. If industrial activity and, therefore, the employment of the vast majority of our people is to be sustained, if essential services such as hospitals are to be guaranteed, if ordinary life at home is to be preserved at a decent tolerable level, it is only prudent to take action to conserve fuel and energy resources as soon as a serious threat to them materialises. There can do no doubt that such a serious threat exists today.
Before the miners' overtime ban began on Monday, we already had two conditions which are central to the situation. First, we had the condition of grave uncertainty about our oil supplies arising from the war and the continuing crisis in the Middle East. Secondly, we had already before Monday the ban on out-of-hours working by the electrical power engineers. In consequence of this dispute in which the electrical power engineers are involved, some members of the public have already suffered an abrupt interruption of supplies. It is true that we have not suffered organised rota cuts which 685 electricity boards have been able to operate in previous emergencies, but an immediate blackout without warning and some doubt whether it might be possible for supplies to be resumed have been a reality. In these circumstances it is not always possible to guarantee supplies to priority consumers or to maintain supplies to hospitals, operating theatres and those on kidney machines and so on.
Before the miners' ban on Monday we already had these two circumstances: the grave uncertainty of oil supplies and the ban on out-of-hours working by the electrical power engineers. Then superimposed on those two circumstances came the miners' overtime ban. This has brought about a crucial situation, particularly when the nature and the intended effect of this overtime ban is taken into account.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
Does the Home Secretary not agree that this all comes down to the Government's rigidity in relation to phase 3? There is an alternative—and that is to reach a settlement for these two groups of workers. There was a time when Conservative Members used to sneer at my right hon. Friend when as Prime Minister he used to have his midnight meetings with various trade union leaders. But we never had the sort of industrial chaos which we now find in this country after three years of Tory Government.
§ Mr. Carr
We had sufficient chaos under the Labour Government for them to introduce "In Place of Strife". The then Prime Minister and his Ministers said that that document was essential to the life of the community.
As for the hon. Gentleman's other point, the code in phase 3 has been passed by this House. [Interruption.] Yes, it has been passed by the House, and in a democratic society it demands the respect of all our people. I shall be interested to hear whether Labour Members deny that fact. If they do, they should say so clearly.
It should also be pointed out that the phase 3 arrangements provide flexibility to give above-average increases to those—such as the miners and many people engaged in the public services and those undertaking other types of work—who, because of unsocial hours and so forth, 686 work in difficult conditions. It provides an offer to the miners which by any standards of the past is extremely generous. It is also fair to point out that the present miners' agreement, by their consent, runs until next March. Therefore, they are imposing this overtime ban four months at least before their present agreement runs out and needs to be replaced by a new one. It would not be unreasonable for people of this country to say "Before you impose this sort of hardship upon us, you ought to try to negotiate a bit further to reach a solution without this sort of national crisis being created." If the Opposition are prepared to take that view, then the whole country will welcome it; but if they are not, then they can account to the country for their actions. I have little doubt how the country will regard them.
§ Mr. Alec Jones (Rhondda, West)
The Home Secretary seems to suggest that if the mineworkers are prepared to negotiate further at this stage all will be well. Is he saying that the Government are prepared to allow real negotiations with the miners at the present juncture?
§ Mr. Carr
Yes, indeed, and if the hon. Gentleman is honest he must admit that the phase 3 code allows considerable latitude for negotiation. It does not impose a standard set amount on all workers in all industries and in all trades and occupations regardless. In the standstill period that was inevitable. Phase 2 allowed a little more latitude and flexibility. Phase 3 would allow much more latitude and flexibility to meet individual conditions, otherwise it would not have been possible for the sort of offers which we now see to be made within phase 3. I refer to the miners and firemen, to take two examples. It was deliberately chosen to allow offers considerably above the average to be negotiated in those occupations which, because of such matters as unsocial hours, it would be generally thought deserved above-average increases. That is the position.
§ Mr. Eric G. Varley (Chesterfield)
If it is the case that the pay code allows much more flexibility, how is it that the power engineers, who negotiated their out-of-hours agreement more than a year ago, still do not have an effective settlement?
§ Mr. Carr
The meetings are still going on. It may be that we shall find a solution. I hope that we do.
To return to the strict subject of the debate, from which I was diverted by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), I wish to emphasise that the overtime ban has been superimposed on the situation that I have described, and we have the ban in a form which, as the leaders of the National Union of Mineworkers have made clear by their public statements, would quickly produce a severe drop in coal production.
It is not some harmless overtime ban which will have only a marginal effect. It is an overtime ban which the miners' union leaders—to their credit, because there was nothing furtive in their approach—said openly and publicly would have, and was intended to have, a severe effect. Indeed, the National Coal Board has confirmed that the loss of output so far after the first three days is already 20 per cent. to 25 per cent. of normal production; and that is the situation before the indirect effects of the overtime ban have been felt—for example, through failures and damage due to lack of maintenance. We must, therefore, expect a further progressive and rapid deterioration, as the miners' leaders well understand.
Indeed, Mr. Gormley is reported in The Times of 9th November to have said on 8th November:It is my estimate that if properly applied there will be few pits working after the first week. The crunch will come this weekend.That is Mr. Gormley's estimate of the effect of the overtime ban. If anyone tries to tell this House and this Government or the people of this country that when we have grave uncertainty about oil supplies, when we have minor dislocation already in the electricity supply industry and, on top of that, when we have the miners' overtime ban—which the union leader himself says will, if properly applied, mean that few pits will be working after the first week—that we should not have a state of emergency declared in that circumstance I hope that he will try to explain himself not only to this House but to the country as a whole.
§ Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)
The Minister is selective in what he believes from the leaders of the mineworkers. If he can believe them on one 688 count he ought to believe them on the other. Will he tell the House how much that figure of lost production, if it is correct, fell on the first day and how much on the two days after he declared his state of emergency and almost declared war on the miners?
§ Mr. Carr
It is ridiculous to say that declaring a state of emergency is declaring war on the miners. It is a serious action, true, but its object is to protect the life and work of the overwhelming majority of people of this country. I remind the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) that what I said was that the National Coal Board has confirmed that the loss of output so far is already between 20 per cent. and 25 per cent. It has varied each day, but on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday the figure was over 20 per cent. and below 25 per cent. It has not been exactly the same each day, but even on the first day it was over 20 per cent. and has been over 20 per cent. on each succeeding day.
We had to make our decision in the light of our knowledge on Tuesday that Day 1 had caused a 20 per cent. loss of production and that the miners' leaders were saying that in a week many pits would be closed without any extension of the overtime ban.
§ Mr. Elystan Morgan (Cardigan)
Is not the right hon. Gentleman painting a completely misleading picture to the House? Is it not the fact that because of the oil problem the emergency powers would have been necessary within a short time in any event? Is he not, therefore, using the miners' action as a political alibi in order to prejudice public opinion against them, and, that being so, does he not agree that it is reprehensibly dishonest of him to try to divert the attention of the House from the main dominant, central consideration—oil?
§ Mr. Carr
I certainly do not accept that. I feel that the House should acquit me of that charge, because I very fairly said—if hon. Members look back, they will see that I said the same on Tuesday—that we had the double situation already existing of grave uncertainty about oil supplies and the trouble with electricity supply. I say quite firmly that, whatever the oil situation might or might not, or may or may not, mean on its own in the end, there is as yet nothing in the 689 oil situation which, on its own, would require the declaration of a state of emergency. That may not always remain so, because, as I have already stated, there is grave uncertainty. That is the situation which the House must take into account.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)
Is my right hon. Friend saying that if the overtime ban were taken off tomorrow and under stage 3 a settlement could be arrived at this set of emergency operations would not be proceeded with?
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)
But is not the case against the Home Secretary—[HON. MEMBERS: "There is I10 case".]—that there are 11 weeks' stocks in the country, which would allow us time to negotiate a settlement with the miners if that were allowed by the Government? Why, then, have the state of emergency now?
§ Mr. Carr
Fair enough. Is that what the Opposition want to say to the country?—Use up your coal stocks, do it at a time when you have no assurance that you can keep up your oil stocks at their present level, and do nothing in the hope that—[Interruption.] Very well. Let them say that to the country. But it is not what this Government will ever say to the country.
Although Britain has received valuable assurances from the Arab oil-producing countries, there is no doubt that the world oil supply situation as a whole is gravely uncertain, and thus, in the Government's view, there is no doubt that the threats to coal and electricity have so seriously reduced our ability to withstand the uncertainties of the oil supply situation that the basic commodity at risk is now energy as a whole. It is not a matter of one form of fuel alone.
When one is threatened on the supply of energy as a whole, there is no doubt that the action which the Government have taken is right. With our pits already producing 20 to 25 per cont. each day less than normal, and with the apparent certainty, unless the union calls off its action, that next week matters will be much worse, it would be utter folly and 690 utter lack of responsibility to carry on without these emergency powers.
§ Mr. Carr
No. The hon. Member will admit that I have been generous in giving way, and the result of giving way is that other hon. Members will not have opportunity to speak. I deliberately wanted to make a short speech in order to allow others a chance to contribute to the debate.
My hon. Friend the Minister for Industry has already appealed for fuel economy in all sectors, and we have already reinforced that appeal by taking specific steps under the emergency regulations to reduce electricity demand. The ban on display and floodlighting and on space heating under the two orders which came into force today will, we estimate, save about 5 per cent. of our total electricity consumption, and this is a valuable contribution if we have a long haul ahead of us. Although we hope that we do not have a long haul ahead of us, it would be folly to plan on any other basis, and, of course, the need for further orders will be under daily review.
Meanwhile, I reinforce the appeals already made by the Government to all consumers to do their utmost to economise in the use of electricity and all fuels in the knowledge that the need for more stringent measures may thus be avoided—and by "thus be avoided" I mean by voluntary co-operation in achieving maximum economy.
As my hon. Friend has already announced, the public sector has been instructed to play its full part in this effort. The Civil Service Department yesterday issued a notice to all Government Departments and all public bodies drawing their attention to the need for economy in the use of fuel and electricity, and this will be rigorously brought about within all Departments and public bodies. The Government are in touch with the airlines about measures which they can take to pool flights and so save aviation spirit. An appeal is being made to the distribution trades to ask them to seek to 691 save fuel by reorganising delivery and other schedules. The Department of Trade and Industry has in action an emergency unit to provide advice to industry on fuel conservation, and widespread consultation with industry will take place.
There is no doubt in my mind that, because of the situation arising out of industrial action being taken in the coal and electricity industries on top of the uncertainty about oil, we are right to have taken these powers, and right to have taken them now. If the Opposition persist in their charge that there was some sinister political motive for this action, or for its timing, that, I believe is more a commentary on their approach to these matters than on ours, and I am prepared to let the country judge which is the right course to take.
We believe these powers to be necessary for the protection of the public. I hope that the Opposition will not divide the House against them. The regulations and the supporting measures which I have announced this afternoon will help us to economise on power while the disputes last.
§ Mr. Eadie
The right hon. Gentleman challenges the Opposition on the basis of responsibility. Will he agree that he is the wrong person to be moving these regulations, because it was he himself who was involved in negotiation with the miners during the last strike, and it was he who accepted the report as the basis of the miners' settlement? Why is he not prepared to accept that tribunal—which the Government agreed should be set up—as the basis of a settlement now? Is it not irresponsible for him to ignore that settlement and not reach a settlement with the miners now?
§ Mr. Carr
I do not know what the hon. Gentleman means by "ignoring that settlement". I remember telling the House before that dispute started—I was shouted down by hon. Members opposite when I said it—that if the Opposition were saying that the miners were a special case, as indeed they were saying, then they and the trade union movement supported by them must accept that the very definition of a special case, that one did more for one lot of workers than for another, meant that others must be pre- 692 pared to hold back, and the trade union movement, on a voluntary basis, must find some way of ranking claims. Otherwise, a special case is a contradiction in terms.
What happened was that the Wilberforce inquiry was held, its recommendations were accepted, and the miners were treated as a very special case indeed in the scale of the increase which they then had, but, unfortunately, within a few months the operation of the free-for-all of collective bargaining made nonsense of that special case, and the special case had become the standard norm. That is the main reason why, regretfully, we have had to go to a statutory policy—a most regrettable step. The hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) talks about the Wilberforce inquiry. Let him, with all his trade union colleagues, examine the why and the wherefore of what happened afterwards. [An HON. MEMBER: "The right hon. Gentleman accepted it."] I accepted Wilberforce. Wilberforce was accepted and implemented. Since then, unfortunately, because of what happened after Wilberforce, we have had to move to a statutory policy and a pay code in an entirely different situation.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu)
Order. It is evident that the right hon. Gentleman is not giving way.
§ Mr. Carr
I will not, because I want to end my speech rapidly, and so let other hon. Members make their speeches.
Finally, I need hardly say that it is the profound wish of the Government, and of the public at large, that these disputes should be speedily and fairly settled, so that the Government can ask for the emergency powers to be revoked.
I assure the House that the Government will make as much, but no more, use of these powers as is absolutely necessary to fulfil our primary duty to the people of the country as a whole, and that we shall bring the powers to an end as soon as we believe it is safe to do so.
§ 4.36 p.m.
§ Mrs. Shirley Williams (Hitchin)
The Home Secretary rightly said that the declaration of a state of emergency is a serious matter. He knows, and the Government know, that this is the fifth state of emergency declared by this Government. They have declared more states of emergency than any other Government in recent years. The first was declared in July 1970, the second in December 1970, the third in February 1972, the fourth in August 1972, and now we have the fifth.
I wish to draw the attention of the House to two features of the last two states of emergency declared by the Government. The state of emergency in February 1972 arose over the miners' strike, when the miners had been on strike for more than three weeks, and at a time when the stocks of distributed coal were considerably lower than they are now. The contrast between that state of emergency—declared after several weeks of a full strike, and with lower coal stocks than we now have—and this state of emergency—after one day of an overtime ban, and with much higher coal stocks—is not lost on this side of the House.
The Government also declared a state of emergency in August 1972, when there had been seven days of a complete dock strike, which had halted all movement of goods into and out of the country. Declarations of emergency after a three weeks' strike, a seven days' strike and now after one day of an overtime ban—are not the Government perhaps becoming a little profligate with states of emergency?
A state of emergency is not declared without consequences on the people of the country, on overseas' attitudes, on the Stock Exchange, and on confidence in industrial investment. The two latter matters are, perhaps, of more concern to Conservative Members than to hon. Members on this side. It is not surprising that this state of emergency has been accompanied by signs of panic on the Stock Exchange and grave disquiet in industry, and overseas.
A state of emergency is a declaration by a Government that they are gravely concerned about the country. Therefore, no Government should embark on a state of emergency without the fullest 694 possible reasons. The powers which a Government take in declaring a state of emergency are very wide and very severe. The Home Secretary mentioned some of them. They include the right to arrest without warrant, the right to requisition any item of transport, any chattel, or piece of land, and the right of a Government to bring in troops. These powers, sustained over any length of time, are incompatible with parliamentary democracy.
Therefore, no Government should ask for such powers and certainly no Government should repeatedly ask for them, without being very clear that the reasons are overwhelming. Such action begins to shake people's faith in democracy.
§ Mr. John Gorst (Hendon, North)
As the hon. Lady has made a comparison betwen the five declarations of a state of emergency under the present Government and the fewer such declarations—[HON. MEMBERS: "One."]—the one in six years under her Government, will she answer the following question? As they have all been due to industrial unrest, would it be fair to assume that a Government of her party would have capitulated to the demands on all those occasions?
§ Mrs. Williams
If the hon. Gentleman will be kind enough to allow me to continue my speech, he will find that I come to exactly that point in a few minutes. I believe that there would have been nothing like the amount of industrial disruption that we have seen if different policies had been followed.
Obviously, it is a grave matter for a Government to introduce a state of emergency. It is also a grave matter for an Opposition to oppose it. We do not do so lightly. We do it because we believe that either there is not a state of emergency on the grounds the Government have declared, or, if there is one, it is on grounds which for some reason the Government are unwilling to admit. That is why on this occasion we cannot support its declaration.
Before going into details. I should like to ask one or two questions about the existing regulations. The Home Secretary pointed out that one regulation has been made already with regard to the use of display lighting, floodlighting, and so on. Within the context of the present state of emergency, that is Just the sort 695 of thing a Government should do. Such lighting is what one might describe as a somewhat expendable use of electricity. It is relevant to say that when I passed through the West End this afternoon there was display lighting on inside shops, although it was full daylight, in large areas of Oxford Street. For that to happen after the making of the emergency orders, at a time when schools are told they may not heat by electricity, is to suggest that the Government have failed to consult or to publicise, or have simply got their order of priorities all wrong.
Secondly, the Government's order that space heating of offices, shops and a whole range of other public accommodation is not allowed refers only to heating by electricity, yet the Home Secretary himself could not have made it clearer in today's debate that the crisis is one of all sources of fuel and not simply of electricity. However, we are not being asked to conserve oil in centrally-fired oil-heated establishments. We are not being asked to take steps to conserve coal. We are being asked to cut out heating in the one area of the provision by the State which is crucially important, because it is irrecoverable. I refer to the loss of schooling. Lost school time can never be made up to a child. Such heating should be the last thing and not the first that we seek to economise on.
§ Mr. R. Carr
I should like to correct the hon. Lady on one point. It is true that we have made only two orders, but I made it absolutely clear, as my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry has already done publicly, that we are appealing for economy in the use of all fuels, and not only electricity. We are doing something about it. The request to all Government Departments and public bodies affected all fuels.
§ Mrs. Williams
I accept what the right hon. Gentleman says today, but he did not say it on Tuesday, when he declared the state of emergency. What he has said shows up the whole contrast in a sense. There is an appeal to those using oil-fired heating but a directive to those using electric heating. We say, "Issue the directive not in terms of the sort of heating but in terms of the use made of it".
696 I turn to the reasons the Government gave for the present state of emergency. The Home Secretary said on Tuesday:the present situations in the coal and electricity generating industries constitute a threat to the essentials of life of the community which is sufficiently serious to justify taking immediate emergency powers to maintain essential services."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th November 1973;Vol. 864, c. 257.]The very next day The Times reported in its political column thatsenior Ministers emphasize the precautionary nature of their decision rather than a crisis.I stress the words "precautionary nature". I believe that that report of what senior Ministers are saying is rather closer to the truth than the statement in the declaration of emergency.
Let us take coal first. There is a ban on overtime in the coalmining industry. There will certainly be consequences on production, which I do not wish to underestimate, by next week. The National Coal Board has said publicly today that it cannot estimate the consequences for production until after the weekend. But the Government have said, and my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon) has repeated, that there are 12 weeks' stocks. The Home Secretary says, "Are you asking us to disperse those stocks before taking action?" He and the Government cannot have it both ways. A year ago, much more correctly, they took steps to try to avoid a state of emergency until there really was one. On this occasion, with 12 weeks' stocks and the miners still negotiating with the National Coal Board, the Government have taken this action without even giving a few more days in which negotiations can take place. That is hardly helpful.
The second ground the Government give for their emergency declaration relates to electricity generation, which the Home Secretary described today as a minor dislocation. There were no voltage reductions yesterday; the full supply has been maintained. The gap between the Central Electricity Generating Board's offer and the claim of the Electrical Power Engineers' Association is very narrow. It is a claim that, to the shame of everybody, not least the Government and the Pay Board, has been outstanding for no less than 12 months.
697 The Opposition believe that the true reason for the state of emergency is different, and that Ministers are gradually, reluctantly, admitting it. The Home Secretary, after questioning on Tuesday, but not before questioning, and not in his original declaration, admitted that the uncertainty of oil supplies owing to the crisis in the Middle East was an important factor in the state of emergency. Today he said that the coal and electricity difficulties coincide with a serious disruption of oil supplies. In other place the Lord Privy Sea said that the Government thought the state of emergencythe right action to take because of the coming together of three emergencies."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 13th November 1973; vol. 346, c. 588.]Yet the Government mentioned only two in their state of emergency declaration. It is no way to unite the country in a difficult situation only to mention minor emergencies involving trade unions and not to mention the major emergency of oil supplies, which would have had the consequence of uniting the country in a determination on the matter.
When I asked the Home Secretary on Tuesday whether he had in mind the restriction of oil supplies or the rationing of petrol supplies, he did not answer. Yet we know that the cut-back of Arab oil supplies has already been 30 per cent. to the world, and it is estimated by the oil companies to be 20 per cent. to this country. The Economist said last week:Britain and France will face painful oil shortages within a few weeks even if the Arabs regard them as friendly.It is known that the Department of Trade and Industry has already made inquiries of industry about what steps it would take to deal with, first, a 10 per cent. cut and, secondly, a 20 per cent. cut in oil supplies, which might last for a considerable period.
All over the world—in Japan, West Germany, the United States—other countries are taking steps to restrict, control or even ration petrol supplies. Therefore, it is astonishing that the Government should put before the House what I can only describe as a truly desperate and rather shoddy attempt to place the blame for the emergency upon certain trade unions, and should not make it 698 clear that an emergency faces not just Britain but the entire Western world, an emergency for which I do not blame the Government.
§ Mr. Peter Rost (Derbyshire, South-East)
The hon. Lady has made an excellent case in referring to the oil emergency, in support of what the Government are proposing. Will she now come to the point and say what the country is waiting to hear—whether or not the Opposition support the action taken by the leaders of the mineworkers?
§ Mrs. Williams
We do not support the state of emergency but we shall support it the moment the Government make clear how the state of emergency really arises. Let me turn to the point the hon. Member has raised. One of the difficulties in this House is that remarks one is about to make are always pre-empted by questions. I think the Home Secretary found the same thing. It means that a speaker has to jump about from one point to another while attempting to develop a line of argument. I am not trying to avoid the question and I shall answer it, but it will be in my own time and in my own place.
§ Mr. Anthony Fell (Yarmouth)
The hon. Lady has a great reputation for her honesty and her probity. I thought she said—I may have misunderstood her—that she will not say whether she supports this movement or not until she has heard from the Government why they are declaring the state of emergency. Surely my right hon. Friend has said precisely why it is being declared.
§ Mrs. Williams
I am sorry, but I shall have to repeat what I said. If the Government are prepared to state, as they have not yet been prepared to, that the state of emergency is because of the oil supply situation, and if they are also prepared to admit, what they will soon be obliged to admit, about the introduction of oil rationing, we shall support the state of emergency. Frankly, we do not believe that the Government are being honest with the country.
I turn to the point which I raised with the Home Secretary on Tuesday and 699 which relates to the question just raised by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost). It relates directly to the reasons given by the Home Secretary for the state of emergency, namely the coal and electricity disputes. In the course of his remarks in Leicester on Monday night the right hon. Gentleman said he was determined to stop industrial violence and for this purpose he had asked for greater co-operation between police forces. He said he trusted that this greater co-operation would mean there would not be violence or intimidation of the kind which had existed in the past. Neither I nor my right hon. and hon. Friends condone industrial violence or industrial intimidation. However, we do not believe that the Home Secretary was for one moment wise to refer to industrial violence when none is being offered by either of the bodies involved in these disputes.
The House will also recall that during the course of his statement on Tuesday the Home Secretary got into some difficulty about who was breaking the law. An overtime ban is not a breach of the law. Again, my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself do not condone any attempt to break a Government by industrial action, by employers' action or by financial action. We believe that in a democracy Governments should be made and boken in the ballot box and nowhere else. Frankly, if the Home Secretary is concerned to avoid industrial violence he would be much better off advising his chief constables to consult responsible local senior union leaders about what is and what is not permitted than talking about industrial violence.
I refer back to what happened during the miners' strike in February 1972. At that time, as some of my hon. Friends will remember, a group of us went to see the then Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling), to ask him to request chief constables to meet responsible leaders of the National Union of Mineworkers and to explain precisely what was and what was not allowed. The right hon. Gentleman began by saying that this was not part of a Home Secretary's responsibility. Eventually he agreed it might be helpful. Those of my hon. Friends who accompanied me at that 700 meeting, several of whom are on the back benches today, will recall that where that happened—as it did, for example, in Lancashire—there was virtually no trouble during the strike. That is the way the problem should be approached—by honest co-operation and by sensible dialogue between sensible men rather than by the Government's talking about industrial violence in a way which is only likely to be provocative in the long run.
I wish to turn to what I believe to be the crisis which lies even beyond the crisis about oil. This crisis, which we shall be debating on Monday, concerns the country's economy; the 13 per cent. Bank Rate, the 2 per cent. special deposits, the £350 million deficit in October, the £936 million deficit in the first nine months of the year. I accept that the crisis of Britain is indeed in part a crisis which affects far more countries than Britain. It consists of the oil crisis, the crisis about raw materials, the crisis about shortages of feed grains and the crisis about the shortage of newsprint. These go far beyond our shores. But the problems which the whole of the Western world now faces have been compounded in Britain by the Government's handling of the economy. The real crisis will create hardship and we do not believe that the Government are acting to alleviate that hardship or in a way that calls beyond those affected to the nation as a whole. We face a very grim situation.
I do not believe that it will necessarily be grim for a long time. Towards the end of the decade we shall be perhaps better placed than most other countries in terms of fuel. I do not believe that in the four or five years of stringency that are bound to face us we should neglect another of our great assets—a law-abiding and patient people. We do not face a crisis merely of our oil supplies. We face a crisis about the trust that the people of this country are prepared to put in democracy itself. It is as serious as that.
The Home Secretary says that the Opposition should call for respect for the law from our own people and that we must, in the national interest, respond. Surely, however, we are entitled to say to the Home Secretary that respect for Jaw, respect for stage 3 as passed by Parliament, cannot begin and end with our people. It is a respect for law which 701 must also be shown by those who have evaded stage 3 time and again by redefining jobs, by giving themselves exceptional salary increases and by evading the tax that the rest of us have to pay. There must be a respect for the law which does not begin or end with any particular category of citizen. I repeat that I believe that the crisis is more serious than one which should be met by party bickering. The Government must not only appeal, but direct, that the laws that they ask us to respect are respected by their own followers and their own supporters. It is only on the basis of a just taxation policy which gives to those who are now suffering hardships because of the reliefs which the Government so unwisely gave to the rich, that the country can face the crisis which is in front of it.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. John Biffen (Oswestry)
First, I apologise to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department for being unable to be in the Chamber throughout his speech. I was unexpectedly called out for a few moments. I hope that he will acquit me of any discourtesy.
The taking of emergency powers is not something that is entered upon lightly or wantonly by any administration. I have no reason to suppose that it was the wish of my right hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench that they should present to the House the measures which we are now debating and which I hope will be confirmed in the Lobby. None the less, there will be appreciation of many of the arguments which the hon. Member for Hitch in (Mrs. Shirley Willliams) has made. Whenever the rule of law is being suspended by an assembly whose traditions are enshrined in the development of the rule of law, there will be great anxiety lest the case has not been presented in the appropriate fashion.
The overwhelming argument for the confirmation of emergency powers is the configuration of three threats to our energy supplies. It is not just the miners' strike. It is not just the dispute concerning the Electrical Power Engineers' Association. It is the sombre shadow that overhangs the future of our oil supplies. Were it not for that, I do not believe that the case for emergency powers would 702 have such overwhelming validity. The point was made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State far the Home Department when, in commending these measures, he referred to:the grave uncertainty concerning oil supplies.It is fair to argue and it is fair to demonstrate that there is a potential disadvantage in the taking of emergency powers. There is a danger that such powers will be seen as a strategic master-move in dealing with the miners' strike. We would be deluding ourselves if we did not think that that interpretation would be put upon the measure.
In that context I offer a word of warning. That is the most appropriate word to offer my right hon. Friend. He need have no doubt about the support which he will get for the exercise of emergency powers because I believe there is throughout the country a deep apprehension that we live in a state of emergency in the current situation. As always there is a danger of confusion as to where law lies and where executive exhortation begins. My right hon. Friend on Tuesday referred todemocracy requiring some respect for the law."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th November 1973; Vol. 864, c. 259.]The reality is that in the miners' dispute we will see the Counter-Inflation Act 1973 put to the test. It is important that we should know clearly what is the law in respect of that Act. It is as dangerous for the executive and for statutory bodies such as the Pay Board to exceed the authority that they possess under the law as it is dangerous for participants in industrial disputes to do so.
There are two essential legal requirements under the Counter-Inflation Act. There is the requirement in Section 5(1) to notify a pay increase. That is enshrined in the statute. Nobody is suggesting that there is the slightest doubt that such notification will proceed. The second important element of law which will be at test will be Section 7(3), which says thatThe powers conferred by subsection (2) above shall be exercisable by order, or by notice given to the person, or each of the persons, paying the remuneration subject to the restriction.Therefore, the law will be engaged when the Pay Board informs the National Coal 703 Board that it is proceeding with a settlement which in its judgment falls outside the legal requirements of the Counter-Inflation Act. I say that because I believe that there is always the danger in these circumstances of usurpation of power and usurpation of the requirements which are laid down by the House in statutes. It is important that we should remind ourselves of that, because we have a fairly well documented history of the difficulties which attend prices and incomes legislation in that respect.
Those of us who hold most firmly to the virtue of the rule of law have always had a rigid and eccentric devotion to try to pass law which is enforceable and to try to avoid law which is unenforceable. My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) recognised that the situation in respect of the miners' dispute is not quite as rigid and is not such an immediate confrontation as some have suggested. I note with approval his remarks in column 305. He said:I suggest that an adjustment could be made within the total offer.In column 306 he said:I emphasise that I consider the present award to be generous. I do not think that it is the last Word."—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, 13th November 1973; Vol. 864, c. 305–6.]I am not so foolish as to be drawn into the merits of the National Coal Board's offer or the reaction of the mineworkers. All I am saying is that it is important to recognise the degree of flexibility which has been conferred by the law, and to recognise the area where the law is established, is paramount and unchallengeable. The important thing to remember is that the code is available for interpretation by the Pay Board. It is as well to read into the record Section 7(1) of the Counter-Inflation Act, which says thatThe Pay Board shall exercise the powers … in such ways as appear to them appropriate for the purpose of ensuring that the provisions of the code which concern remuneration are implemented.If we had any doubts about that, this morning's Financial Times carries an article that is particularly topical. It is by Sandy McLachlan and is headed:Pay Board relaxes rule on profit-related income".704 It might not have come on perhaps the most appropriate day for the Ministerial case. I quote part of it, however:It now appear that the Pay Board will will put its own interpretation on Clause 159"—of the code—on the basis that the strict DE interpretation would make it the only clause in the whole of the Pay Code which could require an individual to take a cut in income.Of course it is wholly appropriate that the Pay Board should be making that interpretation, otherwise Parliament and those of us who toiled on the Standing Committee would not have said.The Pay Board shall exercise the powers …but instead would have said,The Minister shall exercise the powers".Again, it is just as well to remember that the code is not itself so self-evident that in its own right it constitutes law. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment said in Standing Committee:… the code is not law in the sense that it does not act directly on those who pay wages … it is applied by the agencies through orders and notices and is in that sense subject to challenge in the courts if the agencies are acting beyond the powers given them by Parliament and interpreting the code in a way which could be challenged under ordinary law."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee H, 8th February 1973; c. 326.]So these are all things we ought to take very much in mind before considering any possible use of the emergency powers in respect of industrial disputes, the conclusion of which we hope will strengthen respect for the law rather than diminish it.
In the whole context of this debate and of these problems, much play is made of public opinion. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend enjoys full-hearted public support for the emergency measures, but I ask that there be some caution about the engagement of public opinion as being a major factor in determining industrial disputes. There is creeping into a certain number of our debates and deliberations what seems to me to be almost a determination to engage in trial by public opinion which is worthy of the Chinese cultural revolution of a few years ago.
705 My hon. Friend the Member for Howden (Sir P. Bryan), for whom I have a genuine and lively respect, talked about the importance of public opinion in our debate on 13th November, when he said:… if one had to name the leading cause why the miners won the strike"—that is, the strike of two years ago—I would accept that it was because the Government misjudged public opinion. This time if the miners go on strike it will be because they in turn have misjudged public opinion."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th November 1973; Vol. 864, c. 290.]My right hon. Friend there, used the word "won". He said that the miners "won" the strike, and this, as an antithesis, suggests the situation of victory and defeat. I do not like that concept. It is always one of the difficulties, whenever the Government get closely involved in industrial disputes, that they are elevated to confrontation in a victory-defeat situation, and that simply is not a reality for the Government.
The Government must win, in a sense. Most industrial disputes are concluded by employers and unions who know perfectly well that they live to fight again and again, and neither side engages in the language and terminology of unconditional surrender or total victory. It is very much more difficult for the Government to see their authority infringed in a way that an industrial management can infringe its authority in the settlement of an industrial dispute.
Therefore, I am particularly anxious about the extent to which public opinion is being drawn in as one of the great factors which will help resolve this conflict, because if opinion is going to be a determining factor it will be the opinion in the mining community itself and not the opinion in the public at large. I am not sure that the constituents of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) will be terrified by the knowledge of the contempt in which they are held in the stockbroker belt.
§ Mr. Biffen
My hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Mr. William Clark)says, "cool it." I agree I am sure that the Financial Times is passed from hand to hand at the pithead and that the miners 706 are keen to know just what is the balance of social forces engaged in the conflict.
One of the difficulties of engaging public opinion as one of the factors in resolving a dispute is that it means a cultivation of the media—and most of us as politicians know what our reactions are when we feel that the media are loaded against us. There is no reason why we should suppose that the feeling of distress and resentment which often enters into many of us will somehow or other escape those of our colleagues who lead their lives in industrial working circumstances. That is why I have great anxiety that some people may be inclined to develop this as one of the weapons in the dispute. If they do so they will discover that it breeds more resentment than it provides a spirit of accommodation.
It is true that behind this dispute in the mines looms the spectre of Mr. Daly, but I hope that we will also recognise that behind the spectre of Mr. Daly is an even larger and, in my view, even more substantial spectre—the weekly exodus of 500 miners or so.
§ Mr. Biffen
As ever, the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) intervenes with other figures. But I, being immensely conservative and understating my case, prefer to stick at 500. But there is not another employer losing a workforce on the scale of 500 a month. Therefore, I would like my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry to tell us what analysis has been made of the reason why 500 miners leave the industry every week. How much of it is because they have come to the end of their working life? How many are leaving in the prime of their working life?
I think that what we are beginning to see is the unacceptable face of market forces. They simply cannot be willed away, and we have to recognise this as best we can and to reconcile it within the framework of the law as this House has fashioned it. That is why I say that we have placed on the Government a formidable task, and in the discharge of that formidable task they have all my good wishes and all my anxious support.
I conclude with this modest precept. If the Tory Party is to draw upon its experience of industrial affairs from times 707 past—and the mining communities are intensely conservative and often very conscious of the past—I hope that the Government will be encouraged by the social awareness displayed by Stanley Baldwin rather than the flamboyance of a Winston Churchill.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ Mr. J. D. Concannon (Mansfield)
It is always to me an occasion to follow the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) when speaking on industrial affairs. It is a great pleasure to hear one's own case put so eloquently to the Government by a Conservative. It reminds me of a speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) when, referring to the Conservative Party, he said, "By God, you could not see the knives but the blood was all over the place."
The hon. Member for Oswestry said that the Counter-Inflation Act had been put to the test. Of course it has. It is either bad luck or bad judgment on the part of the Department that it has had to tackle the "Brigade of Guards" of the industrial movement at first go. The Department has played the Joker. Whether it did it on part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, Jack, King or Queen, it has been played this time.
There are some strong arguments to back up our case; we have only to start with Wilberforce who placed the miners in a special category. The Minister should look at this.
The other argument is the exodus of miners from the pits at the rate of about 600 a month. They are leaving areas such as mine and we can ill-afford to lose them. It is not the old ones who are going. As was said in an earlier debate, the men around the mining areas are beginning to look like Dad's Army. The 30-year-olds are disappearing, the 40-year-olds are becoming the exception, and we are left with the men who are trapped in the industry, in their late 40s and 50s and 60s. The Minister must pay attention to this.
Everyone will agree that there is an emergency. I would never have believed, wearing my other hat for a moment, that I would have advised the Opposition to vote against the regulations introducing a state of emergency, but the Government have not come clean on this occasion and 708 we must register a protest vote. I have argued strongly for that course of action. The miners are not responsible for the balance of payments. They were not responsible for the Middle East war. They certainly are not responsible for the power cuts we are suffering at the moment. To say that they are is a sham and the Government know it, but they say it to cover up their incompetence over the past three years. The Government must find some excuse and try to flex their muscles. They try to pass the buck on to the mining industry.
This overtime ban has been a long time coming. We did not seek the help of President Sadat. There was no collusion between him and the NUM executive, asking him to start a war to help us. I do not think that we would be discussing this subject today if it had not been for the Middle East situation. The miners' overtime ban would have come in any case, but the stocks distributed around the country would have given people a breathing space and the Government would have tried to settle things through the importation of oil. They would have tried to wage a war of attrition with the NUM.
We hear all sorts of talk. I heard it in the other place the other day. I take strong exception to people, sitting on their ermine and mink, telling me that my miners are bully boys, blackmailers and such things. They are not. They are hard-working members of society, working in a dangerous, unsocial and health-sapping industry. No matter what tools or machines we give them, whether we send them to work with a spanner or a shovel, it is still one of the most health-sapping and unsocial jobs in the country.
The miners are worth more to society than society pays them. For years, until 1972, they had it thrust down their throats, "If you do not do as you are told we will shut the pits around you." They got fed up to the teeth so they said, "All right, shut them." They went on strike not knowing what would happen and they came out of it knowing their worth to society. Having learnt that lesson, they have decided that they will get the rate for the job.
I have spent a long time in the mining industry. We mining Members of Parliament go back to our constituencies on Fridays into this industry. We live alongside the mates with whom we used to 709 work. The only difference is that on a Monday morning they go to the coal face and I come down here. I spent my time talking to them, saying that they should not accept their lot. This has been my job, telling these people that they should not accept things as they are, that they should reach for the sky, should want a bigger share of the cake. I am not asking for the bakery but they are worth more than they are paid today.
If the Minister wants to know where the overtime ban started I can tell him. It was not in Marxist Scotland or Leninist Wales or even Red Yorkshire. This one started in Nottinghamshire. In my area of Nottinghamshire they were intending to take unilateral action. On 1st November they were going to go it alone. It was my opinion that they should wait to see what happened.
This is an area suffering from a manpower shortage. We have faces that are just not being worked. Productivity is down in an area that is supposed to be expanding. The productivity rate is static. This is an area that has made nearly £300 million profit since nationalisation. This year, for the first time, we shall be in the red. I do not know what the NCB has said to the Prime Minister but I know what is said at local level. The management knows that if it wants the manpower it has to buy itself into the local market. It did this 10 years ago when rates in the industry in my area were in excess of other rates to the tune of about £5 a week. That is no longer so. So the exodus from the pits continues. Management knows the answer and I know the answer. It is that somehow or other we have to find some way of putting more money into the wage packets of the men.
This state of emergency, imposed after one day's overtime ban, has proved to the miners their worth to society. They are after the rate for the job and I do not blame them for that. I have spent too long among them telling them to lift themselves up and not to accept the station in life which the State seems to accord them. They will have to fight for anything they get. The Minister, the Government and I know that for the Government to put themselves in a win or lose situation with the miners is a dangerous thing to do. By his actions today the Minister has put himself in 710 a win or lose situation. He must know, as I do, that if the miners hold their nerve on this matter they are bound to win.
I take strong exception to the Prime Minister wrapping himself up in the Union Jack and singing, "Land of Hope and Glory" and telling the miners that they are not being patriotic. What did the miners get by being patriotic? They went nearly to the bottom of the wages league. This point must be considered.
The hon. Member for Oswestry said that public opinion will not matter a great deal to those in the stockbroker belt who have their £5,000 or £6,000 a year and those who are dodging the column by getting their wages increased in one way or another. What matters most is what happens in the coalfields. If the Minister wants expert advice on feelings in the coalfields he has only to ask hon. Members who live amongst miners every weekend.
We are in a very serious situation. I accept straight away that there is an emergency. I would agree to the Government taking emergency powers straight away but for one thing: that they are being deceitful and dishonest. This is a political ploy and shows the depths to which the Government have sunk. If the skipper of this ship is prepared to let this country slip because of his dogmatic attitude and wants to blame the miners for letting the country slip, as slip it will, then the sooner the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister pack up and go away and let others who have the guts to take the necessary decisions into those Government seats the better. I hope that they do it quickly, before we slide too far into a situation from which it will be difficult to recover.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Mr. T. H. H. Skeet (Bedford)
The hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) made a very interesting speech. Before he gets too enthusiastic about moving across to this side of the House, may I refer him to the table on page 5 of the Wilberforce Report, which clearly shows, despite his anxiety for the miners, that between 1965 and 1970 the miners fell from third to twelfth place in the wages league. If he has such grave concern for the miners, it is extraordinary the way 711 that they have fallen down the ladder. However, he may wish to express for his constituency party his feeling for the miners, as I do, too. They are a remarkable collection of men who do a very good job which I should not be prepared to do.
One problem facing the Government in the next 10 years is to find a technology which will enable us to get coal from the ground without having such a vast mining force.—[Interruption.]—If there is any ambiguity about that, perhaps I should explain that we shall have to face that problem later.
§ Mr. Peter Hardy (Rother Valley)
I was tempted to remark to my colleagues that the hon. Gentleman's comment is not helpful, because the extra ingredient that he is now adding to the situation is that the miners of Britain can look forward to unemployment at a very early date. That will obviously encourage them to ask for even more money next year than they are asking for now.
§ Mr. Skeet
The hon. Gentleman did not make a very useful contribution during the Labour Government's term in office, which lasted seven years. In that time 276 pits were closed. Under this Government only 33 pits have been closed. Therefore, it is the Labour Government, not the Conservative Government, who have been responsible for massive pit closures. I am looking ahead 20 years, when it will be too much to expect people to work in the conditions in mines. Therefore, we shall need a new system of technology which will make it easier to extract natural gas from coal in situ, and coal from the ground.
My right hon. Friend is fully justified in introducing this state of emergency on the basis of the attitude that has been displayed by the mining community and some of its spokesmen. He would also be fully justified in bringing in a state of emergency in view of the situation in the oil industry. After all, Regulations 21 and 22 of the emergency powers provide, in a state of emergency, for allocation and rationing to cover oil.
I should be in favour of the allocation of oil by Government Departments and of an extensive oil rationing system. That would conserve foreign exchange, 712 because we have not had a very satisfactory record in past months. Oil costs us roughly £1,000 million a year in foreign exchange. Therefore, the more economies we can make in this direction the better. It would be much fairer for the Government to allocate oil supplies than the oil companies concerned, particularly if priorities are to be established, since the Government can lay down correct orders binding on the companies. Although oil stocks are high at the moment, they will diminish.
§ Mr. Skeet
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will listen. He has no coalfields in his division.
The equilibrium in the international trade in oil has been disrupted. In my judgment of the Middle East situation, that equilibrium is unlikely to be reestablished for some time.
Our principal supplier of oil in the first six months of this year was Kuwait. The September rate was 3.5 million barrels a day. The current rate is 2.24 million barrels a day. That means a shortfall of 1.26 million barrels a day or 36 per cent. down.
The second largest oil supplier to the United Kingdom was Saudi Arabia. The September rate was 8.55 million barrels a day. The November rate was 6.20 million barrels a day, so there is a considerable shortfall there—a reduction of between 32 and 36 per cent. However, if Saudi Arabia had fulfilled its pledge to bring up production to 9.10 million barrels a day in November there would have been no anxiety. This would accommodate world demand, but the rate has been falling severely.
The shortfall from the Arab world is about 5.5 million barrels a day and supplies to the United Kingdom are 20 per cent. down. I do not think that any Government can laugh this aside and say that they are satisfied with the present situation. They will have to act now or a little later.
Let us assume and be extremely sanguine about prospects in the Middle East. Many people have overlooked the fact that this situation has very little to do with the Middle East war. The Arabs have discovered the plain economic facts 713 of life and have adopted the old Texan method that prorationing will have the effect of forcing up the price of oil. This was started by Libya, extended to Kuwait, and has now spread through all OPEC countries. If the Arabs are prepared to escalate the price of oil to secure more for it, the non-embargo States will hop on the bandwaggon as well and all available oil on the world market will cost more.
Iranian light, which had a posted price at the beginning of October 1973 of 2.9 dollars a barrel, had gone up to about 5 dollars a barrel by 16th October. Taking the posted price as about 40 per cent. above market price, what can we expect Iranian light to secure on the international market? I am informed that deals are going on, probably with the Japanese, at 5.40 dollars a barrel. That is quite a significant figure.
Let us come nearer home to the sweeter oils of the Mediterranean. Libyan posted prices have escalated from 4.6 dollars to 8.9 dollars. We are fairly reliably informed that deals are going on at the moment at 6.50 dollars a barrel. But companies are paying 7.60 dollars for buy-back oil. This trend is likely to continue. Therefore, the prices that we shall have to pay on world markets will gradually approximate posted prices. This may take a little time to achieve.
I read in the Financial Times that a United States refiner had bought 80,000 tons of crude oil from Tunis at a cost of between 12 and 15 dollars a barrel. Faced with that situation, if there is a constriction in demand, whether or not artificially produced by the Arabs, and whether or not non-embargo countries are prepared to support it, prices will escalate.
In order to save foreign exchange and to ensure that we do not run down our stocks too fast, it is desirable to have a fuel rationing system at an early date so that the result is not too severe. The argument against rationing may be that there are plenty of stocks, that oil is coming into this country in tankers from the Middle East and elsewhere in the world, and that additional supplies can be obtained from non-embargo countries, such as Iran, Nigeria, Indonesia and Venezuela. But most of the Venezuelan oil has been pre-empted by the United States, and Indonesian oil by the 714 Japanese and the Dutch by a secret agreement recently negotiated. Certain supplies of Nigerian oil come here, while Iran is sitting pretty and can sell to all buyers at top prices. There is, therefore, a lot of competition to force prices higher.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will modify his stand on this and see that he has brought in the emergency on three grounds: first, because of the coal situation; secondly, because of the complicating factor of the electricity industry's troubles; thirdly, which is important—and my right hon. Friend may have to introduce a Bill following the state of emergency—to cover oil shortages.
It occurs to me that we could introduce one or two rather useful economies which would help the situation. These have been mentioned in the United States, and they could be adopted here to ensure that the emergency is not too severe. First, the resetting of thermostats in homes 3º lower than at present in winter and summer would result in a useful saving. Second is improved efficiency in energy users in industrial and commercial buildings. The United States has recommended the use of cold water in laundries, though that might not be too popular with housewives. The third is mandatory car checks every six months to ensure fine tuning of all engines. The fourth is the imposition of a 50 m.p.h. speed limit. The fifth is the use of car pools to increase the average number of people in a car from 1.3 to 2.3. The effect of those measures in the United States would be to reduce consumption by about 16 per cent. That is a significant figure, but I think that in this country we could get by without any great anxiety with a saving of between 10 per cent. and 12 per cent.
I have one or two recommendations to make for the future. A contribution could be made to the mining industry by bringing in the private sector. I mentioned that the other day, and I did so quite sincerely. The practice has been followed with advantage in the United States. There should also be a greater yield from opencast mining. In the United States, opencast mining represents 45 per cent. of the total output of coal. I realise that that would give rise to environmental problems, but we want a 715 short-term solution, and that method could help the immediate situation. A Bill on the environment is shortly to be introduced, and my suggestion could be considered in conjunction with it.
It might hearten the miners to press ahead with the gasification of coal. That would be of use not only to us but to the United States. We could import more liquid natural gas, and also go ahead with the nuclear programme. The British Gas Corporation's predecessor, the Gas Council, entered into a contract with Algeria in 1964. It is for 1 billion cubic metres per annum, but since then all parties in Europe have been negotiating hard with the Algerians. The French, the West German and the Italians have committed themselves to more than 40 billion cubic metres per annum, but we have stopped still and apparently have not been doing any negotiating on this matter. The United States will ultimately be importing at the rate of about 32 billion cubic metres per annum from Algeria. It is extraordinary that our partners in Western Europe can get in huge supplies which could be utilised here, while we have not been going overseas to secure the supplies that we require. We had one project in 1964. That was followed fairly recently by negotiations for the Frigg field, in the Norwegian sector, but we may or may not get it. If the Germans, the French and the Italians can get supplies, there is no reason why we should not. It would have short-term advantages.
I now propose to make some brief remarks on the mining industry and to express my anxiety on one matter which will probably favour the miners. I said that in the wages table the miners had fallen to twelfth place in October 1970. I appreciate that under phase 3 the miner has done exceptionally well with a 16½1 per cent. increase, if one includes productivity arrangements. The April 1973 figures for manufacturing industry show that average weekly earnings were £38.1, while in the mining industry the figure was £39.8, but the miner is still well down the ladder.
Miners have progressively gone down the wages ladder over the years—both Conservative and Labour Governments 716 allowed that to happen—but they cannot expect to be brought to the top of the ladder overnight. They have to be patient, otherwise the economy will be wrecked. The present Government have done a remarkable job in helping the miners. Under Wilberforce the miners received a 22 per cent. increase, and they are now offered an extra 16½ per cent. under phase 3. That shows that the Government appreciate the situation in the industry. I have no doubt that the mining industry will be elevated to the top of the ladder in due course because of the nature of the work, but to expect that to occur overnight is unrealistic.
I must pray in aid the strenuous efforts made by the Government under the Coal Industry Act, 1973 to bring in vast improvements, both centrally and marginally. In addition, by going into Europe the National Coal Board has been provided with a springboard for exports to Europe. Hon. Gentlemen opposite may have doubts about that, but we are now in the European club, and the National Coal Board can take advantage of the opportunities that are offered for export, particularly as Germany has notified the Community that its production will be reduced from 100 million tons to 82 million tons by 1985.
§ Mr. Brynmor John (Pontypridd)
How does the hon. Gentleman expect coal to be exported if we continue to lose miners at the present rate? He cannot expect his Boy's Own newspaper notion of using suction pumps to get coal out of the ground to be feasible. There will not be enough miners to meet the home demand, and exports will be out of the question.
§ Mr. Skeet
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I understand that miners are leaving the industry at the rate of 600 a week. That is not surprising, because they do not support the attitude of the militants in the field. If there were no militants in the field but moderates instead, miners would not be leaving the industry at that rate. I do not expect hon. Gentlemen opposite to accept that, but that is the truth. Miners like to have some stability in their industry and I hope that they will find it.
Can it be said that the National Union of Mineworkers is adopting a responsible attitude to the situation? It is failing 717 to maintain the security of systems underground and to go through with the necessary maintenance. A short time ago some of my hon. Friends and I went down Daw Mill colliery near Whitacre in the Meriden division. We were told that many of the jacks underground were lost because they fell in when the face crashed during the last series of troubles. Normally when people go on strike they do not want to see their own establishments destroyed, but apparently the NUM is not concerned about that issue. I think that there would have been greater sympathy for the miners if they had agreed to carry out the full procedures for ensuring the safety of their pits.
Finally, the miners are on ground that is a little weak if the rate of absenteeism is about 20 per cent., as it is now. This is keeping down production. I should have thought that it would be advantageous to the country, realising the problem of the oil situation and the shortage of supplies, if the rate was maintained at the recent level of 3½ million tons per week.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)
The hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) has taken a continuing interest in coal and energy debates in the House since he came to the House two and a half years ago. During that time our total energy situation has grown progressively worse. I do not blame the hon. Gentleman alone for that. He can from time to time get his industrial facts right, but his industrial conclusions dismay me. I think they sometimes equally alarm some of his right hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench. It may be that the Home Secretary was simply holding his head so that he could hear the hon. Gentleman better, but perhaps it was for a different reason.
How the hon. Member for Bedford, after all the information that has been poured out in the Press, on radio and in Front Bench statements, on the nature of the dispute between the National Union of Mineworkers, the Coal Board and the Government, can say that this is a go-slow, I do not know. I wonder where his information comes from. He is extremely selective. This is a ban on overtime. There are parts of pits where it is very dangerous even to try to work 718 a go-slow. This is not a go-slow or a work-to-rule. It is British people exercising their right not to work overtime. No law can compel them to do so.
The hon. Member went on to say that he hoped that they would have some regard for the safety and the security of the pits and their employment. Has not he hon. Gentleman heard that from last Monday lunchtime a committee of the NUM with delegated responsibility and powers has been operating? If the management of any pit thought that because of the overtime ban there was any danger to the security of the pit or the life or safety of any of the men employed, that committee could be contacted and given the facts, and the situation could then be dealt with on that basis.
It is not the purpose of the NUM to close down its own industry, and its members are only asking for a living wage.
§ Mr. Ogden
I deny that statement completely. If the Government can produce evidence of one pit being closed for that reason, I shall apologise to the Minister and to the House. On my information no pit was closed for that reason.
I ought to have declared my interest already. The hon. Gentleman's comments distracted me. I am a member of the NUM and sponsored in the House by the NUM. Perhaps I am an unusual sponsored Member because in West Derby, Liverpool, perhaps only 20 of the 60,000 electors work in coal mines, and those are outside the constituency. There are no pits in my constituency, and I get no votes from what I may or may not say about mining. I am proud to declare that interest, as I have done on all occasions when I have taken part in mining or energy debates.
British coal miners want no more than a living wage. They do not want less, but they do not seek more. They have broken no law. Every Minister has admitted that. They have broken no contract of employment in any way. They have taken action to seek what they regard as a 719 living wage, but they have not sought any confrontation with the Government. They have made that clear repeatedly. At local level, pit level, branch, union or federation level, no one has suggested that they seek to use industrial action to defeat a lawfully elected Government. There have been enough warnings from their own elected leaders about the possible consequences of any such action that they might take. It is no secret that they do not like the Conservative Government. They are not alone in that. Equally, it is no secret that they want to change the Government, at the right time—the sooner the better—but through the proper procedure of a General Election. They are pledged to work for a new Labour Government. They are pledged not to use industrial action to defeat the present Government. That would be as much a threat to their rights and responsibilities as to those of anyone else.
This confrontation is not sought by the NUM. The miners have claimed their rights and a living wage, and they have accepted their responsibilities. It is time that the present Conservative Government not only claimed their rights but also accepted their responsibilities.
It is more difficult to say this kind of thing to the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary than it would be to say it to some of his colleagues on the Government Front Bench or to some of his colleagues on the back benches. He has a record of being a reasonable man—although some of the legislation that he has sponsored has been complete anathema to me. It is more difficult to suggest that the right hon. Gentleman is misleading the House than it is of some of his colleagues.
The present economic situation of this country brings no joy to the right hon. Gentleman or to his party or his supporters. It brings no joy or comfort to my right hon. and hon. Friends. There is no party advantage in the situation. We are still a proud and strong country. We have difficulties, but that does not override the fact that basically we are talking about a crisis of management rather than any overwhelming weaknesses of the country. Those occasional weaknesses exist, but we should not allow the fact that we have these difficulties from time to time to persuade us to believe that we 720 have no future or will fail in some way in the future.
The credit for the fact that we are still a strong and proud country goes to those outside the House who work long, work hard and work well. It is surprising that they ask for so little in return. They work, perhaps, for 48 weeks in a year, and have about a fortnight's holiday which they may take abroad. They live in ordinary homes with a little security. That is all that many people ask. It is not too much to ask.
The responsibility for the present crisis must rest fairly and squarely on the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues, not only for what they have done but for what they have failed to do. Too often they have done the right thing too late or the wrong thing too soon. The responsibility for the present state of emergency lies with the Government.
The real reasons are becoming a little clearer. The right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues must realise that in other parts of the country, not only in the House, and certainly not only in the coalfields, it appears that the reason for the state of emergency is to try to blame British coal miners for the Government's failures. That is how it looks from many places. The hon. Gentleman has the duty to dispel those fears, not only in the House but outside it. The Government are passing the buck. They want others to carry the can. The miners will not do that.
Let us look at how events have developed in the past few weeks. I take, for example, the introduction of the emergency debate. I do not know whether it is fortunate, or not for me that you, Mr. Speaker, are in the Chair at present. How many applications for a Standing Order No. 9 debate have there been from back-bench PPSs or at that time ex-PPSs? Shall we say that it was very fortunate for the Government's planning that the debate came when it did. The Prime Minister, the Cabinet and right hon. Gentlemen and their colleagues seem to be part of a well-planned, well-timed and co-ordinated attempt to put the blame for Britain's economic difficulties on the coal miners and their leaders. When one considers the things that have been said, by Ministers, and, even worse, highlighted outside the House, that comes through time and again.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I think that the hon. Member said something which I should like to have explained to me. That was a suggestion that my granting of the Standing Order No. 9 debate was part of a well-planned operation. I do not quite understand that. I made my own decision, without consultation with anyone.
§ Mr. Ogden
I apologise, Mr. Speaker. It was not intended in that way. There were two parts. I said that it was fortunate for the Government that this well-planned and well-timed operation was able to be put forward by one of their own colleagues and they were fortunate, secondly, in the fact that it was accepted by you. It is a fact that applications for debates under Standing Order No. 9 are not always accepted quite so readily—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. There were even more hon. Members on the Opposition side who stood to ask that leave should be given than there were on the Government side.
§ Mr. Ogden
Indeed, Mr. Speaker. I was not meaning to imply that you were involved in the well-planned operation—although we know that if you had been it would have been an extremely well planned one. I make no aspersions as to your conspiring with the Government. Before you took your present office you may have done so, but not since then. If I have offended you, Mr. Speaker, I apologise. I accuse the Government. I do not accuse the Chair.
The right hon. Gentleman is right. The state of emergency arises from the miners' situation taken together with other matters, but that was not by any means clear on Monday. It was not clear in the reports coming here before Monday. There was then an emphasis on the coal miners. The trade balances, the trade returns, interest rates and the value of the £ were all getting worse over the past month. The Government must have known this, though they denied it every time. The Opposition told them often enough. Many of the Government's own back benchers told them often enough, as did many people outside the House. The Government pretended that it was not happening; they took no obvious notice. They made a determined effort to go for boom or bust.
722 The Prime Minister is not in control of events outside the House, but he is obviously in control of his party inside the House. It may not be so much that his colleagues trust his judgment or believe that this is the way forward. They obviously know that their choice is that they will sail or swim with the Prime Minister, or they will sink.
Over the past six months the Prime Minister and members of his Cabinet have been apostles of joy and confidence. Everything was going well, they said, Col-gate's had nothing on them. They claimed that the export boom was going ahead and that we were turning the corner, that lasting prosperity was on the way. Even last week one Cabinet Minister went so far as to talk about the problems of success. That was the atmosphere which was being engendered. Even in the opening days of this Session people were saying "It looks like being a quiet Session." How misguided and optimistic could we have been!
During the Middle East war we were told time and time again that there was no danger of any cuts in our oil supplies, that for one reason or another we were the friends of the Arabs. Some said that we had to sell the Israelis to guarantee that supply. It may be that friendship was the price of oil and oil was the price of growth. Time and time again we were told by Ministers and by back benchers that there was no danger to our oil supplies. Many people believed it.
That has been the background to the negotiations on stages 1, 2 and 3. The National Union of Mineworkers is a responsible union. It has been negotiating with the National Coal Board. The union was well aware of the outline proposals for the Government's phase 3 limits, but carried on negotiating its claim with the NCB. There is no bad feeling between the NCB and the NUM. The NCB has done all that it can to meet what it considers to be millers' real needs. The quarrel is not between the NCB and the NUM. It is between those who are asking for a living wage and the Government, because of the limits the Government have imposed at this time.
Flexibility is a current topic. There are continuing negotiations. There is no law which compels miners to work overtime. The leaders of the NUM are well aware 723 of the very strong feelings of their members. They recommended a ban on overtime. The effect of that ban is a good measure of the support that the recommendation had from the areas. If the recommendation had not been acceptable in the areas, pits would still be working overtime. Men would still be working overtime. The acceptance of the recommendation for the ban is a measure of the support that the men are giving to their leaders.
The Government should recognise that as a measure of the confidence and support of the miners for their leaders and as an indication of what the result of a ballot might be if that were put to the members, whether it be for a strike or anything else.
Less than two years ago the Wilberforce tribunal recognised the right of British coal miners to a living wage. That tribunal was set up after difficulties that could have been avoided. All that the miners ask is that they be allowed to negotiate with the National Coal Board a living wage for 1973 and 1974 and a standard of living not less than that which was recognised by the Government's own tribunal less than two years ago.
The wage negotiations and the wage scales are complicated. The best offer, under the proposed stage 3 proposals, under the national power loading agreement, is £39.36. These are the most skilled workers doing the most dangerous and difficult work in the country.
Now that we are in the midst of a fuel crisis, no doubt the Secretary of State is following the advice which has been given to him and is coming to work by Tube rather than in a Government limousine. If so, he will no doubt have seen a poster which I have noticed particularly on Northern Line Tube stations. It is a large green poster containing very few words, advertising for temporary shorthand typists at £40 a week. Are the Government arguing that the most skilled coal miner in Britain, producing the coal that we need, is not worth more than a temporary shorthand typist in London?
Members of Parliament have to work 52 weeks a year. In the ordinary way, people working outside this place can work 48 weeks a year. A coal miner is lucky if he works for 40 weeks in a 724 year. This is because of the nature of his employment with injuries, accidents and disease such as pneumoconiosis. A shot firer on £16 a week was at one time taking home more per year than a man ripping at the coal face who was supposed to be earning £10 a week more. A skilled coal miner is worth more than a temporary shorthand typist in London.
The Government have a choice. There is a crisis in the short term and in the long term. If the Government can get a settlement accepted reluctantly, unwillingly, unfairly by the NUM and the workers, we shall not keep the workers we have and we shall not attract any more workers into the industry. We may get work moving again in the coalfields, and we may get some increased production and solve some of the short-term difficulties, but we shall not stop men from leaving the pits at the rate of 500 or 600 a week—not only the older men but of all ages and grades. In that event, in the long term Britain will not get the coal we need.
In every other sphere it is said that we should pay the rate for the job. We need British coal. We now have a great opportunity. I hoped at one time that we could export some coal to the Continent, but it now looks as though we shall need it all for ourselves. The only way to get coal in this society is by paying the rate for the job.
Negotiations are continuing. If the claim of flexibility is right, let the Government say "We accept the need. It is not blackmail. We will correct some of the misunderstandings which have arisen over the past few weeks and allow the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers to continue their negotiations without the threat—real or imagined—implicit in some of the sayings emanating from the Government in the past few weeks. This is not a confrontation or war with the miners." This must be proved. There is still some time for these negotiations, without breaking stage 3. The Government must recognise that if we want the coal, as we do, they must pay the rate for the job. This is all that the miners are asking. This is what they deserve.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Fell (Yarmouth)
The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby 725 (Mr. Ogden) has made a fairly ameliorative speech and I do not think he has put up the temper of this debate. I am afraid that from time to time, the hon. Member for Yarmouth puts up the temper of debates, but he will try not to do so this afternoon.
Chickens have a way of coming home to roost, and there were a number of us, including the Government, who were very worried about the introduction of statutory controls on wages and prices. The very existence of phase 3 stops any possibility of free bargaining and settlement of a rate for the job, as the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby, called it for the miners. Though a miner would probably hate to do the job of a doctor, I have no doubt at all that miners do a very hard job and it is hard to believe that £40 a week in today's terms is an adequate return. The difficulty is that we have passed laws in this House, and the rules under phase 3 control the wages which may be negotiated which puts us in a dreadful dilemma. My hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen), in a brilliant speech, talked about that aspect.
I have no doubt that, in relation to many other industrial workers, miners should be paid considerably more, but one cannot just say that they should be at the top of the scale, as some hon. Members opposite did, and leave it at that. What cheek it is for them to judge all the workers in the nation and say, "Miners deserve more money for their job than anybody else." I should not have the nerve to compare the job of a miner with that of a nurse who is looking after subnormal children or subnormal grown-up men, perhaps in a place like Rampton.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and I agree with most of what he has said, but is it not a fact that, at this moment, the miners, the nurses, the doctors and the dustmen, who are doing the most urgent and necessary jobs, are among the lowest paid, while the property speculators and the sharks, who are not doing anything good for the country, are getting thousands and thousands of pounds a year?
§ Mr. Fell
I am sorry that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman. It really is an abuse to ask a friend of his, as I thought 726 I was, to give way and then to use the opportunity for a partisan political speech with which to bash the House. I began my speech by saying that I would try to be uncontroversial, and the situation is quite difficult enough without foolish Members, such as myself, giving way to hon. Gentlemen such as the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis).
The country is facing a dilemma over the wages of many people, but we are stuck with a statutory prices and incomes policy. It is all very well for the hon. Member for West Ham, North to keep nodding, but this policy is statutory largely because there was a period—and even in saying this I do not want to raise the temper of the debate—when certain of the trade unions, certain members of certain of the trade unions, gentlemen who are sometimes called "tearaways" were being very intransigent and refusing to agree to anything. That is partly why we have a statutory prices and incomes policy, instead of an agreed one. The hon. Member for West Ham, North wags his head. I am glad, after all, that he did intervene because I can now refer to him.
The statutory policy was forced upon this Government by certain sections of the population, which Governments have been responsible for promoting because Governments have given birth to the charter of the tearaways ever since the war, as have some managements and people controlling factories. Time and time again, such people have said to workers, "Right, we will go this far, but that is it. This is the finish of these negotiations." We have then had the spectacle of some of these tearaways saying, "You do not know what you are doing. What you have to do is to get really tough, and you will then get what you want. The only way of getting what you want is by being really tough." So we have had in certain industries tougher and tougher and rougher and rougher negotiations which have progressively made industrial relations in Britain worse and worse.
It is hardly surprising that industrial relations become worse and worse when the country agrees to pay people not at the market rate for the job but a crazy system of general agreements covering the wages of everybody in a 727 certain grade or industry. Of course this in crazy, but we are too lazy to do anything about it. I do not know whether we shall be able to do anything about it, because the trade unions would be horrified if it were suggested that two people doing the same job, one lazily and the other with the utmost verve and activity, should not be paid the same rate. Furthermore, managements and owners of industry would also be horrified if they had to work out what pay their workers are worth. The myth has grown up, by tacit agreement between the two sides of industry, that people should be treated as cyphers and numbers and all paid the same, whether they are good, bad or indifferent.
Thank goodness that there is still a little bit of light being shed on the problem of the miners and their ban on overtime. As I understand it, the negotiations are by no means finished. They are simply suspended till Monday. I pray that the National Union of Mineworkers and the National Coal Board will find a way to settle the dispute. It has to be done within phase 3 of the pay policy because that is the law of the land.
The Opposition are just as much part of that and just as interested in the law of the land not being broken as Government supporters are. Anyone who aids and abets the breaking of the solemn laws of the land which have been passed by this Parliament contributes to the end of democracy. I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Hitchen (Mrs. Shirley Williams) say as much earlier this afternoon. She said that there were certain features which worried the Opposition but that they held firm to democracy and to the ballot box for settling their dissatisfaction with the Government. I was delighted to hear that.
The miners present us with a terrible dilemma. The first comment which must be made surely is that if the dispute should lead in the next few weeks to a great confrontation, as some miners have said and as some people believe, no one will win. Everyone will come out of it with a bloody nose. How will it help the nation to do its industrial job? How will it help our balance of payments, which some people think so 728 terrible and which certainly looks bad at the moment? How will it help anyone if there is a confrontation between the National Union of Mineworkers and the National Coal Board—
§ Mr. Fell
That is not strictly true. We know that some of the miners' union leaders have said that their real battle is with the Government and not with the National Coal Board. However, their negotiations have to be with the National Coal Board. I hope that enough common sense will prevail by Monday for them to come to some sort of arrangement.
It would be extremely serious if the dispute deteriorated into any sort of confrontation between the Government and the miners, between public opinion and the miners or, for that matter, between public opinion and the Government. Confrontation will lead only to discomfort, and perhaps to disaster for the industrial life of the British people—and no one will escape it, not even the miners.
I hope that the miners will see that there is a will in this House for them to be paid very considerably more than they are able to get, even under the latest suggested settlement, especially in view of the escalation of prices. Clearly they will eventually have to be paid considerably more. However, it must be made clear to them that it is not possible for this House to aid and abet the breaking of laws passed by Parliament.
§ Mr. Ogden
Would not it be helpful if the Government themselves looked at the offer made by the National Coal Board to see whether the board may have overlooked a possibility which within the law of the land it might offer as part of a settlement, rather than simply saying, as the Minister has, that this is a matter between the National Coal Board and the miners? If the Government's interpretation of their own law will allow the board to make a better offer, that really will be helpful.
§ Mr. Fell
The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby again is being helpful. It is my view that common sense has to prevail over the next few days. If it does not, the country may be in for a very thin time.
729 Let no one suppose that any political party is certain of gaining advantage from a failure to reach agreement over the next few days. This is completely uncertain. The only certainty is that somehow an agreement must be reached. If it were to be reached in some way—perhaps as the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby suggested—that would be for the benefit of the British people and, in the long run, for the benefit of the coalminers.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Mr. John Pardoe (Cornwall, North)
The Minister who is to wind up the debate has a rare treat in store for him. It does not often happen that a Minister rises to wind up a debate knowing that in the House there are open votes which he has in the palm of his hand and which lie is responsible for converting to the Government's point of view. By the time that the Minister gets to the Dispatch Box tonight there will be some open votes. At the moment my own vote is at his disposal—or not—depending on the argument he adduces and on his answers to certain questions. I hope that he will answer the specific questions that are put to him, some of which have been asked already and some of which were put to him in the debate earlier in the week and which he did not answer.
This House has a responsibility to give any Government, of whatever political persuasion, emergency powers if the Government can show the House that they really need them. In view of that, my first question is whether these powers are really necessary. Taking the situation in its totality I have no doubt that a logical case can be made for the exercise of emergency powers. However, the Government have not made that case and they have refused to answer the debate in relation to the totality of the energy problem. It is to that that I wish to refer.
I look first at the reasons which have been given us so far. I go back to the statement of the Home Secretary on 13th November when he said:The Government consider that the present situations in the coal and electricity generating industries constitute a threat to the essentials of life of the community …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th November 1973: Vol. 864, c. 257.]730 That was pretty clear, but on the same day in the other place Lord Windlesham said:It seemed to us that it was the right action to take because of the coming together of three influences: the dispute, which has been going on for some time, with the power engineers; the new dispute with the coal miners, and the continuing uncertainty in the world oil situation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lord's, 13th November 1973; Vol. 346, c. 588.]So far, this debate has been primarily about coal. We debated the miners' case for three hours earlier in the week. Even if the Government's action were related specifically to coal I have no doubt that they could make a case to the effect that it is far better to take action early than late, but we are not here to debate the merits of the miners' case; we have already done that.
If the miners' union and the National Coal Board between them cannot find their way through the huge and multitudinous holes in stage 3 of the prices and incomes policy they must be either blind or wilfully and obstinately determined not to find a way. I suspect they can find their way out, because the productivity agreement is just there for the asking. It can be stretched and stretched, and it is virtually unbreakable.
The hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) put a specific question to the Minister, similar to the one that I asked him on Tuesday concerning the miners. I hope that today he may give a reply. The Minister understands market forces, I should have thought. May we have from him the Government's estimate of the effect that the present exodus of manpower from the coal mining industry will have on our total fuel situation? That is of the essence. How many miners do the Government think we need? How much do we need to pay to get them and to keep them?
When the Minister wound up the debate on Tuesday all he said was that we had exceeded an exodus of 600 miners a week only in the week following the announcement of the overtime ban. That is not good enough. Clearly, we had been way over the 500 mark for some time before then. We are talking of an exodus from the industry of about 30,000 miners a year, against a total of 250,000 miners—which means an awful lot of people and an awful lot of lost coal production. We need to know the answer to this specific 731 question. The Government must have made some estimate. I cannot see why they cannot give an answer.
Nor is the debate specifically about the electricity dispute. If the industrial action by the electricity industry is effective most hon. Members would agree that we shall at some time, if not immediately, need emergency powers with a vengeance. Presumably, that industrial action is intended to be effective, and therefore probably would bring about the necessity for emergency powers.
It is not coal or electricity that is the basis of the Government's case. It is a fuel that they find exceedingly difficult to mention—oil. Oil is the essence of the whole matter. I draw the Minister's attention to a headline of today's article on the centre page of the Financial Times:Energy, a gamble that has not come off.I shall not read the crucial bits because the Minister may well have had the article drawn to his attention. It is a gamble, always was a gamble, and clearly has not come off.
Many of us warned the Government that it would not come off, but what have we been told about the oil position for weeks? We had the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry almost bragging about the amount of oil that the Government have managed to hoard, as though they had carried it into Britain in sacks. He said that there was plenty of oil at sea, and that there was no need for rationing. He pointed out that no other European country had rationing, except Holland which had banned Sunday motoring, and he said that we had better reserves than any other European country. Throughout that passage he was grotesquely complacent, in my view. When one tried to get from him and from the Prime Minister the basis of this marvellous optimism, all we had was the extraordinary response that the Government had received some assurances from certain unspecified sheikhs that the oil cuts were not intended to hurt Britain. That is very good of them; it is nice to know that they do not intend to hurt us; but I am at a loss to see how we can possibly avoid being affected. How could these cuts in oil production from the 732 major oil producing area of the world not hurt Britain? The cut back is considerable and is bound to be of a general nature.
Now we know the situation. I quote from a different page of today's Financial Times: "Oil delivery cut expected soon". The report adds:Despite the Government's concentration on electricity and coal supplies in its latest emergency measures, the oil industry in the United Kingdom seems generally convinced that it will have to act to curb oil demand within a week. Stocks in the country are already believed to have been reduced to around 70 days or less, while shipments at sea are thought to be 15–20 per cent. down on planned rates.Is that the truth of the matter? Did the Secretary of State get it all wrong? Why did he get it all wrong, if that is the case? Have the cuts been tougher than he was promised? Have the assurances proved no more than a piece of paper? What is it?
In spite of what I now believe and what the industry believes—the Minister knows only too well what the industry believes—in spite of the crisis in the oil industry now in this country, which is far more dangerous for the nation's future than anything that has happened in the coal industry or the electricity industry over the past two weeks, the Government have brought before us no regulations specifically relating to the conservation of oil, the better or more equal distribution of oil or the rationing of oil.
How short of oil are we in relation to our requirements this winter? The main article in the Financial Times to which I have already referred says that"the United Kingdom industry now expects to be around 15 to 20 per cent. short of its winter supplies".Is that true? I do not know whether we shall have an answer tonight, but I hope that we do. It is time that the Government came clean on oil, and on the assurances which they had from the sheikhs and what they gave in return for those assurances.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Liberal Party went to Hove during the by-election campaign and he warned the electors of Hove what the Government had paid for those assurances. There were Press reports at that time that the Government had made not only a host of 733 promises about not rearming Israel, sending spares and things of that sort but—possibly even more serious—had promised the sheikhs that they would not introduce oil rationing in this country because to do so would be to cut the ground from under the sheikhs' feet in their efforts to use the oil weapon against the friends of Israel. Those reports appeared in at least two of the more responsible newspapers at that time.
If that assurance was given by the British Government, we know why these emergency powers have been introduced. The Government are using the miners' industrial action and the electricity workers industrial action not as a means of bashing the miners or bashing the electricity workers nor in order to produce a confrontation in industry but as an underground method of bringing in oil rationing without having to tell their friends in the Middle East that that is what they are doing.
Will the Government come clean about that? Were those assurances given? Why have they not introduced the measures regarding oil which are clearly necessary and which were, indeed, necessary some time ago?
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Tim Fortescue (Liverpool, Garston)
With the greatest possible respect to the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe), whose speeches I always enjoy, and who so often seems to me to be a shining exception to the basic rule of politics that the Liberals have no policy, I shall address myself at the outset not to what he said but to the speech of the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden), a colleague of mine from the city of Liverpool.
In what I thought an interesting and helpful speech, the hon. Member for West Derby made several points with which I was not able entirely to agree, and now, if he will do me the courtesy of answering one or two questions, perhaps I shall be able to agree with him.
The hon. Gentleman said that no one—I think I got it right—in the National Union of Mineworkers or on the miners' side of the dispute had ever said, or threatened that they wished to overthrow the Government in any way save through the ballot box. I am sure that it is within the recollection of all hon. Members here 734 and of many people in the country that the day before yesterday, I think it was, a miners' leader from Wales said that that was the intention and would be the effect of the overtime ban—to break the Government. The phrase was vivid, and it is within the recollection of us all.
The hon. Lady the Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams) specifically refuted that statement by the miners' leader. She said that she did not agree with it and she did not condone it. I was delighted to hear it. But it was not quite accurate of the hon. Member for West Derby to say that nothing of the sort had been said, for we all remember that it was.
Next, the hon. Gentleman said that all the miners wanted was a living wage. He said that several times. I suppose that definitions differ on the question of what is a living wage. What the miners are at present being offered is a 13 per cent. increase, and many hon. Members have said that under phase 3 this can be increased to 16 per cent. if the productivity provisions are invoked. That is a far bigger increase than anyone else is being offered. It is a far bigger increase than the increase in the cost of living.
Is the hon. Member for West Derby saying, therefore, that the Wilberforce award to the miners, which was so strongly welcomed by the Opposition, and which has been mentioned with praise and approbation many times today, did not give a living wage? If he is not saying that, how can the present offer not give the miners a living wage today?
§ Mr. Ogden
I do not want Liverpool to take over the House, good idea though that might be. All I am saying is that if the best offer now were accepted it would not put the miners back to where they were under Wilberforce. The hon. Gentleman can juggle his figures as much as he likes, but this offer does not bring us to Wilberforce. Indeed, in many cases, because it is a complicated industry, it will take us back to before Wilberforce. Would the hon. Gentleman recommend any of his children or any of his constituents to go down the pit for less than £29 a week, which is the rough average?
§ Mr. Fortescue
That was not the point I was making. I was trying to clarify the hon. Gentleman's view about the relative position of the miners just after 735 Wilberforce compared with the new offer if accepted, and I am still not clear about it. The hon. Gentleman referred also to the temporary shorthand-typist on £40 a week, according to the advertisements. Perhaps it would not be kind to point out that the difference between the miner and the shorthand-typist is that the shorthand-typist has no union.
I come now to another matter which has struck me during today's exchanges. The Government have announced regulations—I believe that they have made an order today, though I am not sure—regarding electric heating in schools and educational establishments. It is a bit of a mystery to me how that order will be enforced. Will there be a licensing system for electric heating in schools and educational establishments? Will it be enforced only in the public sector? What about the private sector? How will it be enforced there?
As a corollary to that inquiry, I ask also about establishments which use night storage heaters. Surely, this is the most economical way of using electricity since it takes electricity in off-peak periods. It would be only common sense that the ban on heating in schools and educational establishments should be entirely lifted if they use night storage heaters. I shall gladly give way if the Minister will answer that now.
§ The Minister for Industry (Mr. Tom Boardman)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I think that it may be helpful if I respond to his question now. The Government had intended to issue licences to schools and educational establishments under article 3(1) of the order. However, in order to avoid the administrative burden of issuing such licences, and to clarify the position immediately, we have decided that a better course would be to exempt schools, colleges and other places of education from the scope of the order.
We are, therefore, making an amending order deleting paragraph (1)(a) (vi) from article 3 of the present order, to come into effect from midnight tonight. This is an administrative improvement. We shall, of course, expect local education authorities to co-operate fully in the 10 per cent. cut in fuel consumption 736 generally, according to the instruction which was issued to them yesterday.
My hon. Friend asked also about night storage heaters. Because of the tight margin between generating capacity and peak demand, which makes it desirable to even out the load throughout the 24 hours, the Government have decided by a further amendment to the order to allow the prohibition on space heating by electricity to be lifted between 0300 hours and 0730 hours daily.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me an opportunity to make that statement. They are administrative changes.
§ Mr. Palmer
I am delighted that the Minister intervened as he did, because the orders as drafted, not as recently amended, exclude all electric heating of any kinds—including night storage and ordinary radiators. There have never been such absurd orders. All this was done without any consultation with the Electricity Council.
§ Mr. Fortescue
I have no knowledge whether there was consultation, but I am delighted with what my hon. Friend the Minister has just said. It will go a long way to assure us that the orders will not be interpreted unreasonably.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
The same civil servants who drew up the orders—and the amendment on the same day—are those who are accusing the miners. We would not get into these messes if we would only get suitable civil servants, or, better still. Ministers who would take responsibility and do their job.
§ Mr. Fortescue
I am sorry that I gave way. It is not the custom of the House to attack civil servants, and I will not have any part in it.
§ Mr. Fortescue
I have no doubt that when most hon. Members go to their constituencies tomorrow they ill be asked many questions about this debate and about the emergency powers. I fear that most of us get into the habit, when in our constituencies, of seeing only our own supporters. I am conscious of this, for almost everyone I see in Liverpool seems to be a Conservative. I am sure that Opposition Members similarly find 737 that they mostly meet their supporters. We ought to try to see people of the opposite political persuasion, as well as our own supporters, and the people who are defined as floating voters. The floating voter will decide the outcome of the next General Election.
If any of us had a discussion about the emergency powers with such a man, of independent nature and intelligence, the conversation would start by the Member of Parliament being asked why there was an emergency. He would explain that the miners had put in for a big pay claim, which had been turned down by the National Coal Board because it was outside the realms of phase 3, and that there was, therefore, deadlock. He would add that he hoped that it was not deadlock, but that it looked like deadlock, and that with the miners' dispute on top of the oil and electricity situation the Government felt that it was right to ask for emergency powers.
The questioner would scratch his head and say: "Did not the miners have a big increase less than two years ago? Did they not have an increase larger than anyone else?" The MP would reply, "Yes, that is right", and if he was fair-minded he would say that many people thought that the miners deserved it. I am sure that few hon. Members present would disagree with that. Then the man with whom the MP was conversing would ask "Does that mean that any time anyone else gets a rise the miners get another rise because they feel that they should always be top of the league?" The MP would say "No, but the miners have a powerful union with strong views and the power to back those views with action."
Then the interlocutor would scratch his head and ask "What about the House of Commons? How can it be that it can pass laws which can be defied by any group of men who think they ought to be paid more than the limit set by the House of Commons? What use are you lot? What use is our democracy if this can be done?"
If there is much more talk of confrontation, of winning or losing, the emergency will not be of energy supplies but of democracy itself. If it is felt by any group of men who have their hands on the power switches of the 738 nation, whether in coal mining, electricity or any other key industry, that they can defy the will of the House of Commons because they can bring the country's industry to a standstill, we shall really have an emergency.
I have been delighted with the way in which the debate has gone. Speaker after speaker has made much the same point. No one wants a confrontation. No one thinks that anyone can win or that anyone can lose. That we have a potential emergency of democracy is highlighted by the by-elections last week, when the trumpet gave forth a very uncertain sound for all the three main political parties. It was evident that the electorate did not particularly want to be governed by any of them. If that is so, if we are talking about the confrontations and about winning and losing, and if there is no attractive and acceptable alternative to the Government in power, once again our very democracy is in danger.
I add my voice to those who have said today "We hope with all our hearts that the negotiations continuing between the National Coal Board and the NUM"—they will continue on Monday: they have not been broken off, but have been no more than adjourned—"will come to a successful conclusion."
§ 6.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol, Central)
I intervene because I wish to make, at perhaps a little greater length, the point already made by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Fortescue) about the absurd situation that will result over electricity supplies for heating if the orders in front of us go through in their present form.
But first I should like to say something about the Home Secretary's speech. The right hon. Gentleman has a reputation for fairness, but it seemed to me that he wrongly blamed, by implication, two groups of employees for the emergency powers. He mentioned the miners. I shall not take up that reference, because in the House there are, think goodness, plenty of able and eloquent spokesmen for the mining community.
The Home Secretary also, by implication, referred to the power engineers as blameworthy. I can say something about their position, with some knowledge. I 739 do not see how the Home Secretary can blame the power engineers for the present situation. They negotiated over 11 months ago with the Electricity Council, through a perfectly constitutional process of collective bargaining, an agreement for improved out-of-hours working payments. The Electricity Council was anxious to make the payments, which would normally have been made, but the Government by their policy compelled it to welch on the payments. Therefore, how can the power engineers be blamed, directly or indirectly, for a situation which has made necessary, it is said, a declaration of a state of emergency? May I say that the Electricity Council has decided in the past few days that, as it is in agreement with the Electrical Power Engineers' Association that the payments should be made, it is not prepared to go to the Pay Board without the association's agreement? That is a very proper attitude.
The Home Secretary also seemed to say, with reference to the technical staffs in electricity supply and the mineworkers, that there must be respect for the law. I hope that he was not suggesting that the power engineers are in any way breaking the law in their present action. The law is not made by the will or thoughts of the Government; it is made by Parliament and interpreted by the courts—and no one else. One can never say how a court judgment will go, but the association has taken the highest legal opinion, and has been told that its action is four-square within the law.
The position of the technical staffs is simple. They have a 24-hour responsibility for maintaining electricity supply. The technical staffs have no overtime payments, but it is traditional to have a payment for standing by and a payment for call-out. They accept that 24-hour responsibility, but have decided, as the Government do not now seem to value very highly a 24-hour continuity of electricity supply, that they—I speak as a member of the association, and declare my interest—who normally organise all the work that brings about that continuity of supply, will themselves decide the order of priorities in which work should be done. If they do not think that any emergency is involved, the work will be done in normal working 740 hours. What is being done is, in their judgment, entirely within the law. In the end it is not for the Government but for the courts to decide what is within the law.
I come now briefly to the main point I wish to make, about the absurdity of the Electricity (Heating) (Restriction) Order—a most remarkable order. The Electricity Council was not consulted about its drafting. If I am wrong, in saying that, I should like to know which member of the council or official was consulted. I understand that the first some council members knew about it was when they read it in the evening newspapers.
The order is an absurdity. Those in a commercial firm, school, office or public building who are unfortunate enough to have installed electric heating, whether night storage or the ordinary type of radiant bar "on-peak" heating, are not allowed to use it under the order. What will happen to them? Many thousands of offices, for instance, throughout the country are heated by electricity alone.
When the order was drafted for the previous state of emergency, night storage heating was not included, but it is included now. Unless something is done, large numbers of office workers, apart from the children in schools, will be without any heat, just because they happened to choose electricity as the medium—a very commendable choice. Surely that is not the Government's intention. If it is not, how is it that an order so carelessly drafted is placed before the House?
Why is there discrimination against the electricity supply industry? I should have thought that the case for rationing oil was as strong as the case for rationing electricity. Certainly we must not waste fuel anywhere if there is a crisis. Why should we not also conserve gas supplies? The correct way to deal with the problem would be to keep the three principal heating industries on a basis of equality. Then one would not secure a commercial advantage as against another.
I stress once again that the order is discriminatory. It discriminates particularly against the electricity supply industry and I suspect that the Government have concentrated upon that industry in 741 this nonsensical fashion because electricity is still produced mainly by burning coal. The Government are mostly concerned about the coal stocks at the power stations. They have been built up since the last mining dispute to a record level but they will not last indefinitely. The Government are most anxious to conserve these stocks because they want a strong defence weapon in their hands if it comes to a battle with the mining community. Their anxiety to achieve this has led them into an absurd legislative situation over electricity supply control.
The Minister for Industry will forgive me, I hope, if I say that he was placed in an unenviable position just now when, in the course of at useful speech by one of his hon. Friends, he had to make a special intervention about the electricity regulations immediately because every moment was passing and there was no time to be lost in giving an answer to the inquiries coming in about this unworkable order. It could not even wait for his reply later tonight. The Press had to know at once.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Mr. William Clark (Surrey, East)
I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer). I would not entirely disagree with a lot of what he said. He put the case most reasonably. However, it must be realised that the public generally welcome the emergency powers that the Government have taken. This matter must be examined in the context of the entire energy situation.
There is trouble in the Middle East, with the possibility of petrol and oil being rationed in Britain. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry will not keep industry in a sort of limbo for too long. There are many rumours and counter-rumours that rationing is to come next week, on 1st December or whenever. I hope that he will make a categoric statement about our oil supplies.
It is no use saying that we do not have a crisis over oil. In my constituency, in Croydon, it is impossible to get oil for domestic central heating. Consequently, it does the Government no good to say that there is no immediate threat. Where a shortage affects people, particularly invalids, we should be told the facts. We should not put out confident statements. We are in an energy crisis. We can get 742 growth, but to do so we must maintain our energy. In the past the Government have possibly given the impression that they have done too little too late in some cases, particularly in industrial matters. Everyone agrees that inflation is the curse of prosperity and must be tackled resolutely. The snag arises with the remedy. Those who are affected by it say "Yes, take remedial action but do not let it affect me. It is the man next door who should be suffering."
Stage 3 of the counter-inflation policy is fair and flexible. Wages may increase and prices are controlled. Profit margins are contained. It is all very well for Labour Members to laugh, but what a folly it would be to curtail only prices and profits and do nothing about wages and salaries.
§ Mr. Edwin Wainwright (Dearne Valley)
Is the hon. Member aware that he is accusing the Government of deceiving the nation? The Government have declared that there is several weeks' supply of oil in Britain and four weeks' supply on the sea, yet the hon. Member says that certain firms in Croydon cannot get oil. Where is the oil? Is it being held back by certain individuals waiting for the price to go up, or are the Government not carrying out their duty?
§ Mr. Clark
I do not know where the oil is. That is why I am asking my hon. Friend the Minister for information. It is no use asking me, because I am asking the same question. If I have the support of the hon. Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Edwin Wainwright) I am delighted. At least there is some unanimity in the debate.
Let us be pragmatic about it. Our economic base is fairly sound, and it is within our grasp to make the most of it. However, we shall not make the most of it unless somehow we stop the militancy in some trade unions. At the last General Election 28 million people voted. Fortunately 13 million of them voted Conservative, and the Conservatives accordingly came to power. The result could have gone the other way, and the future may see a change of Government. This is a democratically-elected Parliament. Of course, its policies are not popular with everyone, but the Government's counter-inflation policy has been democratically approved and it 743 is nonsensical for some militant trade unions to say, irrespective of the merits or demerits of the case, "This is war and we shall break the Government." They are not breaking the Government. They are breaking democracy, and they are breaking the public. After all, what are the Government? They only represent or try to represent the public I should have thought that some of these militants, particularly within the trade union movement, were doing a disservice to the ordinary working man. The militants are in a minority but they are vociferous, and they sometimes call people out on strike when if it were left to the workers they would not strike.
Much has been said about the miners' last pay award. There is no mining industry in East Surrey. We do not have any pits, but I represented at one time a Nottingham seat where there was a coal mine. I have been down coal mines and I understand the dirty work involved and the impossible job the men have to do. Of course they should be paid a fair rate for the work, but we must get these things into perspective. If the miners were to take what the National Coal Board has recently offered it would mean they should have had an increase in earnings of about 40 per cent. in the last 20 months. Hon. Members might say that that is not good enough, but it is not bad.
If they were to take this increase we could possibly ride out the oil shortage that we shall no doubt suffer. One of the things which make the overtime ban so short-sighted—I do not suggest it is illegal—is that some of the pits may be closed and may not reopen. Obviously that will create unemployment, and trade unionists must ask themselves whether some of their leaders are interested in the welfare of the members or whether they are playing politics. Do they want to get the Conservative Government out and a Labour Government in? If the Government are defeated on this issue the country too will be defeated. If a Labour Government were returned it would be stuck with the same problem. Some of the militants think they can break this Government and have a Labour Government which will then dance to their tune. I do not want to rub it in too much but the "In Place of 744 Strife" proposals and the prices and incomes policy that the Labour Government tried to introduce failed simply because of trade union pressure. The country must ask whether the militants, who are posing as the friends of the workers whilst pursuing policies as enemies of the State, have created unemployment because of their actions. If that is so, they cannot be helping the working man. We cannot run a democracy if the Government of the day are subjected to such blackmail.
§ Mr. Palmer
I have been listening to the hon. Gentleman with the greatest of attention. Which militants is he talking about? Who are these militants?
§ Mr. Clark
I know that hon. Members are privileged, but I do not want to mention names. All that I have to do is to read the national Press to discover that a member of the National Union of Mineworkers said "This is war and we will not give way." That is not the way to run a democracy.
The silent majority in the trade union movement has been silent for too long. We must alert the moderates within the trade union movement to the dangers which some of these militants are presenting to the country.
It is incumbent upon the Opposition to say categorically—the hon. Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams) was ambiguous—whether or not they are for maintaining the law. The Counter-Inflation Act 1973 has been passed, and we have the guidelines and flexibility of phase 3. Whether the Opposition like it or not, the law must be accepted. I accept that the Opposition may not like phase 3, but they should not in their speeches or by inference give trade unionists the impression that they are being asked to take no notice of the law because they consider that it is bad.
§ Mrs. Shirley Williams
If the hon. Gentleman consults HANSARD tomorrow he will find that I said in clear terms that we advise our people to respect the law and that we ask the Government to ask their people to do so.
§ Mr. Clark
That is fair enough. The hon. Lady knows that this is not a personal issue. I did not think that she was as categoric as she has made out.
745 We are in this together. It is not one side and the other side. It is essential that the miners and the electricity workers, or any other group of workers—I know they probably want their money so as to increase their standard of living—help to establish some sort of rapport between the TUC, the CBI and the Government. If that does not happen, I am afraid that the British economy is doomed.
§ Mr. Harold Walker (Doncaster)
If the hon. Gentleman looks at tonight's Evening News he will see a report from the Kent coalfields. One of the mine workers, a Mr. Hawkins, who is a married man with children, is reported as saying that at the end of each week he goes home with £22. The hon. Gentleman is a wealthy company director. I do not hold that against him. I have a high regard for him. When he says that we are in this together, is he asking that man who is earning £22 a week to establish a rapport with him? Will the hon. Gentleman tell us whether in the last 12 months the growth in his income has been within the requirements of the Government's income policy?
§ Mr. Clark
I think that it is offensive to ask about another Member's personal circumstances. [Interruption.] I will answer the hon. Gentleman's question. I have not had an increase in my salary during the past 12 months. I do not think that it is necessary for me to have to make that declaration. Why should I? I am not suggesting that the miners should not get an increase. I accept that £22 a week is a low and perhaps a derisory wage, but I should like to know how much that man could be earning under the National Coal Board's new offer. Of course, it is possible to take any individual case and make the situation look black. If we take the average of the miners' wages during the past 20 months, and if the National Coal Board's offer is accepted, the miners will have an increase of 40 per cent.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Brynmor John (Pontypridd)
I have taken part in two debates in quick succession in which I have heard Conservative Members appeal to patriotism. If the Conservative Party is in trouble it appeals to patriotism.
There is an inevitable result in the event of a crisis—namely, that which my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. Harold Walker) pointed out. Those who start a crisis at the top of the heap somehow always come out at the end at the top. All the talk about being in one boat together is just so much eyewash. I remember the currency crisis in 1967. Was the hon. Member for Surrey, East (Mr. William Clark) tendering the same advice then to his City friends who were selling Britain short by speculating on sterling? Of course he was not. At that time they were great patriots who were exposing the weakness of the country. That shows the hypocritical nature of the Conservative Party's appeals to patriotism.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
Is my hon. Friend aware that I personally sent to every Minister, including the Prime Minister, and the Pay Board dozens of company reports certified by chartered accountants which show that company directors during phase 1 and phase 2 have been giving themselves salary increases of thousands of pounds a year? Those increases have not been granted on any productivity basis. The Prime Minister and the Pay Board have refused point blank to take any action. I have a letter in my pocket from the Prime Minister bearing today's date. The Prime Minister refuses to take any action.
§ Mr. John
Of course, even in the present so-called phase of the Government's incomes policy, directors have the ability to avoid in certain ways the rigidities of the Government's policy. Miners cannot do so.
There have been a number of states of emergency during the past three years. When a state of emergency becomes commonplace the Government are allowing themselves little room for manoeuvre when a major crisis blows up. The Government, by making an emergency declaration, have left themselves with little room for manoeuvre. The Government are 747 in the grave danger that the public will no longer believe them.
Much of the debate has rightly centred upon the overtime ban which is being operated in the coal industry. It is not a ban which has been imposed suddenly. It is a ban which was talked about through the spring and autumn. I have been reading reports in the newspapers of the Government's fear that in the autumn there would be an overtime ban in the coal industry. The Government knew perfectly well that the miners might be dissatisfied with the terms of a pay settlement which they might be offered.
At the same time, coal stocks have never been so high. Apparently the Government and the nationalised industries learned the lesson of the last miners' strike. Not only are coal stocks at the pitheads very high, but coal stocks at the electricity generating stations have been similarly high. In fact, they have been at their highest level. Is that so? Have the stocks at the electricity stations been at their highest level? If not, does not that make the Government seem guilty of the grossest negligence in the handling of the country's affairs?
The overtime ban is the banning of extra hours which are not part of the normal week's work. The week's work, I hasten to add for the information of those advocates of law and order, is something which was first enshrined in an Act of Parliament and which has been honoured more in the breach than in the observance. Apparently, after one day of an overtime ban—that is, the banning of non-compulsory extra work—we are in such a desperate situation that we have to declare a state of emergency. Either the industrial base is so enfeebled as to be blown away by the first wind, or else this declaration of a state of emergency owes everything to political considerations and almost nothing to economic imperatives.
We have been given today pictures, with more or less heartrending sobs, by Conservative Members about the hardship this situation will cause ordinary people—as though miners do not live among ordinary people, as though miners do not have a high proportion of their own who are sick and disabled, as though the miners do not see their own com- 748 munities progressively getting older, and as though, with all this, the miners do not realise full well that there is hardship to the community.
The Government cannot escape this matter as lightly as they seek to do. The miners are leaving the industry at the rate of 600 a week. In South Wales, the rate is about 100 a week. The net loss of miners to the industry in the last two years has been 26,200. That is the number of fewer miners now than there were two years ago in the pits.
The Government are now in a dilemma. They cannot rely on immigrant workers to do the dirty jobs; nor can they rely on direction of labour to do them. So how are they to ensure that there will be a satisfactory work force to carry out a job which by any reckoning is dirty, hazardous and carried out in the most unpalatable conditions? Many hon. Members opposite have said that they would not like to do it, and they are not alone in that. If a miner can go to a factory which is modern, clean and well lit, with reasonable conditions and for much higher wages, he also does not want to work down a mine, and no earthly power can compel him to do so.
The Government, unless they have a more flexible policy than they have yet revealed to justify their claim to be tackling long-term problems of ensuring our fuel stocks, can pursue either a policy which brings about the recognition of the miners' just claim to be placed high among the industrial workers, or one which may defeat the miners and increase the progressive exodus of miners from the industry till, at the end of the day, there will not be enough miners to provide the coal needed by the community. It is right and proper that the National Coal Board should seek now to obtain justice in wages for the miners.
The attendance of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has been fleeting today. Indeed, he is rather like a typhoon. He makes rare appearances for brief periods and leaves havoc in his train. That has been his mark as Secretary of State. He is much more ready to go on television than to grace this House. Last night on television he was remarkably unclear about our oil and petrol stocks and what the future holds.
749 If the Government really believed that what they said today about oil being a very great component of the present crisis, the first and not the last task they should have undertaken was the rationing of petrol and oil. That should have been done several weeks ago. The Government cannot postpone it till the never-never. Last weekend on the radio the Secretary of State said that it was no good being dramatic like Holland in restricting Sunday driving. He added that everything was all right because we had an accommodation with the Arabs, who regarded us as a friendly Power. If that is so, what has so dramatically changed in the oil situation? If oil supply is the major—and I believe the only—reason for the declaration of a state of emergency, would it not have been honest and prudent of the Government to have said so and, equally, to have confessed that they blundered in not imposing petrol rationing before now?
Let not those who have abdicated Britain's independence in foreign policy in pursuit of the maintenance of oil supplies be under any illusion that their action has bought time and supplies. The Home Secretary quoted The Times with approval. Perhaps he will equally accept a report in The Guardian yesterday. It reported Mr. Jalloud, the Libyan spokesman, as saying:It is no good Europe thinking we are going to turn back on oil. The Arab countries are going to continue to cut oil until the Western countries supply them with modern destructive weapons.The Government are, therefore, faced with an accelerating crisis. They have chosen for political reasons to pretend that it is the miners' strike that has caused the situation. The political bias of the whole approach is evident in the statutory instruments. Why at this stage is it necessary to treat schools on an equal basis with museums and art galleries—if it is not to try to arouse prejudice amongst mothers whose children will be denied education? Why should that be done at this time?
The issue really is the ineptitude of the Government in their handling of economic policy. It is that which has caused the problem. If they had had a sensible economic policy instead of the absurd rigidities of stages 1, 2 and 3 we would not have had to face the shortfall of 26,000 miners in two years. It is no 750 good the Government suggesting that if the strike goes on we may have to close mines. Even if it does not go on, but if the miners continue to leave at the present rate, then coal mines which are viable and have good reserves of coal will have to close anyway because the men will simply not be available. The men are going to other industries, where they are better paid.
§ Mr. Caerwyn E. Roderick (Brecon and Radnor)
I hesitate to intervene, but my hon. Friend will be saddened tomorrow morning to read in HANSARD that he used the word "strike". I am sure that he would like to correct that impression in case someone comes back to him.
§ Mr. John
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I was, I think, repeating a misquotation of the hon. Member for Surrey, East. It is, of course, an overtime ban.
As I was saying, at the present rate of wastage many coal mines will close anyway. The only way in which the Government can repair the situation is to reintroduce sensible flexibility and recognise the justice of the miners' claim. Unless they do that they risk the economic and financial suicide of the country which their recent prodigality towards the rich has already put them well on the way to seeing.
These emergency regulations are the product of political prejudice, of the Government's desire to extricate themselves from the financial and economic crisis into which they have blundered at the expense of the miners. They are hoping for a run to the country, but, as happened last time, they are going to be unpleasantly surprised, because our people will not forget the miners' sacrifices for them, and they will be ready to sacrifice for the miners.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South)
I cannot claim the specialised knowledge of the coal industry displayed by the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John). He was right to underline again the importance of coal in the general fuel situation which we now face. As he and others have pointed out, the debate is not so much about the emergency powers but about the perilous fuel situation of the country, especially with oil supplies, following the recent Middle East war. 751 Naturally, from the point of view of the car manufacturing industry, I hope that we can avoid petrol rationing. It is all very well for people who may be well off and living quietly in the country to say that they can do without a car. For a large number of people a car is an absolute essential. It is vital that we get car production above the present 1973 level.
I suspect that the reason why the Government have not introduced petrol rationing is partly that they hoped that the assurances given by the Arab States would be met and also because if we are to have petrol rationing it will have to be a much more sophisticated scheme than that which operated in 1956. We have only to look at the decline in rural bus services and railways to realise that 60 miles across the board a week is not necessarily the right way to tackle the problem. In the meantime, I hope that the Government will look at the question of motor racing and sports involving the use of oil.
I would have thought that some adjustments could be made there. We should consider whether the amount of motor racing and sport involving oil should continue at the present rate. Petrol rationing, apart from the incomvenience, would have an effect on the car and truck industry that cannot be lightly disregarded.
The hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer) spoke of the electricity heating restriction order and went into considerable detail. I do not think that we were all able to grasp the full extent of the amendment order which the Minister said would be issued at midnight. I do not know whether I heard the Minister correctly when he spoke about heating for offices and the use of night storage heaters. I think he said that it would be all right to heat offices by night storage heaters if the heater came on between the hours of 3 a.m. and 7 a.m.
§ Mr. Madel
I am grateful. I would also like the Minister to look at another point. There are a number of somewhat antiquated offices. There are also a number of elderly people who work 752 in them part time. The order says that it is possible to get a licence revoking this ban on office heating. People will want to know how to get such licences. It will be especially difficult for the Government at present because there has been in the past few days—and it may not be fully solved—a dispute among local newspapers, which means that advertising to tell people how to get this kind of licence cannot be easy. I suggest that the Government will have to take quite a bit of time on radio and television to explain exactly how to set about getting a licence and to re-explain and re-emphasise the whole question of night storage heaters and office heating generally.
I come now to the engineering dispute and the Pay Board. I would have thought that in stage 3, when difficulties arose between the power engineers and the Electricity Council, it was the duty of the Pay Board to convene a meeting between the Electricity Council, itself and the engineers and to spell out exactly what was available under stage 3.
Now that we have a more flexible incomes policy the Pay Board could discard its former rôle of rigidly applying the rules and be more of a national incomes commission, such as was tried 10 or 12 years ago. If the Government are saying that there is flexibility under stage 3, the public want to know the range of possibilities and opportunities for people when they get involved in a dispute such as that currently involving the power engineers.
Naturally we hope that the negotiations will be successful. If people have to put up with power cuts and voltage reductions they have a right to know exactly what can be given to the power engineers under phase 3. I hope that the Minister can say something about this.
All I wish to say about the current dispute in the coal mining industry is that I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) was right to say that the claim would have to be considered in the totality of the energy situation and in the light of the numbers leaving the industry at the present alarming rate. The country has to consider which is more damaging—a cut-off of coal, stopping factories from 753 working at full production, or a big stretch of phase 3 under a productivity deal and thereby the free flow of goods from the factories. We are now engaged in increased activity in our factories. A cut-back or stoppage would have far more serious consequences than the immediate effects on the coalmining industry and domestic electricity.
My hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry mentioned the media and the engaging of public opinion in disputes. What is going so wrong in this country is that there is so much publicity given to disputes and so little given to the solving of them. There have been occasions in the past two or three months when people have been involved in a dispute with an employer and when a mass meeting has rejected a recommendation that the strike should continue, or has recommended that the employer's offer be accepted. What is happening is that national and business nerve is being weakened by the constant publicity about the disputes occurring in the country.
Many industries have gone through 1973 quite peacefully. Some have had difficulties, but in such cases the dispute has often been quickly solved by the various methods open to the industry. Often, that means negotiations behind locked doors. Investment and business confidence has been weakened in the past three months by the incessant publicity given to industrial disputes.
This brings me back to the Pay Board and to two tasks which it should now undertake. First, the country wants to know the actual amount of overtime being worked and the cost to the country. Secondly, the country could do with knowing more about the normal hours of work in specific industries. I have always thought that before we consider a wage or salary claim, among the first questions to be asked by the public are: what hours are being worked in this industry? Are they long hours? What sort of shift work is being done? It is this information which the Pay Board has to get across to the country if phase 3 is to be successful.
Naturally, I hope that the current economic expansion will continue, for two obvious reasons. First, it is the economic expansion of the past 15 months which has brought unemployment down 754 so quickly. Secondly, we have had an upturn in investment this year and promises of a further increase in investment for 1974. Any weakening of economic expansion is bound to put that at risk.
I return to what my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry said at the end of his speech. He warned us all that we should think more about what Mr. Baldwin did years ago and the social awareness that occurred at that time. Perhaps I could add a rider and say that it is incumbent upon the House and the country to remember that when people say that such and such a dispute will be a fight to the finish, then, as Mr. Harold Macmillan said, a fight to the finish can finish the country. Everyone must choose his words wisely and cautiously. Otherwise we will have a winter of most serious disputes.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Hardy (Rother Valley)
I agree with a great deal of what was said by the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Madel). I am glad that he agreed with his hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen). I was coming to the conclusion that no other Conservative Member would be prepared to support the sane arguments advanced in the hon. Gentleman's speech. I want to speak not because I represent the stockbroker belt, which has already been heard, but because I probably have more miners and more pits in my constituency than has any other hon. Member. I probably have more miners in my constituency than there are in all the constituencies represented by Conservative Members.
I want to try to dispel from the minds of hon. Gentlemen the idea that the miners are like black-visaged thugs who are led by militants seeking to destroy the economy and the social values of this country. This is not the case. There are militants in the mining industry, and more than there were in 1970 because this militancy has been copiously fed by the policies pursued by the Government. Hon. Gentlemen talk about publicity being given to industrial disputes and suggest that this encourages a greater level of disputation and strike in industry. That is the case. They forget to mention that throughout the 1960s the Conservative Party was busy trying to get as much publicity and, therefore, political 755 capital as it could out of every dispute that occurred in Britain. Thus, relationships in industry were badly affected.
The Government appear largely to have ignored the serious aspect, referred to by my hon. Friends, of drift from the National Coal Board's employ. This question arose on several occasions in the debate on Tuesday. Unfortunately, the Minister did not refer to it when he answered the debate. It was an astonishing omission. Hundreds of men are leaving the mining industry every week, yet the Minister completely ignored that point which had been stressed many times by hon. Members.
I have talked to miners who have left and others who are thinking of leaving the industry. They are doing so for three reasons. The first is pressure from their families as a result of the tragic disasters which have been experienced this year. The second is that there is still not enough confidence in the future of the industry.
I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) suggest that we ought to have greater involvement in private enterprise and that there should be more open-cast mining. I do not want massive open-cast mining in my constituency, largely because much of it has been open-cast already, and, although we have not had the appalling legacy of open-cast in America, it is not so good, particularly when we have adequate good quality reserves underground.
If we are to get the coal from beneath the surface we must persuade the men that they can expect reasonable rewards and long-term employment. Unfortunately, they have been severely disappointed in the last two or three years.
I have never been in favour of entry into the Common Market on the unsatisfactory terms which were negotiated and arrived at after British miners were led to believe that entry would immediately open unto them 25 million of tons of coal sales in Europe each year. They were told that Europe, which had to import 20 million or 25 million tons of coal each year, would be eager to buy British coal and that, as a result of entry, 40,000 jobs would immediately be safeguarded and many pits would have a longer life. 756 Of course, not one extra ton of coal has been sold to Europe because we entered the Common Market. Indeed, there is no evidence that one extra ton of coal will be told to Europe in the next two or three years, even though Germany is reducing its productive capacity to 83 million tons next year.
§ Mr. Harold Walker
Perhaps I may recall to my hon. Friend's mind that when the great debate was on, prior to entry, and all these inducements were dangled before the eyes and noses of the British people, we were told that one of the beneficial consequences of entry would be that our workers would start to get the better wages, conditions and lengthier holidays enjoyed by European workers. I went down a German coal mine in August. I may have been down a coal mine more recently than some of my hon. Friends from the mining industry. I learned that coal miners in Germany earn an average wage of £45 for a standard working week. Would my hon. Friend care to estimate when British coal miners will cash in on the benefits of entry into the EEC and receive the level of wages obtained in the Community?
§ Mr. Hardy
There may in future be a willingness by the Common Market countries to purchase British coal. They certainly have to import increasing quantities of coal now that the Germans have aped the rest of the Community in running down their solid fuel industry. But so far we have seen no evidence of the economic benefits which were promised to the coalmining industry in 1971. Since that promise appears to have been broken the miners feel a greater lack of confidence than perhaps they should. I believe that the industry must remain in a healthy and viable condition for many years. However, unless the miners have greater confidence than they currently experience we shall not be able to maintain the industry.
I have not been down a German coal mine, but in the last month or two I have spent days down two coal mines in my constituency. Both pits have large reserves of good quality coking coal and a tradition of excellent labour relations. Yet they are experiencing serious difficulties in retaining the younger men in their employ. The average age at those pits is about 48. Inevitably, this means 757 that future absenteeism, and so on, will be worse than it is today.
The younger men are not going into the pits because they have not the confidence, because of the disasters which we have recently experienced, and because they are professionals. They do not go down the pits because their fathers did—therwise I should be working down a pit—or because they have nothing else to do. Increased mobility allows them to pursue jobs in areas 10 or 20 miles away from mining villages. They go down the pits for money. Unless the money they are offered is at least the same as they can get in other occupations we shall continue to lack miners for a very long time. Men are leaving the pits to go into private-sector occupations for more money.
Hon. Members on the Government benches suggest that miners should abide by the law. But private-sector employers who offer them more money are not abiding by the law. On 26th August, on the front page of the Business News section of the Sunday Times, I read a report of increased wages being offered to building workers in the London area. Huge sums were being offered over and above the £1 plus 4 per cent. which was offered to workers generally. We may not find employers offering £40 or £50 a week extra in areas adjacent to the coalfields, but some employers in South Yorkshire and other areas near and within the coalfields are paying much above what the law allows to be paid. The Government have taken no action against such people.
§ Mr. Hardy
I doubt whether they will condemn them. I wrote to the Prime Minister on this subject at the end of August and referred to this information, as well as to several other problems, including housing, affecting my constituency. Various answers were given about the housing problems, but that report was not referred to in the reply. If the developers of luxury office blocks can ignore the law and the national need, miners in my constituency and elsewhere will not moderate their demands. They will not, because they are in the public sector, accept less than people in other and perhaps not so necessary occupations.
758 I believe that we must maintain an adequate coal industry, and unless we are prepared to pay people at the going rate to work in that industry we shall certainly not be acting very wisely.
Unfortunately, the Government have acted insensitively in introducing this emergency legislation within 24 hours of the miners' overtime ban commencing. It seems to me and it will seem to many in the mining industry and the mining communities—the two should be put together—that the Government are playing party politics with this issue in a way which is more serious than the suggestion that some miners' leaders would like to see the Government destroyed 7 he Government are seeking to establish a smokescreen, a cover-up, an excuse, because of the international energy crisis and their own serious economic situation.
The miners will not be prepared to accept the full responsibility for the Government's economic failures. If the Government are relying on whipping up hatred, detestation and unpleasant public reaction to the miners and the mining communities, they will be responsible for the generation of a greater degree of bitterness than that which was general in the mining areas in my earlier years.
§ Mr. Hardy
We do not want the kind of social reactions that were generated in 1926. I was beginning to be happy that the slight bitterness that we experienced in 1971, as a result of the last dispute, was rapidly being removed. If the Government persist in looking for trouble a greater degree of bitterness will prevail, and unpleasant publicity will not have very much effect upon it.
I urge the Government to adopt a different posture from that which they appear to have taken up. It would not be wise for the Government to act like punch-drunk pugilists and throw their hat into the ring for a fight because they think that they can smell an easy victory. There are no victories to be won in this sort of dispute. If, instead of antagonism, there were a spirit of wise conciliation, we should not merely help Britain to weather her general economic problems. We should make a real contribution towards establishing that pattern of energy use and provision which it would be wise to adopt.
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater)
I am pleased to follow the speech of the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy). The hon. Gentleman, in the earlier part of his speech, spoke with greater practical knowledge than I have of the problems in the mining industry. The debate is concerned with wider issues than the mining industry, but we all recognise the real problems which are related not only to the present dispute in that industry but to the future from the point of view of maintaining employment and coping with the energy problem that will be with us for ever.
I did not agree with the hon. Gentleman when he found it necessary to allege that my right hon. Friend had all sorts of motives for bringing in these measures. I know these allegations to be untrue, and I am sure that my colleagues on this side of the House do not support the suggestion that this is an effort to build the whole issue into one of confrontation and to encourage bitterness and hatred.
It is clear to all who consider these problems seriously that not only this country but many others are facing acute problems and real crises of adjustment to the situation which has suddenly arisen. The purpose of these measures is not to build up hatred or fears of confrontation, as suggested by the hon. Gentleman.
I criticise the hon. Gentleman, just as I tried to criticise the hon. Lady the Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams), for confusing the two issues here. It is important to separate them. We debated the mining industry on Tuesday, and we are to debate the Government's handling of the economic situation on Monday on a motion of censure. Today we are debating the need for the state of emergency which has been announced.
The hon. Lady the Member for Hitchin said that on the announcement of the state of emergency the bottom fell out of the Stock Exchange. The reason for that was the balance of payments figures and the announcement of the increased interest rates and higher deposits. It had nothing to do with the declaration of the state of emergency.
The hon. Lady made a strange comment, and perhaps it was unintentional. She said that the Opposition were not so interested in industrial investment.
§ Mr. King
If the hon. Lady reads HANSARD tomorrow she will see that that is what she said, but I cannot imagine that she meant it. When she was talking about restrictions on heating she alleged that the Conservatives were more interested in industrial investment, but this is a subject which concerns us all.
The hon. Lady went on to say—and here I agree with her—that there is a need for integrity if we are to have a belief in parliamentary democracy. She said that there must be integrity in government. I am sure she would accept that there must be integrity in opposition, too. I thought that the hon. Lady, having made that reasonable appeal, departed somewhat from the standard that she had set herself because, if I understand her aright, she said that she agreed with the need for a state of emergency but would not support these measures because she did not happen to like the grounds on which the Government had introduced them.
Is that really the way to create faith in democracy and in leaders in this country? If the hon. Lady recognises the need for measures to be taken in the national interest but says that she will recommend her right hon. and hon. Friends to vote against them because she does not particularly like the way in which the Government have introduced them, that will not enhance public belief in the integrity of the Opposition at this critical time.
I fully support the declaration of a state of emergency. That should be no surprise to anyone. My criticism is not that it was announced 24 hours after the overtime ban by the miners. During the debate on the economy on the Address in reply to the Queen's Speech I said it was high time that precautionary measures were taken to meet the situation that was confronting us. We all recognise the fuel problems confronting us, and during that debate I said that we as a country resembled the "Titanic" sailing through dangerous waters with all its lights blazing.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Proudfoot) intervened, and I was helping the House by saying that he had given an honest reply. The hon. Gentleman said that these measures could not be announced before the by-elections, otherwise the Government would lose them.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)
That is not a point of order. I am sure the hon. Member thought he was helping the House, but I do not think the House always agrees that he is.
§ Mr. King
The whole tenor of the Opposition's case this afternoon is not that these measures have been taken too late, but that they have been taken too early. I fail to see how the hon. Member for Rother Valley can justifiably ask why we did not take these measures earlier, when the main criticism is that these measures were taken only 24 hours after the ban. The hon. Lady said that this step was taken too soon. She said that it usually takes longer to declare a state of emergency, yet the hon. Gentleman says that it should have been declared sooner.
I am on record as saying a week ago that these measures should be taken. Had they been, the Government's standing would have been enhanced. We know that there is a problem, but we do not know very much about it. We know that the oil situation is uncertain. We may know what is on the high seas, but who can put his hand on his heart and say what will be shipped in a week or a fortnight's time? If there is a hitch over the exchange of prisoners of war or over the negotiations, the situation could change.
I welcome the measures that have been taken, but I think that we must go further. I called for reductions in unnecessary lighting, and measures have 762 been taken on that score. I think that the hon. Lady had a fair point when she asked why these measures were confined to the use of electricity. I hope that that was an appeal to the country to join in the measures of economy that are needed. It was perhaps an oblique criticism of my right hon. Friend for the limited form of his measures. I hope, therefore, that in winding up the debate the Opposition spokesman will endorse loud and clear the call made by my right hon. Friend for every possible economy in the use of fuel.
One wonders whether we are serious. I have referred to the waste of power in lighting. I notice that the Americans have now introduced heating regulations, in which it is suggested that they turn down their thermostats from the standard 76º at which offices are kept in the United States to a lower figure. It might do certain of our transatlantic friends a lot of good if that were to be a permanent measure.
A wider point arises in the debate. At the beginning of my remarks I said that this problem will be with us for ever, from now on. Perhaps we can learn from the short term what measures might be of some sense for the future. The figures for motor cars on the roads have been quoted. I think I am right in saying that when petrol rationing last existed in this country, in 1956, there were 4 million cars on our roads. There are now 12 million. I was in Japan recently when the Japanese motor industry was celebrating record production figures for a particular month of half a million cars. We cannot carry on like this and expect that fuel supplies will be everlasting. Last month Detroit announced the new season's models, for 1974, one of which averages seven miles per gallon.
Are we moving to this crazy situation when the whole world knows that fuel supplies are limited? Is no attempt being made to stop this? Is this not a time for a constructive step for the future and for looking again at the proposal for a horsepower tax, the proposal that the road fund licence should be adjustable and scaled to the horsepower of the car? Is not that a positive, constructive fuel economy move to give real inducement to the use of cars with a lower petrol consumption?
763 A meeting was held today to discuss the increased use and development of nuclear power. It seems that it is an ill wind that we face at present. It could not be much else in regard to fuel supplies. I hope that, in taking these emergency powers and in attempting to make short-term economies, we also look to the longer term to see what positive permanent measures can be taken to reduce fuel consumption. One thing we all know is that fuel will not be easy to come by. We also know that it will be very difficult to pay for it from now on, for ever.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Loughlin (Gloucestershire, West)
I shall try to see that my hon. Friends are left time in which to be called to speak. I do not intend to follow the remarks of the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Tom King) because about the only issue on which I agreed with him was that the energy problem will be with us almost for ever.
I should like to return to the speech made by the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) who addressed the House with his usual clarity and logic. I was glad that the hon. Member related the issue of the state of emergency specifically to the prices and incomes policy and the code. I think that he was the first speaker in the debate to do that. He also referred to the loss of miners.
I do not know what the Government intend finally to do. If we are losing miners at present to the tune of 600 a week—we do not have a breakdown of the age levels in the pits, and that is equally important since we may find that the net loss of miners relates to very early age levels—and if the dispute escalates from an overtime ban into a strike, as it may do, there will inevitably be a further run-down of manpower in the mining industry. Who, then, is to dig the coal? It certainly will not be stockbrokers, or builders and land speculators. The Government must face up to the need to anticipate a situation that will arise after this dispute is settled.
The problem of oil supplies has been referred to. If the oil situation was the determining factor, I do not believe that we would have a state of emergency, but if that was so, surely the Government would have taken action in those sectors 764 of the economy which are at present using oil. They would not have made pious pleas to turn off power at given times. They would have said, "We are in an energy crisis in which oil is vital. There must be a substantial restriction on the use of oil."
The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary referred to the power workers. They have a part in the total energy crisis which we face, but I do not believe that they are a significant factor in the introduction of the emergency powers. The real problem is the miners.
No one can justify the introduction of a state of emergency only one day after the banning of overtime by the miners. I do not believe that, in practice, even with total banning of overtime, anyone can justify the introduction of a state of emergency, for if a man is not able to do that which he wills with his own spare time, we really are quickly developing into a slave State.
The truth is that the Tories decided to take on the miners many months ago. They see the miners as the key to the success or failure of their incomes policy. If the miners win this dispute, phase 3 is dead. If the miners lose, it means that not only are the miners beaten but the whole of the trade union movement is beaten. It means that those of us in the trade union movement must face the fact that standards of living will again fall. Let us make no mistake. Even a 13 per cent. increase in wages, with a running 10 per cent. inflation, or more, and the consequential increase in tax payements arising out of the 13 per cent. increase, in totality is a decrease in wages after one has received the 13 per cent. In some cases it is a substantial decrease, due to the many benefits which are based upon the means test.
The Government's plan to defeat the miners was laid, I think, in January and February 1972. Why have we had, even in this debate, so many references to the vast accumulation of coal stocks, not merely at the pitheads but at the power stations and distribution centres? The Government have admitted that they have a mobile police force which is ready to be moved in wherever trouble can be provoked on the picket lines. The emergency powers will be ready for them, to bring in the troops as soon as anyone blacks the movement of coal. My view 765 is that the Government have created a machine, since January 1972, to smash the unions, or to smash the miners and in consequence the unions, and that that machine is ready for the word "Go" I tell the Government tonight that the trade union movement will not stand idly by and see the miners on this occasion whipped again, because the whole situation is far too reminiscent of 1926.
The Government have a serious economic crisis on their hands. I will not go into the balance of payments problems. The Government have even had to do a bit of fiddling, but it has now been determined that last month the deficit instead of being £298 million, was £370 million. The Government know the score. I do not think that they will be too disturbed if they get substantial industrial strife in the next few months, because I believe that they recognise that their disastrous economic policies have been such that it is impossible for them to recover, and that they may want to fight an election, which may come far sooner than some of us think, on the slogan, "Who is to govern, the people or the unions?"
The Government will come to this if they can. They first trigger off industrial disputes. They produce a situation in which people must fight for the maintenance of their standard of living. Then the Government will go to the country and say, "The unions are holding the country to ransom"—not Sir John Stratton or some of the other boys who have been dipping their hands into large sums of money for a long period, some of the boys about whom my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) has written to the Prime Minister on a number of occasions.
My case is that as industrial strife is bound to occur the Government will go to the country. We must tell the people that the problems are the making of the Tory Party and that if the Tory Party is returned to power the problems will be still there and the policies will be the same. What we have seen, and what we are seeing now, is the unacceptable face of capitalism. It should be swept away.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Wilfred Proudfoot (Brighouse and Spenborough)
The hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) is 766 totally wrong about the Tory Party's attitude to trade unions. I am a believer in the freest possible market economy and accept that trade unions are an essential part of that economy. I go further and say that I do not see the use of monopoly power such as the unions have been making use of in the last few years. One day the Labour Party will have to cope with that, if it ever gets into power again.
The hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) seemed to think it politically meaningful to mention luxury offices. Not long ago Opposition Members were talking about workers who had to work in slum offices. The hon. Gentleman should seek to improve his political memory.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
To be fair to my hon. Friend for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy), who has had to leave the Chamber, his point was that it is ludicrous and unfair to pay the workers building those offices double what the miners get, because obviously the miners will leave mining and go to the better job at double the salary.
§ Mr. Proudfoot
I do not disagree with that. The hon. Gentleman will see as I proceed that I accept some of what he has said.
The hon. Member for Rother Valley said also that as miners got older—he mentioned the 48-year-olds—they had a greater degree of absenteeism. I would not use that word in this context—and I know many men in the mining community.
I welcome the fact that the Government have moved rapidly in declaring this state of emergency. Nobody likes to declare a state of emergency. Again, I disagree completely with the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West. I do not think that there is any deep-laid plot to seek head-on confrontation with the miners or anybody else. The hon. Gentleman said that plans were drawn up two years ago. The Government were severely criticised at that time for not having sufficient plans to deal with the miners' strike. Obviously the Government have more experience in dealing with these things and will be much better prepared than they were the last time. I would not call that a plot. It is just using experience.
767 The Government called this state of emergency at exactly the right time—while tempers were cool. To have waited until tempers were frayed before introducing a state of emergency would have been like throwing petrol on to a fire. It is as well that it was done now.
When I was a member of the Standing Committee that dealt with the Bill introducing stage 2 of the prices and incomes policy I enjoyed myself immensely. It was the most instructive Committee I have ever served on. The instruction continues as long as we have stages of the prices and incomes policy. I believe that stage 3 would never have been necessary if world prices had not gone against us, and we would have returned to our belief in the free market economy.
It is glorious sitting here and hearing one Opposition Member after another using the argument of the Selsdon man. Time after time we hear pleas for a free market economy. The hon. Member for Rother Valley spoke of the 600 miners who are leaving the industry every week. I accept that figure, but would like to see it analysed. Those miners are making an economic decision, but not purely because of stages 1 and 2. They are showing that there are other things in market forces than just money.
§ Mr. Loughlin
Is it not true that a man who refuses to work overtime is making an economic decision?
§ Mr. Proudfoot
Of course it is. Such a man is making an economic decision. The hon. Member for Rother Valley spoke of the 48-year-olds who are leaving the industry. Some of them are making an economic decision. A week ago two Welsh Members said that men are leaving the coal mines in Wales. That demonstrated that our regional policy must be right. I know that miners in Wales will not move out of Wales. They want to move to other jobs in Wales. They make an economic decision, but not about money. The decision is about cleanliness, unsocial hours, and danger.
Market forces are not just about money. One hundred and one other things enter into market forces.
The other day—it was when the prospect of an overtime ban in the coal industry was announced—the Leader of the Opposition said that now that oil was 768 becoming so dear it would be economic to change coal into oil. He was right. That is another facet of economic forces.
It is sterile to argue backwards and forwards across the Chamber about the merits of one job as against another. We should not seek to compare conditions in the fishing industry with those in the mining industry or, to take an example from my young days when the movies went from silent to talkies, with those in the orchestra pit losing jobs. The market forces will decide these things far more accurately than any argument. We can have comparisons about wages, but the 600 men who are leaving every week tell their own story.
Hon. Members have said that there will be a fuel shortage for ever. That is cockeyed and silly. Last year I took part in a Friday debate on vasectomy on the rates. There was a great noise about contraceptives, with a plea being made that there should be free contraceptives for all. The shout this Session is that our population is going down and that we need a Minister for population. That shows how silly some of the fashionable whims and fads can be, when one swops from one side to the other.
I can prove that there will be a glut of energy in this world in the not too distant future. It is totally wrong for me to say this as a politician, but it is quite accurate. There is a business magazine called Fortune, which is in the Library, and Members can read about the soya bean business. They will see that the big wheel in the soya bean business must be a great character, because he said that "the cure for high prices is higher prices". That has a simple purity about it, but it is very accurate. The Leader of the Opposition said much the same the other day when he spoke about oil going up in price, and said that people will now be making a substitute for oil from coal. That is what technical progress is all about. If there is a shortage of an item, the price goes up and people immediately produce more of it. The soya bean industry is an ideal example. This year, 83 million more acres of wheat is being grown in America, because there is pull in the direction that the market wants.
§ Mr. Frank Marsden (Liverpool, Scotland)
I am in general agreement 769 with the hon. Gentleman's last remarks. He may be interested to know that a few months ago I was on one of the largest oil rigs in the North Sea and I asked a very naive question of the head tool pusher, never expecting to get an answer. I asked him how much coal gas we in Britain have and he replied, "Enough for 60 years."
§ Mr. Proudfoot
I thank the hon. Gentleman. America has the greatest reserves of coal in the world. Speaking on television about the energy crisis, President Nixon said that they would find cheaper ways of converting coal into oil. I am convinced that private enterprise in America will do that. People will find ways of getting energy from coal without having to go underground. That has been the wish in the mining communities for as long as they have existed. The Economist stated this week that there was a shortage of temperate food stuffs in 1966, a coal shortage in 1947, a shortage of raw materials in 1951, and a great rush into shipping after 1956, when the Suez Canal was first closed, with a consequent glut of shipping. This situation applied even to university places.
All hon. Members have lived through panic in the media. It appears at first that we are to have a permanent shortage of something, and we then find that we are in a situation of glut. That is the operation of the normal law of supply and demand. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Scotland (Mr. Marsden) is another Selsdon man. I am quite convinced that we are all Selsdon men at heart, and that makes me wonder whether, if Governments were elected for seven years instead of five years, we should get out of this cycle and realise—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. It would be better if the hon. Gentleman did not take up sedentary observations.
§ Mr. Proudfoot
The last time we had a coal crisis. I paid a visit to a television 770 studio. The miners' strike had been going on for three or four weeks, but there was comparative calm in the country until it was announced that there were going to be power cuts, which meant that television and the Press would be affected and would lose circulation and production. There was immediate panic, and the headlines hit everybody, although people had been almost unaware of the strike until then.
I hope that on Monday night other Members of the House saw a television programme about trade unions. The programme was headed by an ex-M.P. of the party opposite—Woodrow Wyatt—but there were many trade unionists present, including the leader of the Electrical Trades Union, Frank Chapple.
§ Mr. Proudfoot
There were many Communists on the programme. I hope that that programme is repeated, because it showed the British public what happens in trade unions. It has been said that more people should turn up at branch meetings. I know exactly how many Communist members are elected to this House. The answer is none. But I do not know how many Communists are elected to local councils. However, if Monday night's programme was accurate about how many Communists are elected to trade union executives, it is shattering to think that they have the same electorate as there is for this place and for local councils. It indicates that trade unions should organise their electoral system better, because I am quite convinced that there would then be much more moderation in the whole attitude towards trade union bargaining, which is a point covered by my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen).
It has been announced this week that the Bank Rate was "bumped up", which is the only expression one can use. I should like to make a plea to people in business to stop and think; and I am certain that the Bank Rate will make them do just that. They should stop and look at their stock building. They reached the position where they believed that there would be a permanent shortage of everything, and they were not looking at commodities as closely as they should 771 have done. I believe that many commodities have been peaked out. I hope that managing directors will call in their staff and will ask, "How much stock have we got?", because I am sure that some firms will find that they are overstocked. If people did that, it would have an effect on the balance of payments and on world prices. Market places are notoriously full of rumours and people make decisions on rumours. But, thank goodness, in an economy such as ours many people are making decisions.
I am very sorry that the coal miners have embarked upon this overtime ban. Like typical Selsdon men, they have picked completely the right time to do it. They have done it when we have an oil problem and when we are in a boom situation, with a high demand for fuel. From their point of view they have picked their time well. But I believe they ought to think of the community in the way that the market place does—in other words, they should think of their future customers.
Looking at the situation in human terms, I am very sorry for the families of miners. Just at the beginning of the run-up to Christmas, the miners have been pushed by their leaders into a situation in which they have to drop to basic earnings. At this time of the year, it will bring great hardship to them.
§ 8.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
I want at the outset to refer to one or two of the points made by the hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Proudfoot), the first one being about the trade union leaders who are supposedly urging 260,000 miners to support an overtime ban.
If the hon. Gentleman had followed the negotiation as closely as I have done, he would have known that the union executive made a decision which it sent back to the branches, which a special conference then decided upon and reported to all the branches—bout 300 of them throughout Britain's coalfields. The net result was mass meetings of miners up and down the country, not merely in the so-called militant areas but in the Midlands, where there had been no display of militancy since the end of the war, certainly until 1970. It was 772 evident even in those areas that there was no alternative to taking a decision in accordance with the democratic vote.
My guess is that when the executive followed through the recommendations from the branches it was really saying something not unlike what the Prime Minister said in 1971. Hon. Members will recall that, despite all the attempts by a number of hon. Members on the Opposition benches, including myself, to urge upon him the need to call a referendum on the Common Market, his reply and that of the Treasury Bench was "We have full-hearted consent." I reckon that the NUM executive has got the full-hearted consent of its members.
The hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough made reference to Woodrow Wyatt's television programme. In fact, it was on Tuesday night. What the hon. Gentleman should understand when he hears Frank Chapple is that he has been without a president for more than 12 months, and it is a little odd to see Honest Frank, as he likes to be called, sitting alongside Woodrow Wyatt attempting to expose the so-called militant trade union leaders. There may be good reasons why Frank Chapple has not had a president for more than 12 months, but he is about the last person to become involved in an argument of that kind.
The hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough pointed out that few trade unionists take part in branch meetings or elections except in crisis conditions such as those that we are discussing at the moment. However, he should remember that when Lonrho had its famous meeting a few months ago a great many votes at the end of the meeting were proxy votes, some of which had been acquired merely to increase voting rights. On that occasion millions of votes were cast supposedly on behalf of millions of people by about 200 or 300 people present at the meeting. Of those millions of votes the platform controlled a great many. The least said about matters like that the better.
The Home Secretary voiced his concern about the fact that the current agreement does not expire until 28th February 1974. He is quite right about that. However, the right hon. Gentleman was one of the Ministers who set up the Wilberforce inquiry. That inquiry made its pronouncements, which were then enacted. It 773 also said that as quickly as possible the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers should get back to a November negotiating period. That is all that the NUM is trying to do.
The right hon. Gentleman also said that the overtime ban was more serious on this occasion than it was in 1971. But it is not more serious because Joe Gormley and Lawrence Daly make their statements on television or to Press conferences. It is more serious because the National Association of Colliery Overseers, Deputies and Shotfirers and the Association of Colliery Management are not in the same position as they were on the last occasion. The reason why the overtime ban will perhaps bite to a greater degree this weekend than it did on the first weekend last time is that the Association of Colliery Management and NACODS will not play the same rôle as they did previously. They learned a few lessons out of the 1971 winter overtime ban.
The Home Secretary should realise that when Joe Gormley, Lawrence Daly or any union spokesmen, make remarks suggesting that there will be a greater problem after the first weekend and the subsequent weekend when no overtime will be worked, the reason for it is the activity, or non-activity, of some people who were doing 10, 12 or 20 hours every weekend in order to try to counter-balance the miners who were missing.
What is this all about? What are we here for? We are supposed to be debating an urgent matter. The urgent matter is not so much the emergency measures as the crisis in the pits, which has been urgent for a considerable time. The effects of the Wilberforce award disappeared within about nine months and inflation eroded most of the benefits, quite apart from some of the Wilberforce recommendations unfortunately not being implemented, and the crisis has been with us ever since.
The effect has been seen in my constituency and elsewhere. Up to now, in an effort to solve the massive manpower wastage problem the National Coal Board has from time to time gone along to each of the coalfields and said that such-and-such a pit had better be closed. Of 774 course, the NCB could give all sorts of good reasons. On some occasions, it would deliberately cause a pit to become uneconomic by pushing in machinery that would not work. It has done that before. It did it in the 1950s and early 1960s, so it is nothing new to the National Coal Board. It picks on the most uneconomic pit, with 500 men employed, and then disperses those men to the pits where it is short of manpower.
That has been going on, roughly speaking, ever since the winter of 1972, about nine months after the Wilberforce settlement. But over the whole of that period we heard little or nothing about the manpower shortage, which was chronic then but has since developed further because of a new situation.
Without doubt, there has been a reasonable reduction in unemployment, not merely in the South-East and the West Midlands but in the intermediate and development areas where most of the coalfields are. The strategy was apparent to all of us. The idea was that the Government would create a boom nicely coinciding with the electoral cycle, everything would be all right, and they would be back in power. It has not worked out that way. But what it meant was that more miners left the pits than hitherto, not merely because of the nature of the job itself but because it was becoming increasingly obvious, even in the intermediate and development areas, that jobs were available, and jobs of a kind that miners had never had a chance to have before.
That is why one can talk in terms of the average age in coal mining being about 48 or 49. There are variations between coalfields, but by and large there is not much change between about 46 at the lower end and 48 or 50 at the other in all the coalfields of Great Britain.
Therefore, we had a chronic situation of shortage, now exacerbated by the situation as it developed and the so-called boom economy got under way. Whether hon. Members opposite like it or not—whether they manage to score a victory, whatever they are after in this conflict—the plain truth is that if they are concerned about having a coal mining industry producing 120 million to 130 million tons they must pay miners to go down that hole and dig the coal.
§ Mr. Daniel Awdry (Chippenham)
The hon. Member seems to forget that phase 3 has now been approved by the elected Parliament on behalf of the nation, and, whatever he may say about the merits of the case, the miners' pressure is not against the National Coal Board but against the elected Government of our nation. Will he address himself to that?
§ Mr. Skinner
I was coming to that later, but I shall address myself to it now. It should be made patently obvious to the hon. Gentleman when he reminds us that he voted for the price and pay code last week—
§ Mr. Skinner
I voted against it. The hon. Member voted for it. What the hon. Gentleman should bear in mind is that about the time when he was doing that an agreement was drawn up in Glasgow between the Pay Board, the Government and the Glasgow firemen which drove a fire engine straight through the phase 3 proposals. The miners have found that hole and are going through it.
I have news for the hon. Gentleman. A hell of a lot more industrial workers will go through it as well. It is not just a question of the Glasgow firemen, though I thank God they were there. The miners and other industrial workers can read; they are better educated than they were before the war, when they lost more than one strike. They have been able to develop their strategy to a finer degree, and they can see what is happening on the other side of the fence. They have people like me to ensure when we return to the coalfields that they are informed about anything they may have missed.
When the ordinary miner reads about Sir John Stratton, and about the Green Shield Stamps chairman, Mr. Richard Tompkins, picking up £250,000 in one year for manufacturing Green Shield stamps, and we then talk about emergency measures, what does the House think he will say?
When miners read in the Sunday Times as some of them do nowadays, that among the ways to get round phase 2, phase 3 and any other phases that might be applied, although they will not be applied, are job swapping, redefining the name of the job and opting for perks rather than an increase; that the Govern- 776 ment in the middle of phase 2 were able to hand out £15 million to building societies, not for an abstract thing to use, but for people who had investments in building societies; when it suddenly becomes obvious that all the talk about one nation is codswallop; when they see that they have been kidded, and reflect upon what happened at the beginning of this year during phase 2, when they somewhat meekly accepted £1 plus 4 per cent.; when they realise that after they balloted for increased pension for miners who had been down the pits 40–50 years the Government that supposedly gave them the increase took it away by reducing supplementary benefit; when they see all those things, they realise that it is one big confidence trick, and they are not too worried about phase 3.
The miners know that phase 3 is meaningless anyway. In the situation that developed this week, phase 3 matters little. A much bigger crisis is on the horizon. If the Government remain in power we might even go the full circle, not a somersault but a double somersault, and be back to the old lame duck scene. That is what is likely to happen, especially if the Conservatives get rid of the First Lord of the Treasury, as the hon. Gentleman, and his colleagues to a greater degree, are considering.
Concerned as they are with the nation's interests, the miners also have to read about the Cementation Company recruiting and bringing in at £15 a day—not in my area, because we never allowed it—
§ Mr. Skinner
—teams working alongside miners on a maximum of £7 a day. They see that the company manages to get through phase 3 without any problem. Are they expected to accept that?
They read in the Daily Telegraph colour supplement that the hard-pressed Fleet line underground moles in London are earning £150 a week, working in relatively salubrious conditions. Does the House expect that ordinary miners of the type I have addressed during the past weekend and before will meekly accept the conditions laid down by the Government? No. They are going straight through the hole made by all those that have already gone through phase 3—make no mistake about that.
777 We hear about unsocial hours from Ministers, including the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker), who took the Co-op divi. Imagine him telling miners to behave themselves. He made his money by fleecing somebody else. Thank God an inquiry is taking place!
§ Mr. Skinner
When they talk about unsocial hours, do Conservative Members understand what is happening in the coal-mining industry because of the run-down that has taken place over many months? The National Coal Board has consistently been unable to send in adequate teams on the night shift. It is pretty obvious that the boys have reckoned it up. They know that if there is to be a reasonable premium payment for working unsocial hours, a new shift payment covering 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., the National Coal Board, if it wants to balance its books and make sure that someone else is making money—perhaps someone who is supplying pit props or something of that kind—will ensure that as few miners as possible work between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. They do not see much in that provision for them.
Therefore, whether Conservative Members like it or not, in a situation where rents have increased by about £1.50 and where the National Coal Board has taken advantage of the situation and put up its rents in line with the provisions of the Housing Finance Act, the miners know that the only way to make headway is by fighting for what they want as they fought for it in 1972.
We should not, therefore, get too concerned about a pit ballot. The miners will hold a pit ballot when necessary. They have already held one with their feet—by marching out. Those who remain will have their ballot whether it is the type authorised by the Government under the Industrial Relations Act or whether they do it according to their own rules. The Minister must realise that what the miners have done up to now is to take the recommendations of the branch meetings to the 300 or so pits and that what is being done is with the full-hearted consent of the men. Every Minister knows what that means, because they dragged Britain into the Common Market on the same basis.
778 As for not breaking the law, I think I dealt adequately with that point when it was raised earlier. The law is now meaningless. Phase 3, for what it really is, matters little enough. When it was introduced, many of the editorials in the heavy newspapers made the point, long before I had thought of it, that it would matter not at all.
§ Mr. Skinner
I have explained the point already to the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Awrdy). The miners have seen all those other categories of people getting away with it. Let me give the hon. Member another example on the reverse side of the coin.
§ Mr. Skinner
I am answering it, boy. Do not get excited. On 12th August every company over a certain size—and this applied to more than a hundred but not to the top companies with which we were dealing in our debates at the Labour Party conference—was asked to make its returns for the half year. Twelfth August was the day on which the six-month period expired under phase 2. What happened? I made some inquiries. A few companies fitted in with the Government's requirements. Others did it in a different way. My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) knows a lot about this. Some companies in a rather clever way and with the help of their sharp accountants, subdivided in such a way as to get round the Government's requirements. Other companies had difficulty in employing such accountants. Perhaps they would have needed too much money even for them. They had more difficult problems, so they refused to send in their returns even after warnings by the Pay Board. Mr. Patrick Skillington was not sent in to see them.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
Not one of those companies was prosecuted. Not one of the company directors was prosecuted. I have sent the Prime Minister dozens of examples which show that the law has been deliberately and consistently broken during phase 1 and phase 2. There has 779 not been one prosecution. But the AEUW is viciously persecuted by a so-called impartial judge who is a former Tory candidate.
§ Mr. Skinner
It goes further than that. When I was involved in the Sir John Stratton outrage, when it became apparent that somebody had to follow up the matter on the media, I was given the job of debating the matter on "Nationwide" with the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann), who is the chairman of the back-bench committee of the Tory Party.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. We must try to avoid having a private conversation between the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis). If the hon. Member for Bolsover will continue to address me and his hon. Friend will allow him to do so, we shall get on better.
§ Mr. Skinner
I want to deal with the people who managed to get away with all the so-called provisions and regulations of phase 3.
§ Mr. Skinner
The right hon. Member for Taunton, with all his directorships, became a full-time executive director of a certain company. He succeeded a man who was paid £7,000. The right hon. Gentleman did the same job as a full-time executive for £25,000.
When the right hon. Gentleman would not appear on television with me to debate the matter—namely, to discuss the very point which the hon. Member for Chippenham was on about, the evasion of the law and a sense of responsibility—I made some inquiries at the BBC as to the situation within the corporation. I asked the people there how they had managed 780 to survive on £1 plus 4 per cent. I was told "We do things differently here."
The man who was going to act as a hostile interviewer for me, the man who was going to subordinate himself to take the rôle of the hon. Member for Taunton, Mr. Michael Barratt, had his salary renegotiated during phase 2. When I told Mr. Barratt on television that Sir John Stratton was only the tip of the iceberg and reminded him that his salary had been renegotiated at a level above £1 plus 4 per cent., Mr. Barratt said "I do not think that the viewers will be interested in that."
The miners saw that interview. We must understand that when they know that some categories are getting away with increases in salary and many perks such as free mortgages, interest-free loans and renegotiable contracts, we cannot expect them to sit back and take £2.30 and £2.50. No! The battle lines have been drawn. The Government have decided that they want another confrontation. I have news for them; they will lose just as heavily as they lost last time.
It is important to remember that not only the emergency measures concern the British people. We are now being swamped by a crisis of much greater proportions. The emergency measures should have been taken to deal with that crisis. The Treasury Bench might well act now and take not only the advice of my right hon. and hon. Friends but the advice of some Conservative Members.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Mr. David Waddington (Nelson and Colne)
I would be guilty of understatement if I said that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) had covered a wide field.
§ Mr. Waddington
At one stage the hon. Gentleman referred to the country's interest, but in the rest of his speech one did not hear of much which had any relation to the country's real interest. It is quite impossible to argue that what happened at the time of Wilberforce and what happened after Wilberforce in any way furthered the national interest. It only gave another twist to the inflationary spiral. It is also impossible to argue that Wilberforce did anything in the long run for the miners, because the miners' 781 complaint today is that, although as a result of the Wilberforce award they went up in the league table after the award, as a result of the twist of the inflationary spiral they began to go down the league table again. Therefore, it is surely impossible to argue that it is in the national interest to see, in the next month or two, a repeat performance of what happened only a relatively few months ago.
The hon. Gentleman referred to a television programme in which Mr. Woodrow Wyatt featured. I would have thought that the message to be drawn from that programme was simple—that the Communists have a very great influence in the trade union movement. One should always bear in mind—one is not being provocative but talking common sense and drawing the right lessons from history—that the Communist Party and individual Communists do not, in the last resort, owe their first loyalty to this country, although it is an unfortunate fact that they are able to prey on individual grievances of people in this country. One has only to recall the situation in 1939 when the Communist Party of Great Britain would not even support the war against Nazi Germany until its masters in Russia were attacked.
§ Mr. Neil McBride (Swansea, East)
I am a lifelong trade unionist. The hon. and learned Gentleman says that Moscow runs our trade unions.
§ Mr. McBride
I am a member of the second largest union in the country. Will the hon. and learned Gentleman, if he wants to be honourable, name the persons to whom he is referring?
§ Mr. Waddington
I did not say that the Communist Part ran the trade union movement. I said what is obvious, that the Communist Party has great influence on the trade union movement. There are many Communists in posts of authority in the movement.
I was glad to hear one matter raised by the hon. Member for Bolsover. He gave us credit for reducing unemployment in recent years. We have so reduced unemployment that for the first time, according to him, miners have been able to have a range of job opportunities 782 which they have never had before. It was an interesting comment.
The Government's action in introducing these emergency powers cannot by the greatest stretch of imagination be described as provocative. I cannot accept that the Opposition believe it to be provocative when, only 10 minutes before the final speeches, only a handful of hon. Members are sitting on the Opposition benches.
§ Mr. Waddington
If the hon. Member carries on like that he might suffer an injury. He should realise full well that it is the Opposition who are attacking the taking of emergency powers and that it is, therefore, perfectly proper for me to point out that it is patently ridiculous for the Opposition to argue that our action is provocative when it has been so lacking in provocation as to fail to bring in more than a handful of Opposition Member throughout the whole of the day.
I will certainly not be provocative in dealing with the terms of this order. Every hon. Member opposite would concede that the future of our oil supplies is uncertain. We do not put it higher or lower than that. If we couple with that the fact that our production of coal is lower now than it was two or three days ago, and if we add to that the fact that the National Union of Mineworkers has just said that the object of its action is to reduce coal production still further, it must be faced by every hon. Member that in the weeks to come there could be the risk of a serious dislocation of production.
I cannot honestly believe that the hon. Gentlemen, particularly those who have had to bear any responsibility of government, can say that this Government would have been bearing their proper share of responsibility if, faced with these facts, they had sat down and done precisely nothing and hoped that perhaps in the next few weeks something would turn up.
I come to the ridiculous comment that what we have done is provocative. Surely there could have been nothing more provocative than to have introduced emergency powers of this nature after the industrial action had been proceeding for four, five or six weeks, when the lights had gone out and tempers were getting strained. The Government have 783 leant over backwards to deal with this in a sensible, low-key manner by introducing the emergency powers at this stage, and, at first, making a very limited number of regulations affecting the public only to a limited extent and not affecting the miners at all.
§ Mr. Thomas Swain (Derbyshire, North-East)
Has the hon. and learned Member any factual knowledge of the effect upon coal production of the first three days of the overtime ban? I was in the coalfield only four and a half hours ago talking to the highest Coal Board officials in the area and the highest officials of the trade union. If the hon. and learned Member can tell me that the emergency powers have been introduced because of the serious effect that the overtime ban has had in three days then I will go through the same Lobby as he does tonight.
§ Mr. Waddington
I do not blame the hon. Member for one moment, but it is obvious from what he said that he was not present during the Minister's speech today.
§ Mr. Waddington
If the hon. Member would listen I could tell him something he obviously does not yet know. It is that we heard this afternoon that coal production has been quite seriously affected and that there has been a reduction of something like 25 per cent. a day since the ban began.
§ Mr. Waddington
If that is not serious I do not know what is. Quite clearly the Government would have been failing in their responsibility if they had not taken this action knowing these facts.
The Government are now tied to a statutory incomes policy. It may be that they were wrong to introduce it, they may have been right, but the fact remains that it has now been introduced and endorsed by votes in this House. Although there is still room for manoeuvre, there is not a great deal.
The miners—I say this in all solemnity—must realise that in their own interests and for political and legal reasons the Government cannot give way, as some of 784 their leaders apparently wish, because they cannot break their own law. They cannot give way because the country knows what happened after the last surrender at the time of Wilberforce. If the Government were to give way I should find it very hard indeed to forgive them. The floodgates would be opened to yet another vicious twist in the inflationary spiral. We would see repeated all the terrible mistakes that followed the Wilberforce award. Therefore, I do not believe that the Government can or will give way.
The Government recognise that the Pay Board has some room for maneouvre. It is the Government's wish that, within the scope of the incomes policy, negotiations should continue, but the miners' leaders must recognise that the Government are as much tied by the law as are the miners and their union. That being so, surely it is time that we all recognised the situation as it is. I know that the country recognises that we cannot just surrender and give way to another torrential bout of inflation. The country certainly recognises that the Government are right to introduce these emergency powers now to deal with any serious situation which may arise.
§ 9.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Walker (Doncaster)
I have been stung into intervening by something which has been common to many of the speeches that we have heard from the Government benches. Hon. Members opposite have sought to depict my fellow trade unionist as wild, irresponsible, reckless men who have no regard for the community and their families. It is a picture which I do not recognise.
We have been told of militancy, and reckless, wild behaviour has been suggested. Militancy can take many different forms. It can take the form that regrettably manifested itself in, for example, Doncaster at this start of the troubles. But it can also take the form that it has taken in this House from the Dispatch Box. That is where we had some of the militancy which, despite what has just been said about provocation, has been provocative and has persistently soured the atmosphere of industrial relations.
We have an industrial relations situations about which we should be concerned, and I am. We shall not cure 785 that problem unless we can create a climate and atmosphere in which people are prepared to go part of the way to recognising and understanding and doing something about it. However, I suggest carefully and deliberately that one of the most disruptive and malignant influences in the last three years has been the Home Secretary.
In this Chamber we talk of the responsibility we all have to observe the law and the particularly heavy responsibility that rests on those of us who are here because of the parliamentary democratic system to urge those outside to accept, observe and work according to the laws that we pass. That, in turn, imposes a doubly heavy obligation upon the law makers to ensure that the laws we pass are universal in their effect—that they do not apply only to some sections of the community; that they cannot easily be evaded by others, as instanced by my hon. Friends the Members for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) and Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), and that they are acceptable to the community as a whole.
In Act after Act—one thinks immediately of the Industrial Relations Act and the Housing Finance Act—and in their prices and incomes policies, the Government have discriminated against one section of the community. They have singled out working-class groups for unfair and unjust treatment, and they can hardly complain if there is a deplorable mood in the country and people do not have the respect for the law which they should have, and which we should inculcate in them.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
There is no doubt that the Acts mentioned by my hon. Friend are controversial. In addition, under phase 1 and phase 2, and now again under phase 3, the Government have encouraged their friends to break the provisions of the Acts and have refused to take any action when evidence of that happening has been submitted to them.
§ Mr. Walker
I do not know how true that allegation is, but there has been a lack of readiness on the part of the Government to pursue, with the vigour with which they are pursuing the case against the miners, certain breaches which have been referred to them.
786 Contrary to what was said today by some hon. Gentleman opposite, what was said on Tuesday, and what is said every time we debate industrial relations and a prices and incomes policy, the truth is that the overwhelming majority of people, and certainly the overwhelming majority of my fellow trade unionists, are sensible, decent people, who are willing to accept and make the law work so long as they are convinced that it is just and fair, and is universal in its application.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric G. Varley (Chesterfield)
First, on behalf of the Opposition, I welcome the amendment announced by the Minister for Industry to Statutory Instrument No. 1900 to exempt schools from these restrictions. It is sensible that that should be so, and we are pleased that the hon. Gentleman was able to respond so quickly to the suggestion that was made to him. I am amazed that schools were included at all, and if the statement by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer) is correct, that these provisions were drafted without the assistance of the Electricity Council and those who know about supplies, it shows how incompetently the matter has been dealt with.
Ever since the Government came to power our parliamentary Sessions have included three ritual ocasions: first, the debate on the Queen's Speech; secondly, the Budget debate; and, thirdly, a debate on a state of emergency. When the Home Secretary announced the state of emergency on Tuesday, one of my hon. Friends commented that "under Ted Heath it is not so much a state of emergency but more a way of life."
It is true that during the last couple of months a fuel emergency has been looming larger and larger—that has been amply brought out in the debate—but the Government have shown themselves curiously unconcerned, despite warnings from informed commentators which have grown sharper and more frequent as time has passed. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams) and others have said, we are faced with an oil emergency. That is what this is all about. Let us look at how this has built up.
787 A headline in the Financial Times on 4th October wasWarning of possible oil shortage.On 28th October we readOil rationing edges nearer.Oil companies worried by lack of steps to direct or ration supplies of products.The case for precautionary rationing.Threats to our winter fuel.That was on 1st November.
On 8th November appeared the following:Panic buying of oil products in Britain.On 10th November, the Financial Times said:Britain faces oil shortfall of 15 per cent.—25 per cent. this winter.Oil chaos threatens homes.That was on 11th November.
Before that, on 3rd November, appeared the following:Fuel crisis will get worse.In the Financial Times, Mr. Adrian Hamilton, who is, perhaps, the greatest expert on energy matters writing in the British Press today, analysed the problems which might result from industrial action in the coal industry and the electricity supply industry. He concluded:But the really serious threat remains to oil supplies.After making a similar analysis, The Guardian came to precisely the same conclusion. It said:The serious anxiety, though, remains our crude oil supplies.Oil accounts for half of Britain's industrial energy consumption and 47 per cent. of the nation's total energy consumption. Yet, in the face of a chorus of warnings about oil, the Government took no action. The shortages of diesel fuel, industrial fuel oil and domestic oil have grown so serious—right hon. and hon. Members on the Government side of the House must know this—that Shell-Mex, BP and Burmah have had to take special measures of allocation and restriction. There were sharp reactions from some people, including the chairman of the Road Haulage Association. The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry—Mr. Peter "Micawber" Walker now, because he is always hoping that something will turn up—has made two state- 788 ments in the House about oil supply. Both those statements have been incredibly and culpably complacent.
What was the reason for the unflappability of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry? One theory is that he actually believed his Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery), when on 5th October, outside the House, he said:Britain's stocks of oil are high and any problems of energy supply are capable of sensible solution without the need for emergency measures.That is what the Under-Secretary said some time ago. I want to be fair to the Under-Secretary. He did indicate that the situation might change if there was trouble in the Middle East. The war broke out two days later, and cuts began to be made in our international supply.
Why did the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry still take no action? There was a hint of the reason in the statement on 5th November. He was questioned very closely in the House, but he made a Freudian slip—if the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) will forgive me. The Secretary of State made a passing reference to the forthcoming by-elections. The by-elections came and went. But still the right hon. Gentleman said that it was not necessary to take any action.
It is true that the power engineers were engaged in industrial action; but that had been taking place for nearly a fortnight, since 1st November. Clearly, that was not a new factor. It is true that the miners had begun an overtime ban; but that had been taking place for only one day, and the coal supply situation was scarcely discouraging.
What is the coal supply situation? I do not think that the Government deny that the distributed stocks include three months' supplies for power stations, a much better situation than this time last year and much better than at the time of the last coal dispute. It has been pointed out that at the beginning of this month Britain was entering this winter better prepared in terms of coal, gas and power station supplies and stocks than at any time since the war.
Indeed, this feeling of confidence seemed to prevail within the Government as recently as Monday of this week. The 789 Minister for Industry told the House about electricity supplies. He said:So far there have been only minor voltage reductions, and the only limitations on supply have resulted from a small number of breakdowns in the distribution system followed by delays in reconnecting supplies.That was about electricity supplies. He said about coal:the power stations have substantial coal stocks."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th November 1973; Vol. 864, c. 29–31.)That sounded extremely reassuring. Yet 24 hours later the Home Secretary said:The Government consider that the present situations in the coal and electricity generating industries constitute a threat to the essentials of life to the community which is sufficiently serious to justify taking immediate emergency powers to maintain essential services."—[OFF1CIAL REPORT, 13th November 1973; Vol. 864, c. 257.]Today the Home Secretary made repeated references to the grave uncertainty about oil supplies. On Tuesday, in the statement I have just read out, he made no reference to oil supplies. It is a rather strange and extraordinary alteration that has come about in the Government's attitude after a night when no appreciable change had affected electricity or coal supplies, about which the Minister for Industry was so sanguine on Monday, 24 hours earlier.
The Secretary of State said today that on Monday it was becoming apparent that coal production would be reduced by 25 per cent. He said that it had already gone down by 25 per cent. I assume that a decision was taken on the state of emergency on Monday evening.
§ Mr. Varley
All right, the next morning. There are many hon. Members on this side who know something about the coal industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain) has just indicated that he does.
Assuming that on Monday evening the Government were considering proclaiming a state of emergency, only one shift had been worked on overtime banning. The afternoon shift was still in progress. The night shift was still to come. There had not been a complete cycle of work within the pits. Apparently the Secretary of State knew by some magical 790 means that on Monday evening there had been a reduction of 25 per cent. in coal production. That will not wash.
Could it be, for example, that the Government had decided to take emergency action because of outbreaks of violence or serious picketing which were affecting the fuel situation? Far from it. There has been none of that. Joe Gormley, the President of the National Union of Mineworkers, has rejected the idea of picketing the power stations during the overtime ban, and the power workers and power engineers are engaged in their first industrial action for 60 years. The Minister for Industry, during his soothing remarks on Monday, went out of his way to describe them asthis most responsible group of men".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th November 1973; Vol. 864, c. 31.]There was not any outright violence during picketing.
Perhaps the Home Secretary announced the state of emergency because of a more profound but obscure threat to the rule of law. The Home Secretary tried to imply this on Tuesday in a most discreditable performance. Yet when he was challenged he dodged and slithered away from making the charge that miners or power workers were breaking the law. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] That was the impression.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), from a sedentary position, has made a very interesting proposition, but let us get on.
§ Mr. Carr
It is not true that I did not mention oil on Tuesday. It is true that 791 I did not do so in my opening statement, but in my very next answer I said:… in view also of the uncertainty about oil supplies owing to the crisis in the Middle East".It was there from the very beginning, and we know that the first day's output was down by 20 per cent. as a result of the ban.
§ Mr. Varley
I am not so sure that I want to take up some of those points, but I shall take up just one about the Home Secretary's mentioning oil supplies. He has just admitted that he came to the House with a carefully prepared statement and did not mention oil supplies. It is absolutely incredible that after preparing a statement all morning the Home Secretary did not include a reference to the oil situation, and that it had to be dragged out of him by my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin.
I do not want to go over the question of breaking the law, but the Secretary of State is absolutely right. Nobody is breaking the law. Instead, the right hon. Gentleman accused the miners of trying to break the Government.
§ Mr. Varley
I do not want to keep quoting the exchanges, but what the right hon. Gentleman said was:What I said was that to break the law passed by this Parliament about pay and to do it with the deliberate intention of breaking the properly elected Government of the country is even more undemocratic than anything we have had to deal with so far."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th November 1973; Vol. 864, c. 260–4.]All we are saying is that the Government are not the law. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, Central said that in the debate. The highest legal advice has been taken and that is not the situation at all. Opposing the Government is not breaking the law, and there is not one hon. Gentleman in this House who can tell me that the power workers or the miners are breaking the law in the industrial action that they are taking. Of course they are not breaking the law.
On the question of general energy supplies, there was a case for taking precautionary action to deal with the oil crisis. Some suspicious people believe 792 that the Government, having previously defaulted in taking any action, probably think that they can now slip through the rationing of petrol under these emergency measures. But let me warn the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry—if he is the chap who is going to do it—that nobody will be taken in by that one. The Government say that the emergency has been declared because of the situation in the coal and electricity industries. Although I use the roads quite a lot, I have yet to see any coal-fired Cortinas or electrically-powered Jaguars on the motorways. But the Secretary of State may well say that it is the coal industry which has caused petrol rationing.
§ The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Peter Walker)
I think the hon. Gentleman will agree that, right from the very beginning, I have stated that the Government have prepared legislation which could be quickly introduced if we needed to have petrol rationing.
§ Mr. Varley
The reasons for this state of emergency must be found elsewhere, and they must be found in the fact that for some days now the Government have been aware that next Monday will see the publication of some highly disturbing money supply figures, and I know that to coincide with the publication of those figures the Government had decided, or some people have suggested that they had decided, on a severe credit squeeze. But the Government suddenly became aware that the trade figures were due to be published six days ahead of the money supply figures. Usually, trade figures are published on Tuesdays, as my right hon. and hon. Friends in the last Labour Government learned to their cost two days before the General Election when trade figures were published showing a £31 million deficit. The figures were miraculous compared with the record of this Government. Nevertheless, they were exploited unscrupulously by the Prime Minister in his notorious "at a stroke" statement.
The Government knew that this trade deficit would be 10 times worse than the one which they denounced in June 1970. In the hope of preventing a disastrous run on the pound, they decided to 793 bring forward some of next Monday's measures by announcing a 13 per cent. Bank Rate, and the rest of it. A meeting of Ministers was held in Downing Street on Monday night. At that meeting I believe it was also decided to declare a state of emergency, which was not justified on the basis of the statement by the Minister for Industry earlier that day.
In my view the state of emergency was declared to throw up a smokescreen designed to obscure the total collapse of the Government's economic policy. With luck, the state of emergency might pin on Mr. Joe Gormley and Mr. John Lyons, the secretary of the power engineers, the guilt which truly belonged to the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It was a gimmick to end all gimmicks, and it came from a Prime Minister who promised in the Conservative Party's manifesto to sweep away trivialities and gimmicks. This smokescreen to outdo all smokescreens came from a Prime Minister who said in a personal foreword to the Conservative Party manifesto:At the first sign of difficulty the Labour Government has sounded the retreat, covering its withdrawal with a smokescreen of unlikely excuses.It came from a Prime Minister who proclaimed that… courage and intellectual honesty are essential qualities in politics …".The most scandalous aspect of this lamentable performance is that we face an emergency. There is no doubt about that. Primarily it is an oil emergency. Now it will become an emergency in the electricity supply industry and the coal industry. The reasons that the Government give for the present emergency are totally phoney. Among the power engineers there is a profound sense of grievance, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, Central said. Manual workers in electricity supply were lucky enough to get their 15 per cent. before the pay freeze came into operation. No one begrudges them that. But the power engineers were caught by the freeze and, as a result, in many cases they are being paid less than the men whom they supervise and for whose safety the law makes them responsible. The Electricity Council has agreed that the increase should be paid. Only the Government are stopping it.
794 The emergency in the coal mines is even more serious. We need every ton of coal that can be dug. With recent oil prices adding about £400 million to a frightening balance of payments deficit, it is essential to maximise the output of indigenous fuels. Yet we are losing miners from the industry at the rate of more than 600 a week.
There is no way of digging coal without miners. Does the Secretary of State want them? The situation is a labour shortage. The miners have a case. The Secretary of State will get miners only if he is prepared to pay them wages to take the risks that they take. If there is anything that the Government ought to look at it is the criteria of their energy policy rather than the criteria of their incomes policy.
We have an extremely tight energy situation, yet that tight energy situation is totally subordinated to an incompetently formulated pay policy.
The other day, the Minister for Industry told the House of discussions with the National Coal Board about its longterm plan. This plan involves the exploitation of newly discovered coal reserves. The Secretary of State will not get those coal reserves unless he gets the miners. If sufficient miners are not available to exploit those reserves, a priceless national asset will go.
The Home Secretary decided last week that he had got to take on the miners—as one of my hon. Friends put it. He may disagree with that, and he may say that it was not his fault that there was a dispute in 1972, but he set up the Wilberforce inquiry and it was he who personally endorsed, on behalf of the Government, the findings of that inquiry, including the need for an adjustment backward to relate the pay of miners to pay in manufacturing industry. That is the answer to the hon. and learned Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Waddington); the Secretary of State for the Home Department endorsed it on behalf of the Government.
If the right hon. Gentleman recognised at that time—I think that he did—that purchasing power had been eroded and needed to be maintained, some way ought to be found for dealing with this matter now. The hon. Member for 795 Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) has pointed out that the Government could find a way to deal with the situation within phase 3 and the pay code.
Last year, the Home Secretary—I think that he will agree now—underestimated the miners and he underestimated and failed to understand the mood of the British people. I hope that he will not make the same mistake again. The miners are the same people, and the British people are the same people.
The Government ought to recognise where the true emergency lies, in the need to do something now. Yet what they are doing by being obdurate and stupid in not allowing this matter to be dealt with only makes it more serious and more difficult to solve. For that reason, we shall vote against them tonight.
§ 9.38 p.m.
§ The Minister for Industry (Mr. Tom Boardman)
At a time when, as we knew this afternoon, the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers have adjourned discussions until Monday, and when there are matters which they still have on the table to discuss, I had hoped that the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley) would think it right to make a responsible speech.
The hon. Gentleman was a member of the previous administration, which ran down the mining industry to a substantial extent, closing 276 pits and putting 185,000 miners out of work, allowing miners' pay to rise by £4 during their six years of office compared with the £13 which the miners have received under this Government. So I could go on, but I leave it there. It was highly irresponsible of the hon. Gentleman to make a speech like that.
The hon. Gentleman endeavoured to show that our measures were brought in because the emergency is an oil emergency. In his Shadow position on the Opposition Front Bench, he ought to know the truth of the matter. Energy comprises not just one component but several—oil, coal, gas and electricity—and one's view of energy resoures must take into account stocks held. It is for the Government to assess these and to make a balanced judgment upon the availability of supplies and the relationship between 796 supply and demand, and upon the assurances received from suppliers, including not just the assurances received from suppliers in the oil-producing countries but the assurances which some of us believed we had received from the miners themselves. But if one part of that package is removed—if the assurances of secure supplies of coal are removed—the situation changes and a responsible Government must act. They must act when, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, on the first day of the present action coal supplies dropped by 20 per cent., and the President of the National Union of Mineworkers clearly spelt out the threat that if the ban was properly applied, there would be few pits working after the first week. Would not the hon. Lady and the hon. Gentleman have acted in such circumstances? The hon. Lady shakes her head.
§ Mr. Boardman
Would they have allowed coal stocks to be run down, with the threat from the President of the NUM that at the end of the first week coal supplies would cease? Would they have risked our industry grinding to a halt? Would they have risked the fireplaces in homes throughout the country being left with empty grates? Apparently they would.
§ Mrs. Shirley Williams
Is the Minister seriously suggesting that every time there is an overtime ban or strike for one day in any element of the power industry we should declare a state of emergency?
§ Mr. Boardman
I do not know what credence the hon. Lady places upon the execlutive of the NUM. If it has said that it intends to bring the pits to a halt, does she believe that it means it? If she says that it is purely bluff, and that she would have called that bluff, that must be a point of view. But for a responsible Government, having experienced the problems that can hit this country if miners decide to take such action, not to have acted would have been highly irresponsible in our judgment.
§ Mr. Heffer
I am fascinated by the knowledge that the Minister accepts immediately the views of Mr. Joe Gormley. The TUC has been explaining to the Government that if they continued as they were we should be in a terrible 797 crisis. Why did not the Government accept the TUC's word the first time they heard it?
§ Mr. Boardman
I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman means that he does not accept the word of Mr. Gormley. If he tells me that he does not, I note what he says.
The hon. Lady rightly said, in opening, as I would have expected from her, that the Opposition would not condone any attempt to break the Government by industrial action. She also said, and again I would have expected it from her, that the law must be upheld. Unfortunately, the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) did not seem to support her on that, nor did Mr. Gormley, who said that the men meant to get a £40-a-week basic wage, and that if that meant breaking the Government on their pay freeze policy, a break there would have to be.
§ Mr. Boardman
The Government believe that the orders are needed to achieve economic growth, the increase of real wealth and the fulfilment of our policy for countering inflation.
I shall try briefly to deal with some of the points raised by hon. Members, who have asked for more details. The hon. Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams) drew attention to the display lighting in Oxford Street. We are looking at all these cases but a number of them involve private generators. She also asked why the orders dealt only with electricity and not with oil or coal. Both oil and coal are used in electricity generation and therefore to the extent that this process is covered the consumption of oil is dealt with.
My hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen), in one of his usual well-balanced speeches, made the point, with which I entirely agree, that it is a pity that these issues between management and men seem to be fought out by the media. Indeed, it is incumbent upon the media, if they are giving one side of the argument, to give a balanced account and give the other side of the argument also. But I share with my hon. Friend the view that the right place for these matters to be settled is not on the 798 television screen but at the negotiating table.
My hon. Friend also asked, as did other hon. Members, about the wastage of 600 men a week from the pits. The first week in which the figure of 600 occurred was the week after the NUM had put in its wage demand backed by the resolution of the conference which implied or threatened industrial action. It is the uncertainty of continued employment, the fear of not being able to work overtime and the risk that the mines might be closed during the winter months and over Christmas that is causing men to leave the mines at a time, I am glad to say, of much more employment,
§ Mr. Boardman
I hope that the hon. Members will bear with me. I shall deal with their points in a moment. The hon. Member for Cornwall, Ncrth (Mr. Pardoe) made clear that there were open votes to which I must respond. He asked what effect the exodus of manpower was estimated to have on production. It is not possible to make an assessment like that. It depends on the areas affected and the degree of productivity achieved there. However, it is clearly essential that there returns to the industry the stability of manpower and the stability and security of employment which were written into the 20-point plan discussed between the Coal Board and the unions a year ago.
The hon. Member asked what must be paid to secure that manpower. The offer that is now on the table, which could give 16½ per cent. and could enable a face worker doing normal shifts with a normal amount of overtime to earn over £5 a week—a man working longer shifts could earn considerably more—coupled with the redundancy provision, the pension provision and the transfer provision—which were substantially improved by the Coal Industry Act—could return stability and security to the industry, attract the men it needs and keep them there.
§ Mr. Boardman
The hon. Member for Cornwall, North and the hon. Member for Chesterfield suggested that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had 799 been complacent. That is most unjustified. Anyone reading the record of the statements by my right hon. Friend and others of my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Government would see that throughout we have said that there are uncertainties about oil but that we were satisfied that no further action was needed to restrain demand. The matter is and will be kept under close review. There has been no complacency on the part of the Government and there has been no complacency on the part of my right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Pardoe
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that there is now no need for any Government action on oil supplies and that he has come before the House with no proposals for oil rationing?
§ Mr. Boardman
I am not saying that. I will come on to that matter later, if the hon. Gentleman will bear with me. My hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) and the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) referred to the rates which are being paid. I remind him of the rates which I have quoted. Those rates, when compared with the rates which were paid during the Opposition's administration, are such that no hon. Member on this side of the House need be ashamed.
§ Mr. Ogden
The hon. Gentleman referred to me. I ask him two questions which I have asked previously. Does he think that £40 a week, which is the rate which is paid for temporary shorthand typists in the City of London, the proper rate in 1973 for a coalminer? My second question is one which I asked four hours ago. If he claims that there is flexibility in his Government's policies, will he make his own estimate of what the National Coal Board could offer, and then make a comparison with that and the present offer?
§ Mr. Boardman
The National Coal Board, as is everyone else, is confined 800 by the counter-inflation policy. Any offer made must be within that framework. The hon. Gentleman will know that the National Coal Board is being supported financially to an enormous extent by the taxpayer. The hon. Gentleman has mentioned £40 a week. The rates which I have quoted for a face worker under the present offer are, I believe, attractive. I ask the hon. Gentleman to consider the other end of the scale. A 19-year old unmarried man who is a surface worker, working no overtime, will with fringe benefits be receiving, under the offer, the equivalent of over £30 a week. That is for a 19-year old man.
§ Mr. Boardman
The hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer) asked me about the consultation which has taken place with the Central Electricity Generating Board. It is right that I should tell the hon. Gentleman that the regulations were similar to those which had previously been approved and operated by the board. Some alterations had been made, and it was because of those alterations, and the breakdown in consultation, that I felt bound to make the changes which I announced earlier. There had not been consultation about that matter. I must tell the hon. Gentleman that he was correct.
I must remind hon. Members of the attitude of the National Union of Mineworkers and the other unions in September of last year, when an agreement was reached and formulated which resulted in the Coal Industry Act. It included the provision of some £1,100 million for the industry. The unions, including the National Union of Mineworkers, wrote to me to say that the proposals would provide:a real opportunity for the coal industry to be restored to a viable basis".In their undertaking they said that one of their objectives would be to get productivity moving ahead. They said that was a joint and major priority. They said:We all recognise that only if we succeed here shall we have any effective chance of containing costs, of remaining competitive …The union also recognized—this is the document to which its leaders and the 801 others put their hands as part of the bargain which was made—thatto increase the general level of coal prices faster than the general level of inflation or to a greater extent than our competitors do, would result in a substantial loss of business and would therefore not be a solution to the problem.I now turn to the position of the Electrical Power Engineers' Association. Following a meeting on Tuesday which I bad with both sides, the association and the Electricity Council are in discussion to see whether they can find a solution within the Government's counter-inflation policy.
§ Mr. Boardman
As I was saying, the EPEA and the council are in discussion and I can add nothing at the moment except my hope that the talks will be successful.
On the generation side, because of the supply difficulties of oil and coal we need to conserve energy by reducing electricity consumption, and at this time of the year there is a tight margin between generating capacity and demand. This position has been exacerbated by the action of the EPEA.
The Government are continuing to monitor the oil situation very closely, particularly in the context of the availability of other fuels, and if we see that there is a need to do so we shall not hesitate to regulate oil consumption. There is, however, every need for economy in the use of oil both by industry and by individual customers.
§ The Government are determined to maintain their growth strategy. If we are to make the most of our economic opportunities and to overcome the difficulties, both sides of industry must also play their part. Among the difficulties we have to face are price increases and restrictions on oil supplies from the Middle East. We shall overcome them, provided we can rely on our indigenous resources and on the miners to go on producing our coal.
§ Our counter-inflation policy is an essential part of our growth strategy and is necessary to protect the low paid, the pensioners and other individuals who suffer most from inflation. These regulations give the Government power to see that our objectives are maintained, that the law can be upheld and that the will of Parliament shall prevail over all those who seek to overthrow it for their own ends. I ask the whole House to support the Government.
§ Question put an agreed to.
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, thanking Her Majesty for Her Most Gracious Message communicating to this House that Her Majesty deems it proper by Proclamation, made in pursuance of the Emergency Powers Act 1920, as amended by the Emergency Powers Act 1964, and dated 13th November 1973, to declare that a state of emergency exists.
§ To be presented by Privy Councillors or members of Her Majesty's Household.