§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[The Prime Minister.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call the Prime Minister I would point out to the House that there are over 40 right hon. and hon. Members who want to speak in this debate and that, until the opening speeches have been finished and I see 7 who else wants to speak, there is no point in anyone coming to the Chair to see what his chances are.
§ 2.47 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Edward Heath)
I want at the outset of this debate to restate the hard facts which made the Government take the steps they announced in the House on 13th December. The underlying position has not materially altered since those measures were debated in the House on 18th December. The facts were not challenged then, nor were they refuted at the meeting of the National Economic Development Council which followed, at which I took the chair.
Now the facts are accepted by the vast majority of responsible opinion in this country. The only difference is between those who believe that the action we took was wise and those who consider that we should have allowed our stocks to be used up, with the risk of industry grinding to a halt and essential services being damaged.
The measures we took, including the three-day week, were forced on us by the need to make sure that our electricity supplies did not break down within a few weeks. This was a direct result of a fall in coal production, now down by almost 30 per cent., resulting from the miners' industrial action begun on 12th November. I remind the House that it was only after five weeks of such action, when we could clearly see the consequences for the nation as a whole, that I made my statement to the House.
In the five weeks following the miners' action, power stations' coal stocks fell by 3.6 million tons. This compared with a fall of 500,000 tons in the corresponding period last year. At 8th December the stocks stood at 16.2 million tons. A continued rundown of stocks of nearly 1 million tons a week would have reduced this total to the critical level of about 7 million tons by early February. That was on the optimistic assumption that the weather remained mild. It also presupposed that the industrial action in the mines or on the railways was not intensified. We had arranged for increased oil supplies to be sent to the power stations, and at 1st January the Central Electricity Generating Board had enough oil for three weeks' use at all its oil-burning stations.
8 The Government were not prepared to see a rundown in coal stocks such as I have described. The alternative was just to let the situation continue as we did in 1972, at the time of the miners' strike. The Government were bitterly criticised at that time for so doing ; criticised by industry, criticised by the unions and criticised by the public, and, looking back, I should have to admit rightly so. But we have learned from that experience. In those circumstances, it was our duty to ensure as a matter of common prudence that the situation in 1972 was not repeated. In my belief, and, I hope, that of the House, no responsible Government could have done otherwise.
As a result of the measures that we have taken, the saving in electricity consumption has reached about 21 per cent. I should like to pay tribute to the public and thank them for their co-operation. The contribution which they have made by their economies is of major importance. Both employers and the trade unions have also striven to adapt themselves to the limited electricity supplies available. They have striven with skill and ingenuity, and the nation owes them—both employers and trade unions—a great debt for so doing, and I hope the House will join me in asking for their continued co-operation.
To ensure that we can together see the winter through without further major dislocation we need to consolidate that achievement and, indeed, to do rather better. The Government will continue to try to find ways of securing economies in the use of electricity and thus of giving more help to industry. In this we are assisted by the settlement within stage 3 made by the power workers on 5th January.
Since the electricity restrictions took effect we have saved about 1½ million tons of coal. In the week before Christmas, power station coal stocks fell by less than 500,000 tons compared with 1 million tons in the first week of December. Over the Christmas period, the stock rundown was 750,000 tons when the loss was expected to be 1¼ million tons. As I have already told the House, and as I explained to the NEDC and have said repeatedly in public, the three-day week can be ended as soon as the miners decide to return to normal working and adequate supplies of coal are reaching the power stations.
9 There is one other matter with which I should like to deal. [Interruption.] With respect, part of the agreement between the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers is that safety maintenance should be done by extra shifts. That is not occurring, and that is one of the main reasons for the fall in coal production.
§ The Prime Minister
I have it here, and I am prepared to read it to the House. Clause 3 of the 1947 five-day week agreement states:The union will enter into arrangements with the board to provide for the regular working of additional shifts by certain categories of workers where this is necessary to ensure the safety of the pit.
§ Mr. Skinner rose——
§ The Prime Minister
There is nothing controversial about this. This is a matter of fact and it is what justifies my statement that when the miners return to normal working it will be possible to get proper production and the coal will get through to the power stations.
§ The Prime Minister
I am sorry, no.
I listened to Mr. Gormley at the weekend, and there is one matter with which I should like to deal because there seems to be a genuine misunderstanding.
§ Mr. McGuire rose——
§ The Prime Minister
I am sorry, but I shall not give way.
Mr. Gormley said:If the members of the National Union of mineworkers went back to normal working tomorrow, you would still have this crisis. If it had not happened this month, it would have been in the next two or three months inevitably.If there is genuine misunderstanding here, I wish to remove it. The three-day week is in the use of electricity, and that is the consequence of the fall in supplies of coal to the power stations.
There is now another factor of the utmost importance for British industry: the reduction in steel production. It is not the three-day week that has caused 10 the British Steel Corporation to cut back production to 50 per cent. It is the lack of essential coking coal for the mills. The facts are that normal deliveries of coking coal to the blast furnaces have been cut to two-thirds of what is required. The corporation's margins of coal are now down to 3.7 weeks' supply at full production. That in itself, irrespective of Government action, will involve major shortages of material in manufacturing industry, with consequent short-time working and unemployment.
The three-day week is not the consequence of the oil supply situation. The measures that we took in November would have been adequate to ensure the minimum of damage to industrial production from reductions in our oil supplies. We were assured at the time that industry could absorb those cuts by economies, and this has proved to be the case.
The three-day week is not the result of higher oil prices. Indeed, it is essential that we meet this further external challenge by increasing production and exports to pay for the fuel that we require until our own resources are sufficiently developed to meet those needs.
We also have to make adequate arrangements to safeguard our supplies of imported oil. That is the object of the negotiations now under way with Iran and of our contacts with other oil-producing States which the Government have rightly taken on in the interests of Britain. We wish to co-operate with both the oil-producing and oil-consuming nations in making these arrangements, about both the supply and the price of oil. It is obviously in the interests of all that there should not be an unrestrained international scramble for the supplies that are available.
A number of proposals for international co-operation have already been made. It is right that there should be early talks between the major consuming countries, and that these talks should be broadened to include the producing countries. We have ourselves put some ideas to the American administration on how to follow up the initiative that Dr. Kissinger took in London at the Pilgrims Dinner, which I welcomed in the House and at Copenhagen and which I have welcomed on several other occasions. Meanwhile, I understand that an announcement will be 11 made very shortly by the American Government about new proposals for a meeting in this connection. As soon as these proposals are received—which, I repeat, I understand will be in the very near future—we shall at once consult our Community partners about the response to them.
The recent developments in the supply and, above all, the price of oil have completely transformed not only the degree but the very nature of the energy problem that faces us and, indeed, most Western industrial countries in the coming years. They have clearly added to the amount of time and effort that needs to be devoted to the subject of energy both at ministerial and at official level. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and my right hon. Friend the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury have been handling these matters with coolness and skill, but inevitably they and their officials have had less time for the other major tasks facing the Department of Trade and Industry.
I recall that when I created the Department of Trade and Industry a few months after the present administration took office it was welcomed by the Leader of the Opposition, who had indeed said that similar thoughts had been in his own mind about this and the other major Departments. I believe that at the time it was right, in the circumstances of the energy supply situation, that the Department of Trade and Industry should have been created.
But the creation now of the new Department of Energy will enable the Secretary of State for Energy and his colleagues to concentrate on the development of the coal industry, on nuclear power and on our offshore oil and gas resources at home, as well as on those tasks of working together with other oil-consuming countries and with the oil-producing countries on the international aspects of the energy problem. It will also make it possible for the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and his colleagues to concentrate more of their attention upon the implications of energy developments for British industry and on the other major tasks facing the Department, in our overseas trade negotiations, export promotion, industrial development and regional policy, prices, and the considerable burden of legislation on consumer 12 credit and company law reform now before Parliament.
I return to the question of the three-day week and the crisis mentioned by Mr. Gormley, because the three-day week cannot be attributed to the balance of payments position. That demands, as I think everyone would agree, a full working week, maximum production and a continuation of the steady rise in productivity and of the rapid increase in exports over the last year. The three-day week cannot be laid at the door of an economic strategy for growth, which has brought substantial benefits to the people of this country in terms of a real improvement in personal standards of living.
§ The Prime Minister
Then the hon. Gentleman is in complete disagreement with all the leaders of the TUC who have been taking part in the discussions we have had and who have constantly pressed for and supported a policy of expansion.
The measures we have taken were forced on us by the facts of coal production that I have described. No one—and this was made abundantly plain in the NEDC meeting—the Government, the TUC or the CBI, can possibly welcome the circumstances which bring about a three-day week. We have not got it by choice ; we have got it out of necessity. The Government have not deliberately precipitated the crisis. We have always been willing, indeed anxious, to consult and to take account wherever possible of the views of both sides of industry.
§ The Prime Minister
I am quite prepared to deal with that question. As I explained to the NEDC, on the question of the introduction of the three-day week—which is the responsibility of the Government and which they fully accept—there was deliberately no discussion with the TUC members who saw my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment the night before it was announced, because the Government did not wish to lay themselves open to accusations from any quarter that they had discussed the matter with the TUC 13 before the meeting of the NUM at which there was to be a further attempt by Mr. Gormley—he having made it first after my meeting—to persuade the members of his executive to go to the ballot. We were not prepared to have the accusation made that we were discussing the three-day week with the TUC before the immediate meeting of the NUM.
I wish to deal with the record of the Government in consultation and in what have been the results of that consultation. [Interruption.] I understand, from the Press at any rate, that the nation is expecting the House to discuss this grave situation in a serious way. I certainly, as Prime Minister, propose to do so.
§ The Prime Minister
I turn now to the question of the record of consultation by the Government because of the accusation which is frequently made—I do not wish to enter into personalities, but it is frequently made—that the Government are seeking confrontation. Far from adopting a policy of confrontation, we have now conducted for more than 18 months the longest, the most detailed and the most far-reaching set of talks in the history of relations between the TUC, the CBI and any Government. Indeed, there has been some criticism in the House of the fact that the Government have taken part in these talks and have engaged in consultation of the fullest kind about the management of the national economy.
Over the last 18 months we have had several objectives in these talks. We wanted to establish once and for all a reasonable basis for discussing common problems. I pledged myself to the nation to do this after the miners' strike of 1972. It was then welcomed by the TUC and by the employers. We wanted to create a reasonable framework within which wage settlements could be negotiated. We wanted to develop the means whereby the Government, the TUC and the CBI together might review the working of our economy and our progress and discuss what further was necessary to achieve our objectives. Above all, we wanted to get away from the bludgeons of economic power and the blunt weapon of confrontation.
§ The Prime Minister
The overriding objective, recognised by all three parties to the talks, was to move away from the blind and indiscriminate use of economic power and to establish a system of wage settlements based on reason. That was the spirit in which we as a Government embarked on the discussions. During the summer and autumn of 1972, we held 11 meetings on a tripartite basis with the TUC and the CBI.
That was the spirit in which we continued the discussions in January and February last year about stage 2 and throughout the summer and autumn before the introduction of stage 3. I presided over more than 33 hours of talks with those concerned. During these talks there was never any suggestion of confrontation from any party to the talks. No one desired that. We were all concerned to maintain the expansion of the economy. The TUC and the CBI recognised that a price for this would have to be paid in the balance of payments, but both fully accepted it and for this reason welcomed the floating of the pound. We were all determined to do everything possible to ensure that our exports had every opportunity of increasing so that our standard of living could rise and so that we could improve the position of the lower paid, the pensioners and others who most needed help.
Those were our agreed objectives then and they remain our agreed objectives today. They are the objectives of the Government. We all recognised that we could not achieve all the improvements we wanted at once but that we could make progress by agreement in an orderly way and reach our objectives more quickly by so doing.
We did not achieve all that we had hoped in 1972. In the absence of voluntary agreement we were forced to take statutory powers. Nor, in the discussions in 1973, were we able to move forward from a statutory policy to an agreed voluntary basis for dealing with prices and incomes. But in these last 18 months a great deal has been achieved and we have deliberately carried through measures to meet as many as possible of the policies on which agreement was reached between the TUC, the CBI and the Government.
In fairness to all three parties to the talks, these achievements, I believe, need 15 restating. By October last year we were making substantial progress towards the achievement of our joint objectives. The economy was expanding. Unemployment was down to under 500,000 and was still falling. Manufacturing output was up by 8 per cent. on a year before, and industrial production was up by almost 7 per cent.
In the export markets, we could sell our products more competitively than any of our neighbours. In the first half of 1973, the growth in volume of our exports was 24 per cent. at an annual rate, compared with a world growth of 17 per cent. to 19 per cent. In the same period the growth in volume of our imports was 18 per cent. at an annual rate, as compared with 24 per cent. of the growth of volume of our exports.
We were beginning to achieve the necessary rate of investment—
§ The Prime Minister
I should say to the hon. Gentleman that, in fairness to all those who have done the work in industry, these figures should be stated. Surveys showed that 1974 would be the highest growth year for investment for more than a decade. Personal standards of living had grown by nearly 6 per cent. in 1972—faster than in any of the previous 20 years. The improvement in the first half of 1973 over the second half of 1972 was 3¼ per cent.
We were also agreed that an essential part of the strategy should be to provide for the lower paid, particularly the pensioners, and again we have acted positively in this.
§ The Prime Minister
We have paid particular attention, as the TUC urged, to the problems of the lower paid. Under stage 2 the wages limit of £1 plus 4 per cent. and the provisions for equal pay, longer holidays and shorter hours were all particularly designed to assist the lower paid.
We continued all this in stage 3. In addition we provided for negotiators the alternative pay limit of £2.25 to help the lower paid. For the pensioners we have provided a secure future by ensuring that 16 pensions should be uprated annually. Our record in this is second to none. Pensions have risen by 55 per cent. since 1970, which is far more than the increase in prices over the same period, and this does not include the £10 bonus which the pensioners have received for the last two Christmases.
§ Mr. Meacher rose——
§ The Prime Minister
I am giving the House these details again because it is essential that the House and the country should recognise the background to the negotiations now taking place under stage 3 of the code approved by Parliament. It is absolutely basic to the present industrial situation.
At the same time, all of us—the Government, the TUC and the CBI—recognised throughout our discussions that the reduction of inflation was a prime objective. I repeat that all of us would have preferred to find a way of achieving this voluntarily, but we should in no way underestimate the success of stages 1 and 2 of the incomes policy, for which I have paid tribute to both employers and unions.
Most of us—[Interruption.] I understand that the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) does not like hearing the facts of life. This is a grave situation—
§ The Prime Minister
I think that the nation will note the behaviour of the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues.
A prime objective of these talks has throughout been to combat inflation. I repeat that no one should underestimate the success, with the co-operation of employers and unions, of stages 1 and 2. Most of us would have settled for a price 17 inflation of 3 per cent. or 4 per cent. a year, and that is what we would have had, thanks to the vast growth of the economy and the restraint of employers and unions, but for the rapid and massive rise in world prices of foodstuffs and raw materials. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."] Again, hon. Members are sceptical. Let me give them the figures, from the Economist. The world prices of commodities have risen by no less than 119 per cent. and the world price of food by 113 per cent. Against that background, I should have thought that both employers and unions can count it a substantial achievement to hold the increase in domestic prices to under 10 per cent
The effect of our counter-inflationary policy has been to ensure that we have been able to hold down domestic costs better than most other industrial countries. We have averted the danger of piling a substantial domestic inflation on top of inflation produced by world prices.
Perhaps I may quote the new General Secretary of the TUC. He has emphasised thatIn the long term, it is still true that the solution to our problems lies in economic growth, it lies in continuing expansion and it lies in continuing investment.That is still the Government's view, and it makes it absolutely imperative that this country should continue the battle against wage-cost inflation.
Indeed, the large increase in prices that we shall have to pay for oil makes it more important to continue with expansion and not less important—
§ The Prime Minister
But, of course, the fruits of this expansion will have to go in a greater degree to pay for the cost of that oil instead of going to improve our standard of living. Those are the hard facts of the present situation.
In the present circumstances, therefore, I believe that, far from being accused of confrontation, the Government are entitled to ask for a positive response from the trade union movement as a whole for what we have achieved in reply to the points which they, with employers, have put to us. They have benefited from a policy of growth which they demanded and which they fully supported. They 18 have benefited from a policy which brought unemployment below 500,000, which filled order books, which provided a high level of production, improved standards of living and brought over the last year a substantial measure of industrial peace.
In stage 3 itself, the Government have gone as far as possible to meet the points put to us in our discussions with the TUC and the CBI. They asked for a greater flexibility for negotiators. How often we hear at this moment that there must be flexibility. Well, let those who ask for that consider the immense amount of flexibility in the stage 3 negotiations which has been used, rightly used, taken advantage of fully and accepted, by so many negotiators who have already completed their negotiations.
Flexibility has been built into the code—[Interruption.] I am sorry, but in this serious situation, Labour Members will not shout me down, however much they may wish to do so. The flexibility has been introduced into the code in the 1 per cent. flexibility margin, in the provision for hours and holidays and, in particular, in the provision for unsocial hours and in the choice of pay limits. The TUC and the employers asked for the opportunity to negotiate efficiency agreements. These opportunities are included in the code and are being used.
I do not intend to speak in detail of the miners' pay claim. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment is discussing it with the NUM executive this afternoon and he will be taking part in the debate tomorrow. There are certain things in general about it which I wish to say. All the provisions of stage 3 are available to the miners for negotiation. The offer to the miners includes payment for unsocial hours. I am told that there are different arrangements about shifts in mining from manufacturing industry. [Interruption.] Hon. Gentlemen are sceptical. It was Mr. Jack Jones who raised the matter in the National Economic Development Council. Of course, the miners have been offered an arrangement specifically to deal with the night shifts. If they so wish they can negotiate on these matters. What cannot be done is to deal with all the problems at once on a scale far greater than that already dealt with within the code.
19 In addition to the basic rate there is the flexibility allowance which the miners have chosen to use to extend their holiday arrangements. That is entirely up to them and is a perfectly fair arrangement for them to ask for. There are special arrangements for unsocial hours which they have opted to use for the night shift. There are bigger lump sums on retirement. All of these are part of the flexibility arrangements, in addition to the basic rate, which have been offered to the miners in the negotiations.
It can be summed up in this way. The offer made to the NUM represents the best offer made to its members in the whole history of negotiations. Even without a 3½ per cent. efficiency increase the offer would give 25 per cent. of miners £6.30p extra a week, 50 per cent. of miners more than £4.75p a week and 75 per cent. of miners more than £3.30p a week. This offer means that average earnings for some underground craftsmen would rise to £55 a week, for some power loaders to £51 a week and for surface men, grade 2, to about £39 a week. All this is before account is taken of the efficiency deal which is available for negotiation between the union and the National Coal Board.
When I saw the NUM on 28th November I discussed all of these details with it. I said to it, and I emphasise this, that if it accepted a stage 3 settlement and resumed normal production the Government would be ready immediately thereafter to consider with both sides of the industry the miners' pay arrangements in the context of the longer-term future for the industry.
§ The Prime Minister
If the hon. Gentleman listened to what I have to say, I might be more willing to give way.
As this point has recently been raised in the Press by responsible commentators it is right that they should have the answer to it. The Secretary of State for Employment repeated this to the leaders of the NUM on 20th December and will repeat it to the full executive of the NUM today.
20 There are some, including the Leader of the Opposition, who say that we should breach stage 3 and give the miners a better offer. For the Government to do that would be to break faith with millions of workers who have already settled under stage 3. I should like to give the House some figures. By the end of 1973 well over 550 settlements covering 4 million workers had been notified to the Pay Board. This includes over 1 million local authority manual workers, 250,000 National Health Service ancillary workers, over 300,000 agricultural workers and another 500,000 workers covered by various wages councils.
It also includes more than 1½ million workers who have taken advantage of the provisions in stage 3 to help the lower paid. Up to the end of December no major group of workers had failed to reach a settlement within stage 3 by the due date. That is an acceptance of stage 3 by nearly 4 million workers in nearly 550 settlements. I suggest that there is no evidence there of 4 million workers considering this as a confrontation with the Government.
The offer made to the miners within stage 3 gives an average increase of between 13 per cent. and 16 per cent., with the additional efficiency payments. The average size of the settlements agreed in stage 3, of which I have given details, is considerably lower than the 13 per cent. offered to the miners, which excludes the offer of the efficiency agreement of 3½ per cent.
While these agreements in stage 3 were being made we have been able, as a result of the Pay Board report on anomalies, to sort out a large number of anomalies and reach agreement. These were anomalies which arose as a result of stages 1 and 2. I would have thought that the House would accept that to sort out those anomalies by agreement with the unions and to have 550 settlements covering 4 million workers under stage 3 is no mean achievement and is due to the work of employers and unions within the framework of the code approved by Parliament.
§ Mrs. Barbara Castle (Blackburn)
If the Pay Board report on relativities, which I understand is due out shortly, makes out a case for special cases to receive special payment, are the Government prepared to amend the pay code immediately?
§ The Prime Minister
That is a perfectly fair question for the right hon. Lady to raise and I hope that she will give the Government credit for having asked the Pay Board not only to deal with anomalies within stages 1 and 2 but also to deal with the much deeper question of relativities in industry. We have given an undertaking that immediately the report is published we will consult with the TUC and the CBI to take action upon it. We cannot give a clearer or firmer undertaking than that. We immediately entered into discussions with the CBI and TUC about the anomalies report and will do the same about the report on relativities when it reaches us from the Pay Board. We asked for it to come to us by 31st December. It is no fault of the Government's that it has not reached us. On the other hand, we recognise the complexities of this matter and the details which the Pay Board has to consider in all the representations which have been made to it.
I suggest, therefore, that far from this being a confrontation between the Government and the unions, exactly the reverse is the case—that we have sought their assistance in consultation and that, under stage 3, 4 million workers have reached a settlement and many of the anomalies have now been dealt with and peacefully settled.
I believe, therefore, that we should keep faith with those who have accepted the code approved by Parliament and who, therefore, expected that the Government would ensure that the remaining settlements under stage 3 were fully in accordance with it. That, I believe, is an honourable position for the Government to take up.
§ Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, West)
Does the Prime Minister say, therefore, that the TUC is in favour of stage 3? Is he not aware—he has been told by the TUC—that the TUC is completely opposed to it and that many of the trade unions that have made agreements have been forced to do so by the Government's policies? While the Prime Minister is talking about stage 3, will he say whether the Glasgow firemen's settlement comes within its terms?
§ The Prime Minister
On the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question, as he knows that is being considered by the 22 Pay Board, in the way in which the other 550 settlements have been considered. I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman that the Government have been able to force anyone to reach a decision in this matter ; far from it. These are voluntarily negotiated agreements. [Interruption.] Let me deal with the hon. Gentleman's first point. I have never disguised for one moment that both employers and trade unionists would prefer to have voluntary collective bargaining, provided that they could be assured that there would not be inflationary leapfrogging, and in none of these discussions has any way been shown how that can be avoided. It was, therefore, the responsibility of the Government to carry through stage 3.
Therefore, the objectives have not changed. We all want to reduce the rate of increase in prices which comes from wage costs, and that is the objective of stage 3. We all want, once the immediate emergency is behind us, to resume the expansion of the economy which we were able to achieve in 1973. We shall do our utmost as a Government to ensure that supplies of oil do not hinder us in this objective.
These objectives are agreed between employers, unions and the Government. The life of every man, woman, and child in this country will be better if we can realise those objectives. I say again to the House and to the country ; does not the best hope of doing so lie in our sitting down together, as we have done over the past 18 months, to talk to each other about these objectives—the Government, the CBI and the TUC?
§ The Prime Minister
I have repeatedly made plain to those who have taken part in talks with us that we shall fully consider any proposals for amendments to the Industrial Relations Act. I repeat that no proposals have been made to us at these talks, by either the employers or the unions.
I strongly believe—I repeat it—that it is only through reason, through reasoned argument and reasoned agreement, that, as a nation, we can progress. This does not mean that trade unions and other groups in our society are asked to neglect their own interests ; far from 23 it. Again, in these talks all have always realised that. It does mean that they are asked to take the longer-term view of their own interests—
§ The Prime Minister
—to consider their interests in the context of the needs and the interests of the rest of the community.
If we try to achieve sectional interests by fighting each other we fail in our sectional objectives and we end by destroying this country. Surely we should follow the alternative course—a course of reason and, indeed, of moderation. We should be trying to marry our sectional objectives in policies and programmes which serve the interests of the community as a whole. That was the spirit in which the Government embarked upon the tripartite talks in 1972. My colleagues and I are ready at any time to resume discussions with the CBI and the TUC, together or separately, in that same spirit ; not to try to score debating points, not to exchange recriminations about the past—for we have, none of us, done any of this in the tripartite and bipartite talks that we have had so far—but to try together to work out a programme which may not immediately meet all the desires of any of us but which will provide a framework within which we can meet our agreed objectives for the country and make orderly progress with our separate aspirations, progress which is not at the expense of other people but which takes account of the needs and aspirations of the ordinary people of this country—consumers, housewives and pensioners—to go about their lives in order and stability.
There is to be a special congress of trade union leaders next week. I invite them at their meeting to take up this offer which I am making today here in Parliament, to come together with the Government and the representatives of management, not in a spirit of confrontation and suspicion—[Interruption.] I am sorry that Opposition Members should reveal their complete ignorance of the attitude of the trade union leaders who attended the No. 10 talks and the Chequers talks.
I invite the trade union leaders now to come together with the Government and the representatives of management, 24 not in a spirit of confrontation and suspicion, but in a spirit of constructive-ness, of moderation and of reason. It is not too late for reason to prevail. It is not too late to discuss and settle all these matters within the framework which Parliament has approved. It is not too late to look to the future and to plot our course together. Indeed, it is in the interests of the whole nation that we should do so, and do so as rapidly as possible.
§ 3.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Wilson (Huyton)
The Government were right to recall Parliament.
We face what the Prime Minister three weeks ago called the gravest crisis since the war. It is essential that the House takes stock of all that has happened since then—the anomalies and injustices of the fuel restrictions ; the grave and accelerating damage inflicted on industry, exports and the economy ; the question of the responsibility for the crisis ; and, above all, the means to a solution.
But though this recall debate is about the energy crisis, we ignore at our peril the wider and deeper crisis which the nation faces. So much public discussion is today directed to the executive of the National Union of Mineworkers—indeed, is deliberately directed to that subject—that it is often overlooked that we were facing a desperate economic crisis in this country before a single mineworker embarked on the overtime ban, and even before the Arab restrictions on oil exports. The Chancellor's winter Budget, for example, was dictated not by the miners or the oil sheikhs but by the failures of three years of Government policy.
The balance of trade figures, worse in the three months September-November alone, is far worse than that for any single year for which comparable figures are available since the beginning of recorded time. The pace of inflation was unacceptably high in the so-called price freeze of stage 1, but still higher in stage 2, though there trade union acquiescence, however reluctant, in the stage 2 pay code, destroyed once and for all the Government's argument that it was the unions which were responsible for rising prices, because prices continued to rise. In stage 3 the pace of inflation has quickened still further.
25 All the signs now point to still faster food price increases.
Also, on council rents, I am receiving, as no doubt are some other hon. Members, the most alarming portents of increased rents arising from the first activities of the rent scrutiny boards. Even Tory-controlled authorities, which pushed up their rents to what they considered the limit, are finding their determinations referred back by the boards as inadequate. Stage 3 made no allowance for the effect of the rent scrutiny boards, yet it is a consequence of Government policy. At the same time, the Government still refuse to suspend the statutory rent increases due from April.
Not a single action of the Government has done anything to moderate those price rises which are generated in this country, including their own rents policy and interest rates policy, and also the devaluation of the pound. Nor has there been a single action of the Government directed to shielding the British public from the effects of food price rises by introducing subsidies or by taking appropriate acts of social justice for those least able to withstand erosion of their living standards. Grocery prices rose by 18 per cent. in 1973, every day of which was lived under a statutory so-called "anti-inflation" policy.
These underlying crises—a balance of payments deficit unparalleled in peace time and a rate of internal inflation unparalleled in peace time or in war time—will remain when, as we all hope, a settlement is reached and the mines are working normally—and the railways, too. But these underlying crises have been immeasurably aggravated by the imposition, without adequate preparation, without consultation—I did not think much of the Prime Minister's explanation of that—of the three-day working week, together with what may be a much more protracted steel shortage, with effects going right into the summer, and something else which may prove to be a still more devastating and lasting consequence of the disruption of continuous process industries, namely, the great danger of permanent damage to costly installations.
Last week, as the three-day week effects became clearer and clearer, all we had from the Government were the twice-daily emanations from the noble Lord 26 the Chairman of the Conservative Party, the then Secretary of State for Defence, fulfilling in his party rôle what the Chancellor of the Exchequer told us was itself a full-time job.
I am glad that at long last the Prime Minister has appointed a Minister for Energy. We pressed him to do this in the Queen's Speech last October. But the Minister for Energy should be in this House, not least because the noble Lord will now have to deal with miners as well as campaign against them. He has made his task immeasurably more difficult by his party-oriented attacks on the miners last week.
Last week was a week of total silence from the Prime Minister, apart from an election tour in South Worcestershire—and I did hear him on the early morning radio imaginatively extolling the great advantages Britain had derived, and conferred, in one year's membership of the Common Market—and this week he addressed the nation through the New York Times. During that period all we were getting was the Chairman of the Conservative Party, and all he was concerned about—and he was doing far more harm than the Prime Minister was doing—was the identification of scapegoats in the industrial crisis. Not a word was said about the Government's responsibility for the crisis and there was not a thought from the Government about the way in which that crisis should be resolved. The Prime Minister would be well advised at this time to address to the noble Lord the injunction that Clement Attlee addressed to his party chairman, "A period of silence on your part would be welcome". What we need from the noble Lord is not only silence on these issues but work.
Last night on television the noble Lord set out—quite fairly, since he was new in the job—his idea of the priorities. Apart from the overriding need to get an agreement on coal, his priorities must be North Sea gas and oil, and gas and oil in the Celtic seas. He should urgently study, as we have pressed, the possibility of re-developing oil from shale. Some years ago many Opposition Members and some Government supporters fought hard to prevent a Conservative Government wrecking the shale oil industry by their tax policy, but we failed. The noble Lord, as a long-term measure, should 27 now also examine what we have pressed on the Government, the possibility of oil from coal plants in development areas. When we pressed this in the Queen's Speech debate we said that we were informed that oil through coal could be viable with imported oil prices at 10 dollars a barrel. Since then prices have risen far above that level.
I hope that the noble Lord will also examine our proposal for a standing coal commission—the National Coal Board, the NUM and Ministers—to re-examine the industry's future and report urgently. I have given that advice because we all welcome the appointment of the Minister for Energy.
So far, the Government have given the impression too much that they are using a grave national crisis as a diversion, as a means of creating scapegoats, hoping perhaps that somehow the electorate will be persuaded that the Housing Finance Act was created by the mineworkers and the approaching 15p loaf by the train drivers. This kind of diversion that we have been getting for the last 10 days follows interestingly in the public mind upon the actions of the Government on 13th November and 13th December.
On 13th November there was the publication of a fact which the Government knew many days earlier—the catastrophic £350 million trade deficit, the decision of the 13 per cent. bank rate and the credit squeeze. Within minutes the Government called a state of emergency. Why that particular day? The Arab oil cut-off had been announced a month earlier and the overtime ban on coal had been in effect for only one day. But the Government chose that day for the announcement of a state of emergency, and all the orchestration of the Press after that was in terms of the miners and not the balance of payments deficit or the bank rate. A month passed, then came the announcement of the three-day week on 13th December, when the Government published the November trade figures. Unless the December trade figures are more encouraging, I tremble to think what fresh diversionary crisis announcement we shall have next week when the trade figures are published. The whole Government orchestration has been to blame all our problems 28 —trade, inflation, housing, the lot—upon the miners and to try to turn public anger against them.
The other Sunday, when listening to my favourite Sunday lunchtime programme, "Weekend with Prior" I was pleased to hear the Lord President denying that it was a question of fights or victories or who would win or lose. I was glad to hear him say that, because on 14th December he told the Conservative ladies of Bexley:We are engaged in a struggle with certain sections of the railway industry and certain sections of the mining industry and this time we must remain firm.I am glad he changed that position in the broadcast on that day,
There was an alternative to the course which the Government pursued—admittedly not so attractive to them from their party point of view. They could have used their time from, let us say, the beginning of November—certainly they could have used their time since our last debate three weeks ago—in concentrating their energies and those of their Departments on finding a settlement. I say a "settlement". I do not mean a surrender. I do not mean the creation of an open gateway through which millions could stampede who do not face the daily perils of fatal accidents or wasting disease, or black lung, or the dirt and dark of pit life, or, for that matter, are not so clearly needed as the miners are needed to dig the coal treasures so recently discovered in Yorkshire. These treasures are as great a contribution to our future prosperity and independence of foreign policy as are any of the great finds that have been made in the North Sea.
Many of us interpreted the speech made by the Secretary of State for Employment in the second day of the crisis debate—particularly his reference to trade unions other than the NUM—as implying a response—a guarded response perhaps—to those of us who on both days had asked him to bring to his new task the traditionally conciliatory rôle of his Department over half a century. He said that they—by which he meant the other trade union leaders—would have to declare that they would accept leaving the miners as a special case compared to their own members, thereby making sure 29 that the miners' relative position in the wage scale was effectively maintained."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th December 1973; Vol. 866, c. 1366.]These words were understood by many hon. Members—and certainly by the Press the next day—as a peace offering conditional on some response by the TUC. That was how those words were immediately interpreted, although rather hastily a contrary interpretation began to appear in a number of newspapers that what the Secretary of State meant was that if the TUC could have given some such assurance all would be well but that of course it could not. That is not what the Secretary of State said. The Secretary of State usually chooses his words carefully, particularly when he is trying to keep open a door that more rigid minds want to close. I will return to those words before I sit down.
Following the Secretary of State's pronouncement we had those heady pre-Christmas days when there was talk—obviously informed, inspired talk—of reviving the idea of crediting some or all of the miner's waiting time when he was already on his employer's premises making the necessary preparations for work. This was the proposal, first made public by Mr. Lawrence Daly, on 24th November, on which I wrote to the Prime Minister. The right hon. Gentleman rejected it out of hand on 27th November, and he repeated his rejection and the reasons for rejecting it in an impassioned interruption at the end of my speech in the crisis debate. He got up, we all remember, in the last two or three minutes of my speech. I will deal with what he said later.
Now, apparently, or so we read and understood immediately after the Secretary of State's speech, this idea was to be reconsidered, and optimism grew. The Pay Board was reported as taking an initiative, pointing out how, given the production of the necessary evidence, the pay code could be interpreted to let it through. Up to Christmas the message was one of hope.
Then, six days later—last week—there were all the gloomy Press stories that it was not a runner, it would not work, it could not add up, it was not on. What was not clear was whether the initiative in saying all this was coming from a Government Department or from the Pay Board. We read that the Department was 30 doing its own calculations about waiting time and reaching gloomy results. It was not quite clear for what purpose.
But this is very odd, because on this matter the Department has no standing under the law. If we had had the situation, as in bygone years, of the Pay Board's being given the same functions as the Prices and Incomes Board, it would have been forced to examine all aspects of the problem and to recommend their solution. On that analogy the particular case of the miners in those days would have been referred by and on the responsibility of the Government to the Prices and Incomes Board, and, following its report, the Secretary of State, with all the resources of the Department available, after negotiations with the two sides, as required, would, with Cabinet approval, have put the decision before the House.
But under the system in statutory force today, where, subject only to a reserve power that they have so far refused to use, Ministers have legislated to ensure not only Parliament's but the Government's impotence, all rests with a remote board—the Pay Board—responsible neither to Government nor to Parliament, a quasi-judicial tribunal without judicial qualifications concerned only with construing the law, and not in any way with the national interest.
This is very relevant in the miners' case. The Pay Board is not required by its terms of reference, as was the Prices and Incomes Board, to place first importance on the recruitment and buildup of adequate manpower. In any case going before it, there is no power to have to consider the needs of manpower, recruitment or wastage.
I do not know what the Departments were doing. I should like to have seen the board and the Secretary of State's Department, had the law permitted the Secretary of State to authorise it, actively working for a solution on the waiting time scheme, on winding time, on recruitment needs, or on any other relevant factor, whatever they were considering and working for a settlement, because that is the one thing that is not happening with the Government at this time. But the Departments were statute-barred from acting to work for a settlement, except in a situation where the 31 Secretary of State might contemplate the use of the reserve power under the Act.
In the event, despite the Pay Board's apparently helpful attitude up to and including Christmas Eve, the proposed settlement fell through. That is why we have a three-day week today—[Interruption.] Without a three-line Whip not many hon. Members opposite could support the Government's policy. We do not need one. We are dealing with a very serious national crisis, for which Parliament has been recalled. I can understand hon. Gentlemen opposite being so nervous that all they can do is giggle, but let us get down to the facts of this matter.
The Pay Board had been helpful right up to Christmas Eve, but, even before its ruling, which was interpreted, rightly or wrongly, by last Friday's papers as rejecting this kind of settlement on grounds of principle because of pay code legalism, it was clear that another hopeful route to industrial peace was blocked—I trust only temporarily.
I referred to the Prime Minister's intervention in the last debate and to his letter on this waiting time question, of which high hopes were held just before Christmas. In his letter to me on 27th November, which was quite properly made public by him, he said that it would cost between £45 million and £50 million and in his passionate intervention in the House just before Christmas he said that it would cost £45 million. That was on the assumption that the whole of waiting time qualified. I had said "all or part". I believed, and still believe, that at the time it was put to the right hon. Gentleman and rejected by him seven weeks ago, just before bull week, a modest part of it could have been accepted. But his figure of £50 million showed a total ignorance of his own pay code. He had forgotten the 40-hour starting point when he quoted those figures.
It is extraordinary that we should have a three-day week throughout British industry, and great restrictions in process industries, when it is clear that the Government had never properly studied the various means that had been put forward for a settlement.
I hope that we shall have an explanation of the whole history of this change 32 of policy from time to time on waiting time, and I hope that we shall have an explanation, perhaps from the Secretary of State tomorrow, of a report that I read in last week's Economist:The Coal Board had reckoned that a lucrative extra offer might be allowed and told the miners before Christmas that it could even see its way to paying an extra winding-time (another half-hour's pay a day). This led the miners to think in terms of big money, perhaps another 8 per cent. When the Pay Board was called in it said that there was nothing incompatible with the Pay Code in paying for two winding-times a day. But then to the miners' surprise, the Coal Board's deputy chairman, Mr. Norman Siddall, said last Friday "—that was 28th December—that this was illogical and he could not agree to it with a good conscience. The miners thought that the Coal Board would be a push-over once the Pay Board apparently approved the deal. They concluded that Ministers had given the board "—the Coal Board—orders not to concede any more.There is other evidence to support that proposition.
None of us can know whether those alleged facts—
§ Mr. Wilson
I am sorry, no. I must follow the same policy as the Prime Minister in this matter and not give way to my hon. Friend. I hope that he and others of my hon. Friends who know the mining community better than many in this House will catch your eye, Mr. Speaker.
§ Mr. Wilson
I will follow the line taken by the right hon. Gentleman. I should like to develop my case further and then, if it is an important point, perhaps I could give way, as did the right hon. Gentleman after 40 minutes.
None of us can know whether those alleged facts are true, but what I have read is a statement by a responsible paper of what it believes to be true. The House is entitled to a full account of these matters by the Secretary of State. The country is entitled to know. The million signing on at the employment exchanges and the countless others without work—said to be 3 million—but on a guaranteed week, are entitled to know. 33 If there is any truth in this story, the responsibility is very heavy and no amount of PR manoeuvring will wash the stain away. Ministerial comment over the past few days, and my interpretation of the Prime Minister's speech today, suggests that there is no way forward. The Government have reached a dead end. Perhaps the Prime Minister will not mind if I quote Clement Attlee's words about one of the Prime Minister's Conservative predecessors. Clem Attlee said:Trouble about him. Nailed his trousers to the mast. Can't climb down".I heard Clem Attlee say that, but he did not use those words in such a dangerous situation as that which the country now faces.
Many people, and especially those in industry who one would expect to be supporters of the Prime Minister, were ready to support him until a week ago. They thought that he had a strategy. To their amazement they now find the Government not pursuing the road to a settlement but having arrived in a dead end of their own creation in which they are powerless, Parliament is powerless, industry is powerless and the TUC is powerless.
I think that is was President Kennedy who said that a sensible negotiator should always ensure that there is a way out for his opponents as well as himself. It is axiomatic that a Government should never get into a position where they cannot act in the national interest and in which others take decisions which are irrevocable. The Government have faced this position before. I believe that the last thing which the Government wanted the Industrial Relations Act to bring about was the imprisonment of the five dockers. On that occasion they were saved by the unexpected intervention of the Official Solicitor. Even so, the action which the Official Solicitor got reversed did in fact provoke a costly and totally avoidable dock strike. In the present situation there is no Official Solicitor to bale them out. We face not a costly dock strike—some people forget that no one is on strike—but a partial and spreading paralysis of industry, the consequences of which none of us can measure. Tomorrow my right hon. and hon. Friends will deal in detail with the 34 industrial and social effects of these decisions.
Another question which the House will want to examine is how far individual restrictions are related to the amount and timing of electricity consumed or coal burnt to generate electricity. To my mind, too much of this intricately calculated political orchestration gives the impression in part at least that the inspiration lies less in fuel economy than in maximising public feeling against the miners.
For example, how much electricity is saved and how much coal is saved by the post-10.30 p.m. television cut-off? I refer not only to the transmitting and receiving but to all the associated electricity uses. Let the Government tell us exactly how many tons of coal are saved by the television cut-off compared with the amount which is used for afternoon television. We want to know bow many weeks, days, hours or minutes of CEGB generating capacity are saved, in terms of coal consumed, by that decision. Is that part of what I understand to be the in-phrase of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry—namely, "public psychology"? What does public psychology mean in context?
During the weekend I read a report about the banning of illumination by generator of greyhound racing. That is not my sport but many hon. Members may follow it.
§ Mr. Wilson
It appeared that the amount of oil involved was only a derisory few gallons. The Department—I am not saying whether it is right or wrong—did not defend that decision in terms of fuel economy. The Department admitted that it was nothing to do with a fuel shortage. It said that public psychology was the reason. There was involved a few gallons of oil. Is that the explanation for the late night television ban?
How much of the Government's handling of the crisis is related not to the economic interests of Britain but to the cynically calculated assumption of the political interest of the Conservative Party at a time when its policies have failed, its pledges are dishonoured and its excuses too tired to take wing. Do 35 they hope to get people fed up by not being able to see television so that they will blame not the Government but the miners?
Last week the failure of the Government's policy was underlined. The Government then reached a dead end. Even by present Government standards we have not in this generation seen Britain so embittered and divided. The Government talk about militants. The present Government is the Almighty's gift to militants. They have been given a Christmas bonus. The Industrial Relations Act is a militants' charter, yet the Government dare not use it even for a consultative ballot in the coal industry. That provision is dead, but how heavy the cost which was inflicted in its manner of dying!
Of course, there are militants in the coal industry. There always have been. What worries me, and every one of my right hon. and hon. Friends who know the coalfields, the individual pits, the miners' lodges, miners' homes and the leaders in the different coalfields is what the Government have done and are doing to the moderates. Many of the moderates my right hon. and hon. Friends have known for years. A great majority of them are men who so often in the past have favoured moderate and even right-wing political and industrial solutions. They are the ones who are embittered.
I understand that at the crucial executive meetings about the ballot there was no need for the Communists to make the running. The Secretary of State should have realised that. He should realise that there are more things in heaven and earth than conditioning public psychology for political ends.
Even at this late hour in the dispute, so much damage having been done, the right hon. Gentleman should make a fresh start in his approach to the problem. I suggest that that can be done through the Pay Board, even against the background of stage 3. There are reports this week that the waiting time proposal is not dead, as we were led to believe last Friday it was.
We are told that there has been no rejection in principle by the board. Will the Secretary of State confirm that that is so? Will he make it clear that it is 36 a matter of producing evidence? Is that a line which will lead to a solution? Heaven knows that it is not the only possible line. It is a line which has its ups and downs.
We have been told that the issue is the custom and practice of the industry. Apparently there is an argument about the nature of that custom and practice. Perhaps we should seek the answer not in wage agreements but in the law of the land. The Pay Board, under the statute, is no more than a relatively unqualified tribunal which is charged with interpreting the law. In that pursuit it would not, I presume, call in question judgments made by those who are most qualified to interpret the law—namely, the courts of the land. What is custom and practice cannot be in conflict with the law as it has been laid down—for example, on this issue, time spent on an employer's premises and time employed in preparing for work or ending the working day.
The courts have ruled unequivocally in, for example, the area of workmen's compensation. I shall quote two judgments, but there are others which could be quoted. If the House so desires, I can give the references. In the King's Bench Division many years ago it was held:The course of employment may be taken to have commenced although the hour for actual work has not struck, if the workman's arrival on the premises is either not unreasonably early, or is necessitated by the circumstances of the employment, or if, at the time of the accident, he is doing something on the employer's premises which is necessary to be done to equip himself for his work, and which is done in the interests of his employer.Then, in a colliery case, the House of Lords ruled that… where a miner was injured by an accident while using a bridge, provided by the employers for the convenience of their workmen, on his way to a lamp cabin for a lamp before commencing work, he was entitled to succeed under the Act. …
§ Mr. Skinner
Will my right hon. Friend take into account an even better example of most recent times which highlights the situation most dramatically of all? I refer to the Markham Colliery disaster, in which 18 men were swung on the end of a rope in their own time, where the Coal Board will have to pay compensation yet would not have paid the men for actually being there?
§ Mr. Wilson
I had that case in mind. However, I did not feel, in the atmosphere of the House today, that I wanted to cite a case which was so tragic and fresh in people's minds in a debate of this kind. However, my hon. Friend is quite right. That is a case in which compensation will be payable under the Act.
§ Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)
Will not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Pay Board advised the National Coal Board that it could not accept this extra waiting time suggestion because existing arrangements were considered to be adequate and that, as a result of that ruling, the National Coal Board could not pursue that possibility?
§ Mr. Wilson
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) for his courtesy. I know that he represents an area in which there are some historic coal mining operations because of all that one remembers of the Kent coalfield.
I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman's question. No one can. We do not know what the Pay Board has said. It does not publish its rulings and decisions in these matters. In the case of the National Board for Prices and Incomes there would have been a statement long before this by the responsible Minister. If any decision had to be taken with the force of law it would have been submitted to this House for approval or rejection. We do not know, and that is one of the many serious aspects of the situation. The country is being carried forward to disaster when the only people who could let us know are not in an articulate position so that Parliament and the British people may be told what is being decided. The hon. Member for Canterbury has asked an important question. I wish that I knew the answer.
What I have said in quoting the law should be the basis, given the supporting evidence as to times, for an urgent examination of the waiting-time proposal. If that is rejected by the Pay Board—and it would be a brave board which would seek to overthrow those High Court judgments—there is another solution. The Prime Minister should seek to give the Secretary of State freedom of action under the governing Act's reserve powers, within a mandate, to restore industrial peace, and 38 to restore it without fuelling the fires of inflation.
The Secretary of State must not be bound by the last legalistic aridities and small print of stage 3. The present pay code was not divinely ordained. It did not come from Sinai. It was passed by Parliament. This sovereign Parliament can amend it. After all, it embodies the results of a great deal of hard work and legal drafting by officials of the Department of Employment. Whatever political instructions guided them, they could not have foreseen this contingency.
The mandate of the Secretary of State, therefore, should include either freedom to amend stage 3 or freedom to invoke the intervention power set out in the governing Statute.
Here, to help the Government, I am assuming that despite my opposition to stage 3 the Government will start from the proposition that stage 3 remains the law. The starting point of the Secretary of State should be the words that he used in the debate three weeks ago, which I have quoted. I shall not quote the passage again. What the right hon. Gentleman meant when he referred to the TUC is a matter of interpretation.
The Secretary of State must realise that he cannot ask the TUC to declare that if a special case is made out for the miners beyond stage 3 it will promise that all unions will accept stage 3. The TUC cannot. Nor could it enforce it. The TUC is against stage 3 in any event.
Perhaps what the Secretary of State had in mind was a proposal to the TUC that it should not lend its support to the claims of any union which sought in its own negotiations to adopt as a precedent specific measures related to the special nature of underground employment in the coal mining industry. That may be what the right hon. Gentleman had in mind. I have thought for some time that it is on such a proposition that the right hon. Gentleman should build.
Since this debate began I have, like the Prime Minister, received a copy of the statement that has been issued by the TUC Economic Committee today. It is highly relevant to what I have been suggesting as a possible interpretation of 39 the words of the Secretary of State. The statement reads:In the circumstances that are facing British industry in 1974 it is straining the bounds of credulity to assume that trade unions are going to base claims on a settlement in the mining industry or that employers are going to accept without question that a settlement related to the needs of the mining industry—in the light of the radically changed energy position—is automatically applicable in their own industries.That, coming on top of my interpretation and that of many other people of the statement by the Secretary of State, could provide a path forward even now if the Prime Minister would set the Secretary of State free to take it.
§ The Prime Minister
Neither of us has had time to consider this document fully. However, in my reading of it I see that it concludes by saying:The problems … in the mining industry are the most difficult, but they are not unique. The difficulties caused in the electricity supply industry, in motor manufacturing, and in the ambulance service, are other illustrations of the dangers of seeking to impose a rigid framework where essentially what is needed is a minimum degree of flexibility.That can only mean that there are many other cases which would then be justified.
§ Mr. Wilson
I was trying, in the context of the Kennedy doctrine, to help the Prime Minister to open the door. It is a pity that, without reading the document fully, the right hon. Gentleman does not respond. I did not ask him for a reply today. I want him to study these matters in more detail. I was trying to create a situation where, given a little time and not necessarily before I sit down or before the end of the debate, we could begin to examine all the possibilities.
I have read the words quoted by the Prime Minister. They are true. There are difficulties. There are problems in other industries. I said in my interpretation that no one should be entitled to take from a mining settlement measures adopted specially for the special characteristics and conditions of mining. Perhaps we can leave it there—
§ The Prime Minister
I wish to correct the right hon. Gentleman in one respect. I have read the document in full and I have asked that we should both consider it fully. I am also asking the right hon. 40 Gentleman to recognise the consequences for other trade unions of seeing such an example set. I am constantly told this by the leaders of trade unions themselves. We are not dealing realistically with the situation, nor are we being fair to them, unless we recognise the difficulties in which they are placed by an arrangement of this kind. The right hon. Gentleman has said that we cannot expect the TUC to endorse a proposal of this kind and that all that it can say is that it will not necessarily encourage such a practice. Therefore, if we are to deal realistically with the situation, let us look at the future realistically and not get into further troubles because people delude themselves about the possibilities.
§ Mr. Wilson
I understand what the Prime Minister says but I am seeking to look at the future realistically. What will be the future of this country if we are to have a three-day week for a period of three months? I agree that this is a crisis. Therefore, we must pool our ideas and proposals, and this is what I am trying to do.
I hope that the Prime Minister will not look at these proposals in the way he perhaps looked at some of the earlier proposals, when he let off steam in the House—just on the basis of something to turn down. Let us examine their validity to see what they amount to.
I hope that the Prime Minister will study the article by David Basnett in the Observer a couple of weeks ago. David Basnett is no militant ; he is no Communist. I know that the Prime Minister knows David Basnett and, indeed, he will be meeting him in "Neddy." I hope that the Prime Minister will try to keep the door open. I am not sure that his intervention this afternoon was particularly encouraging.
I suggest—this is not original but is another course open to him—that he could accept the collective advice of the CBI to the Pay Board, namely, that it should have power, through amendment of the code, to issue authority to bargain in cases which it regards as special cases, with or without percentage limits, over and above the norm set out in the code.
The CBI's proposal was made in evidence to the board in preparation of its anomalies report. That report has taken 11 months to prepare, ever since the 41 Prime Minister replied to our urgings about the anomalous treatment of the gas workers last February. That this report should have taken 11 months to prepare is surely an extraordinary way to run a country. This is what happens when the Government are not in control. The decision on these proposals should be taken now. We are told that the anomalies report—we do not know this but have to rely on the Press for what we are told—may help the miners, especially on relativity. But if this matter has taken 11 months to be decided, how much longer must this country continue to bear the burden of a three-day week?
If the Prime Minister will accept any of the proposals I have put forward in terms of waiting time and other matters it will be a big step forward. It will mean rejecting confrontation for conciliation. It will mean turning away from long-term industrial paralysis towards industrial advance.
I conclude by saying that no industry has worked harder and with more faith and trust than have the mineworkers of Great Britain. The House recalls how the miners put their backs into it in the aftermath of the 1972 settlement, falsifying every forecast that we then read about lasting harm for the industry. But that loyalty which they have shown to the nation, in peace and in war, is matched by the loyalty they cherish towards their industry, their pit, their comrades, their unshakeable beliefs, and their separate and individual, and often remote, mining communities.
Above all, and I want the Prime Minister to realise this—the miners are not people who seek to press a pay claim as a means of destroying a Government—any Government—still less as a means of destroying our constitution or our system of democracy. Nobody who knows the miners could ever sustain such a charge. It is a serious matter that on radio and television we are constantly told "One can never deal with the miners. They are not democrats. They are Communists, nihilists, Marxists". Why cannot the Government listen to advice and encourage the moderates in industry, those who have contributed so much to our democracy? Nobody has contributed more to democracy than have the mine-workers of Britain. They and their wives today constitute the solid rock of social 42 democracy as much as they have ever done in the past 100 years. Government—any Government, whatever their political philosophy—should be proud to build upon that rock, instead of seeking to build upon the shifting sands of assumed political advantage.
If I have one word of advice above all that I would give the Prime Minister it is that in all the Government's dealings with the industry they should recognise that the miners bring to the needs of this country, in peace and in war, a loyalty second to that of no other section of the community. I urge the Prime Minister not to spurn, by any lack of understanding, all that that loyalty can mean to the nation.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ Mr. T. H. H. Skeet (Bedford)
This country possesses at least 260,000 miners, and many of us who have had contact with them wish to express pride in their work since we know how conscientious they are. But also in this country there are 55 million people, and it is one of the greatest tragedies of all time that losses are being sustained by those people at this particular time for which no legal action lies in a court of law. The people of this country have been involved in their own personal crises—businesses have been destroyed, bankruptcies have occurred—because of a dispute to which they are not a party.
I suggest that the Leader of the Opposition should try to persuade the miners to recognise that, although they have a responsibility to themselves, they also have a responsibility to the nation of which they form an integral part. The right hon. Gentleman said that prices have been rising, and I do not argue about that, but my point is that because of the shortage of coking coal the British Steel Corporation will sustain extremely heavy losses, which in due course, will have to be recouped by increased prices. Those prices in turn will be passed through the economy and the public will pay. This can all be ascribed to the mining dispute.
As a result of the difficulties of obtaining coal at the power stations, the electricity industry—the Central Electricity Generating Board and others—has been sustaining considerable losses. Probably in due course the price of electricity will have to rise, and that in turn will be passed on to the general public—again 43 because of the action by the miners. If we consider the many other industries which are dependent on the supply of coal, we must come to the general conclusion that increased prices are due to wage disputes and to the fact that in many cases gigantic unions are trying to get as much as they can at the expense of other people. As a result we face a situation in which more difficulties are created.
Since the Conservatives came to power in 1970 the miners, following the Wilber-force findings, received 21 per cent., at the beginning of 1973 they were awarded 8½ per cent., and they are now being offered 16½ per cent. Have they ever had such a deal recommended by any Government in recent history? The answer clearly is that they have not.
If the Leader of the Opposition is so keen to try to ease the situation for the miners, I wish to ask him a specific question. Why was it that by the time he vacated office the miners had slipped from third to twelfth place? It is a matter of pride that as a result of recent negotiations craftsmen in the mining industry will earn £55 a week, on top of which they will have a 3½ per cent. productivity arrangement. Therefore, if they accept the present offer, we shall place them at number one position in the industrial ratings. This surely is an offer which they should accept.
Apart from the 16½ per cent. advance comprised in the offer, it must be remembered that certain fringe benefits are available to miners. They have concessionary fuel and they pay low rents. This means that one can add another £2.50 a week to their wages. Concessionary fares, with travelling costs over 47½p a week being refunded to the miners, can also be added to their wages. As part and parcel of the negotiations with the National Coal Board, the maximum age or incapacity on retirement allowance has been raised from £300 to £500. It is not correct therefore to say that a miner earns only £39 a week. He receives over £2,500 a year.
The miners also have the assurance mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and which the negotiators have indicated that, if only they will wait for the time when a thorough and 44 serious study can be made of the industry, market forces will operate and they will receive much higher wages for the very dangerous work which they do underground. The miners have assurances about the future which have been given by the Prime Minister and other officers of the Crown, and it is only right that they should accept them.
§ Mr. Skeet
The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) expresses his view, but the right hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) and the hon. and learned Member for Lincoln (Mr. Taverne) have recommended that the miners should accept the offer. The right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) has suggested that they should accept it. The Government should remain firm, because they have been reasonable and a fair offer has been made. If the Government give way, apart from not maintaining faith with the 4 million people who have accepted settlements under phase 3, we shall be in a Danegelt situation and we shall never be able to achieve stability in the economy or to stabilise prices.
The current miners' agreement does not run out until the end of February. It is therefore rather surprising that the miners should be indulging in their present practices. It would appear that they are in breach of agreement, and I hope that they will seek to remedy the situation and will maintain the safety regulations. When I went down the Dawmill mine in Meriden I found that a number of hydraulic lifts had been destroyed during the previous disturbance. I hope that that sort of thing will not happen on this occasion. Knowing the miners and how responsible they are, I say that many of them do not support the leaders on the union's executive, some of whom are known to be Communists and who are more concerned in bringing about tumult than peace.
I should like to read what a Teheran journal reports the Shah of Persia as saying at a Press conference on 25th September, because it is pertinent to Britain:… if you want to live well and as well as you do now you will have to work. If you want to work just a few hours per day and go on strike for no valuable reason … if you encourage the people, who will get almost as 45 much when they do not work as those who work, obviously then you cannot continue to have the prosperity that you have enjoyed so far. If you want to be prosperous, you will have to work for it ".If some of the big unions realised the pertinence of those remarks by the Shah, there would be a better future for all of us.
§ Mr. Leslie Huckfield (Nuneaton)
The hon. Gentleman has referred to the Dawmill colliery, which employs many of my constituents. If the National Coal Board's wages offer and the fringe benefits are so good, why are the five Warwickshire pits currently losing 30 men a week?
§ Mr. Skeet
It is interesting that at a time of relatively full employment—I am talking about the pre-strike situation—there is a tendency for men to drift from the pits. The national drift is about 600 men a week. Because of the instability created by the current situation and with people not realising that the mining industry has an enormous future, men tend to drift from the industry. But the situation can readily be restored. If the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield) looks into the matter closely with the National Coal Board, he will find that, with more mechanisation, the pits are not all that under establishment.
We have learned, not from the war in the Middle East but possibly because of the policy adopted by the Arabs, that in future the cost of oil will be determined by market forces. Therefore, prices will continue to escalate until the Arabs consider that they have some relation to the prices of alternative fuels. The nation should appreciate that in 1972 Kuwait exported 1,176 million barrels of oil to earn a revenue of 1,657 million dollars. To earn the same revenue at a spot price of 17 dollars per barrel, it would have to export only 95 million barrels. No country will be persuaded to export unless there is an incentive, and, whether we like it or not, the incentive is to be price, since posted prices have been raised very substantially.
We are in a predicament. The price of the oil which we import is very high, and will become even higher. We shall therefore have to rely on the mining industry to help us through in our energy policy. For that reason I fully support the setting 46 up of the new Ministry because it will be able to create a realistic energy policy. It will be able to negotiate Government-to-Government oil bargains in the Middle East and will be able to do other things which, piecemeal, Ministers cannot do.
There is, however, a silver lining to the situation. Taking the value of a barrel of oil as being 10 dollars, and on the basis of the conservative estimate that the North Sea will yield 10 billion barrels, the yield for us in about five years will be about 100 billion dollars, with an appreciation of over 240 per cent. Calculated on the basis that the ultimate reserves are about 30 billion barrels, the yield will be as high as 300 million dollars.
§ Mr. English
I take it the hon. Gentleman assumes that, when we get ahead with the development of North Sea oil, we shall use the North Sea oil and will renegotiate the Treaty of Rome to permit that?
§ Mr. Skeet
I have two recommendations to make. Some Labour Members wish the common agricultural policy to be renegotiated. I suggest that the CAP should cover North Sea oil. Perhaps the French would then have the opportunity of paying. That might be a reason for the French changing their position. In addition, North Sea oil is likely to benefit the balance of payments by between £3,000 million and £4,000 million. The export of coal might bring in another £500 million.
I wish to make a few constituency points which I hope the Minister will consider. Hairdressers in my constituency are concerned about the position. Under the Electricity (Industry and Commercial Use) (Control) Regulations they find that to be able to use electrical appliances for half of every day in the week is not sufficient. It may be possible to use driers at home, but the situation is leading to the break-up of many small businesses. I hope that the Minister will say something about this.
Small businesses which are being asked for cash for their raw materials are short of liquidity. Is it not possible to introduce credit guarantees to enable small firms to obtain their raw materials? Equipment used in the North Sea has been exempted from the restrictions. Is 47 it not possible also to exempt the producers of fine wire which is used in medical and similar equipment?
I believe that the nation will accept my contention that the deal which the miners have been offered is a very satisfactory one. The miners have the assurance that in future their situation will be thoroughly reviewed. Two years ago the miner was asking for a social wage because he was in the doldrums. All that has vanished. The miner now wants his wages determined by the market. If that be the condition, the miner has changed his ground and changed the philosophy put forward by the Opposition.
I recommend that miners should have confidence in the present Government who are likely to be here at the next General Election ; and the miners can be satisfied that the deal they will get from this Government will be immeasurably superior to anything they would get from a Labour Government.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)
I greatly regret that the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) should have made such a partisan speech in present circumstances.
What is positively frightening about the Prime Minister's speech is not merely that he accepts no responsibility for the present situation and that he does not seem particularly worried even at indusstry being on a three-day week for weeks ahead but that he did not even sound as if he particularly wanted to settle.
I hope that other hon. Members in the debate will not follow those two speeches and indulge in polemics against the miners or the Government or anyone else.
All I want to do is to suggest to the Government a practical way out of the present situation—a situation which seems to me to be both absurd, on the one hand, and tragic, on the other, and which is doing enormous damage to the nation. We need a little more common sense and a little less polemics and doctrine.
Ministers can justifiably argue that the stage 3 pay code has been approved by Parliament and cannot be breached or defied. I do not question that, but it is no good simply saying that and then shutting one's eyes to the economic reali 48 ties of the situation, which are far more menacing and far more crucial in the longer term. The overriding economic reality is surely this: oil and coal are now worth a very great deal more than they were even six months ago. If we lived now in a free-for-all, laissez-faire world, the price of coal, as well as that of oil, would rise steeply. So would miners' wages and recruitment and coal output, to the very great benefit of the nation.
§ Mr. Jay
That is exactly what I was saying. If we were now living in an uncontrolled world, miners' wages and the coal mining labour force would rise rapidly. If something like that happened, we should be on the way out of our difficulties.
I am not blaming anyone in particular, but, instead of that, what the Government and the nation are doing between them is artificially preventing this from happening by treating the precise wording of the pay code as if it were an eternal verity. It is not an eternal verity. Though stage 3 should not be breached, it can and should be amended. Indeed, we understand that the Pay Board is at present considering proposals for amending the code, though, as my right hon. Friend said, we are not at present in a position to know precisely what it is recommending.
What is the legal status of the pay code at present? No one has asked this today. It is a parliamentary order made under the Counter-Inflation Act 1973. Parliament, if it wishes, cannot only make orders under this Act ; it can change them or amend them. Indeed, the Act itself explicitly says so. Section 2(3) of the Act says this:The code, and any change in the code, shall be contained in an order made by statutory instrument, and may be varied or revoked by a subsequent order so made.With even greater relevance to the present situation, Section 2(1) of the Act says:The Treasury shall from time to time make such changes in the code as appear to them to be required.49 If ever circumstances required a change in this code, they certainly do now, for not merely has the whole world oil prospect changed since even six months ago when this code was originally being drafted but the existing code in the first place contained one major error. I am a firm believer, though a reluctant one, in a prices and incomes policy, but I am in favour of a workable one, if only because an unworkable one is bound to discredit the whole idea of an incomes policy, which I am afraid is what is happening now.
Any incomes policy is unworkable which tries to freeze all the pay relativities between different parts of the economy, and which in particular omits any provision for essential industries which are seriously undermanned and short of manpower. Judging from the Prime Minister's speech today, I believe that he genuinely does not understand this.
The remarkable thing is that the provision for undermanned industry was explicitly included even in the 1948 Incomes Policy White Paper, the very first one we had after the war, which said:There may well be cases in which increases in wages or salaries would be justified from a national point of view, for example, where it is essential in the national interest to man up a particular under-manned industry, and it is clear that only an increase in wages will attract the necessary labour.In some respects we were wiser in 1948 than we are now. It is a tragedy that that provision was omitted from the 1973 pay code. I believe that that is one reason why we are in the ridiculous deadlock which we are in at present.
So my practical suggestion to the Government is this. I make it in the hope of helping them, as well as the coal industry and the nation as a whole, out of their difficulties. Let the Government announce as soon as possible that they adhere to the principle of the counter-inflation policy but that, in view of the radically altered circumstances, they propose, as contemplated in the Act itself, to amend the present pay code and introduce a new order to take effect some time this spring which would allow for a change in relativities, as approved no doubt by the Pay Board, where an undermanned essential industry is concerned.
50 Let negotiations then take place between the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers and let the Pay Board be authorised to bless a settlement based on the amended code. That would be a perfectly legal and constitutional procedure and the Prime Minister could not argue that this was defying Parliament or challenging the constitution.
Of course no increased wages on this basis could actually be paid until Parliament had approved an amended order, but that is surely not a practical difficulty. One of the absurd parts of the present situation is that the miners' present contract does not expire until 28th February and yet industry is almost paralysed now. Therefore, there is plenty of time, if the will is there and if the Government really want a settlement, for Parliament to approve an order taking effect on, say, 1st March, if that is the most appropriate date. On that understanding, the miners, I believe, could reasonably be asked to call off the overtime ban, and there is a reasonable hope that they would. Indeed, if they did not they would lose a good deal of the public support which they undoubtedly have now.
What is even more important, however, is that if we were to follow a conciliatory plan of that kind—I am not talking about the details—we should be on the way to economic sanity, a full working week in industry, and a major expansion of the British coal mining industry and of our fuel supplies, which is the great need just now.
For the sake of that objective I hope that the Government will take that practical suggestion, or something like it, as seriously as it is meant. In any case, all that will have to be done at some time in the course of the present year. Why should not we do it now?
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)
It is a pleasure to follow the constructive speech of the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay). His views in this crisis approximate more to my own than do those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, Southwest (Mr. Powell) or of some of the hon. Member's own Front Bench colleagues.
51 The question of dogma is no longer applicable in this serious crisis. The fact is that the seriousness of the crisis has not been sufficiently stressed. The steel problem is the greatest that we face. Because of that a short working week seems inevitable even if the situation in the mining industry is improved. But far more fundamental is the complete ending of cheap energy for the Western world. That is a fundamental situation that will affect us for generations and especially perhaps the poorer people of the world who depend so much on oil products, or fertilisers, and on other things which made the green revolution possible. That is why we are in a changed situation, and that is why I welcome the appointment of Ministers to deal solely with the energy problem. It is an idea that I have put forward many times in the House, and I am grateful that common sense and the tide of events have made the appointments essential and now accepted.
The effects of the energy situation will be devastating unless the situation is dealt with. I hope that the new Secretary of State for Energy will not let the sanctity of any such document as stage 3 become the albatross around his neck in the way that Clause Four has become an albatross around the neck of the Labour Party. I hope that thought will be given to the ways in which certain matters can be put right.
It is especially important to have regard to the price mechanism. One of the facts facing us today, and one of the dangers of the three-day week, is the over-consumption of domestic power. The only way to right that is to charge the proper price for domestic power. In that way there can be a diminution to meet what will be a real crisis unless there is some amelioration in the supply of electricity to industry. There has to be a disregard for the incomes policy just to get through, and the demand being made by the Central Electricity Generating Board for higher prices for domestic power will have to be met.
In the same way, if we are to get oil and natural gas out of the North Sea we shall have to face the question of the higher tariff that we are prepared to pay to get it out. That is the only way of getting it out fast. I hope that my right hon. 52 and noble Friend will have regard to the things that make an economy move. Essentially, those are the price mechanisms, the price paid either to labour or for investment. That is the only way in which one can get the right movement going, and going fast.
Perhaps this is a matter for tomorrow's debate, but I hope that my right hon. and noble Friend will look at the orders that have been sent out to industry dealing with the control of fuel and electricity supplies. There is a surplus of coffins because many joiners find that as long as they are working in coffin shops they get electricity for five days a week. So many coffins are being made that one could almost bury the Government and the Opposition in them. I hope that the policy will be looked at. It is clear what happens when private ingenuity is applied to a Government order. There is also a demand for cash registers, because so long as they are used in a shop the premises can be kept going for 40 hours a week.
I now turn to a wider and more serious point, and that is the matter of oil supplies. It is important that my right hon. and noble Friend should consider the whole question to see whether we are pursuing the right policy. The French Government are pursuing entirely the wrong policy. They are trying to muck up international oil relations by getting in first, by paying far too high a price, and by offering arms to persons who should not be given arms at all.
I hope that my right hon. and noble Friend will ensure that the Government are steered off any course which involves pursuing the follies of M. Pompidou and M. Jobert. These were shown at their worst at the conference in Scandinavia when they went crawling after the Arab sheikhs. The result was that the price of oil was increased considerably.
The proper instrument for the purchase of oil is not Government to Government, but the oil companies. They understand the situation far better than Government Departments do, and the price which they pay is at least a world competitive price rather than a price fixed between Governments.
Perhaps I may dissertate for a moment on the oil problem. There is, historically, a tremendous oil shortage, and this is 53 being exploited by various oil producers. But it is a political and historical shortage. Commercially there is a huge day-to-day surplus of oil, provided it is dealt with in an effective way. That is why it is important not to make long-term agreements with countries, which merely keep the oil price far too high, but, rather, to rely on the manipulation of the market by the oil companies, which is far more effective.
There is a grave danger that the French will find themselves tied to one source of supply which will mean that either their foreign policy is controlled by that source of supply or they are stuck with oil at far too high a price should there be a fall in the world price. it is fairly clear now that, with the danger of a world slump being forced upon us by the increased price of oil, there may be a sudden vast surplus of oil on the market. If, say, one Arab State wishes to make quick money to pay for a general project the oil supply could be overwhelming.
I hope, therefore, that when by noble Friend takes office he will not indulge in the sort of follies which are being perpetrated by the French Government—the follies of arming Abu Dhabi, of all places, with 30 Mystère aircraft for attacking God knows who, or propping up other tottering régimes in the Middle East, but will carry out proper commercial transactions through the oil companies. Above all, I hope that our oil policy will be kept in line not with the oil policy of the Europeans—who have been shameful in their lack of policy—but in line with the oil policy of the United States and with the Kissinger project.
I was very grateful to hear my right hon. Friend saying that the Government are giving full support to the Kissinger project. What I want to see is proper support, which does not mean doing shady deals on the side with Arab States. That is why it is so important that what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said today in this context should be fully developed by the new Secretary of State for Energy.
There is no question but that the problems which face us are of the gravest kind, and I am glad to know that my 54 noble Friend has taken over the new Department and that he is supported by such able colleagues.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Albert Roberts (Normanton)
I am pleased to have this opportunity to intervene in the debate because I have been associated with the coal mining industry since 1921. I know a little about it. Having read and heard so much about the industry lately I think that it would perhaps be better if we asked those with knowledge of it to pass on their comments and views.
That is why, as I have said, I am pleased to have this opportunity, which is good for me and, if I may say so, for the industry as well.
I started my working life as a member of the Yorkshire Miners' Association. No doubt my politics were determined to a large extent by the environment in which I was brought up. I have lived with coal for 65 years and I feel that at this time it is as well that the attention of the nation should be drawn to the industry and to those who work in it.
Early in 1972 the leaders of the National Union of Mineworkers told the nation:Since its formation in 1944, the National Union of Mineworkers has been advocating an integrated fuel policy for Britain based on the maximum use of the nation's indigenous fuels. On occasion our views have been accepted, but too often they have been ignored. If current trends continue, then within our lifetime both Britain and the rest of the industrialised world could be facing an energy shortage which would destroy the fabric of society as we know it.That statement is now coming home in truth today ; yet we have heard the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) talking about alternatives. Those who work and live in our mining villages have long memories. To some extent, a certain amount of bitterness is inbred. I left school at 13, went to work at the pits, and at 14 worked in them. The principle experience of my working life up to the outbreak of war was short time, unemployment and poverty.
In 1921 the Sankey Commission reported, rather generously, in favour of the miners. Its report was not accepted by the then Government. Instead, that Government sought, and eventually 55 carried out, a reduction in miners' wages of 30 to 40 per cent. That trend continued, and we all remember what happened in 1925 and 1926. There was yet another onslaught against the miners. In 1926 there was the general strike, which was called off after a week. I remember that Stanley Baldwin said, "Call the general strike off and I will have the miners back within a few days." That did not happen, although the general strike was called off. We struggled on for six months. Not a round coin came into our houses in those days. From 1927 and 1928 onwards, there were more slack times, often with only eight days' work a month.
This situation continued until the country was building up its armaments in readiness for the last war. Then, of course, there was full employment. In 1946 came the nationalisation of the coal industry. This was a wonderful achievement and I am proud of the Government who brought it about. In the 1930s, when we had as many as 2,500,000 people unemployed, where were the policies? Where was the inspiration?
The House must understand that there are on this side of the House miner Members who themselves and whose families have known hardship and poverty in the industry, and the House must understand, too, that the industrial wealth of the nation has been built on coal. This is why there is a certain amount of bitterness in the mining industry. The individual miner is a good and generous chap, prepared to play ball, but we must remember that in the 1930s the miners were not top of the wages league but were number 27 or number 28. I lived for 16 weeks on £1 a week.
I have shed blood in and I bear the scars of the industry which has served the miners very badly indeed, but I do not bear any acrimony. I want to see a just settlement, as most of us do. but those in the industry recall what has been happening in the last few years as well as further back in history.
I do not just blame the present Government. Other Governments share the responsibility. So many pits were closed. Policy was based on cheap imported fuel, which was quite wrong for this country. The late Nye Bevan said that Britain is 56 an island resting on coal. Yet that fact was ignored. There was a scramble for cheap fuel. There was no foresight, and the coal industry suffered accordingly. The miners' group in this House pointed out, whenever we could, the difficulties of the industry and the problems with which it was confronted, but Governments simply produced their cheap imported fuel policies.
Now we are having to have a reappraisal. We are going to have coal in this country for at least 200 years. Much has been made of the coal being discovered near Selby. That is not a new coalfield. We have known for a long time that coal is there. We now all realise that capital will have to be poured into the industry, whether we like it or not, because the nation's economic wealth can increase on the basis only of more coal.
I came to this House in 1951 and I remember so many speeches about how nuclear energy, for example, was going to replace coal in the early 1960s. I heard it said that the last conventional power station would be put down before 1965. All the pundits said it, including the late Gerald Nabarro who, I remind hon. Members, was not only interested in fuel and power but was a great supporter of the coal mining industry as well. It was said that, with nuclear energy, there would be no need for the miners or their industry.
The closing of pits from 1957 to 1964 meant the dereliction of isolated mining villages and the loss of recruiting grounds. If pits are developed around Selby, where will the miners come from? I live 15 miles from Selby and I know that there is not a miner within nine or 10 miles of the place. The nearest miners are at Kellingley, the most modern pit in Europe.
There must be some inducement to get young men to enter the mining industry rather than earn £40 or £50 a week in the building industry. I am not arguing with the National Coal Board. When it has had the chance, it has done a first-class job. As a mines inspector covering 34 or 35 pits I saw the great change which took place from 1946 onwards. We now have the safest pits in the world, but this is still a dangerous job. When I became a miner, we used to work seven hours without a thought of meal breaks, just taking a 57 drink of water. The miner wants to work the full time, and when he comes out he wants due reward.
The purpose of our debate is to enlighten the country about the energy problem. We all agree that we shall depend upon coal. So how should we treat those who work in the industry? There has been talk of doing something before the present agreement expires. That is a very good idea. A charter should be drawn up so that the miner will know how he will be recognised. Pensions should also be discussed. I should like miners to retire at 60 and not 65, as happens in other countries. Anyone who has worked in the industry, stripped to the waist, should be allowed to rest at the age of 60: his place is not in the pits. If a charter were drawn up, it would help recruitment. When a miner reaches 40 or 45 his bones start to itch. That is when he thinks about pensions. I know from my time that he wants an earlier retirement age.
I do not want confrontation. It is no use being stubborn. First, we must get the confidence of the mineworkers and their leaders. These inducements should be offered, and some concrete offer made to them now. We should think of satisfying the miner not for the next three years but for the next 25, 30 or 50 years. If that were spelled out loud and clear, it would fall on ready ears in the coalfields. I am hoping for peace.
Having been in poverty for a large part of my life I now enjoy a good standard of living, and I appreciate it. Since the age of 14 I have seen changes. Standards can be raised only by facing facts. One such fact is that we have allowed the industry to run down. We scoffed at the miner when we did not need him. Now that we need him, let us praise him. Let us be honest and, if we have done wrong, ask for forgiveness. We should approach the miners in the right spirit and tell them that we will give them the money and the conditions they deserve, because the nation depends on them. Whatever we give them, they will earn it.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Lamont (Kingston-upon-Thames)
On one thing both sides of the House seem agreed—that the country is facing the most serious economic crisis since the war. One begins to see the 58 benevolent wisdom of the Chinese proverb, "May you live in boring times."
Today's debate is about the energy situation and tomorrow's about the three-day week, but the effects of the two cannot absolutely be separated. The country is faced with two different crises—the short-term miners' dispute, which was the subject of the measures announced by the Prime Minister to achieve a three-day working week, and the longer-term crisis of the oil situation, which was the subject of the Chancellor's measures before Christmas. This is a situation of unprecedented uncertainty. So much so, someone described the Chancellor's task as having to shoot at a moving target in the dark. It would have been more accurate to say that there were several targets and that there was a consequent danger that he might hit the wrong one.
The oil crisis is essentially international and its impact will be felt in the Western world and by all the OECD countries. It is important that our response should be international. There has been some evidence of moves towards bilateral deals, like the French arms-for-oil deal with Saudi Arabia and the visit of our special emissary, Lord Aldington, to King Feisal. There is a great danger that we shall not see clearly enough the necessity to reach an overall agreement which will not leave other countries in a difficult situation. There is no point in our managing to finance our balance of payments deficit if the Germans and the Dutch still have their deficits and have to take excessive deflationary action which, in turn, will harm our economy.
Perhaps in this situation we tend to see the difficulties in our own position and not the disadvantages in the position of the Arabs. We tend to forget that some of the Arab régimes, not necessarily the most attractive ones, have been dependent on the West for political support. We tend to forget that, when the price of oil is pushed up so much that substitutes become an economic proposition, there is a strong incentive for the Arabs to sell as much oil as they can in the short term.
We tend to forget also, when talking about the overall balance of payments problem of the Western world, that somewhere the money must inevitably get back into some part of the Western economic 59 system. There is no other way in which the Arabs can be paid for their oil ; whether they buy gold from the Russians or the South Africans it will be paid for in Western currency in a Western bank somewhere in the Western world. It is vital that means should be found, whichever country is lucky enough to have this money fall into its lap, of recycling that money throughout the Western world. The talks about the reform of the international monetary system have been going very slowly, but now, faced with the overall Western balance of payments deficit, it is crucial to work out urgently a means of recycling these Arab funds throughout the Western world to fund every individual country's balance of payments deficit. The greatest tragedy would be if we got into a situation in which some countries, because of these bilateral deals, were left out in the cold and had to pursue restrictive and inflationary policies which would end by harming us.
I turn now to the domestic scene. The three-day working week will be the subject of the debate tomorrow, but I want to make one point about it now. We will very shortly be in a situation—and I hope that the Government are aware of it—in which a number of major industrial companies will be in financial difficulties. This will happen within a few weeks. It is not just the small companies which will suffer. There are large companies in manufacturing industry whose strong cash positions of a few weeks ago have been dramatically reversed. This could easily set off a chain reaction. It will be no use getting the clearing bankers round to No. 10 Downing Street at the eleventh hour, because they may not want to play ball. I hope that the Government will think through the implications of this, because we are faced with something which could make the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders collapse look like a run on a piggy bank. It is a serious situation.
The link between the arguments about the oil crisis and those about the coal crisis has tended to be the relative costs and prices of both coal and oil. It has been suggested that because the price of oil has gone up therefore the price of coal can rise and that, therefore, more can immediately be paid to the miners. That argument is theoretically correct and this will in the long term have to happen. 60 There will have to be that price adjustment. That surely does not mean that any settlement, regardless of its inflationary consequences, can immediately be made with the miners.
The fact that the increase in oil prices will make our inflationary situation worse is in itself an argument for not adding too much to our problems through a large increase in the price of coal after an over-generous award to the miners.
Of course we need to get more men into the mines and to exploit fields such as the Selby field ; we have to deal with the problem of the drift from the mines, though I suspect that some of the figures that have been bandied about on this drift may have been a little exaggerated.
§ Mr. Lamont
I have seen a figure suggested of 600 miners leaving per week, yet the official statistics published the other day show that the number leaving for the year to the end of September was about 350 per week. Against that has to be balanced the recruitment figure of 300 per week. We must also face the fact that in a period of peak demand such as we have seen over the past nine months there has been a drift from all major manufacturing industries. The drift from mining has been considerably less than that in almost any other major manufacturing industry.
No one disagrees that we shall need to pay, in the longer term, more to the miners to get more people into the mines. The settlement offered to the miners is generous in the difficult circumstances of today. I believe that it is in the interests of the miners that an incomes policy of some sort should remain intact. We saw two years ago how the miners got a large settlement but how, because of the breaking open of the Government's incomes policy and because of the leapfrogging that took place, the miners did not gain, relatively speaking. If the miners wish to safeguard the position which they will enjoy at the end of phase 3 as a result of the proposals put to them then it is important that some sort of incomes policy should remain in existence.
Perhaps the silliest argument that has been advanced by some hon. Members opposite is that the costs of the miners' 61 dispute ought to be weighed against the cost of production forgone. We saw this in Professor Kaldor's letter to The Times. It will in history come to be regarded as one of the more hilarious footnotes to the crisis. I gather that Professor Kaldor actually rang up the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) from the south of France—where he was, presumably, enjoying his Socialist holiday—to tell him his arguments. I wonder why he bothered.
It will be remembered that Professor Kaldor suggested that because the cost of production forgone in the present crisis was so immense we could afford to pay the miners £2 a week more for ever and that it would still be a very good bargain. Leaving aside the question of whether an extra £2 is all that the miners want, and leaving aside also the question of how the money would be funded, we might ask Professor Kaldor at what level, by this argument, would it become uneconomic to pay more to the miners. Would it be a 100 per cent. claim, a 150 per cent. claim, or a 200 per cent. claim? The real point is not claims made on real resources but the claims on inflation—the inflationary consequences of giving in to the miners. That is why the letter of Professor Kaldor was a complete irrelevance in the present situation.
The argument today is primarily about inflation, but it threatens also to become an argument about political power and which shall prevail—the will of the Government or the will of those who enjoy a key position and a stranglehold over our economy. The rôle of trade unions is central to the question of power in our society. It is no longer right to see trade unions as the struggling representatives of the underdog from the Combination Acts onwards. They have become powerful bodies often, quite legitimately, safeguarding the interests of highly-paid manual workers. The question of the power of trade unions in our society has to be re-examined in the light of the achieving of national objectives such as the containment of inflation.
No one can doubt that there is a serious threat to our society today. It is sad and tragic that the social bond of our society, the sense of community, is so weak that we can find a group of people in a powerful position who will 62 undermine the attainment of national objectives.
We are told by Labour Members that the Government have forfeited all right to consent because they have pursued what hon. Members opposite call "divisive policies". The assumption seems to be that the only Government which is entitled to any voluntary support from the community is one which does everything that they want. The real test of the social bond, of the foundations of society, is not how people react when they agree with what the Government have done but how they react when the Government have done things with which they disagree.
The way hon. Members opposite define divisive policies suggests that they comprise any decision to tackle any vested interest or anything else connected with their politics and their voters. We have had this over and over again, whether with reference to the Housing Finance Act or the Industrial Relations Act. I can understand that some people may feel that those were misapplied policies or wrong policies. I cannot accept that simply because the Government try to tackle a particular problem in a way which they believe is in the national interest it means that they have forfeited the right to the consent which every Government have hitherto enjoyed.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite seem to think that the whole question of trade unions and industrial relations is sacrosanct, that the whole of the law relating to industrial relations is in the same condition as the Duke of Wellington conceived the English constitution to be before the first Reform Act—that it represents the sum total of human wisdom and is incapable of improvement.
Simply because the Government try to tackle these problems, rightly or wrongly, is no reason why it should be argued that they have forfeited the right to consent, which is the basis of our democratic society. Hon. Gentlemen opposite know where they are driving the country—towards a General Election. It will be fought on extremely divisive and partisan lines. I believe that my party would win such an election but that it would not be in the interests of our country to have such an election. The country and the Government are entitled to have support from all parties in the attainment of a 63 settlement to this dispute in a manner and form compatible with the national objective of containing inflation.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)
The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Norman Lamont) will forgive me, I hope, if I say that although I listened to his speech with interest, I did not feel that his speech, and that of the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet), was entirely in tune with the rest of the speeches in the debate which have emanated from both sides of the House.
I happen to think that one of the hopeful things in this crisis—whether it will have an effect, I know not—has been the constructive nature of this debate. I hope that the suggestions made by the Leader of the Opposition, by the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) and by the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) will not fall on barren ground. There is a genuine wish in the House to see a settlement and an end to industrial strife. If the sum total of the contributions in speeches from both sides is to inch this country nearer to a settlement, Parliament will not only be right to have met but will have done something helpful to achieve that end.
One fact that has been clear in the last few weeks is that we in this country possess an infinitive capacity to inflict wounds on ourselves. This is one of the tragedies of the situation. There is not much point in apportioning blame. Perhaps the great difficulty facing the Government is that they have not been able to gain general acceptance for a prices and incomes policy, partly because they have not been as successful as they would have wished in controlling prices, and partly because they themselves dismissed the need for a prices and incomes policy in the first three years they were in office and then did a U-turn and reversed their view.
This afternoon I found the Prime Minister not rigid but depressing. I felt that there was no possibility of some new initiative, some possible line, or some hope. He was certainly not as rigid as he was in the interview which he gave to the New York Times, which said, 64The Prime Minister is prepared to keep Britain on a three-day week at least until spring rather than yield to the wage demands of the nation's coal miners.… By his tone, manner and words Mr. Heath reflected an uncompromising mood ".All that I can say is that I regard that as a bunker-like mentality and I hope that it does not accurately reflect the right hon. Gentleman's views. If we have a three-day week for very much longer, we certainly cannot exist until the spring. The minute that the steel industry is working at only one-third capacity, it will affect about 10 million people in employment in this country and we shall start to see the rundown of the nation's economy, which we shall find will leave us with very long-term wounds to heal. If the Prime Minister is really going around like Samson, the sooner some Delilah comes forward with a very sharp pair of scissors the better it will be for the country.
In "In Place of Strife" Her Majesty's Opposition conceded, albeit within the framework of an economy run in their view fairly—I accept that that is the great condition—the need for some measure of restraint and some control over wages as well as prices. If it is now thought that a future Labour Government could control prices and would leave wages to good will, I honestly believe that that initiative would be no more successful than the Leader of the Opposition's initiative with regard to ASLEF and his attempt to persuade ASLEF to go to arbitration.
Before turning to some suggestions about the miners' dispute, I want to say this about the energy crisis. I welcome the appointment of the noble Lord as the Minister in charge of energy. Perhaps he may devote more of his time to that than to some of his other political activities. The nation will benefit accordingly. I welcome this because it is long overdue. It has been pressed by many right hon. and hon. Members in all quarters of the House.
What sort of advice will the noble Lord get and from what quarter? Every Government must accept the responsibility for the advice they are given. But much of the advice on energy which successive Governments have been given has had the common factor that it has been wrong. The advice which was given to the present Government and to 65 a certain, but lesser, extent to their predecessors on the award of contracts for North Sea oil has made us a laughing stock in Texas. In retrospect, we know that the advice given to the Labour Government, which was accepted in many quarters of the House, about the rundown of the coal mines in the interests of cheap fuel was wrong. If the Secretary of State for Energy believes that his first priority is a mad scramble for oil in the North Sea, we could again be making a very dangerous mistake.
The first point which has to be decided—it is a political decision—is what is the posted price of North Sea oil to be. I hope that it will certainly not be a price pegged to comparability with the Middle East, I happen to agree with the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames. I think that the French are engineering an artificial price and that the price will fall. The present price is a political price, and it will come down. But it is vital that we take the political decision on the pricing of oil and that we take the political decisions about the effects that it will have on the environment. However much we may need that energy we do not want to cause the scars of a second industrial revolution in this country.
I hope that, although the decisions must remain political, the noble Lord will have a very high-powered energy commission to advise him, one almost comparable with a standing Royal Commission. With all respect to his advisers in the Department, it is not enough to leave this question to his permanent advisers among the Civil Service. Furthermore, if the Secretary of State for Energy is the person who will suggest to the Government the relative importance of coal to the community and what the price of oil is to be, we must also realise that if the price of oil is very cheap, this, in itself, will give a feeling of insecurity to the mining community for the future. Therefore, it is a very difficult and delicate balance, which I hope the House will have an opportunity to debate.
I hope that we shall also hear a little more about the relativity study which the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) mentioned in her intervention during the Prime Minister's speech. The Pay Board is now being asked to give a report which the old National Board for Prices and Incomes could have done as a matter 66 of course because it had the flexibility to do so, which the present Pay Board does not have. This is the cumbersome machinery that the Government have to go through now. This report might give the Government an opportunity of upgrading the priority of the coal mining industry and it may well give them the compromise that they require for a settlement.
My colleagues and I believe in the necessity for a statutory prices and incomes policy—[An HON. MEMBER: "All of them?"] Yes. Hon. Members must speak for divisions in their own party. A statutory policy in default of voluntary agreement is the price that this country must be prepared to pay for full employment and for containing inflation. We voted against phase 3 for two reasons. First, we believed that it was inflexible. Clearly, the miners' dispute has proved that, if nothing else. Secondly, we voted against phase 3 because we believed that the basic norm was inflationary and that a 7 per cent. norm, which works out at 12 per cent. to 13 per cent. on average, is far too high a figure in the present economic situation.
I believe, therefore, that the Government designed phase 3 specifically to deal with the mining industry but that it has failed to achieve this. I understand the Government's argument, that it is essential for them to have a settlement within phase 3. Indeed, that is the law of the land.
The Leader of the Opposition said that although he disagreed with phase 3 he understood why the Government were putting forward that argument. If phase 3 were breached by a settlement that goes outside phase 3, it would be almost impossible for the Government or for any other Government subsequently to bring in a statutory prices and incomes policy.
In my view the Government will get a settlement under phase 3 only if they take into account certain facts. First, we are entitled to a little more information about the extraordinary behaviour of the Pay Board in regard to the waiting and winding allowance. The NUM was almost invited by the Pay Board to put up a case for waiting and winding, only subsequently to be slapped down by the Pay Board. It is significant that Mr. Lawrence Daly is preparing evidence because he 67 regards this as a possible basis for settlement. That is indicative of the fact that he wants a settlement, whatever may be said to the contrary. It would be bizarre if the rigidity of phase 3 were such that under phase 3 we could pay people for waiting and winding time to compensate them for not being able to pay them for the extraction of coal. That would be the artificiality of phase 3 run riot.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) suggested a production bonus. I entirely accept and understand the opposition in the industry to productivity agreements. I understand that that was what the strike in 1912 was about. It is impossible to have a fair productivity bonus system when the geological situation from pit to pit is different. I also accept that the Secretary of State for Employment in the letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North has indicated that the National Coal Board offer was not in respect of any specific production target but was for work to be done with a view to producing the maximum amount of coal.
I am not certain that there is not a better bargain both for the miner and for the consumer in linking the existing phase 3 to the expected output of the mining industry of, say, approximately 145 million tons. If it be the case that the country urgently needs more coal and that one additional ton of coal mined replaces the necessity for 4.4 barrels of oil, why should not the Government pay a productivity employment bonus for every additional million tons of coal extracted over and above the 145 million? Let it be assessed on a monthly basis and let the bonus be paid to the National Coal Board and the NUM jointly to distribute. They may make it a flat across-the-board settlement. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman says that this is not within phase 3. I am not certain that he is right in that, and I think that it should be referred to the Pay Board.
§ Mr. Alex Eadie (Midlothian)
I wish that the right hon. Gentleman would get some knowledge of the mining industry before he talks about 145 million tons. Because of the damage done and because of the contraction in manpower, with 68 the best will in the world, we shall be lucky if we get 120 million to 125 million tons.
§ Mr. Thorpe
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. The question of the output must be a matter for agreement, but I think the hon. Gentleman would agree that had there been no dislocation and no ban on overtime it is reasonable to assume on past figures that the outurn would have been of the order of 140 million to 145 million tons. If the hon. Gentleman says that in his view it is a lower figure, that of course is a matter for discussion, and no such production bonus could be paid unless and until there was agreement in the first place. I take his point and I do not think that we need to be dogmatic.
The next point that the Government must recognise is that even if there had been no ban on overtime, the whole basis on which phase 3 was created no longer exists. Phase 3 was on the basis that there would be a level of growth in the economy which we know will not take place. Phase 3 was based on a substantial change in the terms of trade caused by a fall in commodity prices which we know is not likely to take place. Therefore, phase 3 is in any event overtaken by events. If the Government make phase 3 their "Clause Four" it will be to the detriment of the economy of the country.
The Government, therefore, have to look beyond phase 3 to see how it can be amended. I believe that it has to be amended first by returning to the Prices and Incomes Board concept of the previous Labour Government so that there is flexibility to look at special cases, to make reports industry by industry and to submit them to Parliament.
If the Government are asserting that there is a change in the economic argument in regard to oil but that there is no change in the economic priority to be accorded to coal, they are talking through their hats. There is no doubt that that has been one of the most dramatic changes in economic priorities.
If the Government are to get a settlement under phase 3, they must indicate what phase 4 holds out—and holds out very rapidly. It must mean a new social contract between the Government and the country.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. James Prior)
When the right hon. Gentleman says that phase 3 is outdated by what has happened and by the lack of growth, what he is saying is that phase 3 now looks too generous in terms of the economy. If he thinks that phase 3 is too generous, how can he at the same lime accept that the miners should be treated more generously than they are being treated under phase 3?
§ Mr. Thorpe
The right hon. Gentleman, surprisingly enough, has fully and accurately stated what I stated, namely, that phase 3 has been overtaken by events. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North said, in many respects it was too inflationary at the time it was introduced. The norm may have to be lowered, but there must be machinery for special cases. Clearly, a special case is the coal mining industry. If the cost of importing oil is to be about £2,000 million more on the balance of payments, obviously the coal mining industry become" vastly more important. The price of coal may have to go up. Certainly the emoluments have to go up to attract people into the pits. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman is right. Phase 4 may have to be more restrictive in its norm, but it must have flexibility to deal with special cases. The great fault of phase 3 is that it is not flexible.
Finally, if the Government are to get a degree of restraint they must be far less divisive in their economic policies. That is why I have never accepted the Government's refutation of the case for guaranteed minimum earnings. I see no reason why there should not be guaranteed minimum earnings. I see no reason why pensions should not be tied to a percentage of average industrial earnings. I see no reason why the Government should not start talks about revisions to the Industrial Relations Act. I think that it will have to be scrapped, although there are certain provisions which might be agreed between the parties involved. Basically the Government have to prove that they will run the economy far more fairly than they have in the past.
The Government have got themselves locked into an almost impossible position. For once, the Prime Minister must show flexibility. If he shows some flexibility he has the prospect of a settlement under 70 phase 3, but it must be made clear that that is the last gasp of phase 3 and we have a phase 4 that is more in tune with economic reality.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Mr. William Clark (Surrey, East)
It is a pleasure to follow the Leader of the Liberal Party, the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe). I am sure that the House would like to congratulate him on having 90 per cent. of his party listening to his speech. The two main parties can learn something from that. When we are whipped, we are whipped to vote, not necessarily to listen to our leaders. The right hon. Gentleman has made some constructive suggestions, as have other right hon. and hon. Members.
We cannot emphasise too much that this country faces a serious crisis not only from the fuel but from the overseas oil aspect. The people of this country are crying out for unity in these difficult circumstances. We face a crisis of confidence. Unless we solve this problem, the country will grind to a halt with the three-day working week, the shortage of energy, and so on. Hardship is being caused not only to industry but to individuals, and such hardship should not be underestimated. Domestic users of electricity are making great savings, but it is nonsensical in these circumstances to find many miles of the Ml floodlit. The general public cannot understand this, and certainly I cannot.
For good or ill we have a Conservative Government in power. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ill."] They were democratically elected. However, we seem to be living in a crazy situation. We have trade unionists against trade unionists in some instances, trade unionists against the Government in other instances, and in still further instances trade unionists against the people of this country.
We cannot over-estimate the ill-feeling that has been aroused among commuters because of the ASLEF strike. People are encountering tremendous difficulties in getting to and around London. They do not know whether their trains will be on time or even whether they will be coming at all. They worry how they are to get to their destinations. In addition, there is the three-day working week, no heat, no light, and so on. At the end of the day they have the prospect of terrible 71 journeys home. People are getting sick to death of the intransigence of the engine drivers. Sectional interests at this time of crisis should be put aside.
The world is unfortunately going through a period when it seems to be trendy to be anti-law. Such a situation can only lead to anarchy in this country.
In this national crisis the Opposition have a responsibility. I was delighted, as no doubt many hon. Members were, that the right hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) should take his responsibility seriously. I take the point made by the Leader of the Liberal Party that this is a constructive debate. But, alas, what he did not add was that the impact on the public through the mass media is far greater than that of a debate in this House. For example, when the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn)—or, as his ex-colleague the hon. and learned Member for Lincoln (Mr. Taverne) calls him, the right hon. Member for Blarney—speaks on television and in Press interviews, he distorts the facts about our coal stocks. The Opposition should look to themselves and see whether they are taking their responsibilities seriously. Where the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East makes his mistake with his red herring about our stocks last year and this year is that last year there was no threat of an oil embargo on this country.
§ Mr. Thomas Swain (Derbyshire, North-East)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that during the period of the Labour Government the then Leader of the Opposition, now the Prime Minister, was consistently advising the CBI not to co-operate with the Government? Was he co-operative and patriotic at that time?
§ Mr. Clark
The point of my speech is that this country faces a national crisis and this is no time for political debating points.
The Leader of the Opposition should come out fair and square and make up his mind. He should say something positive 72 and not dither between the Left and Right wings of the Labour Party. Having been Prime Minister, he should know that it is essential in these days to have an incomes policy. We can argue what form it should take, but he knows that if phase 3, which I think is generous, is breached we shall have leapfrogging, unemployment, and the rundown of industry even worse than in the past.
I turn now to the miners' dispute. I do not intend to rehearse the arguments, except to add my thanks to the Prime Minister for appointing my right hon. and noble Friend as Secretary of State for Energy. This Department is long overdue. The Department of Trade and Industry was so vast that it could not control a matter so vital to this country.
I hope that the miners will see sense and reason and appreciate the hardship that they are causing, not to the Government but to the ordinary working man and woman. They have an offer of 16½ per cent. and the promise of a long-term inquiry. I hope that as a matter of urgency my right hon. and noble Friend will set up a Royal Commission, or whatever it may be, to look into the mining industry. I hope, too, that we shall be able to develop the new seams in Yorkshire and get more recruitment to the industry.
What I do not understand—the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) brought out this point in his most constructive speech—is the miners' overtime ban. The agreement with the miners does not expire until 28th February. That point should be borne in mind. We have heard the rules read out, despite the fact that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) will never agree to anything.
We hear a lot about the miners. I know quite a few miners because I once represented a Nottingham constituency and one of the best coal seams in the country is situated near Nottingham. However, we never hear from an ordinary miner. What we hear comes from the miners' leaders. The ordinary miner does not seem to have a chance of putting forward his views. Even when a miners' leader, Mr. Frank Smith, is prepared to stand up and be counted, what happens? He is pilloried. Do we want this kind of society? It smacks of too much Communism.
73 There are many people within the trade union movement who are not really interested in a 16 per cent. or a 20 per cent. settlement. They are interested only in overthrowing the society in which we live. The Government should take note of that. I know that the militants and Left-wingers do not like that being said. That is how Left-wing militancy comes through. Such people use the channels of democracy to destroy democracy. That is a matter to which the Government must pay attention. We must stop pussyfooting with the Communist element.
§ Mr. Clark
Some Opposition hon. Members can name them much better than I. It would be superfluous to name them.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister should go above the heads of some of the trade union leaders. Let us get the rank and file trade unionists to make their point. If that were done I am certain that there would be a cessation of industrial unrest. We would then get rid of the three-day week and return to normal.
§ 6.l p.m.
§ Mr. James Sillars (South Ayrshire)
The last time we had a sensation by means of a ballot was when the Government balloted the railwaymen under the Industrial Relations Act. If the hon. Member for Surrey, East (Mr. William Clark) is so certain that there is a clear division between the leadership of the National Union of Mineworkers and the membership of that union, let the Government put into operation Sections 138 and 141 of the Act.
I come from a mining area. I was speaking recently to people who are not leaders of the NUM but who are ordinary miners. I spoke to them inside a church hall belonging to the Church of Scotland. One of the miners told me—he was not by any means a known militant—that the men he worked with had reached a stage when, if the Government heaped any more abuse on their heads, they were prepared to walk away from the pits for ever and to tell the Prime Minister and, for example, the constituents of the hon. Member for Surrey, East to go and find others to dig the coal which they will need in the next five, 10 and more years.
74 It is nonsense to suggest that the miners are a lot of sheep who are led by militant wolves. That is not true. There is a leadership crisis, but that is a crisis which lies within the ranks of the Government and is centred around the Prime Minister.
I do not wish to become involved in personalities, but Government Members know better than I that the Prime Minister is not a man with a great deal of human warmth attached to his personality. They are not unaware that before now there has been a leadership crisis involving the Prime Minister inside their own party. It was not unknown during the 1970 election for some senior Conservatives to start disengaging from too much contact with the Prime Minister because they did not think he would win.
It is a fact of life that the Tory Party will have to understand that neither the British people nor the industrial workers of Britain, if one seeks to separate them theoretically, can take a lead from the Prime Minister. In the first three and a half years of his Government he has forfeited all right to loyalty. The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Norman Lamont) said that he does not understand why Labour Members should seek to refer to abrasive policies. One small but important psychological example was the abolition of the three waiting days. That did not apply to civil servants, Members of Parliament, policemen or firemen. It applied in massive terms to the miners, builders and other manual workers. That was an element of the divisive and abrasive policies that were introduced by the Government in the first flush of the quiet revolution which the Prime Minister talked about at the Tory Party conference at Blackpool in 1970.
Another crisis is that of international capitalism. I am a Socialist and when I look at the Western world it is clear to me that there has been a collapse of the Bretton Woods system. The Western world faces a deep and fundamental crisis similar to that which existed in 1931. I do not blame any Government in the Western world which is now in difficulty. Any Government would be in difficulty. However, the British Government have taken some domestic policy decisions which have added to their difficulties.
One of these decisions was entry to the Common Market. It was astonishing 75 this afternoon that the Prime Minister could come and lay out what was virtually an election speech yet say not one word about the effect of entry to the Market, something which he once claimed as a central policy objective. With the decision to enter he gave away control over food prices, and as the balance of trade with the EEC has moved to a deficit of over £1,000 million he has landed us with an economic burden. Yet not one word did he say about the problems posed by EEC entry.
If we were at a seminar on Socialist economic management as opposed to a political debate, I think that I could manage to get some people on the other side to go along with me. The objection which Conservatives have to Socialism does not lie in the management system of the allocation of resources in accordance with national need. They object because to go towards a Socialist economic system requires a massive transfer of power from the people whom they represent to the people whom Labour Members represent. That is why they could never adopt the only solution which at the end of the day could take us a long way to resolving the problems facing the British people.
I do not blame the Government for the world oil situation. It is similar to the international capitalist crisis, not of their making. I have strong suspicions about the three-day week. It is a massive deflationary measure. If people are kept on a three-day week for six or nine weeks, it will take them the rest of the year to recover financially. I am talking about people who have 11 per cent. mortgages and those with hire-purchase commitments. It is bound to have a dramatic impact on our import bill. Has the three-day week been accelerated by the Treasury for economic balancing reasons? It might be that as a byproduct of that economic measure the Government are hoping people will blame the National Union of Mineworkers.
The Government should seek a settlement with the miners as quickly as possible. I told them that in 1972. I have been a trade union official. The worst meetings which I have had have not been those at the hustings ; they have been toffee compared with some of the meetings which trade union officials have 76 had with their own members at the end of a dispute. I have learnt as a trade union official that the longer a dispute continues, the more difficult it is to end it. The more moderate people are at the beginning of a dispute, the more militant they are at the end.
We told the Government at an early stage of the 1972 strike that the Government could settle for £3.25. We told them that it was £1 a week after that on an upward scale. Tories believed that it was £1 a week on a downward scale. As time went on, they were proved to be fundamentally wrong.
We must remember that we are dealing with mining communities. They are peculiar in that they are isolated from the rest of the community and, therefore, a great deal more immune than, for example, engine drivers to the pressure of public opinion which might turn against them. They will not crack.
The Government have to understand that there will be a basic need for more coal in meeting the energy requirements of this country in future years. If we are to get more coal, it will be won only by the sons of present miners digging it.
When there were more than 1 million unemployed in the country, in Kilmarnock, an important engineering area about 15 miles from the area which I represent, there were very high unemployment levels. The National Coal Board decided to launch a recruiting drive there and elsewhere in Ayrshire, assuming that, with high unemployment, the jobs offered in the mining industry would be taken up. The recruiting drive was a failure. It is a fact of life in mining that anyone who does not come from mining stock does not go down a pit, irrespective of the wages paid.
The Goverment had better pay now. They will have to pay more later. The longer they delay, the higher will be the price to them in the end.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
I do not wish to emulate the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) either in abrasive terms or in abrasive language. For the first time today the Leader of the Opposition started to speak from the Opposition Front Bench in wiser and more sober 77 terms, and I wish to pursue that theme with a few constructive suggestions of my own.
I agree profoundly with my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) that there should be a world energy policy and that we should link with the United States, Japan and Europe in trying to get a generally agreed policy which would enable us through the joint consortium of all the oil companies and their countries to keep the Arabs under some sort of control. I dissociate myself from the attitude adopted by France in attempting to go it alone and enter into an agreement probably at far too high a price.
I turn immediately to the suggestions which I wish to make about the coal mining industry. I have always failed to understand how the National Coal Board, when negotiating after the last war the general terms of an agreement with the miners, did not provide as an intergral part of the ordinary working week a period of time for the miner to maintain the pit and his own equipment. I also find it surprising that the miner was never given a period of time in which to prepare for work at the beginning of the working day. I was amazed at appreciating for the first time that at the end of an ordinary five-day working week a miner has to be paid overtime to do what, to my mind, is the very essence of his working day.
For that reason the suggestions made about so-called waiting time do not come within phase 3. Before 28th February, I believe that we should negotiate a fresh working agreement with the miners, especially with those who work at the coal face, and that that agreement should take into account the working week and the right for miners to be on call for a period over weekends.
Every miner who has a responsibility for pit maintenance or the maintenance of equipment at the coal face or elsewhere recognises that he has to undertake that work before he can begin to win coal on a Monday morning. We know that at present many executive staff and officers are working all hours in the mines over weekends trying to keep pits in a fit condition to work on Mondays.
78 I take an example which miners will understand. When I was fighting one of the Nottingham constituencies and very much concerned with the pits there I was well known as a former cricketer. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment has been captain of the Royal and Ancient and understands golf. We all know that if we are to play cricket, golf or football, groundsmen have to work at weekends to see that pitches are fit to be played on. In factories up and down the country men have to work over weekends so that factories may open and work on Mondays. How can we accept a situation where there is no obligation on the miner as part of his working week to work at weekends so that pits are fit to be worked on Mondays? This is weekend working, and it involves working unsocial hours. Any settlement along these lines will help the miners and those who want to see them paid more, especially those working below ground. They are responsible for equipment and very important national assets, and they should be paid top rates.
The first of my suggestions is to set up a commission directed to inquire immediately into the possibility of a new agreement in which it is part of the compulsory working week to provide a period of time for the maintenance of pits and equipment.
Secondly, there should be a firm statement by the Government to say that it is intended to ensure that miners who work below ground and others responsible for winning the coal shall be treated as being amongst the leading manual workers in terms of wage priority.
Thirdly, the commission should be invited to report quickly upon a solution along these lines by means of an interim report. If it advised that a further payment be made, that payment, bearing in mind that it carries with it the obligation to work at weekends, should be paid and should be backdated.
As I see it, none of this is controlled by the terms of phase 3. Therefore it seems to me that the Government are in a position to say that they would like to set up a commission forthwith to look into these matters.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has a very loud mouth and a very yellow shirt. Unfortunately he has nothing up top to go with them—
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
The hon. Gentleman may have dug coal. Unfortunately he never looked up to consider what his head had to say. He has been sneering and saying "We have won." I can think of nothing which harms the cause of the miners more than the hon. Gentleman's sniggering appearance in this House suggesting that the miners have won. When the people of Bolsover read my comments, I do not believe that they will want to vote for the hon. Gentleman again. This is not a matter of the miners winning. It is one of this country losing.
I hope that hon. Members who are called after me will try to pursue this subject in a constructive way. It is not constructive for Opposition Members to think that they have the monopoly of knowledge of the mining industry. I knew about the mining industry before the hon. Member for Bolsover was born. It is probable that I was down a pit before he was born.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
Mining. That was in the days when I was at the University of Cambridge. [Interruption.] It is typical of the Opposition to snigger on hearing how people at university sometimes try to understand the position of the mining industry.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
We shall win a peace when there is good common sense and when the men recognise that they must work at weekends in order to look after their pits and equipment. Put that way, I believe that the great majority of the 80 men would go back. I am sorry that militant Left-wingers like the hon. Member for Bolsover who mislead the men will not give them a chance to vote to go back to work.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Judd (Portsmouth, West)
I fear that in the context of immediate preoccupations we may be losing sight of some of the real perspectives in the crisis now confronting Britain. Behind the immediate issues, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said earlier, there are two far more grave problems which concern all hon. Members on both sides of the House.
First, there is the inescapable economic reality that between 1970 and the beginning of 1974 the economic situation in Britain has changed to such an extent that the largest surplus in the history of our balance of payments has become the most adverse deficit with which the nation has ever been confronted. It is impossible to conduct a meaningful debate on our current economic plight without facing up to this fundamental reality in our economic and social situation.
Secondly, we must also consider, apart from the immediate issues, the long-term energy and resources crises which confront not only Britain but the world community as a whole. I personally am alarmed at times to read suggestions in the Press and elsewhere that all we have to do as a nation is to hang on for another four or five years until North Sea and Celtic oil becomes available and then our energy and economic problems will be solved overnight. If we adopt that attitude, apart from overlooking the tremendous distortions, hardship and suffering which could occur in those intervening years, we shall miss one of the realities which should be brought home to us in the immediate situation. This is, that the oil supplies when they become available in the North Sea and the Celtic Sea will have the same quality as oil found elsewhere in the world. Those supplies will be finite rather than infinite.
We are often told that our oil discoveries will give us more time in which to adapt and that we shall be able to develop indispensable sources of power in terms of nuclear energy. I believe, however, that, in debating the short-term perspective in connection with forms of 81 nuclear energy, we tend to overlook the long-term arguments. We hear a great deal about economic and social matters and the need for social justice, but we always appear to talk about social justice in the immediate sense in terms of existing generations and we overlook what I believe should be our deep commitment to the social justice to be enjoyed by future, as yet unborn generations.
What disturbs me greatly is that, in face of the wholesale development of nuclear energy, none of us in this House has been given any convincing guarantee about the safety of future generations in their life on this planet. We already know on the other side of the Atlantic of the vast quantities of buried nuclear waste, which has to be constantly cooled artificially by water and which has a dangerous and lethal life span of as much as a million years. This is what we are bequeathing to succeeding generations. This is a problem of unknown proportions, and we must not abandon our responsibility in this respect because of our immediate concern about our own needs as the current generation. This is a matter to which we need to devote a good deal more attention as we should also to security problems. With the wholesale development of nuclear energy, there will be more natural material available for the creation of crude nuclear weapons, which could easily fall into the hands of irresponsible political powers and even of large crime syndicates.
If we are to talk intelligently about fuel and energy needs, we shall have to carry out far more effective social costings of our growth in terms of the pollution which we shall bring about for the future in terms of the exhaustion of non-renewable resources, and in terms of the safety and security problems for unborn generations to which I have just referred. We may be seen by future generations as the generation which developed a social and economic system geared to high energy consumption, both industrially and socially, with no guarantees as to its long-term viability.
All this social costing must take place against another pressing need which has already been mentioned in this debate. I refer to the problem of the world population explosion. We cannot ignore the fact that already in Africa, Asia and Latin America unemployment rates are 82 running in excess of 30 per cent. We cannot ignore the fact that by 1980 in those same continents there will be 225 million more people of working age. This cannot be prevented, because those people have already been born.
We are now debating our energy crisis against the background situation in which the overwhelming majority of the world's population has not yet begun to make its claim on limited resources—resources which already are running into difficulty. Today we are talking about coal and oil. Yesterday is was cod. We may find ourselves in the near future debating with equal anxiety problems related to the supply of copper and other essential minerals throughout the world. We must accept that the overwhelming majority of the world's population is increasingly aware of the advantages we enjoy and is determined to stake its claim to those limited resources.
There are certain lessons which we can draw from these considerations. One is that the crisis has rammed home the essential international interdependence of the world in which we live. The second is the indispensability of a successful and effective foreign policy. The third is the inescapable need for effective world-wide institutions as distinct from regional political groupings. If we are really concerned about long-term implications of the sort of crisis in which we now find ourselves, we should find time at this moment to give priority in this House to debate issues such as the forthcoming international law of the sea conference. It is in that context that we can look ahead as responsible politicians and stop debasing ourselves in public by always reacting to events when they have already overtaken us. If we do not take on board these wider considerations, we may well as a result of the sort of problems we are now discussing see origins of what easily could prove to be the beginning of a nuclear conflagration—a third world war, based on the increasingly internecine competition for limited resources so essential to life and limb.
All this means that there is tremendous need for a high degree of social and economic planning in the interests of our own community as well as of the world community. We can no longer afford the luxury for some and the injustice for others of the market economy. A large 83 part of our current problem is that the Government are endeavouring to operate a coercive incomes policy within the framework of what is essentially a market economy.
Even supposing that the Government could achieve a victory over the miners within the terms of phase 3, it would be nothing but a paper victory. It would be at the price of the future of the industry. People would continue to drift from the industry and no new manpower would be attracted to mining. We need not ask what would be the long-term tragic effects of an outcome of that kind.
I fervently believe that, in the interests of the widest possible cross-section of workers in maintaining the purchasing power of wages, salaries and incomes against inflation, in the interests of those with little or no bargaining power, in the interests of social expenditure on housing, schools, hospitals and other social amenities, and also in the interests of our competitive ability in the world, a just and effective incomes policy is an indispensable part of social and economic planning. In a free society, however, such a policy will never succeed until we can convincingly create public confidence that the Government are deeply committed to social justice, to the fair society and to the needs and interests of ordinary men and women and their families. That is where the Government have so desperately failed.
There must be greatly increased control by the Government of economic power in our society to ensure that wealth is used in the interests of the community and of society as a whole. There must be ample housing for our people. It is ludicrous to lecture workers on the need for their responsibility when so many of them, particularly the young, are faced with the collective irresponsibility of hon. Members in having failed to ensure for them a decent home on which their contribution to society can be based.
There have to be policies which really work to keep down the cost of food and other basic essentials for the ordinary family. Poverty must be eliminated, not least in old age and in sickness. Only when we take on board these priorities 84 can we convincingly begin to call upon workers at all levels for their cooperation. Above all, we must change the entire social ethos of our society. I make no apology, in the midst of the present crisis, for making this point. We must forge a new scale of values in which the real hero in society is the man who contributes to our social well-being by the goods he produces or the services he provides.
We must pioneer an attitude which rejects the thoroughly decadent scale of values which has operated in the past whereby the whole emphasis of our society—and it is re-emphasised by the superficiality of much of the media—seems to be to pay respect to the man or woman who makes money, whether by property speculation, financial manipulation or even by gambling, as distinct from those who earn it by a basic contribution to our society. How can we preach responsibility to the sweating miner at the coal face or to the train driver alone in his cab on a dirty night, let alone to the ambulance driver, when at all times, he is, in effect, urged to see the social parasites who feed like leeches on his production, on his service or on his hardship as the epitome of success socially in our community?
Hon. Members on both sides of the House must accept that we are dealing with an increasingly well-informed electorate. Our credibility is very much at stake. When we call for moderation, cooperation and responsibility, we must recognise that we are ourselves under the closest scrutiny. It is our values and our life style in the House which set the tone for the nation as a whole.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Fry (Wellingborough)
I hope that the hon. Member for Portsmouth, West (Mr. Judd) will excuse me if I do not comment too closely on his speech. He seems to be somewhat confused over the question of the market economy and how we should pay the miners. That confusion seems to be common among hon. Members opposite. They seem to think that the miners should be allowed to obtain whatever they demand from the market, but that no one else should have that freedom. The Opposition must sort out the situation and 85 make clear to the electorate where they stand regarding wage negotiations.
We are reaching the stage when many people believe that the Government should settle at almost any price. The Labour and Liberal Parties have put forward that point of view. The Leader of the Liberal Party, the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe), said that he saw no harm in a national minimum wage. I cannot imagine anything more inflationary than a national minimum wage, because nobody would want to be on it. Everybody would always want to be well above it. The right hon. Gentleman's idea about a bonus for coal production ignored the fact that there would need to be enormous capital expenditure in the mining industry. How is that to be weighed against the extra production?
Many people are preaching surrender or settlement on almost any terms. We should, therefore, examine whether giving in or finding a face-saving compromise would achieve what its exponents suggest.
There are two current industrial disputes, and, although one does not appear immediately to affect the energy crisis, we are all aware that if it escalates it will not be much good digging the coal if we cannot get it to the power stations. Therefore, we should spend some time in considering the dispute between the train drivers' union and the other rail unions.
The Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen has made it abundantly clear that its demand is for greater consideration than will be accorded to the other two rail unions. It is obvious that the problem is a question not just of more pay but of differential, a different position in the league table of wages. In effect, it is a matter of status. The public and the country will suffer mainly because there are three rail unions and a degree of inter-union rivalry. I cannot see an early settlement which will satisfy the drivers in ASLEF but will not upset the other two unions. I could understand their attitude if that took place.
The miners are a slightly different proposition. Although money is an important consideration, the question of status also applies to their dispute. They feel, rightly, that they are the aristocracy of industrial workers, and, under the Labour Government, they saw their status 86 gradually sink lower. Hon. Members opposite may deny it, but they should admit that the seeds for the present militant leadership of the mineworkers' union were sown when the Labour Party was in office and the miners saw their living standards reduced, compared with those of other industrial workers. Lord Wilberforce restored the miners to their former privileged position.
§ Mr. Fry
He may have been surprised, but the miners' position was restored.
However, they have since discovered that their success created the situation in which they find themselves today. Many other unions followed through the gap which they created in the Government's voluntary incomes policy, and now, within two years, they have lost the wages lead which they held. I see no reason—and no reason has been put forward today—why the same situation would not occur again. The TUC leaders' letter, which most of us have not had time to consider, did not offer any guarantee, certainly no bankable guarantee such as that which hon. Members opposite usually insist upon.
In any case, money cannot be the only important issue. Otherwise, how was it that on 2nd January there was 25 per cent. absenteeism in at least one mining area? If they were hard up, most people would be glad to be at work earning money, especially if they were missing overtime. Although most miners are quite dutiful, a sizeable percentage of them can and do live on fewer shifts than the normal five a week.
Although both disputes to which I have referred are about the question of status and the position in the wages league table it is their political overtones which are the most sinister. There is little doubt—in fact, it has not been denied—that there are many Communists and extremists in the ASLEF and mine-workers' union executives. It is all very well to say that the average miner is loyal to the constitution. I believe this. We have to take note of what the miners' elected leaders say. The attitude of the Communists has been expressed by the Vice-President of the National Union of Mineworkers far better than I ever could. He has made it clear that phase 87 3 is to be smashed, the Government are to be defeated and a new order is to be instituted in this country. The point is that he intends to do this by industrial and not by political action, knowing perfectly well that the Communist Party is incapable of winning even one seat in the House.
This resort to industrial action to obtain power or to disrupt is why I believe that those who are making comparisons with the 1926 situation are wrong. At that time the Trades Union Congress did not want to bring down the elected Government. It merely wanted the Government to bring pressure to bear on the mine owners because the miners were to suffer a reduction in pay: note, a reduction in pay ; not a 16½ per cent. increase which has been offered at present. There was at that time no organised political movement to bring down the Government.
Therefore, the correct analogy should be the period immediately preceding the First World War. That was a time when the militants had lost faith in the Liberal Government of the day. They had lost faith in the ability of parliamentary government to redress their grievances. They tried to obtain their ends by industrial action alone. I believe that this is the situation we are coming to face today.
The tragedy is that the Parliamentary Labour Party, whether it likes it or not, is becoming an irrelevance to these extremists ; because to those who are actually wielding industrial power today the record of the Labour Party when in office, the knowledge that if it were in office now it would be administering some kind of incomes policy, means that the militants turn to other courses. They saw how successful brute strength was in the strike of 1972. They see no reason why they need to put any faith in parliamentary action.
If proof is required of this I suggest that it was the way that the offer of the Leader of the Opposition to mediate with ASLEF was turned down rather smartly. In fact, the only reason why these extremists pay any kind of lip service to the Labour movement is that they know that it would be even more of a pushover than any Government formed by hon. Members of this Conservative Party.
§ Mr. Fry
That little group of politically motivated men about whom we heard so much from the Leader of the Opposition when the seamen's strike was taking place is still about. It is more active and it is much more powerful than ever. In the eyes of that group of people the present dispute has nothing to do with money. It is entirely about power. As I said before, unable to obtain any footing by the elective process they intend to disrupt the country by industrial action.
I know that critics of the Government will say that the Government themselves have helped to create this situation and that the extremists have exploited the climate that has been created. Until the time of the last miners' strike my right hon. Friends had been trying to work a voluntary wages policy that was remarkably successful. Phase 3 is, after all, an attempt at creating greater social fairness. Many critics on the Government side oppose it because of that. If phase 3 is broken and there is a free-for-all in wages, all that that will do is help those who are the strongest. It will do little to help many of those about whom the hon. Member for Portsmouth, West was speaking.
The miners are always put on a pedestal as so different from everybody else. I agree that they do a very dangerous, dirty and important job. However, in our inter-related society many other people perform essential work as well. The water workers, the gas workers, the electricity workers, the atomic energy workers, could all do their part in bringing this country to a standstill. The fishermen, the food workers, even the lorry drivers who take the food from the warehouses to the shops—all of these are essential, because, if they stopped, the country would suffer greatly. Therefore, it is wrong all the time to stress that only the miners are an important category in our society. There are many others. All of them play essential parts.
If we start to make one exception we shall be tempted to make more. Once we start to except everybody who has a key job we shall find that about half the population is to be excepted. The only consequence of that would be a twist in the rate of inflation. What then do we do for those who are left behind? 89 What do we do, for example, about the pensioners? What do we do about the teachers? After all, they have no saleable industrial commodity. Perhaps we should ignore those who produce things which we import more cheaply, like the shoe workers in my constituency? Perhaps those who want to compromise—those who want to sell out—will explain to those sections how they intend to govern things from now on.
Another criticism I would make of hon. Members opposite is that well before the three-day week was even thought of we had bombastic speeches about attacks upon the living standards of the working man. This was almost de rigueur twice a week at Prime Minister's Question Time. We all know that this is poppycock. When the betting shops are empty, when the publicans are reporting losses, when the colour television sets start going back to the rental companies in their thousands, then we shall know that the working man and the rest of the country are having to face hard economic realities and are worse off, because that is the way many of them test their standard of living.
If any section of the community is encouraged to think, no matter how well off it actually is, that it is hard done by, nobody should be surprised if after a while its members feel dissatisfied and say "We want more". This is the situation that many hon. Members opposite have created. They have helped to cultivate the ground that the extremists have taken advantage of and exploited.
Consequently, no sell out that has been suggested would be worth it, because on the economic front any temporary improvement would soon be overtaken by an even greater rate of inflation, with consequent loss of our international competitiveness. We would find this at a time when not only oil prices were rising but food prices and the price of almost every other commodity we have to import. The prospect then, especially for the weaker members of our society, would be grim indeed. Therefore, economically, surrender, if that is what people want, is not advisable. Even if it were, I believe that the political overtones that I mentioned would make a Government reverse even more disastrous.
In this respect I believe that many members of the public have a greater 90 sense of awareness than many Members of the House. It is true that there is a healthy disrespect for politics and politicians. The public may laugh at some of our antics, but, nevertheless, there is still a strong belief in parliamentary government in this country, a belief that the House exists to protect the individual from the over-mighty and the grasping, whether Government, a manufacturer, or organised labour. Indeed, the public believe this because they have very little hope if it is not true. I think that it is this fear of the power of the House being reduced which is still behind much of the opposition to the Common Market and which, indeed, was the main reason I voted against it. The British people do not want to believe that their destiny is to be controlled by militant trade union leaders or by the oil sheikhs or by international financiers. If they were to come to believe that, the end of parliamentary democracy would be in sight and they would turn to some other form of government. The cost of that would be very heavy in terms of personal freedom.
That is why I believe, even though I have made some unkind comments about the Opposition, that hon. Gentlemen opposite should see that a national interest is involved in these disputes. They should realise that the bulk of the people of this country want this House to face this as a national issue, and not spend time squabbling in terms of party politics. The public want Members of the House, as was called across the Floor about 34 years ago, to speak for the nation as a whole, to speak for England. If this House were to speak up for England the public would be less confused, less disillusioned and less cynical. There would be no party political benefit to be gained if we were to speak with one voice. We would show that we were aware of what the people of this country were thinking. We would show that we were aware of their hopes and beliefs about this ancient House. We should do something to restore public confidence in politics, and in so doing we should do something to preserve the future of parliamentary democracy.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Alexander Wilson (Hamilton)
The speech of the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) was just what one would expect from a Conservative. 91 It showed a complete lack of understanding of the mining industry. If anybody believes that miners are being led by a small extreme coterie of militants, I must tell him that he has never been further from the truth, because during this dispute with the National Coal Board—I did this during the 1972 strike, too—I have travelled all over the country and spoken to ordinary miners, their wives and their families, and I can tell the House that the miners have not been guided by extremists and that this is not a politically motivated dispute. It may be that there are some Communists in the miners' union, but, my God, to my horror during my lifetime in the pits I have come across one or two Tories.
The hon. Member for Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) suggested that, in order to settle the dispute, miners should work at the weekend. The hon. Gentleman said that he gained his knowledge from his life at Cambridge, and nothing was more apparent. If somebody suggests that miners should work at the weekend in order to keep the pits going, both for safety and production reasons, he must have gained his knowledge of the industry at Cambridge or some such place, and certainly not from any mining area.
If I interpreted his speech correctly, the Prime Minister asked the miners to accept the present offer and to expect better things to come after an investigation into the industry. Let me remind the House, the Tory Party and the Government that way back in 1919—that was a long time ago—the Sankey Commission's conclusions were accepted by the then Tory Government. There was a promise of a seven-hour day, to be reduced later to a six-hour day. Mr. Bonar Law accepted that, but we had to fight for a long time after 1919 before we finally achieved a seven-and-a-quarter-hour day. If the Government intend to carry out any promises, let them offer the miners a six-hour day.
Let me also remind the House, the country and the Tory media—Press and television—that the miners are not on strike. They are working the full five days and they are working as hard during those days as they did prior to the dispute. Any dislocation in the coalfields of England or Scotland is due to nothing but mismanagement and to those in 92 charge not being able to arrange the safety and pumping work at the weekend.
I worked in the mines for almost all my life until I was elected to this House, and I can tell the Government that this is not a matter of settling a wage dispute. This is a matter of life or death for the men in the industry and, therefore, a matter of life or death for the country. We in the miners' group and in the miners' movement have been telling successive Governments that there would be an energy shortage some day, but it is unfortunate that the sheikhs of Araby have decided that it should come about sooner rather than later.
The crisis is not due to a shortage of coal. The three-day week dreamed up by the Prime Minister and his colleagues is not caused by the miners working five days a week. This is a politically motivated crisis, deliberately created to act as a smokescreen and to lead ordinary people to believe that the miners are the bogymen. But the idea has not worked, and the story which is being put out is not true.
It is time that every politician realised that mining is a specialised job, that it takes years to train a miner and that about 600 men a week are leaving the industry. During the debate on the Coal Industry Bill I said that that measure would not solve the problem. I now say that 10 Coal Industry Bills will not bring miners back to the pits after they have tasted the fresh air outside. Something more is needed to protect this industry and this country. Everybody realises now that the smokescreen is being created because of balance of payments deficits.
The Government have failed to convince people that it is the miners who are to blame for this crisis. Among the 600 or so miners who leave every week, (here are not only those who go to other jobs, but also those who leave because they have developed pneumoconiosis, or because the roof has fallen in and injured them, and those who are no longer there because they have been killed. I sometimes hear hon. Members talking about the cost of coal. I have never heard a Conservative Member put in to the equation the cost of producing coal to the mining community, to the miners, their wives and their families.
93 I have heard it said that successive Governments have not realised the facts of the situation in the mining industry. I do not accept that, because most of my working life has been spent under Tory Governments. Very often the actions of the Labour Government have been dictated by people and events outside this country. So I am not blaming the Labour Government entirely for not carrying out the policies which we wanted carried out in industrial life.
During the recess I visited three collieries—not in my constituency, because it has none left, although miners still live there. These men get up at five o'clock in the morning and have an hour's travelling to get to the pit. There, they need a minimum of half an hour in which to prepare their safety equipment and get into their working clothes before they enter the pit cage to go below. At the bottom they sometimes have at least three miles to walk in a crouched position. Such conditions cannot be used as an argument with the Pay Board for adding the additional payments that the miners require, yet all that has to be done before the miners even start their shift at the coal face or in the roads in or out. The process has to be repeated at the end of the shift. Now the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet is suggesting that the miners should work at weekends. How unrealistic can some politicians be when dealing with people working underground in such conditions?
The miners are not different from other workers in suffering from the Government's policy and from inflation. They are suffering from the same inflationary spiral—rent and rate increases, food price increases and so on. They are victims like the rest of the workers. They do not claim special treatment on that score. They claim it on the basis of the job they do. There is only one solution. No section of the community has been more patriotic to Britain—not England, as the hon. Member for Wellingborough said, but Britain.
§ Mr. Wilson
The hon. Member has withdrawn his reference, and I accept his withdrawal. It is the British coal industry and British people we are talking about, and no higher degree of patriotism to Britain has been shown over the years than by the British miners.
A solution to the situation is not a question of capitulation by the Government. It may be a question of saving face for the Government, but they have had to eat humble pie. They have done more U-turns in policy than any other Government. All I ask is that the Government should take these factors of conditions of work in the mining industry into consideration in deciding a settlement. The Government have taken our advice in setting up a new fuel authority. Let them now set up a full investigation into conditions in the mining industry, both above and below ground. But let that investigation be carried out by men working in the industry and not by people living remotely in London or elsewhere. Let the investigation get down to the structure of the wages and conditions of the industry. Let the miners be recognised as a special case.
The Government have raised the bogy of other union leaders not accepting that the miners are a special case, but it is not true. The miners have always been considered as a special case because of the dangers of their job. If the Government are prepared to be fair and just to the miners, there is not a union leader who will not applaud such a decision.
The Government have now been forced to appoint a special Minister to deal with energy. Let the Government also take into account how they are being held to ransom by Arab sheikhs and how everyone is being held to ransom by the international oil companies. Let them realise that below ground in this island there is coal which can last 200 to 300 years. Let them also realise that the only way to get it out is by giving the miners a decent living standard, by ceasing to use them as political whipping boys, and by accepting that they are ordinary men desirous of doing a job which is both dangerous and dirty and of giving their families a true and good standard of living. That is all they want. Will the Government recognise it?
The only way in which the Government can find a solution is by forgetting 95 about phase 3, which is a dead duck in any event, and giving the National Coal Board and the NUM some freedom of movement in negotiation and allowing the miners and the board to discuss the whole energy position of the country, because they will be far more capable of doing it than the Government. Let them decide what is a fair and just settlement. Let there be a true investigation into conditions in the industry. Let ordinary men and women decide the true worth of a hard day's work in the mining industry and in any other industry.
Let it be said, finally, that the system in this country should be that work done is rewarded. The miners would be content at this moment if all the money which has been gained by speculation in land and property and which is now salted away in the Cayman Islands could be brought back to this country and used in the settlement of their dispute and of the railway dispute. We could go on from there to build a solid British economy.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Wyn Roberts (Conway)
I find myself in sympathy with a great deal of what the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Alexander Wilson) said. He expressed the thoughts of genuine experience, and I respect thoughts which come from such experience.
The problems facing us on the industrial front call for a harsh and unflinching analysis if we are to solve them—and solve them surely we must, for the sake of the thousands who are suffering the hardship of short-time working, and in the interests of the country as a whole, its present and its future. I doubt whether the Government can allow the present situation to go on for long for counter-inflationary reasons alone. If there are deeper constitutional reasons, then we must fight to the end.
To me, the key question is why the miners are dissatisfied with the best that phase 3 can offer. It is not enough. Is it simply because it is not enough financially, or do they want to break phase 3 for the sake of breaking it for political reasons? I, too, have some experience of miners. I was talking to some South Wales miners earlier this week. They told me that the NCB offer did not restore them to the position in the wages league 96 accorded them by Wilberforce. I understand the Government to deny this and to say that the NCB offer will raise the miners' wage level 8 per cent. above that obtainable in manufacturing. Nevertheless, there seems to be some doubt about the real implications of the offer.
I agree with the hon. Member for Hamilton that the miners have been leaving the industry for better-paid jobs in manufacturing, and that this irks them. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the argument, those parts of Wilberforce that have still, I gather, not been implemented are causing a great deal of dissatisfaction among the miners, especially in South Wales.
If the present difficulty in the negotiations is purely financial, the Government should ask the miners to accept the NCB offer within the limits of phase 3 and at the same time establish an immediate inquiry to bring Wilberforce up to date in the light of the energy crisis, which after all was subsequent to the start of phase 3. I understand that the Secretary of State for Employment and the Prime Minister have already, this afternoon, promised the miners special consideration for the long term.
The miners to whom I have spoken may be interested in the long term, but they are more interested in the immediate situation. In view of the kind of work they do and the danger—I have no personal experience of it, but I can appreciate it—I can understand that concern. So I recommend an immediate inquiry. They want their problems solved now, and the problem of the three-day week is with us now.
If the miners were an exceptional case in February of last year, they will never be persuaded that they are not an exceptional case now—exceptional not under phase 3 necessarily, but in terms of their contribution to this country's well-being. Let us be absolutely realistic: the miners have seen their power and they will use it to the limit if they have to. The hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Dormand) in the debate before Christmas was absolutely right to say that the mood of the industry had changed in the last few years. Many of these people simply do not care if their pits are closed tomorrow.
I hope that the House will agree that I have tried to put the best case I can, 97 briefly, for the miners. I hope that it is right in most respects. It may be wrong in some ; I have no close personal experience of the industry.
But I now want to change my tack. The course that I have suggested involves in the first instance acceptance by the miners of an award under phase 3, to be followed by an immediate inquiry. This acceptance of phase 3 I would regard as a test of their motivation. If necessary, they should be balloted on the whole package.
If the difficulty is purely financial, as the miners whom I have met assure me, I believe that it can be removed without necessarily breaking phase 3. But if there is an underlying aim which is different, and if that aim is to break phase 3 as such—if the motive, in other words, is political—then we and the country would know and we would also know what to do about it.
After all, there are grounds for questioning some of the miners leaders' motives. Mr. McGahey, the Scottish Communist—
§ Mr. Roberts
—has been calling for… massive action, the like of which has never been seen in this country before.
Mr. Frank Smith has been equally forthright about those who are
… hell-bent on obtaining the maximum possible, at anybody's expense.
Both he and Mr. McGahey are both members of the executive. Mr. Smith also said:
It is well known that they make capital out of the situation for Communist Party politics.
§ Mr. Roberts
Yes, I will come to him. The hon. Member might ask, what is wrong with that? I think that one can only spar in a democracy, that one cannot deliver knock-out punches—and the Communists are knock-out merchants. The reason that one can only spar is that, if one is to engage in knock-out blows, then the State must be armed with knock-out power as well.
§ Mr. G. Elfed Davies (Rhondda, East)
Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that the only way to test what the executive and miners of Britain will do if a decent offer is made to them is for the Government to find some way, within stage 3 or outside it, as they have a right to do as a Government, and then put it to the test and see what the miners will do?
§ Mr. Roberts
I will come in a moment to my own test. I want to say, finishing on the previous seated intervention by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain), that other warning notes have been sounded, for example by the noble Lord, Lord Shawcross in another place—
§ Mr. Roberts
—and that we should be very wrong to disregard those warning notes.
If the authority of the State is being seriously challenged by certain people hell-bent on its destruction, I see no alternative but to meet that challenge by whatever power is necessary to overcome it.
§ Mr. Swain
The hon. Member is making allegations and hidden threats. Can he explain what machinery he would use to prevent this situation? The Government already have at their disposal the Industrial Relations Act and if they wanted to, they could instruct the NUM to conduct a ballot. The only reason that they do not do that is that they are the political cowards that they have been proved to be.
§ Mr. Roberts
I will come to a conclusion which will answer that point.
It is fairly clear that we cannot have the law, or even the Government's interpretation of it, pushed aside by a sectional interest, however justified the claims of that interest may be. If we once accepted that the will of democratically-elected Government could be set aside by the coercion of an internal industrial grouping of great strength, that would mean the end of political equality in this country.
I go further and say that if a vote in a trade union means more in political terms than a vote in a General Election, 99 that, too, is the end of political equality. Let us put the miners to the test of a ballot on this issue. Let us see whether their motive is to up their pay or to bring down the Government. I believe that this can be done by the ballot. What I have suggested is that they should accept phase 3 and an immediate inquiry.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)
The kind of speech to which we have just listened from the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Wyn Roberts)—and there were three or four other speeches in the same hysterical vein—will not make a contribution to the solution of the serious problem facing us. If that is the mood among many Conservative back benchers I can see that the Secretary of State for Employment, who is in charge of what I hope will be negotiations, has a very difficult talk ahead of him. I hope he will find ways and means of disregarding such speeches, as he found ways and means successfully to disregard the more hysterical voices behind him on the issue of Northern Ireland.
This is an occasion for the House to attempt to make a contribution towards a settlement of the dispute. That is the meaning of this special recall of Parliament. I do not know how much the Government realise that, by nods and winks, they have created among their own supporters an atmosphere which is directly hostile to an atmosphere which will allow a settlement to be reached.
The origins of this dispute, in spite of the nonsense we have just heard, lie in normal disagreements within a major industry about the kind of remuneration the people working in it want to receive. There is nothing in the minds of miners anywhere in the country which entitles anyone to falsify the dispute and to say that it is something altogether different. We Labour Members have the advantage of spending practically all of our time in our own mining areas with people who work in the industry. It is a complete travesty of the truth to allege in this serious debate, in this crisis situation, that there is a great argument going on tonight in the homes of miners about the principles whereby we shall govern ourselves. Every member of the Government must know that to be complete nonsense. So should many other hon. Members.
100 The Press has made a contribution to this hysteria and is to blame to some extent for the way in which it has handled the dispute. We see the example of the Leicestershire representative on the national executive of the NUM. He made a statement which made the main news for about 48 hours. The result has been a hardening of the attitudes of the people in the Leicestershire coalfield. That man has been censured.
Anyone who uses his common sense, and Members of this House pride themselves on their common sense from time to time, will know that the kind of nonsensical speech we have just heard makes the crisis worse rather than better. It is inflammatory and wholly irresponsible. I hope that when the Lord President replies tonight he will make it clear that he regards such speeches as irresponsible.
What is required in this ordinary industrial dispute is, first of all, an understanding of the way in which the miners' leaders came to frame their ordinary industrial wages demand. It was announced about three days ago that over the past 12 months the cost of food had risen by 18 per cent. Rents are increasing all the time. In aiming at a settlement, the leaders of the union have to plan ahead for at least 18 months to two years. There will be no let-up in the increase in rents.
It is estimated by those who know a great deal about this that one of the reasons why the Prime Minister failed to reach agreement with the TUC was that he was unable to give an assurance that the rise in food prices would be contained or that special measures such as the imposition of subsidies would be taken to make certain that there would be no further food price increases next year. The Prime Minister had to admit that there would be large increases in food prices. He had to agree that they were inevitable. No doubt his commitments to Common Market countries had something to do with this. When the record of these events comes to be published, this will be seen to be the case.
After the breakdown of negotiations between the TUC and the Government, the elected leaders of a responsible trade union—faced with an increase of 18 per cent. in the cost of food over the past 12 months, and with further increases in rents and other items to come—had to 101 frame their wage demand to take account of these hard-headed economic considerations.
§ Mr. Swain
Is my hon. Friend aware that as recently as yesterday in part of north-east Derbyshire the Coal Board was applying to a rent assessment panel for a determination of fair rents? Is he further aware that the board was asking for an increase in rent, in the highest case of 288 per cent. per week and in the lowest case of 147 per cent. per week? Is this fair?
§ Mr. Mendelson
These inevitable increases in the cost of rent and food point to the difficulty facing the Prime Minister this afternoon when he tried to display the record of his Government and gave a garbled account of his negotiations with the leaders of the TUC. He was at great pains to give that account, but it was a garbled one because he did not wish to reveal why the discussions broke down He was right to say that the leaders of the trade union movement set out with a firm determination as reasonable and responsible men to help create a better atmosphere in which discussions on wages and salaries could take place, but the negotiations broke down because the Prime Minister had to admit that there would be large increases in food prices, and he was not prepared to introduce food subsidies or do anything else material to meet the increases which will inevitably arise.
The leaders of a union are elected and they have a small research staff to consider these economic matters. They do not make hit-and-miss wage demands. They consider carefully what the economic situation is today and what it will be in 9, 12, 18 or 20 months' time. That is the only way in which this wage demand was considered, assessed and decided upon and then submitted to the employers, the National Coal Board.
I invite any hon Member to come to my constituency, in which there are thousands of miners, and to visit miners' homes with me. Hon Members would see what a travesty of the truth is the speech that we have just heard, and other speeches, in relation to the attitude of people who work in the coal industry to their wage demands. If the Government are encouraging their supporters in these complete misrepresentations of the 102 position in the mining industry, they are making a very grave political mistake.
If hon. Members disagree with what I have said so far, they may agree with me about the wild exaggeration of the importance of members of the British Communist Party in the trade union movement, an exaggeration which is both wrong and highly dangerous. It creates the impression that those who stand up for the rights of miners must all be Communists, that those who are militant in the interests of their trade union must all be members of the Communist Party. Nothing could be further from the truth.
A television programme was shown not long ago about the Communist Party I was rather critical of that programme. I know certain members of the Press and the Cabinet who were equally critical That programme exaggerated the rôle of the Communist Party in the British trade union movement. Many thousands of what are called militants, people who work for their fellow workers in their trade unions, have never been members of the Communist Party and have nothing to do with it today. They are either members of the Labour Party or, in a good many cases, of no political party. Anyone who is honest with himself will know that that is the true picture. It is not the nonsense that we have heard so far.
The Government must assess where they are now leading the country. It is quite possible that they have made up their mind that they want to force a confrontation and a crisis in order to have a General Election. It is no good giving my forecast after polling day, so I had better do that now. I am convinced that if the Government were to take this dangerous gamble with the country's economy they would get a bloody nose on polling day and that the Labour Party would be returned. But that is not the issue facing the country. The first task of any responsible Government is to get the country back to work, and then at some future date to hold a General Election. The Government must make up their mind about where they want to lead the country.
I have had many approaches in the last fortnight, as have practically all hon. Members, from industrialists who run medium-sized firms and who have 103 declared some alarm. I do not want to read letters into the record because other hon. Members have had similar letters and I would not be making an original contribution if I did so. They have demanded that the Government reach a settlement which will allow the three-day week to be abandoned forthwith, pointing out that they face the most serious economic consequences if that is not done within the next fortnight.
The Government have a perfectly good way out. Lord Carrington, the new Secretary of State for Energy, has always emphasised—he did so on "First Report" on Independent Television on Friday—that he is determined to stick to the allegation that everyone will get 16 per cent., which is untrue. Just about 30 per cent. have been offered a 16 per cent. increase. The fact that he is falsifying the facts so publicly, despite all the sources of information at his disposal, and the way that he has handled himself, make one fear that he, at any rate, has made up his mind that he does not want a settlement but wants a defeat for the the National Union of Mineworkers and a General Election. He will be a very unsuitable Minister in his new post if he maintains that attitude.
I warn the Government that more and more people are understanding this matter perfectly well. It is not a situation which does not have a way out. It is not unprecedented. The Government have a good way out. That is to allow the Secretary of State for Employment to say to the National Coal Board and the NUM "Get together and negotiate. Ignore for the moment the pay code and the details that apply in what we have passed as a code. Let us see where you get to". In a crisis situation it is perfectly responsible conduct for a Government to say that. Moreover, I am convinced that the Secretary of State for Employment would wish to pursue that course, although clearly he cannot say so publicly.
As was clearly revealed today, in an historic exchange between my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister—I thought it was the House of Commons at its best in that passage, which twice brought the Prime Minister to the Dispatch Box—there must have been some pressure on the National Coal Board for it to be so 104 firm in its interpretation of the unpublished letter from the Pay Board. It is essential that we should make certain that every possible bridge is being used. At present they are not being used.
The Government ought to tell the NCB and the NUM that they can negotiate and see where they get to. I do not want the effort of conciliation to be confined to the one avenue mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition today. That is one useful avenue ; it is not the only avenue. There are other things that employers and employees may think of when they get together and are allowed to use collective bargaining, the normal British tradition. No Government would be rejected by the country and regarded as having backed down if they allowed that kind of negotiation. It is nonsensical for Government supporters to put that forward as a reason for rigidity.
In the exchanges that took place today we saw the hasty rejection of the reasonable resolution passed by the economic committee of the TUC. The Prime Minister prematurely jumped to the Dispatch Box. I expected, as did most hon. Members, I suppose, that he would say " We have only just received this and we shall consider it overnight. The Secretary of State will give a considered reply tomorrow." Not a bit of it. The right hon. Gentleman was ready with instant rejection. The conclusion is inescapable, and it is important that it should be reported in the Press tomorrow that it was the impression of the House, and not only of one side, that the Prime Minister had made up his mind to reject it and that there was not a real keenness to find a basis for a solution in the resolution of the economic committee.
That resolution is carefully framed. The Prime Minister knows the membership of the economic committee. He has met its members several times. All the leading members of the General Council of the TUC must have been present at the meeting when that resolution was passed.
They are the people who lead the negotiations for the majority of British trade unionists. Taking into consideration the fact that the General Council of the TUC is not a general staff in the sense of being able to give instructions to affiliated 105 unions, they went very far indeed in the text that they passed this morning. I found it far-reaching that they should have come to these conclusions in public. It is possible that some affiliated unions may think they have gone too far, but the least we expect from a responsible Head of Government is a word of welcome for the resolution and a promise of a more considered statement tomorrow, but the Prime Minister did not do that.
I am anxious that we should not add to an hysterical feeling of there being no way out, that this is an unprecedented situation or that anybody's back is to the wall. The country's back is to the wall because the people are not being allowed to do their daily work, but it is no good the Government holding up the majesty of the law and saying down to the last detail that Parliament has decided that there must be no ordinary collective bargaining. That is nonsense ; there are several ways out. The Government have a responsibility to bear in mind the grave responsibilities of any administration in office to the country as a whole and to its economic future, and not to put above that the position of one Prime Minister or one party when the situation demands a truly national approach to our economic affairs.
§ 7.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)
I do not intend to pontificate upon whether the offer made to the miners is a fair one. I leave it to them. Nor do I intend to preach, as some hon. Members, especially Government supporters, have done. Their sermons reminded me of the saying that there are three classes in this country—the wealthy, the prosperous and those who do not take cognisance of the national interest.
The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) said that we should speak for England. I know that later on he realised that the country was Britain, but that was what he said at the time.
It is becoming clear from what the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in recent debates that the Government are looking to Scottish oil to bail them out of England's financial and economic crisis. The hon. Member for Portsmouth, West (Mr. Judd) was right in saying that the Government 106 should not regard the oil resources as finite. The Government should bear in mind the possibility—I put it no higher—that by the time the oil begins to flow in quantity there will be a Scottish Government which will regard the oil as a Scottish resource, and the British Government of the day will not be able to take it over. We have experienced the United Kingdom being on the receiving end from the Common Market, from the French particularly, on the lines that "We will share our overdraft with you, but not our bank balance". It is dangerous folly for the British Government to rely on Scottish oil at the end of the day, first because it is finite, and secondly because such reliance postpones the taking of decisions that must be taken if the United Kingdom is to come out of the desperate situation in which she is placed.
The problems before the United Kingdom are extremely serious and are mainly English problems. In Scotland we produce a great deal of the food we eat and we also export a considerable amount. The Government will have to stop wasting money on lunatic projects like Concorde, Maplin and the Channel Tunnel and ensure that the people are afforded a reasonable standard of living. That means negotiation to come out of the Common Market. The Government's abandonment of the cheap food policy means that the people do not have available the cheap food that is fundamental in bad times. In passing, it is interesting to note that the situation today is exactly the fate that was held out to the anti-Marketeers if we did not go into the Common Market. Here we are, in the Common Market and in exactly that position.
I congratulate the Minister for Energy on his appointment and extend my best wishes to him. The Government pay lip service to the dispersal of civil servants from London. As the Department of Energy is a new Department, there is no question of moving an established work force, and as a great deal of the energy to which we look forward is to come from Scottish waters there is no reason why the new Ministry should not be set up in Scotland. Here is a chance for the Government to show that they are in earnest in wishing to disperse civil servants. Let them take that chance and keep their promise.
§ 7.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Rees (Dover)
I was a little surprised to hear the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Donald Stewart) so far forget his country's history as to disown the old alliance between Scotland and France. I hope that he will allow me to remind him that although the dramatic finds of oil are mainly in the sea round Scotland, England has been largely contributing to the Scottish exchequer, and the social payments in Scotland have exceeded those south of the border.
However, that is not exactly germane to the subject we are debating and I will turn to the able speech of the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson). He first attempted to assess the rôle of the Communists in the trade union movement. He obviously has a specialised knowledge of that subject which I do not share—
§ Mr. Rees
I leave my right hon. Friend to speak for himself on that subject. The hon. Member for Penistone with considerable oratorical skill attempted to demon-state that the country is confronting an ordinary industrial dispute and an ordinary industrial demand. Are we then not to take at their face value the various statements made by Mr. Daly and Mr. McGahey?
§ Mr. Mendelson
Only three days ago Mr. Gormley, the President of the NUM, was asked about future prospects. He said that this was not a question of giving in to anybody, and that the union had always believed in a reasonable approach and reasonable negotiations. That is the attitude of the union, and that should be the attitude of the Secretary of State for Employment when he approaches the dispute.
§ Mr. Rees
The hon. Gentleman makes a selective quotation from one speech of one member—admittedly the titular head—of the NUM. What are we to make of statements made by other members of the executive?
If we attach more significance to this industrial dispute than to others, the blame must largely lie with those who represent the mineworkers. They have 108 done their own members a great disservice. What are we to make of the treatment of Mr. Smith, who made most moderate and sensible statements? No one can accuse him of having made extreme or provocative statements. The way his fellow members turned on him suggests to me that the forces of moderation at the head of that union unfortunately are in decline. What are we to make of a demand for 20 per cent. or more? Is that an ordinary industrial demand?
The hon. Gentleman said that we should allow the forces of normal collective bargaining free rein. Indeed, the Government have, but within generously drawn limits.
§ Mr. Mendelson indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Rees
The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. What does he regard as generously drawn limits? Does he think that an offer of 16 per cent. is ungenerous?
The hon. Gentleman failed to touch on the withdrawal of the safety men in breach of agreement. This is a point that no hon. Gentleman opposite representing a mining constituency has faced. There has been a clear breach of agreement by the withdrawal of the safety men. I am surprised—
§ Mr. Rees
The hon. Gentleman is not noted either for his good sense or for his knowledge of legal points, so I will not give way to him.
I am surprised that no hon. Gentleman opposite representing a mining constituency has had a word of commendation or praise for the members of the management teams who, over the past month or more, have given up their weekends to maintain safety work.
§ Mr. Peter Hardy (Rother Valley)
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman realise that members of the British Association of Colliery Management and of the National Association of Colliery Overmen Deputies and Shopfirers in this dispute perhaps more than in the last are very 109 much more on the side of the members of the National Union of Mineworkers partly because they realise that unless there is not merely a generous but a sensible settlement we shall not have anywhere near sufficient numbers of miners to get the coal that I am sure he would agree we shall have to obtain?
§ Mr. Rees
I shall come to the question of the recruitment of miners later. I will not speculate on the motives or thoughts of the management in maintaining safety regulations.
I am surprised that hon. Gentlemen opposite had no word of praise or commendation for these people who, in addition to carrying out their administrative work, have been giving up their weekends to ensure that there are pits to which the men can return. This is a serious problem in East Kent. If the pumps at Betteshanger cease for more than 30 hours it is likely that the pit will be flooded and that it will not be worth pumping it out to work it again.
The hon. Member for Penistone joined the siren voices suggesting that stage 3 is inflexible, that the Government is inflexible, and that a little more flexibility will solve the problem. It is curious that no suggestion was made that flexibility should be shown by the NUM. I have yet to hear what massive concessions the union has made. It has made its claim and stood firmly by it. The epithet "inflexible" applies more appropriately to the union than to the Government and the National Coal Board under stage 3. The siren voices start from the premise that the miners should get the maximum under stage 3 and then some more. It is easy to succumb to such voices.
Undoubtedly the three-day working week will do incalculable harm to the country. I have recently visited representative businesses in my constituency. With ingenuity they are at the moment meeting the challenge of the three-day working week. They have points that they want clarified. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will deal with them in due course. They also have problems with which they want assistance. They accept the need for a three-day working week and the risks that they undoubtedly face, but none has suggested that stage 3 should be broken to achieve a settle 110 ment. The majority of people to whom I have spoken in East Kent, a part of the country which has three pits, have not suggested that stage 3 should be broken. They have emphasised that they do not demand flexibility from the Government and that they recognise the crisis for what it is—a crisis of government, not just of industry.
I should like to examine more closely the reasons that have been advanced why the miners should be treated as a special case. In so doing I hope that I shall not be thought to criticise them individually or collectively. I recognise the contribution that they have made in the past, and there is plenty of scope for them in future. I should not make of them, as the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Alexander Wilson) sought to attribute to us, any criticism of their patriotism. I know of the contribution that they have made in both peace and war in the past, but it is right to examine the basis of the claim that has been put forward on their behalf not only by their elected representatives but by some of their self-constituted representatives, some of whom do not do them great service.
First, it is said that they have a uniquely difficult job. Those who have not worked underground are often made to feel a little diffident about intruding in what some hon. Gentlemen opposite regard as a purely domestic debate. If we were reticent on this problem it would be a one-sided debate. I think we are entitled, even if we have not worked underground, to voice our comments on the matter.
§ Mr. Rees
Those of us who represent mining constituencies but have not worked underground have done our conscientious best to discover what working underground amounts to. I think that the high-water mark of sensitivity on this point was reached by the Wilberforce Committee when it appeared to accept hook, line and sinker the evidence of a well-known member of the NUM in East Kent describing the horrors of working underground in Tilmanstone. I checked on the number of shifts that he had worked in the year before he gave evidence. He worked 53 out of a possible 135 shifts That showed he had taken a 111 certain amount of care to protect himself from the rigours of working underground.
§ Mr. Ted Leadbitter (The Hartlepools)
When the House is attempting to deal with a serious matter in a reasonable way and seeking areas of conciliation does not the hon. and learned Gentleman feel it incumbent upon him, having looked at the figures of attendance of the gentleman to whom he has referred, to take the trouble to find out why those absences occurred so that the House might be better informed? Otherwise, as a matter of courtesy, he should withdraw what he said, because the point is not relevant.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
The hon. and learned Gentleman was out in the Cayman Islands with the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys).
§ Mr. Rees
I have no evidence that there were any sound reasons for his absences, but I am prepared to concede that he may have been absent from some shifts because he may have been unwell. I will make that much of a concession.
So far as I am aware the debate is not about the Cayman Islands or a respected right hon. Member of this House. If the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) wants to make a contribution, perhaps he will tell us more about the profitability of East-West trade.
§ Mr. Rees
I have not flogged any land recently.
Work underground is indeed dangerous and uncomfortable. It does not need great experience of work underground to know that that is so. But many other jobs are dangerous and uncomfortable—those of the Armed Services, farm workers and the merchant marine. I am not underestimating work underground, but these factors by themselves cannot constitute a supreme and overwhelming reason for a breach of stage 3.
112 It is said that the position of the mine-workers as the aristocrats of the labour market has been eroded over the years. Indeed it was, over the 10 years which marked the rundown of the pits which was initiated by the Labour Government. Hon. Gentlemen opposite freely concede that point.
The Wilberforce settlement, which was due to last till 28th February this year, re-established the miners in a position which they had not held for many years. If their position has been eroded since, they might pause to reflect that it is because they have been leapfrogged. The dam has burst as a result of the Wilberforce settlement. What guarantee is there that if an exceptional settlement were made in their favour now, other unions would not jostle to keep up with them? Will the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley), who is to wind up for the Opposition, give an undertaking on behalf of the trade unions that no other unions will seek exceptional treatment under stage 3? Will the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) give such an assurance to the House?
§ Mr. Molloy
Has not Lord Carrington, the new energy chief, made hundreds of thousands of pounds by selling land for the development of a motorway.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)
Perhaps it would be better if we stuck to the point of the debate.
§ Mr. Rees
I note the remarkable absence of any assurance from the Opposition benches that if a special case were made of the National Union of Mine-workers, other unions would not seek to exploit it.
We must consider the loss of people from the industry. It is true that in East Kent last year approximately 180 people left the industry from a total work force of slightly over 3,000. It is true that in every period of boom people leave the mining industry, just as my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Norman Lamont) explained that they 113 leave many industries, and that they drift back in periods of contraction.
One of the principal reasons for which people are unsettled—and I have heard this directly from people working in the industry—is that unstable political position. Face workers and fitters can earn with overtime approximately £50 a week gross. If, as at the moment, they are restricted to their basic wage of £36.79p, their standard of living suffers. If there is to be an annual or biennial confrontation which deprives such people of the opportunity of earning overtime they will drift to an industry where, perhaps, their prospects are more assured.
I recall that the hon. Member for Bolsover, in a debate which he initiated before Christmas, contrasted the position of people working at the face with those working for contractors. There is an example of that situation in East Kent. Thyssens are working in the area. It is true that the contractors are paying more than the National Coal Board. The contractors are paying approximately £75 a week. What the hon. Gentleman did not mention is that the men work longer hours, that the work is harder and that for a considerable period they are working away from their families and living in caravans. That is the choice. A man can have steadier work for lower wages. In that employment he can live with his family. If he wishes, he can take on the hazards of work with Thyssens and possibly for a shorter period earn more money.
Further, there is the commercial argument. That is an argument which is touched on only lightly by the Opposition. It is an argument which is more often advanced by my hon. Friends who believe that in a free market a person should be entitled to sell his labour at whatever it will command. That is a spuriously attractive argument because there is no free market in the coal industry.
§ Mr. Rees
It is a State monopoly. I find such a monopoly as unattractive as a private monopoly. It is curious that the commanding heights of the economy, having been captured by the founding fathers of Socialism, are to be surrendered to the leaders of the NUM. They want 114 a free market for their labour. At the same time, they want every other aspect of the economy regulated in a Marxist fashion.
I support any settlement within stage 3 on the basis that it will be generous and probably more generous than could be justified in the prevailing economic climate. The Leader of the Liberal Party found himself in the curious position of advancing the proposition that stage 3 was too generous and yet that a special settlement should be made for the miners outside stage 3.
§ Mr. Lewis
Every time the Liberals make great play about matters from the Caribbean, or wherever it may be, they afterwards come here and make a speech. They all turn up and then they all walk out and do not put in an appearance again until 9 o'clock in time for the wind-up. That should go on the record.
§ Mr. Rees
I sensed that it was an error on my part to give way to the hon. Member. From wherever we start we always end up in the Caribbean. The debate may range widely, but we are not justified in ranging as far as the Caribbean.
I do not suggest any detailed negotiating points. I do not feel that the Chamber is the place where such matters should be threshed out. It is more likely to prejudice rather than assist a settlement. I want to see a long-term settlement. When I voted enthusiastically for the Coal Industry Bill 1972 I thought that it was implicit in what Opposition Members were saying, and implicit in the Bill, that we were at last setting the coal industry on a path for future expansion and prosperity. If that was only implicit in the 1972 Bill, it was explicit in the Wilberforce settlement. I want a coal industry with high production, a high degree of mechanisation, with high rates of pay and freedom from the annual or biennial confrontation which has been a feature of the industry for the last four or five years.
§ Mr. Rees
Certainly. Any settlement under stage 3 would be generous enough to attract people back to the industry in sufficient numbers so that the industry could be operated on such a basis.
There is scope for further mechanisation. It is ironic that our reserves of coal, which should, as against our competitors in Europe, be a source of strength, are a source of weakness. Although I want to see expansion of the industry I do not want to see us remain completely dependent on the mining industry.
I want my right hon. and hon. Friends who are now responsible for our fuel policy to ensure that never again shall we be completely dependent on any one source of fuel, whether it be found in the Persian Gulf or in Britain. I want them to examine the monopoly position of the National Coal Board. I want them to see whether there is scope for the importation of coal in emergency situations and whether there is scope for private contractors to undertake certain forms of coal mining, perhaps opencast, in this country.
I do not want to see the country at the mercy of men who are more concerned with winning and exercising political power than with the winning of coal. I do not want to see us at the mercy of men more concerned with imposing political solutions through industrial action than with the long-term welfare of the country, the coal industry, and the people who work in it.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Fred Evans (Caerphilly)
Having listened to the hon. and learned Member for Dover (Mr. Peter Rees) I must be somewhat unkind. There have been several speeches made by Conservative hon. Members, and I would recommend the hon. Members who made them to record them and hand them to an objective political observer and to ask him what standpoint he thought they represented. I am sure that such an observer would say that some were made by an incipient fascist.
In examining this grave matter from historical and political reading we find that when the Conservative Party, through its own inepitude has landed itself in a complete mess, it always looks 116 to other people to extricate it. In such circumstances it aways waves the banner of patriotism. The peroration of the Prime Minister was such an appeal to the miners—namely, "Will you please pull us out of the mess into which we have placed ourselves?"
I disagree with the viewpoints of my hon. Friends the Members for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) and Hamilton (Mr. Alexander Wilson), who said that it takes a long time to train miners. Such training was done during the last war. In fact, my hon. Friend the Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. Leadbitter) was one of those men. I think that we could quite easily train people. I recommend that Conservative hon. Members should go to their constituencies and ask that all the able-bodied young men should now flock to the banner of patriotism and go into the mines.
The Prime Minister held out a dazzling array of financial rewards far greater than the official NUM ones which I have in my possession. I spent all last Friday with the executive of the South Wales NUM. Moreover, there are some very fine and attractive "perks" as well as the dazzling financial inducements. For example, miners can have a free issue of dust masks because of the volume of accumulating dust which is becoming a serious threat to the survival of some of our mines. They can have free goggles because of the amount of grit thrown up into the eyes. They can have ear muffs because of excessive noise below ground. In confined spaces 1,000 yards below ground deafness is becoming a serious problem. When men work in excessive water they can have a free issue of oilskins. They can have free respirator masks for emergencies and free chest X-rays for pneumoconiosis. They have good bus services starting at five o'clock in the morning from neighbouring towns and villages to bring them to the pits. Contrary to the Prime Minister's figures, at basic rates, assuming they accept the offer from 1st March 1974, the members of a power-loading team can get £39.29 for a five-day week.
Anyone who fails to respond to the cry for patriotism is a self-evident dupe of militant extremists and Communists, according to the Government. This is the biggest laugh of all because the independence of mining communities and of 117 miners is a legend. I am glad to see one of my colleagues from Wales present to verify this, because the President of the South Wales NUM said to us, " If anyone—Communist, Labour or anyone else—thinks that he can lead me in my fight for the defence of the miners I represent, he had better have another think". They will not be led. They will not be dupes.
Moreover, our miners show a political awareness far greater than anything to be found in most other sections of society. I do not denigrate anyone who works actively for his organisation, but let me remind Government supporters who make accusations of this kind that at the time when the miners were sending to this House large numbers of sponsored Members they returned only one official Communist. Although in South Wales we have produced leaders of the calibre of Arthur Horner and William Paynter, if such a man stands as a political candidate in his own coalfield the maturity of the Welsh miners leads him to differentiate between the work that the man does for his trade union and the work that he is capable of doing as a politician. With one exception, none of these men dared to come to this House where, in the highest forum in the land, he would have had an opportunity to put his viewpoint far more forcefully than he could in his union executive. In any event, such a man could have retained his position on his trade union executive and got the best of both worlds if he saw it that way.
The tragedy for this country is that, as many of us foresaw more years ago than I care to mention, in 10 years we could have been one of the few countries in the world self-sufficient in energy. With the discovery of North Sea oil and Scottish oil, with the potential of the Celtic Sea, with North Sea gas and with 100 years' coal production at 200 million tons a year and reserves still to be found, we were in the very fortunate position of being able to bridge the gap which most other countries will experience in terms of energy for 10 or 15 years. Everyone should have been able to recognise the growing consumption of energy and the growing exhaustion of resources world wide.
We know the finite nature of our discoveries of oil in the North Sea and 118 elsewhere. We know how much more limited the life of North Sea gas is likely to be than the original estimates. At first we thought that the gas would last for 30 odd years. Estimates have now come down to as low as 12 years. We know the failure of nuclear energy. The Magnox programme fell flat on its face. The AGR programme is experiencing serious difficulties. Behind the scenes there have been negotiations to buy the American fast-breeder reactor, with all its polluting possibilities. We know that eventually we may become sufficiently advanced technologically to explore solar energy.
During all this experimentation we had the one great asset lying under our feet which could have bridged any gap resulting from oil shortages, the exhaustion of North Sea gas and the delay in developing oil anywhere round our coasts. If we destroy this asset we threaten the very existence of the country and we put ourselves into the position of those countries who will suffer an acute shortage of energy reserves.
With these factors in mind we must ask ourselves whether we can tolerate any longer the rigid attitudes of this Government. We have a Prime Minister frozen into immobility in his thinking about the pay code and without any ability to make advances to attempt conciliation. He is arrogant to the point of non-belief. This is accepted on his own benches. Leading figures in the CBI accept it. The trade union movement tried patiently to argue with him about his industrial relations legislation. It has tried patiently to argue with him about the present dispute. It has got nowhere because of the right hon. Gentleman's total inflexibility.
As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said, the primary safeguard of any politician is to ensure that he has an escape route himself and that he also leaves an escape route for the other person. Only then is there room for manoeuvre. My hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson) outlined some of the possibilities open to the Government provided that some flexibility is shown and provided that a concession, even in thinking, is made to the idea of preserving free collective bargaining.
119 I am the son of a hard-ground miner who spent all his working life driving roads through silica rock. I have been on all the shifts in one of the pits in my constituency. As I have said already, I spent all last Friday with the executive of the South Wales NUM. In the last coal debate, I warned the Government that they would not break these men.
My memory goes back to the 1926 strike. When the strike collapsed and everybody went back to work, the miners—particularly those in South Wales—said "We fought on a point of principle, and we shall abide by that principle". Those men stayed on strike for a further seven months until there was not a crust of bread in their houses. This may appear to be an inflexible attitude, but if the Government do not allow for conciliation and plenty of room for manoeuvre, then it is time they made a new social contract. If the Government seek to polarise the situation and divide the nation in the way the nation is now being divided—and this has been taking place ever since 1970—they will create a dangerous situation.
Students of history know the complete fallacy of the concept of the patient, unemotional Britisher displaying the stiff upper lip. This is a lot of rubbish because in the right circumstances the British people can be one of the most revolutionary in the world, as our history has shown, and they can also be one of the most emotional.
What has happened in the last few weeks is that people in the mining communities who were prepared to negotiate are now taking the view, "We have had enough". They are filled with deep anger over the accusations about Communism and about their being sheep led by militants. The womenfolk in the mining communities feel this at least as strongly as their menfolk. They are filled with deep anger that their industry has been so denigrated. They know that they have nothing to lose. The country needs the energy, and the pits need the miners to get the coal. The miners will close the pits by walking away from them. Their attitude is, as I have already said, "What have we to lose? Our pits will close in any case in a couple of years' time through lack of manpower".
120 The only way we shall get the manpower is by offering sufficient inducements. In that sense the miners are showing a greater sense of responsibility than are many Conservative Members. The miners want to preserve their industry and are more conscious of the national need to preserve it.
The sense of responsibility in mining communities extends to all other trade unions. Time after time in this House tribute has been paid to the tolerance of miners. They are tough men, but they are tolerant and they can be extremely gentle men, in the best sense of the word. But they will not be trodden on and will not see their industry treated as a football to be kicked here and there at the whim of any Government.
I have spoken to many miners and ex-miners about the situation. I undertook a small survey of my own on a recent visit to six different pits. I spoke to about four dozen people and put this question to ex-miners in the age group 25 to 35: "If the basic wage for underground workers were £50 a week, how would you feel about mining then?". About two-thirds of those I questioned said: "We would either go back or would seriously think about going back." They said that because mining is to them a way of life. Although work in a factory may be more attractive in terms of its conditions, those men feel the absence of the comradeship in the pits and the close-knit community that exists in them.
§ Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
How can it be said that the miners are being "trodden on" when they are being offered an increase of 16½ per cent.?
§ Mr. Evans
That is the sort of remark that deepens the anger of the miners. I was telephoned this morning by the London Evening News, which has been attempting to contact as many Labour MPs as possible, and was asked this loaded question: "Do you think that in the national interest the miners should now abandon their industrial action and accept the 16½ per cent. offered to them?" I have the official NUM figures in my pocket and I shall send them to the hon. Lady the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight).
121 The miners are also very conscious of their historical position as deprived members of society. This impression goes back over the years. I have in my pocket in well-preserved condition a document which goes back to 1937. It is an agreement with the miners in one of the pits in my constituency in respect of chain-cutting of coal in a four-foot seam. The top price paid, in old money, was Is. 5½d. per square yard of coal—and I emphasise that a square yard of coal amounts to two tons. The miners fought their way up from that situation and attempted to reach something like a proper recognition of their skills only to see themselves sliding back under successive appeals to their so-called patriotism. They were asked for the sake of the country to accept the situation. They accepted small increases of 7s. 6d. and then ten shillings a week—again I am talking in old money—and as a result they found themselves slipping further behind others.
I appeal to Conservative backbenchers to force their Government to abandon their rigid attitude. Let them go some way to open approaches in this situation. The last thing that was said to me by miners on Friday—and my colleague the Member for Aberdare (Mr. Probert) and other parliamentary colleagues were with me—was this: "We shall never again go back to the situation where, because of the nature of our job, we do not get proper reward but find ourselves in the bottom bracket of manual workers."
§ 8.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson (New Forest)
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Patrick Jenkin) on his new appointment. He will have a difficult job to do. He and I, and indeed the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley), went underground—it was the first time I had every been underground—when we were elected in 1964.
Underlying the debate has been something perhaps more important than the wage claim which we have been discussing, namely, how one manages the question of reward for essential work in an economy which no longer enjoys the sort of sanctions which applied during the miners' dispute which the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Fred Evans) des 122 cribbed so vividly. How can one create a pattern of wage settlements which takes into account the importance to society of the jobs done by individual sections of that society?
When one superimposes the statutory control of wages on a nationalised industry, one compounds the problem. One thing must have become clear to everyone who has listened to the debate, and it is clear to anyone with experience of nationalised industry operation—namely, that Government interference becomes indispensable. However much one may talk about nationalised industries operating in a free and commercial manner, there will always be an element of Government interference. The over-centralised nature of nationalised industries and of the management of such industries will always be mirrored in the union structure which exists to meet it.
One of the problems in the coal industry, and indeed in other nationalised industries, is that comparatively small management groups face comparatively small national trade unions. This creates negotiating difficulties. If it were possible for every wage negotiation in the mining industry to be discussed and settled at colliery level, I do not believe that massive confrontations would be so inevitable. I do not think the miner feels that he has any more say today than he had before the industry was nationalised. All he has are representatives of a national union who themselves are often far removed from the problems which have to be dealt with when the negotiations take place. It would be sensible for the Government and for the Department of Energy to consider ways of devolving authority in the coal industry to a much lower level.
Parliament has been grappling for a long time with the problem of controlling wages, inflation and prices. The Labour Government found it as intractable a problem as it is today. As can be imagined, the present Government introduced statutory control after much thought and heart-searching. They made every effort to find a voluntary way of solving the problem, as did the Labour Government. But in the absence of the discovery of a solution, they were forced to embark on a policy of controlling wages and prices by law. Phase 3 is part of that law.
123 It may be rough justice, and I do not like the concept of a statutorily controlled economy, but if it exists, and if a law has been passed by Parliament, it must be supported by Parliament. Therefore the Government's policy can be changed, but it cannot be disregarded by people affected by it. When certain militants—and I am prepared to accept that they are a minority group—say that they will break phase 3 and will destroy the policy, they are suggesting something which is intolerable in a democratic society. The policy might be changed, but it cannot be breached by small militant minorities using their industrial muscle.
Phase 3 provides in the settlement which is being discused today an attempt to restore the miner to his proper position in the economic ladder, an attempt to put him, within the framework of our society, on the more reasonable level which he believes he should occupy. Lord Wilberforce and his colleagues who considered this matter a little more than a year ago did much to restore the miner's faith in his industry and to make him believe that he would be rewarded. But he has seen what inflation will do to his industry, and because of inflation the miner finds himself low down the economic ladder.
The problem about a statutory policy is that, unfortunately, people will always be locked in at low levels of remuneration from which they can never escape. Indeed, there could be a situation such as that which we are fast approaching in which many sections of the community, provided that this policy is continued indefinitely, will be forced into positions in which their percentage increase will never truly reflect their importance to society.
In this context the relativity concept or, as I should like to describe it, national job evaluation will be essential, because once again the priorities which various groups in society have will have to be described. It may be that when that happens the miners' position on this ladder will change dramatically, but I do not believe that this can be done all at once.
It must be recognised that the policy under which the present offer is being made is both fair and reasonable, as is evidenced by the fact that 4 million other 124 people have already accepted settlements under it. Are we to say to them that they have been conned into accepting something when they should have asked for something more?
§ Mr. Charles Loughlin (Gloucestershire, West)
The hon. Gentleman must be very careful about using the figure of 4 million. The Prime Minister today included in that figure workers under wages councils who have already settled. There are no negotiations in wages councils. The figures are determined by the three independent members appointed by the Government. So those people have not made settlements.
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that at any rate a very large number of people have endeavoured to settle under this form of statutory control. However, I take the point that he has made. Those who have endeavoured to settle in this way did so in good faith. It would be a betrayal of those individuals if we were now to say that, because of the strength that a minority group in society has, the policy must be breached, because if that happens any attempt to arrive at an orderly structure of wages will be impossible. After all, it is an orderly structure that we are looking for.
The hon. Member for Caerphilly gave a graphic description of the 1926 General Strike, saying that people in South Wales went to the last crust of bread in staying out for seven months. Is that the kind of free collective bargaining that hon. Members want to see? I do not want to see it. What we are endeavouring to do is to give a fair slice of the cake to as many people as possible. Some people require to be regarded in the context of their importance to society.
§ Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)
The hon. Gentleman raised the important question of job relativity. How does he relate job relativity to the price of a man's health? When a man's health is destroyed in the mining industry, how do we pay for it?
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
That is a very good point. I should like to see the hon. Gentleman about it afterwards. In many companies the evaluation of jobs takes place all the time and a number of factors are taken into consideration. 125 Health hazard, environmental problems, noise, remuneration, distance from home and a whole host of problems are examined in the process of job evaluation. Obviously in an industry such as mining similar questions will have to be answered and health hazard will clearly have to be taken into account.
I am merely saying that job evaluation is necessary if we are to continue to remove from wage bargaining the old way of establishing an economic wage, which was to relate it directly to the ability of people to pay for the product. It may be that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) would believe that that was the right way to do it.
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
My right hon. Friend may well be right. We are endeavouring as a Government at any rate to try another way of doing it.
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
Time alone will show. Nobody has a monopoly of all the wisdom. It is a very difficult task to establish a fair level of payments in any society.
Where do we go from here? The posibilities of finding a solution under phase 3 are not entirely exhausted. There are still possibilities within this flexible framework of finding a solution to this problem. There is the productivity deal which the Wilberforce inquiry asked should be found over the last 12 months, but which has not been discovered, and there is still the possibility of waiting and winding time providing an answer.
If at the end of the day a solution is not found and a settlement is not possible, three-day working will have a crippling effect on us as a nation. Whether we can sustain Britain on half time indefinitely is something I question. There is no question in my mind that, if this dispute drags on indefinitely, it will do immeasurable damage to the economy. Already it is having a damaging effect on certain industries, and I should be grateful if my right hon. Friend would comment on whether it would be possible to vary the three-day working system from area 126 to area and not have people locked into the same three days indefinitely.
This strain in cost to the industry and to the Exchequer in terms of the social security payments that have to be made may lead us to the point where even phase 3 is not sustainable and where even the figures of remuneration that have been given cannot be met. I believe that we as a nation should recognise that there is not a bottomless purse that can go on providing good things for everybody all the time, and that if we cannot get Britain back to full pressure soon it may be that a freeze will have to be introduced and phase 3 done away with altogether. I do not want to see that and I am sure that no other hon. Member wants it either.
I do not think it is good enough for the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) to shout as he did so often this afternoon that the offer to the miners is not enough. We have to recognise that there is an offer on the table which can be picked up. Because of the setting up of the new Department of Energy and the promises that have been made as a result of the oil pressures and so on to reflect the increased demand for energy in higher miners' wages I hope that the NUM will advise its members to accept this generous offer and call off their industrial action.
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
I have made many attempts to get into today's debate.
I should like first to refer to the comments of the hon. Member for the New Forest (Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson). It is the same place as that from which the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) gets his dog meat—that is, from the New Forest ponies—to put into—is it "Chunky"?
The hon. Gentleman referred to my having commented, "It is not enough". I do not think that there is anybody in this House—or many people outside either—who does not recognise that this dispute will not be settled on the basis of the present offer. That is why the Prime Minister and the whole Treasury Bench, on every suitable occasion during the last five weeks—not initially it is true—have said that the settlement must be within the confines of stage 3. but they no longer refer to a figure of £45 127 million. What they are saying is that stage 3 is made of elastic. The Glasgow firemen took a fire engine through it, the power engineers followed, and the miners will almost certainly do the same.
The final figure will be not £45 million, but some other total. It will probably have to add up to about £35 for surface men, £40 for underground workers and £45 for coal face men. The Government will have to put a name to the settlement. It might be in the form of an inquiry, or it might be in some other form. There will have to be some form of face saving if the Prime Minister is to remain at the top of the Cabinet list.
This exercise will have to be carried out. At the end of the day, early or late, but not too far off, we shall have a settlement in excess of the present offer. That is what the situation is all about, and that is why the whole argument from the benches opposite has been completely phoney today. There is no one, inside or outside the mining industry, with any sense who does not recognise that the miners are winning the day. The only difference is that I say it. It is not a repeat performance of 1972. Where I differ from some of my colleagues is on the question of what the settlement should be.
I take the view that we do not want to repeat Wilberforce. Then, the miners, having got an average £6 a week extra, saw it eroded as the result of Government policy. I want to see a bigger settlement. I want to see them get the whole of their demands on this occasion. My hunch is that, provided they play their cards right, they will do exactly that.
That is the issue. Why play around with fairy tales any longer? These are the blunt facts. We have heard big business and company directors squealing in private. Now they are squealing in public. They are saying to the 200 or more Tory back benchers who carry 700 or more directorships between them, "For God's sake, get a settlement soon. We do not care how you do it, but get it. We cannot afford to lose our profits—we want our Caribbean cruises next year." The miners are prepared to hold out and these company directors are saying, " The miners are prepared to eat grass but 128 we are not ". The miners are ready for a long struggle. This is the simple truth.
We have had a remarkable contribution again by the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies)—sometimes I call him "Burglar Bill". He has been here representing the true Right-wing philosophy of the Tory Party. He suggests that the Government dig up a Clay Cross stand by for a settlement. But the Pay Board has rejected it. It is a farce. In view of some of the comments which have been made by hon. Members opposite, it is necessary for me to answer.
The hon. and learned Member for Dover (Mr. Peter Rees) is not with us. He talked about that Kent miner who went to the Wilberforce inquiry in 1972 and, putting his cards on the table, explained in precise terms how much money he earned. Then the hon. and learned Member had the despicable audacity to talk about that man having been absent on 53 occasions out of the next 100 days. That man was a trade union official. He was absent for a number of good reasons. He was representing the people who had put him there—just as some of the company directors among hon. Members opposite are absent from this House on occasions when they are making profits in their other jobs. The hon. and learned Member should remember that in the last Session he was missing 37 times when Divisions were called at 10 o'clock or 11.30 p.m. So he should not talk about this Kent miner.
More important, the miners are fed up with being preached to and lectured by people like the Leader of the Liberal Party. He urges them to accept phase 3. This is the same man who was opening banks in the supermarkets on the South Coast for £100 a time. He got £100 every time he opened one—more than Elsie Tanner was getting. This happened during phase 2 and during the freeze. A vicar in Bournemouth was writing to me about all the sordid details.
This is also the same man who had 10,000 shares in London and County Securities for one penny piece—not 1p for each share but 1p for ten thousand. At that time, of course, they ran at about £3 apiece. They did drop rather dramatically. They were then called "not fully paid up" shares—10,000 for 1p. And he has the cheek and the audacity 129 to talk about miners accepting £2.30 under phase 3.
The hon. and learned Member for Lincoln (Mr. Taverne)—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"] Yes, where is he today? He had a session at the weekend telling the miners to accept phase 3. He is one of the people who trot off to Strasbourg every so often, the same people who have been involved in some taxation problems—
§ Mr. Skinner
My hon. Friend calls them "fiddles". The Inland Revenue is now investigating the fact that, instead of going on the £120 trips for which they paid to go to Strasbourg, they are going on £60-a-time charter flights.
§ Mr. Skinner
My hon. Friend says that it is £46. And that hon. and learned Gentleman has the cheek to talk about miners accepting phase 3. I should not bother, Mr. Deputy Speaker, checking up whether I am in order or not.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)
I was beginning to wonder whether the hon. Member would make that comment or whether I should.
§ Mr. Skinner
I have checked with some of the parliamentary experts on the Front Bench below the Gangway and they have informed me that I am absolutely on the ball again.
Nor do the miners want to be lectured by people in the other place who clock on during their waiting time and bathing time for £8.50—20 minutes, in and out. The miners get paid for 7½ hours plus one winding time, and for none of the time that they spend at the pit top bathing. They do not even get paid for going down. Yet the Lords, many of whom have been opening their mouths a little, get £8.50 tax-free. The miners will settle for that. It is not quite £45, but they will settle for it, tax-free.
Then there are the TV commentators, like the fellow that I had a brush with on "Nationwide". He went on about observing the law, yet he re-negotiated his salary 30 per cent. above the level it was last year and has had to take out a column in the Daily News to prove that 130 he is not breaking the law and that I am a dreadful man for raising the matter.
These people, who have a lot to say about the miners, do not have to tolerate the miners' conditions. They get perks. They get the free Jaguars this year instead of the free Rovers in order to escape the harshness of the phases that this Government have brought out. The miners get different perks. They get free dust masks—free masks to put on then-faces to slow down the onset of pneumoconiosis. They work in those conditions for 7½ hours or more. They get free oilskins—if they are lucky—to work in water two feet high on the coal face and on the roadways.
These are the perks of the mining industry. Some of them get free knee-pads! This is the sort of comparison that has to be made. That is why I feel so strongly about the miners getting everything they put in for. I go further. I think that the pay claim made in July, which emanated from a resolution passed in Scotland in March or April, is now out of date after a year in which there has been an 18 per cent. increase in food prices.
§ Mr. Thomas Torney (Bradford, South)
I should like to consult my hon. Friend's expertise and ask him to tell the House whether it is true that the 16½ per cent. which the Prime Minister told us he is offering the miners is phoney. Is it not a fact that 3½ per cent. of that is a productivity bonus that has yet to be earned and would not be paid until March? Is it not also a fact that another 6 per cent. is made up of fringe benefits so that the real increase offered to the miners is only 7 per cent.?
§ Mr. Skinner
That was a pretty good speech. It is the kind of intervention I make when I am gasping to get into a debate. But it is an important point. Many people will remember that after the Wilberforce settlement there were headlines which spoke of £108 million for the miners. That was after that all-night session in Downing Street to which the Prime Minister reluctantly had to agree. That figure represented about 20 per cent. We are now told that with 30,000 fewer miners £45 million is equal to 16½ per cent. Someone has got his arithmetic wrong.
§ Mr. Richard Kelley (Don Valley)
Is it not a fact that the award for which the miners are asking will not come into operation before 1st April and therefore any prognostications about the effect upon the current situation of that settlement are purely theoretical?
§ Mr. Skinner
If my hon. Friend is referring to the question of the re-arrangement of shift work, it would make a complete difference because the Coal Board, which has difficulties now manning up the faces, would have to reduce numbers to maintain personnel on the other two shifts. As a result it is common knowledge among the mining fraternity that the £45 million on offer is not £45 million at all.
I know that the Prime Minister has problems. I know that he has had trouble in the Cabinet and has had to appoint a Secretary of State for Energy as a kind of make-weight and to balance up the right hon. Member the Secretary of State for Employment because he cannot afford to see him getting too much kudos out of this situation.
The right hon. Gentleman refused to give way to me earlier on this question of the five-day week agreement when he read out a document which gave the impression to everyone that it was a five-day week agreement between the NUM and the Coal Board. I have to tell him that that agreement makes no reference to maintenance. We talk about safety in the mines. My hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire) will confirm that during the Christmas holidays, when there was a "heat-in" taking place at the Sutton Manor Colliery in the Northwestern Area, the miners, who are supposedly not working overtime to deal with safety—according to the Prime Minister—turned out en masse to see that the "heat-in" was prevented from getting worse. There is no question of a breaking of the five-day week agreement regarding safety. If the Prime Minister wants to solve the problem of maintenance, he will find that to be easy. All that he has to do is to invoke the Industrial Relations Act and see to it that there is a ballot. But he dare not do that.
As I have said, this has been a phoney debate. The situation is much like that of 1972 all over again. We 132 shall go through the same motions. It may take a shorter time or a longer time. For the sake of the country, it ought to be a very short exercise indeed. One thing is certain: whatever name is put to the settlement and in whatever way it is described, it must add up, roughly, to £35, £40 and £45. Things can then get rolling again.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric G. Varley (Chesterfield)
The recall of Parliament and the creation of a new Department—the Department of Energy—have given the Government a chance to make a fresh start in their approach to energy problems. Despite the stale and negative approach of the Prime Minister this afternoon, we still hope that this fresh start will be forthcoming. Certainly the House will welcome the fact that no longer shall we have to listen to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on these matters—although I understand that we have to listen to him tomorrow night. The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has mastered the technique of obscuring and obfuscating the truth about the energy situation in clouds of spurious optimism.
That energy boom has now gone bust. In its place we want some facts, facts which for months have been deliberately withheld from the House, because Britain is beset by a threefold energy problem. First, there is a temporary coal dispute, secondly a shortfall in oil supplies, and thirdly an intolerable escalation in oil prices. The second and third of those—oil problems—are much more long-term and far reaching. Long before the Middle East war it was clear that the oil-producing countries, including Venezuela and Saudi Arabia, had come to the conclusion that they must conserve their limited resources by restricting production. Venezuela did that long ago, and Sheikh Yamani has made it clear to us that the Gulf oil producers were bound to do it to protect their only economic asset, regardless of other political considerations.
These inevitable restrictions on oil production have created a seller's market, and that has meant absurd prices being demanded for oil and being paid. Any sensible Government would have taken heed of those warnings and signs a long time ago. They would have recognised that price—with its impact on the 133 balance of payments—would restrict our ability to buy oil even if that oil was available to buy. Instead, all that we got from the Government were cosy and soothing words about assurances received, even though the fine print of those assurances made it clear that we would not get the amount of oil that was needed—in fact, that we would get far less than was needed. That, as anyone in the Treasury must have told the new Minister for Energy, is why the Government had to abandon their growth strategy.
The Government still refuse to admit that that is the reason, and we seem to hear all the time that the reason for our present restrictions is coal. That is what the Government are saying. They would have us believe that the coal dispute is wholly at the root of our present troubles. The Prime Minister and the Cabinet would have us believe that all our economic problems are caused by the coal dispute and that it ought to be regarded as a short-term dispute. The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry tried it most blatantly when he said on Boxing Day that the coal supply position was worse than the oil position. Our memories are a bit longer than that, as I shall prove.
We recall that two years ago there was another overtime ban in the coal industry. It lasted for nine weeks, longer than this overtime ban has lasted so far. At the start of the overtime ban in 1971 coal stocks at the power stations totalled 18½ million tons, 600,000 tons less than the coal stocks at power stations when the current overtime ban started. Yet at that time there were no wails of despair from the Government and no gnashing of teeth. There was certainly no legally enforced three-day week. I want to be absolutely fair. The production lost in 1971 during the overtime ban was no more than 20 per cent., and the safety and maintenance men at most pits were working normally.
That nine-week overtime ban was followed by a full-scale national strike which lasted seven weeks. At the beginning of the strike, coal stocks at power stations were down to 14.3 million tons, nearly 5 million tons below power station stocks at the start of the current overtime ban. Certainly they were at a dangerous level. For that we have the word of the Lord 134 President of the Council, who is to reply to the debate tonight and who in his regular Sunday commentaries has become an acknowledged expert in these matters.
On 30th December the right hon. Gentleman explained to his audience:It is certainly not a Government propaganda exercise in any way whatsoever, nor would our coal stocks be anything like sufficient to carry us through the spring unless we took the action we have taken. At the moment we have 13 million tons of coal at power stations. When we fall below 6 million tons of coal in reserve, you cannot really run the system properly. So we have only 7 million tons.At the beginning of the 1972 coal strike, by the right hon. Gentleman's own reckoning we had only 8½ million tons of coal at the power stations. The Government knew that for as long as that strike lasted not a lump of coal would be dug. That is very different from the present situation when in no coalfield has production fallen below 50 per cent. of normal production and in some coalfields it is 75 per cent. or more. Yet, faced with that desperate situation in 1972—a nine-week overtime ban followed by a full-scale strike on low coal stocks—the Government did not even contemplate introducing the three-day week to which they have now resorted.
§ Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that in 1972 there was no shortage of oil? At the beginning of the present emergency, from a national point of view it would have been preferable for coal to supplement oil, instead of which the process had to be reversed and oil had to supplement coal.
§ Mr. Varley
That is exactly the position, and it is the point I was about to make. The answer, surely, is oil. In 1971 and 1972 we had so much oil that, as one commentator put it, the stuff was coming out of our ears. Today the situation is very different and the Government would be more honest if they admitted it, as the hon. Lady has admitted it.
Two weeks ago the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry told us that increased oil supplies would make it possible to cut the amount of coal burnt at the power stations. As usual, he was being absurdly over-optimistic. A month ago he said that the oil companies would 135 be asked to increase deliveries to the equivalent of 87 per cent. of the Central Electricity Generating Board's consumption last winter. The day before yesterday, however, the CEGB complained that deliveries were substantially below the promised figure. Instead of 87 per cent. the board is getting 75 per cent.
The shortfall in coal production is extremely serious, but it is the shortfall in oil deliveries which has brought about the present desperate measures. Against the advice of my hon. Friends and myself representing mining constituencies, the CEGB decided to base its plans for flexibility on oil. Today it is unable to cash the insurance policy that it drafted for itself.
On Sunday an "Insight" report in The Sunday Times said:If normal supplies of oil were available, an overtime ban alone would not force the adoption of the three-day week. It would require serious but tolerable power cuts.
§ The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Peter Walker)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree, first, that the CEGB has three weeks' stocks of oil at present and, secondly, that in the week before Christmas it had to refuse oil because it could not take it?
§ Mr. Varley
That is not the case as reported in the newspapers. It is only recently that the right hon. Gentleman has been prepared even to estimate or give the coal figures. They had to be dragged out of the Government by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn).
It is certainly a funny British Government that prefers to try to put all the blame for the three-day week on British workers when a lot of that damage is being inflicted by overseas oil producers. That is how the country sees the situation.
The new Department of Energy must make its first objective the building up of an energy policy which provides for alternatives to unreliable supplies of over-priced imported oil, and it must do so bearing in mind that the price of oil affects our economy whatever the origin of that oil. We should not fool ourselves into believing that, when North Sea oil comes on stream, it will cost us less than oil from the Persian Gulf. Certainly it 136 will be an immense saving to the balance of payments, but the oil companies will not turn North Sea oil into cut-price oil, especially as I understand that it will have to be mixed with imported oil to suit our power stations. Oil, from wherever it comes, will be an inflationary factor in our economy. That is why the Government's attitude to the present coal dispute is so short-sighted.
We are told time and again by a chorus of Cabinet Ministers that the Government's counter-inflation policy hinges on resisting the claims of the miners. But a genuine counter-inflation policy would seek to minimise the impact of increasingly expensive oil by maximising the output of coal, especially since coal is becoming relatively cheaper all the time and will still be relatively cheaper even when the pits return to full production on the basis of an agreed settlement. An agreement therefore makes sense even within the terms of a counter-inflation policy, and an agreement is utterly indispensable if the new Department of Energy is to have any hope of framing a viable energy policy. An energy policy must, however, take full account of the contribution of North Sea oil and nuclear power. Both of these sources will take time to develop and both of them demand decisions by the Government.
The new Secretary of State for Energy has already told us on television and radio that one of his top priorities will be to speed up North Sea oil. We wish him well in his efforts, but those efforts will be in vain if the disposal of that oil is left to the international oil companies. In fact, during the present crisis those oil companies have nullified the assurances that the Government have received from the oil-producing countries. They have set up their own distribution system with deliveries to different countries based on their own narrow, commercial criteria. North Sea oil must not be simply a pawn in that game. We on this side of the House believe that public ownership is essential to ensure that disposal of that precious national asset is decided by the Government and nobody else and that its extraction and exploitation are decided on strategic regional employment and economic grounds, not on commercial criteria.
We also hope that the new Secretary of State for Energy will not allow himself to be rushed into an ill-considered 137 decision about the new nuclear reactor. The propaganda barrage in favour of the United States light-water reactor has grown deafening. The Secretary of State should study the disturbing evidence given just before Christmas to the Select Committee on Science and Technology which has been chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer), and he should take into account the terrifying warnings about health and safety hazards. He should also give fair consideration to the potential of British technology and make a decision which is best for Britain and not simply most convenient for the Central Electricity Generating Board.
Meanwhile the most and only reliable indigenous fuel is coal, and the new Secretary of State should have both a short-term and a long-term policy for it. His short-term objective is quite simple. It should be to get the miners back to full production without delay. Lord Carrington should not do this in any spirit of ultimatum such as that which inspired his letter this week to Conservative Party constituency chairmen and certainly not in the spirit which inspired the headlines which we see in tonight's London evening papers. If he is really in earnest, the best step he can take to convince the miners that he is their friend and not their foe is to resign his chairmanship of the Conservative Party.
We were told this afternoon by the Prime Minister that the new Secretary of State will have to cope with all the complicated problems of OPEC, of getting North Sea oil on stream, of selecting the right nuclear reactor and of charting a new future for coal. He cannot do that if the greater part of his time is mortgaged to the Conservative Central Office. He cannot do it as a part-timer, especially as a party part-timer.
The new Secretary of State should seek to restore full production in the pits on the basis of an agreement arrived at by give and take. If he is in touch with the mood of the country, he must know that that is what the British people are demanding. He is said by the political pundits to be one of the hawks in the Cabinet. With his new-found responsibilities I hope that one of his New Year resolutions will be to ally himself with the 138 Secretary of State for Employment as a conciliator.
The mood on the Conservative back benches seems to be changing. The change began quite a long time ago. On 11th October, for example, the hon. Member for Belper (Mr. Stewart-Smith) wrote to the then Minister for Industry saying:If the Government wants a thriving coal industry, the nation will have to pay for it. When considering the rate of pay for miners, it should be borne in mind that private contractors pay their employees doing the same job some £70 a week. Most of these employees being ex-miners have left the industry due to the low wage rates.I am sure that the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Dr. Stuttaford) will not object if I quote what was reported in the Eastern Evening News on Friday 4th January:Yesterday the Tory M.P. for Norwich, South criticised the Prime Minister's handling of the miners' pay dispute and said that the handling of labour problems generally could leave a legacy of bitterness.Today we see from the Daily Mail that the hon. Member for Petersfield (Miss Quennell) is having second thoughts.
In his speech earlier today, the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) said that it was no good having dogmatism and that it was no longer applicable. He went on to say that the sanctity of phase 3 was like an albatross round the Government's neck.
We even had the hon. Member for Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) recommending that there should be greater flexibility. If there is to be flexibility, Lord Carrington will find that the distance from a settlement is less than he may think. The executive of the National Union of Mineworkers, which is ready to devote so much detailed consideration to working out an agreement based on waiting, winding and safety preparations, cannot be credibly portrayed, as some Conservative hon. Members have tried to do, as a body of desperadoes demanding unconditional surrender.
The first priority is to end the present damaging dispute in the traditional British way. That means a victory for neither side but a victory for both sides and the country. The country should have a long-term coal policy. That policy must be to give the coal industry a new status and a new security.
139 We believe that the Government should set up a top-level commission to examine the future of the coal industry. It should be composed of representatives of the National Coal Board, the mining unions and the Government. It should be instructed to report within three months. It should inquire into the industry's investment, production and manpower needs. It should investigate future long-term pay structures. It should suggest methods of retaining the existing work force and of attracting sufficient new recruits. It should take account of the increasingly competitive price of coal compared with that of oil. To succeed, the commission will need the co-operation of the miners and the Government. In that way the Government may win back co-operation.
As someone who has lived all his life in a mining village, I have known its good times and its bad times. I have seen the gaiety of the community in its annual celebrations. I have shared the grief of the community when the wives run to the pithead to see who will be brought up alive. All those feelings are deep in my bones. I can tell the Government that the most corroding emotion in a mining community is bitterness. That bitterness is returning to the pit villages. That came out in the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars).
The situation could not be otherwise when we examine the facts. We are talking about men who know only hard toil. Day after day they find themselves abused as militants and extremists by people who hardly know what it is to do a hand's turn. According to the Daily Express, one noble Lord stands to make £10 million out of a land deal in Buckinghamshire. In the first nine months of 1973, 69 miners were killed down the pits. Were they militants and extremists? In the same nine months, 49,965 miners were injured at work. Were they militants and extremists?
On television on Monday evening we heard a young girl say that she was ashamed to be earning more as a secretary than the pay of a coal miner. She compared her civilised working hours, her meal breaks and her pleasant office sur 140 roundings with the conditions in which miners must work. If miners now say that they have had enough and that they want a differential which will put right their position once and for all, are they really militants and extremists?
It is right to remind the House that the pit strike two years ago was the first nationwide industrial dispute for 46 years. After that dispute the miners did their utmost to get the industry going again. Absenteeism fell, productivity rose and there was a new mood of co-operation with management. The unions and the Coal Board started on a joint advertising campaign, launched a joint sales exercise and even came up with a 10-point plan which was approved by the Government. The massive new coal find at Selby may be as large as 2,000 million tons, and this boosted morale in the pits even further. However, we now have this arid and unnecessary dispute, brought about by a rigid pay policy that was obsolete even before it was introduced.
The dispute has already proved something. Three months ago the miners were merely a group of men who did a dirty job that nobody else was willing to do. Now, the most unlikely people suddenly have discovered the value of miners to the community. They are now saying that the solution to this dispute must be followed by a new deal for the miners which gives them a fresh status, a new dignity and a pay structure commensurate with their indispensable contribution to the country and its way of life.
Absence, even if it is only absence from overtime, certainly makes the heart grow fonder. Therefore, I have some advice for the new Secretary of State for Energy. I wish I could give him this advice across the Floor of the House of Commons, because that is where the new Secretary of State should be. At any rate, we hope that he will read in HANSARD what we have said, particularly the speeches made by my colleagues from the mining communities. I hope that he will now, once and for all, abandon his practice of insulting and abusing the miners in the way he has recently done over the radio, as he also did by the way in which he formulated his New Year letter as Tory Party chairman. He should learn that the miners are not being exploited by extremist leaders. The hon. Member for Surrey, 141 East (Mr. William Clark) referred in strong terms to extremist leaders and Communist militants and used phrases of that sort. But it is the miners who are telling their leaders how they want to be led. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] If Conservative Members have any doubt about it, let them study the unfortunate case of Mr. Frank Smith. I happen to think that Mr. Frank Smith has been unscrupulously exploited by Beaver-brook Newspapers. Mr. Frank Smith was firmly repudiated by the miners in his area. He is a full-time official of the Leicestershire miners, and the Daily Telegraph pointed out yesterday that the Leicestershire miners are among the most moderate in the country and have one of the highest output records.
The Government's intransigence has turned those moderate men into militants. It is the duty of the new Secretary of State to get to know the miners of Britain. He should establish a dialogue with them. He should talk to the miners in their villages throughout Britain as well as to their leaders in Euston Road. He should talk to miners down the pits, when he would see what kind of job they do and what it is like to do that work. He may even like to talk to miners in the pithead baths, and see for himself how long it takes to get the dirt out of their eyes and noses.
Labour Members are disappointed that today's talks have not produced a solution. But the talks must go on, and I hope that the Lord President of the Council in winding up the debate will give an assurance that those talks will not be allowed to go stale. The problem has been that we have heard only the voice of the Government's lone conciliator. We had high hopes just before Christmas of the Secretary of State for Employment, but it now seems that his conciliatory tone is being perpetually drowned by the tribal war cries of Cabinet colleagues. During the recess, however, we have learned in our constituencies that what the people want to hear more than anything else is not talk about a fight to a finish but the noise of the conciliator.
In voting against the Government tonight, we on this side of the House will be voting against confrontation and expressing the true feeling of the people of Britain.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. James Prior)
Before dealing with the main points raised in the debate, I wish to detain the House for a minute or two by referring to one or two matters which might in certain circumstances be considered trivial but which to a number of people are very important.
First, on the subject of hairdressers, the Government have recognised that the present restrictions on the use of electricity pose special problems, particularly with regard to the needs for hot water and for the use of hair driers and other specialised electrical equipment. A licence will therefore be granted to hairdressers generally to allow them to use electricity for an extra hour in the morning or afternoon period, from 8.30 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. or from 1.30 p.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and both periods on Saturdays. The licence will take effect from 10th January. I thought that the House would welcome that news.
The practice of firms in the wool textile industry has been to work from Monday to Sunday inclusive. The present restriction on the use of electricity means that their permitted consumption of electricity is being cut back more than it is in industry generally. It has been decided that a general licence will be issued on 10th January permitting such firms to use electricity on Sundays in addition to their allotted three days provided they do not use electricity on that day between 12 o'clock and 2.30 p.m.
Those are two important concessions for the people involved which, I hope, the House will think show that we are being as flexible as the present circumstances allow us to be.
Although most of the speeches have concentrated on the subject of the miners, it would be correct if I were to range more widely and covered the whole energy field. I will therefore deal with the question of oil as well as with the subjects of coal and electricity. I shall refer to the serious implications for the steel industry of coal shortages. However, I will leave my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to cover the other detailed points in tomorrow's debate.
143 On oil, following the cut-back in production by the Arab oil-producing countries, our imports of crude oil in November and December were 10 per cent. below expectation. We must expect imports of oil and oil products to continue well below our normal requirements and it is therefore essential to maintain strict economy in all our use of oil. The measures which the Government and oil companies have taken have done a great deal to conserve our stocks, and the voluntary restraint shown by the public generally in its use of oil and petrol has helped enormously.
The Government had planned—and this answers the point raised by the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley)—that power stations should burn 30 per cent. less oil this winter" than they burnt last year. The value of that decision, both for the future of the coal industry and as a means of reducing our requirements for oil, needs no emphasis from me. It is very regrettable that the miners' pay dispute has forced us to ask the power stations to burn more oil in order to save coal.
§ Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol, Central)
The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry announced in the House at the end of November or the beginning of December that extra oil was going to the power stations. I understand on the best authority that that oil has not reached the power stations. The Central Electricity Generating Board is wondering what has happened to it. Has it been held back deliberately, or is there some other explanation?
§ Mr. Prior
No, it is not true. Extra oil has been reaching the power stations and the figure at present is that we are burning 13 per cent. less oil than last year, not the 30 per cent. that we were burning at the start of the crisis. I hope that that answers the hon. Gentleman's point.
As a result of the restrictions on consumption that we introduced in November, our total stocks of oil and oil products stood at 55 days at the end of the year. That compared with 60 days at the same period last year and 76 days at the end of September.
I need hardly say that it is vital that we all continue our efforts to economise. 144 While our stocks are adequate for the moment, the margins of safety are narrow and we certainly cannot afford to relax our efforts. However, I think it has already been announced—I know that this will please my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies)—that the use of private generators for floodlighting, recreational and sporting activities will now be permitted while the oil stocks now held by the organisations concerned last, although no further oil supplies will be allocated for this particular purpose.
Thank heavens some of the alarmist prophecies made in December have proved to be unfounded. The House will recall the very strong pressure on my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to introduce petrol rationing despite the difficulties and hardship which it would inevitably cause. There have been problems in the London area, but the allocation system has been progressively improved and anomalies in the pattern of deliveries ironed out.
The very fact that I am having such a quiet reception whilst I say that tonight is, I think, evidence that my right hon. Friend was absolutely right and correct in the decision that he took. Not only that, but he is owed a great debt of gratitude by all—[Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh if they like, but all people who have a long way to go to work by car will be grateful to my right hon. Friend that he did not have to introduce petrol rationing.
I am happy to say that I see no immediate prospect of having to introduce rationing so long as we continue to exercise the utmost restraint. The splendid way in which motorists have kept to the 50 miles-an-hour speed limit and have kept their Sunday motoring to the absolute minimum has helped us so far, and the Government are grateful for the restraint they have shown.
In the longer term it is the price of oil which is likely to prove this country's most lasting and most serious problem, and many hon. Members, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser), have referred to its implications for the balance of payments, especially during the next few years before we get the benefit from the North Sea oil. This is certainly a most 145 serious problem which, as has been frequently pointed out today, gives added emphasis to the importance of making the most of all alternative sources of energy, especially coal and nuclear power.
Of course I will see that the Leader of the Opposition's comments about shale oil are carefully considered by my right hon. and noble Friend.
Incidentally, despite what the hon. Member for Chesterfield said towards the end of his speech, I am grateful for the welcome that has been given to my noble Friend's appointment and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends.
Unhappily, at present the distribution of oil and coal to users, especially power stations, is threatened by the ASLEF dispute. So far, although there have been some effects on deliveries, these have not generally been serious, but the Government have naturally had to take account of the possibility that the situation could deteriorate.
The railwaymen's action is causing appalling hardship to passengers, especially London suburban commuters. I greatly admire the fortitude and determination with which they have continued to struggle to work despite the intolerable conditions in which they have had to travel and the very long time it has taken many of them to make their journey.
ASLEF's claim is not of course a dispute against stage 3. It is a dispute about differentials within the industry. It is thus a dispute between the three railway unions. Two of them have acted responsibly in agreeing to use the industry's own machinery for settling disputes of this nature.
It is very difficult to understand why ASLEF is still not prepared to use this machinery. I cannot understand why the union thinks it right to go on imposing great hardship on the public when not only is the means of solution available to it but it has a specific agreement to use it. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has urged ASLEF to make use of this machinery, and that was repeated on the radio today by his right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice). I very much welcome what they said, and I join both right hon. Gentlemen in hoping that a speedy way 146 out of these difficulties can soon be found. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment is willing to discuss with the leaders of ASLEF how their objections to putting their case to arbitration can best be overcome. He is ready to discuss those with the union members at any time.
§ Mr. Leslie Huckfield
Will the right hon. Gentleman please try to get the facts right on the ASLEF dispute? All that ASLEF is asking for is a meeting of the Railway Staff National Council and the other railway unions. It is asking for talks with the other unions. Why does not the right hon. Gentleman address himself to the question why the Chairman of the Railways Board will not talk to the union? Or is it that the Chairman of the Board wants to smash ASLEF?
§ Mr. Prior
I should not have thought that that last remark was a helpful way of trying to get this business settled. I am certain that there are many Opposition Members and many members of the NUR and the TSSA outside who want to get round the table with ASLEF and thrash the matter out, and the sooner that happens the better.
I now turn to the question of steel. Many hon. Members have rightly expressed concern about this matter during the debate. The 50 per cent. cut-back in BSC production is a serious development and the implications will be far-reaching indeed. No one can say that the BSC has acted in an alarmist fashion. About 85 per cent. of its crude steel production is directly dependent upon supplies of coking coal, and these have fallen to about two-thirds of normal before Christmas. Nevertheless, the corporation maintained near-normal production until about mid-December. In the circumstances which the corporation faced it would have been irresponsible not to cut coke throughput, and thus steel production. Without replenishment, the corporation's stocks would have lasted barely into February. With coal supplies continuing at 60 per cent. stocks would have run out in. March, and that takes no account of the effect of the uneven distribution of stocks. It would have been madness not to cut production in the circumstances.
When I think back on the many debates about this time last year in the 147 House on the future of the steel industry, when I think of the pressure on the Government from right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House to maximise investment in the industry, and when I think of all our efforts to prepare a bright future for this key industry, I can only feel what a terrible tragedy the present situation is.
Some hon. Gentlemen have again repeated the extraordinary suggestion that the restrictions on the use of electricity announced in mid-December and the three-day week in particular were unnecessary. That argument can be pursued in more detail tomorrow and I shall say only that if we had done nothing the critical level of 7 million tons would have been reached by the end of January or early February, and that leaves out of account the risk of exceptionally bad weather or further cuts in coal delivery. We were advised that when that critical level was reached there would be a likelihood of widespread and instant disconnections. Not only would many sectors of industry have come to a complete halt, but such essential services as water supply and sewage disposal would have ceased in some areas. No responsible Government could have allowed that to happen.
§ Mr. Prior
May I finish this? The figures and the advice were those of the electricity authorities themselves ; they were not ours. The advice was theirs and we considered it.
It is absurd of right hon. and hon. Members opposite, particularly the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn), to perpetrate such mischievous nonsense, and I am sorry that the hon. Member for Chesterfield has allowed himself to be led into it tonight. We shall be discussing the three-day week tomorrow, and I need hardly say that the Government are, of course, acutely aware of the appalling consequences.
§ Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)
Can the right hon. Gentleman explain why, when I telephoned the Electricity Council this morning, I was told that the Government had given instructions that no information on stocks was to be given to the public? Is it not 148 clear that the Government have been attempting to prevent the public from discovering the true position?
§ Mr. Prior
—that the Government are trying to prevent the public from having the figures. What we have said—this is a perfectly fair point—is that the figures are best published through the Government once a week, using the figures provided by the electricity authorities and the National Coal Board. There is nothing to hide. Indeed, the less that is hidden from the public, the more the public will realise just how serious the position is.
As a result of the national drive to save electricity, electricity consumption last week was cut by an average of 21 per cent. for the week as a whole. It was not as much as the 25 per cent. we need to save, but it was a good start towards it and the Government believe, as I am sure the country itself believes, that people have co-operated jolly well with us to get that result. Despite what Labour Members may say about the views of their constituents, it is perfectly plain that a great deal of voluntary help is being given to help us get through this very difficult situation.
With this grave situation facing us, everyone would wish to get the miners' dispute settled as quickly as possible. Some hon. Members opposite have urged that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment should conciliate between the parties so as to find a basis for a settlement outside the stage 3 policy. It is argued that the miners are a special case, and we have heard the arguments on that from the hon. Member for Chesterfield. Of course I accept that they are a special case because of their arduous, dirty and dangerous work and its great importance to the country. No one is denying that. It is precisely why we deliberately wrote into the stage 3 code arrangements which would give a preference to the miners.
§ Mr. Prior
It is true that the code was tailormade to try to help the special circumstances of the mining industry. The offer is worth 16½ per cent. on average and carries a cost of living 149 guarantee with it. That seems to us a very fair offer. It is greatly in excess of what is now available to most other groups of employees.
I was talking to a mining leader the other evening. I said that surely he recognised that, under the Conservative Government, the miners had done much better than they had under the Labour Government. He said, "Oh yes, of course we recognise that ; but we did not care much for that lot either". That is perfectly true. Under the Conservative Government the position of the miners has gone right back to the top of the league table again. The Wilberforce agreement put them up there, they have fallen back since, and this offer would put them right back on top.
When the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) argues that, in the light of oil shortages and price increases, even this is not good enough, when it is argued that the mining industry is now so vital that a greater lead still is needed to attract sufficient men into it to ensure its long-term viability, I would stress that the Government share the views expressed about the crucial importance of the mining industry. We entirely agree about the importance of ensuring that it has sufficient men, both now and in future, to dig the coal that the nation needs. We are determined to take all necessary steps to bring this about.
If Labour Members are fair, they will recognise that in the last three years we have done a good deal to help the miners. We have done an enormous amount by means of the Coal Industry Act to try to improve their position. But the very problems to which hon. Members rightly refer certainly have not made it easier for the nation to meet the pay bill provided for under stage 3. That was the point of the Liberal Leader's speech tonight. Many would argue that stage 3 is now much too generous. It is a matter of opinion how much too generous this settlement would be, but for all that, if the average settlement under stage 3 has been between 9 and 10 per cent., the miners would be given between 5 and 6 per cent. more than the average of what other people are getting. That picks them out as a very special case.
The hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. Albert Roberts) in what I, and I think 150 the whole House, thought was a constructive and moving speech, raised the possibility that improvements in pension arrangements might form part of a settlement. I can confirm that pension improvements can be made outside the code ; this could be a profitable source for the mining industry to look at.
I hope that the miners will feel able to take the settlement, that they will accept the Government's assurances about the future and resume normal production straight away. Why do not the Opposition urge them to do just that? Not once did the Leader of the Opposition or the hon. Member for Chesterfield appeal to the miners to take the 16½ per cent. now, accept the offer of discussions about the longer term and resume normal production. It is clearly because they believe that the miners should have more than 163½ per cent. Very well—how much more? One per cent.? Five per cent.? How will that help to settle the ASLEF dispute? How will that help to settle the engineering problems which are coming on and what will it do for nearly 4 million workers who have already settled within phase 3?
What will be the effect on prices? What will that do for the moderates of whom the right hon. Member spoke so eloquently and who have spoken out bravely in favour of accepting the offer? The Leader of the Opposition earned the cheers of his party by dissociating the mass of mineworkers from Mr. Daly and Mr. Scargill. He might have earned the cheers of the whole House if he had shown still greater courage and urged the mineworkers to accept the offer and resume normal production. Or is it perhaps the policy of the Opposition to abandon any attempt to control wage inflation?
Let no one be under any illusion about what that would mean in present circumstances. The strong unions would keep ahead, the weak or public-spirited ones would fall behind and the poor, the needy, the pensioners, would fall still further behind. The House knows why. There are today powerful unions in a strong monopoly position able to exercise their power on behalf of their members in ways which are bound to damage the rest of the country. At the turn of the century there were those who abused their monopoly power to hold down the living standards of workers. The trade 151 unions and legislation by successive Governments broke that monopoly power.
Now there are those who see the present action of the leaders of the mineworkers and the train drivers as an abuse of their monopoly powers. If allowed to continue this can have no other result than a reduction in the living standards of their fellow workers. It is a power which is much more concerned about preserving differentials than with improving the position of the low paid. This is the problem, I admit it freely, which as a society we have not solved.
I well remember the Budget speech of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) in 1969 when he abandoned the Labour Party's statutory control over incomes in return for the implementation of "In Place of Strife"—"without delay" were his cogent words.
The dilemma remains. If hon. Gentlemen opposite wish to return to free collective bargaining, if my hon. Friends and all hon. Members wish to move away from a statutory prices and incomes policy—and I share their view—then we must accept that it can come about only in a situation in which monopoly power is not abused by some unions in pursuit of their own interests at the expense of the
§ interests of everyone else. While that monopoly power is used, and used irresponsibly, free collective bargaining can neither be free nor constitute genuine bargaining.
§ There has always been the danger that details of one dispute will be permitted to cloud the real issue which faces the nation. Without doubt that issue is inflation. For the Government to relent on their policy would be defeat not just for them but for Parliament and our form of democracy. When inflation becomes hyper-inflation, when people feel that Parliament has lost control, then all of us who are democrats will reap the whirlwind. That is why the Government will stand firm. Behind the compassion and the emotion of debate, alongside the genuine concern we have for our constituents—and this will hit so many on both sides of the political divide—there is surely a wider measure of agreement that the dispute must be solved. A fair and generous settlement can be followed by immediate discussions and the recognition of the special claim and position of the mining industry. The Government will continue to be firm but fair—for all the people and not just a few.
§ Question put, That this House do now adjourn:
§ The House divided: Ayes 278, Noes 302.155
|Division No. 27.]||AYES||[9.59 p.m.|
|Abse, Leo||Cant, R. B.||Douglas-Mann, Bruce|
|Albu, Austen||Carmichael, Neil||Duffy, A. E. P.|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Carter, Ray (Birmingh'm, Northfield)||Dunn, James A.|
|Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis)||Carter-Jones, Lewis (Eccles)||Dunnett, Jack|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara||Eadie, Alex|
|Ashley, Jack||Clark, David (Colne Valley)||Edelman, Maurice|
|Ashton, Joe||Cocks, Michael (Bristol, S.)||Edwards, Robert (Bilston)|
|Atkinson, Norman||Cohen, Stanley||Edwards, William (Merioneth)|
|Austick, David||Concannon, J. D.||Ellis, Tom|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Conlan, Bernard||English, Michael|
|Barnes, Michael||Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Evans, Fred|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Cox, Thomas (Wandsworth, C)||Ewing, Harry|
|Barnett, Joel (Heywood and Royton)||Crawshaw, Richard||Faulds, Andrew|
|Baxter, William||Cronin, John||Fernyhough, Rt. Hn. E.|
|Beaney, Alan||Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Fisher, Mrs. Doris (B' ham, Ladywood)|
|Beith, A. J.||Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard||Fitch, Alan (Wigan)|
|Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood||Cunningham, G. (Islington, S. W.)||Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)|
|Bennett, James (Glasgow, Bridgeton)||Cunningham, Dr. J. A. (Whitehaven)||Foot, Michael|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Dalyell, Tam||Ford, Ben|
|Bishop, E. S.||Darling, Rt. Hn. George||Forrester, John|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Davidson, Arthur||Fraser, John (Norwood)|
|Boardman, H. (Leigh)||Davies, Denzil (Llanelly)||Freeson, Reginald|
|Booth, Albert||Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)||Freud, Clement|
|Boyden, James (Bishop Auckland)||Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Galpern, Sir Myer|
|Bradley, Tom||Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.)||Gilbert, Dr. John|
|Broughton, Sir Alfred||Davis, Terry (Bromsgrove)||Ginsburg, David (Dewsbury)|
|Brown, Robert C. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne, W.)||Deakins, Eric||Gourlay, Harry|
|Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)||de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey||Grant, George (Morpeth)|
|Buchan, Norman||Delargy, Hugh||Grant, John D. (Islington, E.)|
|Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn)||Dell, Rt. Hn. Edmund||Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside)|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Dempsey, James||Grimond, Rt. Hn. J.|
|Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James||Doig, Peter||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)|
|Campbell, I. (Dunbartonshire, W.)||Dormand, J. D.||Hamilton, William (Fife, W.)|
|Hamling, William||McGuire, Michael||Robertson, John (Paisley)|
|Hannan, William (G'gow, Maryhill)||Machin, George||Roderick, Caerwyn E.(Br'c'n&R'dnor)|
|Hardy, Peter||Mackenzie, Gregor||Rodgers, William (Stockton-on-Tees)|
|Harper, Joseph||Mackie, John||Roper, John|
|Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Mackintosh, John P||Rose, Paul B.|
|Hart, Rt. Hn. Judith||Maclennan, Robert||Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)|
|Hattersley, Roy||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)||Rowlands, Ted|
|Hatton. F.||McNamara, J. Kevin||Sandelson, Neville|
|Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis||Mahon, Simon (Bootle)||Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne)|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Mallalieu, J P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)||Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)|
|Hilton, W. S.||Marks, Kenneth||Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)|
|Horam, John||Marquand, David||Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)|
|Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Marsden, F.||Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Howell, Denis (Small Heath)||Marshall, Dr. Edmund||Sillars, James|
|Huckfield, Leslie||Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy||Silverman, Julius|
|Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Meacher, Michael||Skinner, Dennis|
|Hughes, Mark (Durham)||Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert||Small, William|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N.)||Mendelson, John||Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Mikardo, Ian||Smith, John (Lanarkshire, N.)|
|Hunter, Adam||Millan, Bruce||Spearing, Nigel|
|Irvine, Rt. Hn. Sir Arthur (Edge Hill)||Miller, Dr. M. S.||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Janner, Greville||Milne, Edward||Stallard, A. W.|
|Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Mitchell, R. C. (S'hampton, Itchen)||Steel, David|
|Jeger, Mrs. Lena||Molloy, William||Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)|
|Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)||Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael (Fulham)|
|Jenkins Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford)||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Stoddart, David (Swindon)|
|John, Brynmor||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John|
|Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)||Morris, Rt. Hn. John (Aberavon)||Stott, Roger|
|Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)||Moyle, Roland||Strang, Gavin|
|Johnson, Walter (Derby, S.)||Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick||Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.|
|Johnston Russell (Inverness)|
|Jones Barry (Flint, E.)||Murray, Ronald King||Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley|
|Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Oakes, Gordon||Swain, Thomas|
|Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.)||Ogden, Eric||Thomas, Rt. Hn. George (Cardiff, W.)|
|Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen)||O'Halloran, Michael||Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)|
|Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, W.)||O'Malley, Brian||Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy|
|Judd, Frank||Oram, Bert||Tomney, Frank|
|Kaufman, Gerald||Orbach, Maurice||Tope, Graham|
|Kelley, Richard||Orme, Stanley||Torney, Tom|
|Kerr, Russell||Oswald, Thomas||Urwin, T. W.|
|Kinnock, Neil||Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, Sutton)||Varley, Eric G.|
|Lamble, David||Padley, Walter||Wainwright, Edwin|
|Lamborn, Harry||Paget, R. T.||Walden, Brian (B'm'ham, All Saints)|
|Lamond, James||Palmer, Arthur||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Latham, Arthur||Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles||Wallace, George|
|Lawson, George||Pardoe, John||Watkins, David|
|Leadbitter, Ted||Parker, John (Dagenham)||Weitzman, David|
|Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick||Pavitt, Laurie||Wellbeloved, James|
|Leonard, Dick||Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Lestor, Miss Joan||Pendry, Tom||White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)|
|Lever, Rt. Hn. Harold||Perry, Ernest G.||Whitlock, William|
|Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.)||Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg.||Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick|
|Lipton, Marcus||Prescott, John||Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)|
|Lomas, Kenneth||Price, William (Rugby)||Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)|
|Loughlin, Charles||Probert, Arthur||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|Lyon, Alexander W. (York)||Radice, Giles||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)||Reed, D. (Sedgefield)||Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)|
|Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)||Wool, Robert|
|McBride, Neil||Rhodes, Geoffrey|
|McCartney, Hugh||Richard, Ivor||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|MacDonald, Mrs. Margo||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)||Mr. Donald Coleman and|
|McElhone, Frank||Roberts, Rt. Hn. Goronwy (Caernarvon)||Mr. John Golding.|
|Adley, Robert||Body, Richard||Chapman, Sydney|
|Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)||Boscawen, Hn. Robert||Chataway, Rt. Hn. Christopher|
|Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)||Bossom, Sir Clive||Chichester-Clark, R.|
|Amery, Rt. Hn. Julian||Bowden, Andrew||Churchill, W. S.|
|Archer, Jeffrey (Louth)||Braine, Sir Bernard||Clark, William (Surrey, E.)|
|Astor, John||Bray, Ronald||Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Brawis, John||Cockeram, Eric|
|Awdry, Daniel||Brinton, Sir Tatton||Cooke, Robert|
|Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone)||Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher||Coombs, Derek|
|Baker, W. H. K. (Banff)||Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Cooper, A. E.|
|Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Bryan, Sir Paul||Cordle, John|
|Batsford, Brian||Buchanan-Smith, Alick (Angus, N&M)||Corfield, Rt. Hn. Sir Frederick|
|Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton||Buck, Antony||Cormack, Patrick|
|Bell, Ronald||Bullus, Sir Eric||Critchley, Julian|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport)||Burden, F. A.||Crouch, David|
|Benyon, W.||Butler, Adam (Bosworth)||Crowder, F. P.|
|Berry, Hn. Anthony||Campbell, Rt. Hn. G. (Moray & Nairn)||Davies, Rt. Hn. John (Knutsford)|
|Biffen, John||Carlisle, Mark||d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert||d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Maj.-Gen. Jack|
|Blaker, Peter||Cary, Sir Robert||Dean, Paul|
|Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S. W.)||Channon, Paul||Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F.|
|Digby, Simon Wingfield||Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead)||Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter|
|Dixon, Piers||Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.)||Redmond, Robert|
|Dodds-Parker, Sir Douglas||Jopling, Michael||Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)|
|Douglas-Home, Rt. Hn. Sir Alec||Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith||Rees, Peter (Dover)|
|Drayson, Burnaby||Kaberry, Sir Donald||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward||Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. Elaine||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Dykes, Hugh||Kershaw, Anthony||Ridley, Hn. Nicholas|
|Eden, Rt. Hn. Sir John||Kilfedder, James||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Kimball, Marcus||Rippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey|
|Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)||King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)||Roberts, Michael (Cardiff, N.)|
|Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.)||King, Tom (Bridgwater)||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)|
|Emery, Peter||Kinsey, J. R.||Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)|
|Eyre, Reginald||Kirk, Peter||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)|
|Farr, John||Kitson, Timothy||Rost, Peter|
|Fell, Anthony||Knight, Mrs. Jill||Royle, Anthony|
|Fidler, Michael||Knox, David||Russell, Sir Ronald|
|Finsberg, Geoffrey (Hampstead)||Lamont, Norman||St. John-Stevas, Norman|
|Fenner, Mrs. Peggy||Le Marchant, Spencer||Sainsbury, Timothy|
|Fisher, Sir Nigel (Surbiton)||Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey (Sut'nC'dfield)|
|Fletcher, Alexander (Edinburgh, N.)||Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone)||Sandys, Rt. Hn. D.|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Longden, Sir Gilbert||Scott, Nicholas|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Loveridge, John||Scott-Hopkins, James|
|Fortescue, Tim||Luce, R. N.||Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)|
|Foster, Sir John||McAdden, Sir Stephen||Shelton, William (Clapham)|
|Fowler, Norman||MacArthur, Ian||Shersby, Michael|
|Fox, Marcus||McCrindle, R. A.||Simeons, Charles|
|Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh (St'fford & Stone)||McLaren, Martin||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Fry, Peter||Maclean, Sir Fitzroy||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Gardner, Edward||Macmillan, Rt. Hn. Maurice (Farnham)||Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)|
|Gibson-Watt, David||McNair-Wilson, Michael||Soref, Harold|
|Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.)||McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest)||Speed, Keith|
|Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.)||Madel, David||Spence, John|
|Glyn, Dr. Alan||Maginnis, John E.||Sproat, Iain|
|Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B.||Marples, Rt. Hn. Ernest||Stainton, Keith|
|Goodhart, Philip||Mather, Carol||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Goodhew, Victor||Maude, Angus||Stewart-Smith, Geoffrey (Belper)|
|Gorst, John||Maudling, Rt. Hn. Reginald||Stodart, Anthony (Edinburgh, W.)|
|Gower, Sir Raymond||Mawby, Ray||Stokes, John|
|Grant, Anthony (Harrow, C.)||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.||Stuttaford, Dr. Tom|
|Gray, Hamish||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Sutcliffe, John|
|Green, Alan||Mills, Peter (Torrington)||Tapsell, Peter|
|Grieve, Percy||Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)||Miscampbell, Norman||Taylor, Edward M.(G'gow, Cathcart)|
|Grylls, Michael||Mitchell, Lt.-Col. (Aberdeenshire, W)||Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)|
|Gummer, J. Selwyn||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)||Taylor, Robert (Croydon, N. W.)|
|Gurden, Harold||Moate, Roger||Tebbit, Norman|
|Hall, Miss Joan (Kelghley)||Molyneaux, James||Temple, John M.|
|Hall, Sir John (Wycombe)||Money, Ernie||Thatcher, Rt. Hn. Mrs. Margaret|
|Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||Monks, Mrs. Connie||Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)|
|Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Montgomery, Fergus||Thomas, Rt. Hn. Peter (Hendon, S.)|
|Hannam, John (Exeter)||More, Jasper||Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)|
|Harrison, Brian (Maldon)||Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh)||Trafford, Dr. Anthony|
|Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)||Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm.||Trew, Peter|
|Harvie Anderson, Miss||Morrison, Charles||Tugendhat, Christopher|
|Haselhurst, Alan||Mudd, David||Turton, Rt. Hn. Sir Robin|
|Hastings, Stephen||Neave, Airey||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Havers, Sir Michael||Nicholls, Sir Harmar||Vaughan, Dr. Gerard|
|Hay, John||Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael||Vickers, Dame Joan|
|Hayhoe, Barney||Normanton, Tom||Waddington, David|
|Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward||Nott, John||Walder, David (Clitheroe)|
|Heseltine, Michael||Onslow, Cranley||Walker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester)|
|Hicks, Robert||Oppenheim, Mrs. Sally||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek|
|Higgins, Terence L.||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.||Wall, Patrick|
|Hiley, Joseph||Osborn, John||Walters, Dennis|
|Hill, S. James A. (Southampton, Test)||Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.)||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Holland, Philip||Page, Rt. Hn. Graham (Crosby)||Warren, Kenneth|
|Holt, Miss Mary||Parkinson, Cecil||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Hordern, Peter||Peel, Sir John||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Hornby, Richard||Percival, Ian||Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William|
|Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hn. Dame Patricia||Peyton, Rt. Hon. John||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Howe, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey (Reigate)||Pike, Miss Mervyn||Wilkinson, John|
|Howell, David (Guildford)||Pink, R. Bonner||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.)||Pounder, Rafton||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Hunt, John||Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch||Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard|
|Hutchison, Michael Clark||Price David (Eastleigh)||Woodhouse, Hn. Christopher|
|Iremonger, T. L.||Prior,' Rt. Hn. J. M. L.||Worsley, Sir Marcus|
|Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Proudfoot, Wilfred||Wylie, Rt. Hn. N. R.|
|James, David||Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis||Younger, Hn. George|
|Jenkin, Rt. Hn. Patrick (Woodford)||Quennell, Miss J. M.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Jennings, J. C. (Burton)||Raison, Timothy||Mr. Walter Clegg and|
|Jessel, Toby||Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James||Mr. Paul Hawkins.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.