§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Edward Heath)
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will now answer Questions Q1 and Q3.
Six representatives of the TUC came to Downing Street at 4.30 p.m. yesterday afternoon to meet me and my right hon. Friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretaries of State for Employment and Energy. We discussed the possibility of relaxing the restrictions on the use of electricity in industry, the general economic situation and its prospects, and against that background the miners' dispute and the TUC initiative.
1445 On the use of electricity in industry, my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Energy explained that, for various reasons which I described in my answers to questions in the House last Friday, stocks of coal at the power stations were higher than had earlier been expected—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I hope that the House is pleased about that. If there were no significant setbacks, and there was no further reduction of supplies of coal to the power stations, it should be possible to contemplate an early relaxation in the restrictions on the use of electricity. It would be important to give the fullest benefit of any relaxations to manufacturing industry ; and this would depend on savings by domestic consumers continuing at a high level.
We asked the TUC representatives whether, if some such relaxation were possible, they would prefer to see industry move to a four day working week or—if this were practicable—to a live day working week with industry using only 80 per cent. of normal supplies of electricity. The TUC, after our discussions, made clear that it would prefer a five-day week and 80 per cent. of normal use of electricity. This had also been the preference expressed by the CBI at a meeting with my right hon. and noble Friend in the morning.
My right hon. and noble Friend is now considering as a matter of urgency whether the technical problems of a five-day week at 80 per cent. of normal use of electricity can be overcome, so that he may be in a position to take a decision later this week if the coal stock situation and supply prospects justify some relaxation.
Clearly one of the factors in his decision must be the industrial action of the mine-workers and its effects upon coal supplies.
We then moved on to a discussion of the general economic situation, on which I expect to have further meetings both with the TUC and with the CBI. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer explained the severe problems which exist in the field of domestic economic policy. The shortfall in energy supplies was bound significantly to affect gross domestic product in the first part of 1974. The substantial additional burden imposed on the balance of payments by the increase in oil prices made it the more necessary to take every advantage of our 1446 competitive situation to increase exports. There would be sizeable demand for new investment, particularly in the development of new sources of energy.
It was therefore impossible to envisage any increase in the volume of resources going into domestic consumption. Indeed, we could well have to be content with the living standards of a year ago, and deny ourselves the improvements in living standards to which, only a few months ago, we have been looking forward. In the light of this change of circumstances, stage 3 of the counter-inflation policy now appeared if anything too generous.
Against that background we turned to the coal miners' dispute and the TUC initiative. The TUC representatives stated that they were prepared to say that the miners were a unique case, that other unions would not use the special nature of the mineworkers' case as an argument in their own negotiations, and that the TUC itself would not come to Downing Street in support of any other case this year. They claimed that in giving this undertaking they would be going further than the TUC had gone before, and indeed could go no further, to ensure that any special settlement for the miners was not followed by excessively inflationary settlements of other claims. Their initiative had been almost unanimously approved by their special meeting on 16th January.
For my part, I made it clear that the Government recognised the significance of the undertaking offered by the TUC and unreservedly accepted its sincerity and genuineness. Nor did we doubt that it could secure the implementation of the specific undertaking it was prepared to give.
But the fact remained that the offer already made to the National Union of Mineworkers was in our view fair, and, in the economic situation facing us, as generous as we could afford. Within the limits of the stage 3 pay code it treated the miners as a special case, and would in fact more than restore their relative position as it was immediately after the Wilberforce award.
The National Union of Mineworkers had resorted to industrial action last November, more than three months before its existing agreement was due to expire. In the meantime 4 million people had accepted settlements within the stage 3 1447 pay code, and the change in our economic circumstances made it more rather than less difficult to envisage increases in excess of the stage 3 code.
Other groups had the same sort of power as the miners to damage industry, cause hardship in homes, and disrupt the life of the nation. I had therefore to say to the TUC representatives that, if the miners' use of their industrial power was seen to lead to a settlement which was excessive by the standard of stage 3—and the nation certainly cannot afford more—there was nothing in the TUC's undertaking to prevent such groups from following the miners' example and using their industrial power to seek to extort excessive settlements. The TUC representatives agreed that this was the case, and emphasised that there was nothing further they could do by means of their undertaking to prevent that happening.
I made it clear, and the TUC representatives accepted, that the Government were not rejecting their initiative or questioning their sincerity. Indeed, it remains on the table. The TUC and the Government are agreed about that. I expressed the hope that we should be able to build on it in further discussions with the TUC on future developments of counter-inflation policy.
But the fact remains, and the TUC representatives agreed, that in present circumstances their initiative would not protect us again the use of industrial power, by those who might be minded so to use it, in pursuance of settlements at a level which the country cannot afford. That is a risk which in present circumstances we cannot run.
A fair and generous offer has been made to the mineworkers. I will, with permission, circulate details of it in the OFFICIAL REPORT. From that hon. Members on all sides of the House will see that full use has been made of the provisions in the stage 3 pay code which enable us to treat the miners as a special case.
In addition, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment and I have made it clear that the Government are ready, as soon as normal working has been resumed, to start immediate discussions with the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers on the future of the coal industry, on improvements 1448 in pensions and in provisions for health hazards, and on the pay arrangements appropriate in the longer term to the industry's future and its manpower requirements.
So the Government have done everything in their power, within what they believe to be right in the interests of the country as a whole, to make possible a settlement of this dispute. The TUC has also offered everything that is in its power to offer to limit the consequences of a special settlement for the miners. The fact that we have had to say that it does not go far enough to prevent the dangers we fear does not mean that we fail to recognise the importance of the step it has made, to which I again pay tribute.
But there is a third party involved in this affair, with whom the responsibility for the future now rests—that is, the National Union of Mineworkers.
The offer which has been made to it, together with our proposals for discussions about the future of the industry, responds to its case for special treatment, within the limits of what the country can afford, and provides a basis on which a secure future for the industry, and for employment in it, can be established.
I very much hope, therefore, that the National Union of Mineworkers will recognise this, and will conclude that acceptance of the offer on the basis I have described will do justice not only to the aspirations of the miners but also to the needs and circumstances of our country of which we are all citizens.
§ Mrs. Renée Short
The House will be grateful to the Prime Minister for making his statement today, even though it is clear that he is not prepared to accept the undertakings given by the TUC on behalf of the majority of trade unions and made by some of the leaders of the largest unions in the country. Can he say how his statement and the position in which he has left the talks help the miners? Is he aware that while the miners are now offered just over £39 a week, all Labour Members, and the rest of the country, believe that the miners deserve to have their claim met in full? Can he tell the House what he now expects the trade unions to do?
Can he also tell the House when he expects to see full-time working in industry and whether he is now prepared to 1449 ensure that industry receives priority in the use of electricity and that non-essential users will be prohibited from wasting electricity in clubs, pubs, discotheques and such places?
§ The Prime Minister
We assured both the TUC and the CBI about this yesterday when we asked their advice and they said that they thought that top priority must be given to manufacturing industry. We accepted that advice. We agreed. We have therefore asked that domestic consumption should be limited most stringently, and that all the restrictions should remain on domestic consumption. In the further talks which the Secretary of State for Energy had with the Retail Consortium it was agreed that commerce and trade should not have any great relaxation of the regulations at the moment. Everything which is available should go to manufacturing industry. I hope that meets the hon. Lady's point.
On this question of not accepting the undertaking, I have made clear several times in my statement—and this was fully accepted by the TUC—that we recognised its undertaking. We accepted it and recognised its sincerity and the fact that the undertaking, as approved by the full meeting of the TUC, would be observed. What I explained to the TUC and what it accepted, was not that we did not accept the undertaking but that in the two particular respects I mentioned it does not cover the danger to the counter-inflationary policy. This is absolutely fundamental. If there were to be either a completely guaranteed voluntary policy, which we would certainly like to have if the TUC were in a position to organise it, or complete support for the statutory policy, these problems would not arise.
I have explained—and the TUC has fully accepted this—that there is no questioning of good faith in what it has said and what it says it can deliver. The question is about the circumstances which go beyond that. I have always tried to be absolutely fair to the TUC in these discussions. It has said absolutely frankly, "We cannot cover those circumstances." That, too, I have accepted. It cannot cover the circumstance in which other workers claim to be a special case. Such workers would not cite the miners, they would cite their own special circumstances and would use industrial power 1450 to achieve their ends. They could cause damage to the nation equal to that which could be caused by any other group.
§ Mr. Carter
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the country now believes that the three-day week was a botched-up failure? Can he tell the House how he believes industry could have got through to the spring on such a basis? Is he aware that even on a four-day week British Leylands would have gone bust long before then? On that basis, should not industry be allowed immediately to return to a five-day week?
§ The Prime Minister
All the reports show—and this was certainly confirmed at the meeting yesterday with the CBI and TUC—that the achievements of industry during the past month as a result of special arrangements, mutually agreed between employers and trade unions, have been remarkable. I pay tribute to unions who have forgone their normal rules and regulations and some restrictive practices. Employers have arranged special hours within the limits laid down and as a result production has not decreased anything like proportionately or as much as was anticipated. For this both sides of industry, unions and employers, must have full credit. I believe that the result has been remarkable.
The consultations we had yesterday with the TUC, the CBI, the Association of British Chambers of Commerce and the Retail Consortium were aimed at getting back to as full a working week as possible. As I have told the House, the Secretary of State for Energy is today examining the question of the practicality of having a five-day working week with a limitation on the amount of energy used by manufacturing industry. All the increase will go to manufacturing industry. This will lead to a great improvement in output.
§ Mr. Tapsell
Since deadlock seems temporarily to have been reached on the wages front, might it not be helpful if greater attention were now given to the other aspect of our policy, namely, statutory control of prices?
§ The Prime Minister
The CBI has been co-operating fully with the proposals for statutory control of prices. It has consulted the Government about 1451 the impact of the prices code whereas unfortunately we did not always have the advice of the TUC on the formulation of the wages code. I agree with my hon. Friend that constant attention has to be given to the question of prices. But this was not a matter raised yesterday in our discussions with either the CBI or the TUC.
§ Mr. Harold Wilson
In that answer, and earlier in his statement, is not the right hon. Gentleman asking the TUC to give assurances about wages that neither the CBI nor even the Government can give about prices? When he used the phrase—and he did so a number of times—that the TUC accepted this and that, did he mean that the TUC agreed with what he said or merely accepted that he had said it? Could we have that stated clearly?
Is it not clear that the right hon. Gentleman is now approaching this grave problem on the basis not of the national interest but of a fetishism about stage 3? Is it not clear, too, that whereas to him inflation is exclusively about wages, and he does nothing effective about prices, for every family in the country it is prices, rents, mortgage interest rates and the rest by which they judge the state of inflation which the Economist this week said would increase by 15 per cent. in 1974? As it is now two months since he had before him a proposal on the coalmining dispute—which could have produced a settlement honourable to all parties, even within stage 3—which was rejected out of hand, without his giving it any consideration—is it not the case that the three-day week could have been averted if he had given one-tenth of the time to getting a settlement on that basis that he has given, instead, to confrontation?
Is it not the case that during these two months he has instead taken measures, I do not believe deliberately, which have strengthened the militants in industry and weakened the moderates? Finally, since the pre-Christmas olive branch of the Secretary of State for Employment asking for a response by the TUC has now had a very strong response, surprising many people throughout the country—indeed, a response which has never been equalled either in 1452 peace or war—does not his veto of that response confirm that he is, as he appeared to be all along, more interested in political confrontation than in getting the country back to work, to getting Britain out of the mess in which he has landed us?
§ The Prime Minister
When I said that the TUC had accepted, I meant that the TUC had agreed. The TUC has said frankly all along that it could not make arrangements to cover these aspects of the question. I hope that the right hon. Gentlemen and others will devote their attention to these aspects of the question, because they greatly concern other trade union leaders. Whereas they know that they would not quote the special aspects of the miners' case in another wage application, they would quote the special aspects of their own application. Therefore, the moderate leaders recognise full well the consequences for them.
The right hon. Gentleman repeats his accusation about militancy. Nothing would encourage militancy more than to accept what the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short) suggested earlier, that a claim for 31 per cent., involving £130 million, should be met. Nothing would encourage militancy more than that.
The right hon. Gentleman has referred to things we have done since the claim was first brought forward. I have gone to the utmost in meeting the NUM and TUC. I have given hours of discussion to them in trying to find a way to a solution, and I shall continue to do so. The TUC fully accepted last night that what mattered to the Government was to try to find a solution to the dispute. That is our position. We shall go on trying to find a solution.
§ Mr. Wilson
When the right hon. Gentleman refers to the full claim—which was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short)—is he aware that from an early stage in the dispute Mr. Gormley said that the miners were not pushing the full claim and that they wanted the right to negotiate. [Interruption.] Hon. Members must know nothing about the negotiations, if that is the basis of their interruption. I hope that the Prime Minister does, but in view 1453 of what he has said I doubt whether he does.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the full claim. Mr. Gormley has made clear several times, and so have I, that what was wanted was the right to negotiate an honourable settlement—[Interruption.] Negotiate, fat-head.
The right hon. Gentleman rejects negotiations in any form outside stage 3. He rejects certain negotiations within stage 3, as he made clear in his letter to me. The Secretary of State for Employment wanted to start negotiations, but was stopped by the Prime Minister, although he has the responsibility.
§ The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. William Whitelaw) indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Wilson
It is no good the right hon. Gentleman shaking his head. He knows the position.
Will the Prime Minister answer the question which I put to him and which he has ducked for two months? When a proposal was put it was already public knowledge. It had been put forward by Mr. Daly in a public statement. The Prime Minister rejected it for reasons which have since proved to be wrong, even in terms of the pay code. Many of us think that the proposal is within stage 3. Is the Prime Minister now prepared to consider it with the evidence which has been produced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) in researches which he has carried out? We believe that it is within stage 3. Is the Prime Minister prepared to allow the Secretary of State to examine the proposal freely and to allow the two sides to negotiate on the basis of what the miners and my right hon. Friend have put forward? May we have an answer?
§ The Prime Minister
The right hon. Gentleman can have a full and complete answer. The matter was first raised by the NUM in its discussions with the National Coal Board, and the NUM dropped it. It was then raised by the right hon. Gentleman in a letter to me, sent on the Friday. I assume that the right hon. Gentleman is talking about the question of bathing time. His letter to me was marked "Confidential", and it was not going to be made public. Far from rejecting it hastily, I immediately 1454 put the matter in hand to be studied fully.
The right hon. Gentleman, in his judgment, made the matter public at a meeting on the Tuesday evening. I therefore had to reply publicly to him. I pointed out what the consequences would be, and I also said that the final decision rested with the Pay Board. The matter has since been discussed on many occasions between the National Coal Board and the NUM. Both were invited to put their views and position to the Pay Board, which is the proper way of proceeding, and the Pay Board gave its conclusion and decision. I know that the right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) has raised the question of the legal basis for these matters, as has the Leader of the Opposition. He also said that he had not taken legal advice about it.
If there is to be a different decision about the custom and practice of the industry, the matter has to be proved, and it has not been proved. The Pay Board has given its decision on the matter.
§ Mr. Harold Wilson
The right hon. Gentleman has given wrong information to the House in that answer. I do not blame him, because it refers to a matter which took place two months ago and he may have forgotten about it. He got the order and facts all wrong. Is he aware that, contrary to what he said, the miners had not dropped the proposal before I wrote to him? He knows that. He accused me of being responsible for their dropping it. He cannot have it both ways. It was public knowledge before I made it public. I can give proof of that. We will not have the facts twisted by the right hon. Gentleman. He can look up the dates and make a statement tomorrow. He can see who is right. I give him the chance to do that, without blaming him for what he said.
The right hon. Gentleman has misled the House. I do not believe that he did so deliberately. I am giving him the chance to look at the facts and dates and to make a statement in the House tomorrow. Nothing can be fairer than that.
Does he agree that he told me in his letter that it would cost £45 million to £50 million and that in December he 1455 interrupted my speech to make the same point? He then said that it would cost £45 million. Is he aware of what the Pay Board said? He totally miscalculated. Will he get the facts right and allow the Secretary of State for Employment to negotiate on the basis of that proposal, particularly as some of us believe that on the evidence it is within stage 3? If he will not, we shall know exactly what his motives are.
§ The Prime Minister
The right hon. Gentleman will not help find a solution by adopting that attitude. If the NUM or the NCB wished to pursue this further with the Pay Board—[Interruption.] It will remain a decision of the Pay Board, in any case, because the board decides what this means in the terms of the code.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment discussed this with the NUM when the union saw him. It then agreed to follow the correct procedure—to discuss it with the National Coal Board and together approach the Pay Board, which they did. They were asked for evidence. They produced what evidence they could, and the Pay Board gave its decision. Those are the facts of the case.
§ Mr. Gardner
Will my right hon. Friend, in any future discussions he may have with the TUC, deal with the allegation, made repeatedly inside and outside the House, that 500 miners are leaving the industry each week because of low pay? Will he remind the TUC, the miners and the country at large, that for more than seven months, before the self-imposed overtime ban restricted earnings, recruitment was running at the rate of 320 men a week, more than half of whom were former miners returning to the industry? If the present generous offer to the miners is accepted, that flow of recruitment can be expected to be restored and improved.
§ The Prime Minister
I have gone into that question. During 1972–73, wastage in the mining industry, at 104 per cent., was the lowest of the main industry groups, and less than half that for all manufacturing industry. That trend continues. Meanwhile, recruitment is steady. The rate of adult recruitment is up by 35 per cent., and over half the new 1456 recruits are former miners who are choosing to return. Voluntary wastage has declined since September. As I have told the House before, the peak figure for voluntary wastage came after the overtime ban was announced.
§ Mr. Eadie
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that once the House has had the opportunity to study his statement, particularly his mention of his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the conclusion of the House and the nation will be that the country has suffered an economic defeat under his captaincy? As he has said that we must consider what we can afford, does he not realise that very shortly the country will want to know whether we can afford him? While we move towards a national coal strike, will he continue to do absolutely nothing?
§ The Prime Minister
I respect the hon. Gentleman, because of his connection with the industry, but how he could say that the Government have done absolutely nothing is beyond public comprehension. I have paid tribute to what the TUC has done. Could we not now ask the National Union of Mineworkers also to play its part? It has had a better offer than any other part of industry. It has had a fresh offer from the Government to deal with the three things that concern it most—health, pensions and the future of the industry from the point of view of its investment, manning and pay structure.
Can there be a fairer or more comprehensive offer to an industry at a time when, as a result of events in the Middle East, a large part of the Western world has been dealt a blow which has sent it reeling? That blow is producing, as we now see day by day, economic instability in individual Western countries, and the developing countries are finding their reserves and economic position wiped out overnight and cannot see any way through to the future. Is it not possible in those circumstances for all three parties to accept that there is a limit to what can be done in this country, and that only in that way can we solve our problems?
§ Mr. Ridsdale
Is it not clear that what the country needs now is men of toleration and understanding? Would it not help if the Leader of the Opposition, like his predecessor, admitted that there is 1457 such a thing as an unacceptable face of trade unionism as well as an unacceptable face of capitalism?
§ The Prime Minister
I hope that, after what I have said today in Parliament, the National Union of Mineworkers will see that there is a genuine desire to give miners the best possible arrangements within the counter-inflationary policy, which has been approved by the House, and a genuine desire and will to work with it for the whole of the future of its industry. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) considered the seriousness of the situation, perhaps he might listen. The Government showed their good faith in 1973 by asking the taxpayer to commit £1,100 million of expenditure for the industry, to ensure its future. Our good faith can be judged by that. That arrangement was made by the NCB and the NUM. The Government accepted it, put it to Parliament and carried it through. On that basis of good faith, we should be judged for the future arrangements of the industry.
§ Mr. Thorpe
Will the Prime Minister expand a little more on the Government's policy in one particular? Are the Government saying that if there were an acceptance under phase 3 there could be immediate talks on pay and other arrangements? If that is so, and if the evidence so indicated, would the Government be prepared thereafter to go beyond phase 3, which might give some significance to the offer, or would the offer have to be within the confines of phase 3, in which case it would be academic? Would the right hon. Gentleman be prepared for such recommendations to be retrospectively dated to 1st March, when the present pay structure expires?
§ The Prime Minister
It does not expire on 1st March. The present wage agreement expires on 1st March, and what the miners wish, I understand, is a complete review of the internal pay structure of the industry. No doubt they will also wish to discuss its relativity to other bargaining groups. We have said that we are prepared to discuss that with them.
I cannot give any undertakings here at the Dispatch Box about what that negotiation between the NCB and the NUM will lead to. The right hon. Gentleman will understand that, with the 1458 best will in the world, what we have offered to the miners is what we understand they want, which is to consider these problems, which are internal, and known to those connected with the industry, as well as any points they may wish to put about the external arrangements.
I have told the House that the offer already made to the miners, leaving aside what the Government have proposed, puts them in a better relative position than they had after Wilberforce. Wilberforce was designed to give them back their proper relativity. The offer gives them an even better position than the Wilberforce position.
§ Mr. William Clark
Does my right hon. Friend agree that trade, commerce and the domestic consumer will willingly accept continued restrictions on the use of energy to give priority to manufacturing industry? What action will the Government take about those politically-motivated councils which refuse to turn off unnecessary street lights?
§ The Prime Minister
I understand my hon. Friend's point. There is considerable public feeling about the matter. I think that the answer is for local public feeling to make itself felt with the local councils concerned.
§ Mr. Orme
Does not the Prime Minister agree that in view of the breakdown of the talks, the public uncertainty now spreading throughout the country, and the facts that the Government's policy has now been challenged and that the Prime Minister has told the House this afternoon that his policy is right in his view and that the British public supports it, he has a duty to test that statement with the British electorate? Instead of just sitting there grinning, the Prime Minister has a responsibility, if he believes in open Government, to tell the British people whether he will stop the present election scare. Is he going to call an election? What is he going to do?
§ The Prime Minister
The election scare is on the Opposition side of the House. The Government have a responsibility to deal with the situation. We are carrying out that responsibility, and that is what we shall do. When the hon. Gentleman talks about a challenge 1459 to the policy, I repeat that more than 4 million trade unionists have accepted the stage 3 settlements. Such settlements are continuing apace. That shows that by far the greater part of the workers of this country accept stage 3 and are negotiating their own arrangements under it.
There is sufficient flexibilty in the policy for them to meet their own needs, whether in national bargaining or in plant bargaining. That surely shows the massive support for our policy. Four million people have now accepted it. I suggest that the House should maintain its sense of fairness to those 4 million because they negotiated in the context of a policy which was approved by Parliament, that would be accepted in the country as a whole.
§ Mr. Harold Wilson
The right hon. Gentleman has referred on a number of occasions to those 4 million. Is it or is it not the case that the leaders of all those 4
The N.C.B. Offer (to be operative from 1st March 1974) (i) New minimum basic rates: £27.59 for surface workers … (+£2.30). £29.86 for underground workers … (+£2.57). £39.36 for face workers … (+£2.57). (ii) Increased shift payments … To be 17p an hour between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. for everybody (in lieu of 2½p for day wagemen only). (iii) Increased holiday pay … To be paid at time rates prevailing at time of holiday, with minima of £61 for the main 2 weeks and £5.70 per day for the remaining 19 holidays. (iv) Additional statutory holiday. (v) Retirement benefits … Lump sum at age 65 raised from £300 to £500. Increases for incapacity retirement from age 51 to apply from 1st January 1974. (vi) Death benefits … Benefits to be provided for all deaths in service to apply from 1st January 1974. (vii) Efficiency payments … Up to 3½ per cent. if a scheme is agreed and approved by the Pay Board. (viii) Threshold clause … In accordance with the Pay Code. (ix) N.C.B. statement of intent to improve sick pay when circumstances permit. (x) N.C.B. to discuss the implementation of a third week's holiday as soon as circumstances permit. The Coal Board estimate that the offer (items (i) to (vi) only) would cost about £45 million (13 per cent.). These figures exclude the increased overtime payments resulting from the higher minimum basic rates. In addition all miners enjoy fringe benefits, worth an average of £2.64 per week. As I have already informed the House my rt. hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment and I have made it clear that the Government are ready, as soon as normal working has been resumed, to start immediate discussions with the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers on the future of the coal industry, on improvements in pensions and in provisions for health hazards and on the pay arrangements appropriate in the longer term to the industry's future and its manpower requirements.