HC Deb 23 July 1974 vol 877 cc1288-9
Q2. Mr. Edwin Wainwright

asked the Prime Minister if the public speech on the coal mining industry made by the Secretary of State for Energy, at the National Union of Mineworkers' conference in Llandudno on the 4th July 1974 represents Government policy.

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Wainwright

During that speech my right hon. Friend mentioned an inquiry into the coal mining industry. Will the Prime Minister take into account that the wages and conditions in the industry are not attracting young people into it? My right hon. Friend also spoke of compensation for pneumoconiosis sufferers. Will the Prime Minister do something about that quickly and not be indifferent as were the Conservative Government? Unless we do something about it, shall we not be placing hundreds of thousands of pounds into the hands of the legal profession? Furthermore, will the Prime Minister take into account that many pneumoconiosis sufferers have died and left their widows in penury? Will he promise to do something for them as well?

The Prime Minister

We announced in our manifesto an examination of the future of the industry, and my right hon. Friend has proceeded with this examination with the two sides of industry with remarkable speed and great thoroughness. The Government were able to announce in the House the results of that examination.

On the question of wages and conditions, what happened last winter and earlier this year led to a substantial reduction in the chronic wastage and the return of many miners to the pits. I cannot anticipate further negotiations, which are a matter for the industry.

Pneumoconiosis has plagued the industry for a century but was scheduled only during the war. My hon. Friend will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy has informed the mining industry that we are prepared now to reach a once-for-all solution of the problem, not only of those who may in future—a diminishing number we hope—be discharged from the industry with pneumoconiosis, but all past sufferers. The exact details are being worked out between my right hon. Friend and the industry. As I am sure my hon. Friend will confirm, this is greatly appreciated and understood by the industry as dealing with a problem which has existed for many years for thousands of families in his constituency and mine.

Mr. Hannam

Does the Prime Minister agree that there must be a relationship between the large public funds being invested in the coal industry and productivity and output, which have gone into decline during the last year? Does he appreciate that without this there will be a decline in the industry's capacity to satisfy demand for generating power and sharp increases in the price of coal during the years to come?

The Prime Minister

Productivity in the coal industry has been affected by the great falling-off in development in the last year or two because of the shortage of miners for reasons which were debated before and during the General Election. It will take some time to catch up with the development work lost during that period. The hon. Gentleman will have noted, I am sure with satisfaction, the announcement within the industry that it is trying to work out an effective form of productivity agreement.

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