§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.59 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Energy (Mr. Eric G. Varley)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
This is the first Coal Industry Bill we have had since 1972. The purpose of that Bill was to clear up the mess after the first of the two coal strikes which marred the last period of office of the Conservative Party.
This is a much smaller Bill. But let no one doubt its significance. It ushers in what we look forward to as a new future of harmony, security and prosperity in the coal industry after these recent turbulent and unhappy years. The past 12 months have seen a determination by Government, unions and the National Coal Board to co-operate in ensuring that the coal industry shall be able to live up to its new opportunities and its new place in the energy scene.
This is the first major debate in the House on coal since the Conservative Party left office. There has been no need for one before. There has been no crisis, no drama, and only intermittent excitement. We ended the coal strike in our first few days of office.
Then I moved speedily to set up the tripartite examination by Government, unions and the National Coal Board into the future of the industry, which we promised in our February election manifesto. That tripartite examination reported well within the three month timetable we had allotted, and I was able to present the interim report to Parliament last June and to enlarge upon it at the NUM Conference in Llandudno in July. The relations between this Government and the unions have been warm and cordial.
The interim report signified agreement to an extra £600 million investment in the coal industry over the next 10 years. It also endorsed the foreshadowed compensation scheme for sufferers from pneumoconiosis and their widows. We had been faced with the squalid and degrading prospect of scarred and battered 1349 men having to fight their way through the courts for compensation which it might have taken them years to win, years which many simply did not have ahead of them. We were not prepared to suffer such a sorry spectacle and, therefore, readily backed the compensation scheme, to the tune of £100 million.
Clause 1 of this Bill will empower me to make the necessary grant to the National Coal Board for that purpose. I think it is one of the noblest clauses ever to be embodied in a parliamentary Bill. The scheme is well under way. More than 55,000 claims have already been received. More than 20,000 claims have been checked and offers of settlement made. Benefit has already been paid in more than 12,000 cases.
Assuming that the House gives the Bill a Second Reading, I intend to commence making grants to the National Coal Board in accordance with Clause 1. I am sure the House will agree that it is right that the Government should start to honour their commitment to contribute £100 million just as soon as practicable. The Winter Supplementary Estimates provided for grants of up to £55 million to be made during this financial year.
The final report of the tripartite examination was published last November and set the seal on a period in which we also decided to go ahead with the exploitation of the massive new coal find at Selby, subject to the necessary planning approval. During these months I was also able to announce that the first coaifired power station for many years would be built at Drax.
Since then we have had the prolonged negotiations on the miners' pay claim that ended successfully last week. Before anybody indulges in any destructive comments about that pay settlement and its cost, it is necessary to point out that it is not as costly as the £1,100 million provided by the Coal Industry Bill 1972 for, among other purposes, setting right the National Coal Board's finances after the pit strike of the previous winter.
Anyone who is critical of this settlement should also tell us whether it is more costly than the hundreds of millions of pounds which last winter's strike cost, not only in lost production for the country but in the great damage it did to the industry. We all know that it 1350 left the Conservative Party with an incomes policy that was shattered beyond repair. And before anybody starts to decry the social contract he had better tell us what he would put in its place.
The hon. Member who is to speak for the Opposition—the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson)—will doubtless have had his attention drawn to recent statements by his right hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and his right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior), both of whom over the last few days have publicly accepted the settlement.
As the right hon. Member for Lowestoft put it on the radio last Friday,I don't think that we—that is, the Opposition—could have done anything other than what has happened.Nor do we make any bones about the necessary price increases. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and I have during the past year repeatedly told the House how essential it is to get realistic pricing of energy both in the interests of the proper financing of the nationalised industries and in the cause of energy conservation.
§ Mr. Michael Alison (Barkston, Ash)
The right hon. Gentleman is making some fascinating, rather challenging and coat-trailing remarks about the social contract. I am not quite clear about whether the settlement to which he has referred is or is not within the social contract. Is it clearly and explicitly within the guidelines?
§ Mr. Varley
I thought that that question would be asked. I strongly support the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment yesterdaythat the miners' settlement was a good one for the miners, the industry and, above all, for the country.—[Official Report, 18th Feb., 1975; Vol. 886, c. 1087.]
§ Mr. Varley
I hope that before Conservative Members get too excited they will pay tribute to the fact that restructuring has taken place in the industry and that there is now a greater differential between those underground and those on the surface. It is still necessary that we 1351 get men to go on to the coalface and probably spend 40 years of their life there. It is therefore right that there should have been an element of restructuring.
I was saying that we make no bones and offer no excuses about the necessary price increases. Over the last 11½ months we have constantly made it clear that we must have proper and realistic pricing within the nationalised industries in the interests of the industries themselves and in the cause of energy conservation.
As the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford, (Mr. Jenkin) so aptly put it in the House last March, quoting a previous utterance by Lord Barber, as he now is:at a time of the most acute energy shortage .. it is anomalous … that we are subsidising coal and electricity prices at a mounting rate." [Official Report, 13th March 1974; Vol. 870, c. 325.]We can hope, therefore, that the atmosphere of conflict in the coal industry is being replaced by a determination to achieve genuine co-operation. This has been publicly accepted and demonstrated by the joint efforts of Sir Derek Ezra and the miners' leaders to boost coal, its market and its output. The after-effects of the overtime ban and the strike have almost gone. Since October there have been only two weeks—Christmas and the New Year—when the national average output per manshift was below 45 cwt. In the six months from April to September it exceeded 45 cwt on only four occasions.
After years of decline, the industry's manpower is rising again. For the first time in more than 10 years recruitment is more than replacing the number of men leaving the industry. It is likely that for the year ending next month the manpower in the pits will be about 4,600 up. Last year recruitment was little more than half what the NCB needed if targets were to be met. This year recruitment is running at a rate well above the required average.
The rest of the Bill after Clause 1 is designed to remove certain impediments to achieving further increased output. It is concerned with various measures to ease the way for the deep-mined and opencast coal developments which are urgently necessary. I want to stress that the Government have no wish to override the 1352 rights of the individual and environmental interests.
Following publication of the final report on the coal industry examination, my Department has had informal consultations with local authority, land-owning and environmental interests. The views they expressed have been most helpful to us, and I think we have been able to set at rest a good many of the fears aroused by some misconceptions of the proposals.
If I might deal first with deep-mined coal, Clauses 2 and 3 are intended to remedy what might be termed legal technicalities that could put obstacles in the way of much needed developments. I take first Clause 2. The present rights of the NCB—and those enjoyed by its predecessors—to withdraw support and let down the surface when extracting coal are contained for the most part in Schedule 2 to the Coal Act 1938. As the House well knows, when coal is extracted the land directly above it often subsides. But the adjacent land beyond the vertical limits of the coal which is being worked may also be affected.
The board has always believed that those rights permitted it to withdraw that "lateral" support from adjacent land. Recently, however, doubts have been cast on this interpretation and it seemed wise to resolve them. Clause 2 seeks to do this, and to put the matter straight by giving the Board a new general right to withdraw support from any land whether the coal concerned lies under that land or under adjacent land.
§ Mr. T. H. H. Skeet (Bedford)
I understand that the right hon. Gentleman is negotiating with the industry about a revised compensation code? What stage has the negotiation reached?
§ Mr. Varley
I am coming to that matter. I shall mention it in remarks that I have to make in explaining other clauses.
The purpose is simply to protect the boundaries of the Board's operations, which are changing from day to day, from threats of legal action arising from uncertainty about its powers under the 1938 Act. In practice, the effect of the clause will be minimal. Where the Board has not already done so, the clause requires it to publish, in newspapers circulating in 1353 the district, advance notice of its intention to withdraw support, giving full details of the areas likely to be affected. And it must pay proper compensation or rectify any damage done.
§ Mr. Alison
The right hon. Gentleman is probably referring to Schedule 1 when he talks about paying compensation or rectifying any damage done. There seems to be uncertainty in the schedule about whether the Board intends and will insist that plans for new buildings should be submitted to it in advance so that it can prescribe special provisions in the structural details of the building and compensate the constructors for the extra input required. Is it the Board's purpose that that should occur, or does it intend to let the building settle and then pay compensation for the damage?
§ Mr. Varley
It could be done either way. Those who have it in mind to erect buildings can ask the Board about its future developments and receive from or discuss with the Board suggestions about reinforcing the structure. If the Board agrees that it would be wise that there should be some reinforcing, it could pay for the cost of the extra reinforcement. If it says that it is not necessary and subsequently damage occurs, compensation will be paid in the normal way. I know that the hon. Gentleman has an interest in this matter because he represents an area in which Selby will be developed and I dare say that he will deal with it in Committee.
§ Mr. Adam Butler (Bosworth)
Is there any advance under the Bill in the compensation payable under the 1957 Act?
§ Mr. Varley
There are some amendments in that respect and I shall deal with them when I reach the question of land as it affects opencast workings.
Clause 3 of the Bill deals with an exceedingly complex matter—retained copyhold interests. Copyhold was a form of feudal land tenure granted by the lord of the manor. Under this, the lord retained ownership of any minerals while the copyhold tenant had possession of them. This meant that the coal could not be worked without the tenant's consent. That situation was continued when the ownership of the coal was vested in 1354 the National Coal Board by the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act 1946.
Therefore, although the Board owns the coal under land subject to these retained interests, it cannot work it without the consent of the owner of the interests or alternatively securing an order from the courts under the Mines (Working Facilities) Act 1966. This is an anomalous situation compared with the generality of land, where the Board has full rights to work the coal—subject to conditions laid down in any inherited leases and so on.
The Board is able to overcome the copyhold obstacle in its old-established coalfields where most of the retained interests were registered in 1938, when coal reserves were first nationalised. But in areas remote from the then known coal reserves they are difficult, if not impossible, to track down and identify with any certainty. If the Board had to pursue the matter through the courts this could cause delays which are quite unacceptable, for example, when the development of so important a project as Selby could be at risk.
Clause 3 therefore gives the Board the right to work coal under land subject to retained copyhold interests. It applies in England and Wales but not to Scotland, where this system of tenure was not used. The NCB must publish notice of its intention to exercise this new right and pay compensation for it. In the event of dispute, the amount is to be settled by the Lands Tribunal.
Nothing in either Clause 2 or 3 interferes with established planning procedures. The development at Selby is subject to normal planning procedure.
I now come to Clauses 4 to 6. In the coal industry examination the mining unions joined fully with the Government in endorsing the Board's plan to increase opencast output by 50 per cent. from 10 million to 15 million tons a year over the next three years. But this necessary expansion cannot be assured under present arrangements because of difficulty and uncertainty in securing access to sites.
In most cases the Board is able to buy the land or negotiate the necessary rights with the owners. But perhaps one of the landowners concerned will seek a quite unreasonable price or try to impose 1355 unreasonable conditions, and this can frustrate the whole scheme. This uncertainty makes nonsense of the sensible planning of a production programme, and the Board requires the backing of additional powers which, subject to appropriate safeguards, it can use in the last resort. Clause 4 therefore stores the power originally provided by the Opencast Coal Act 1958 to make compulsory rights orders. Such orders will continue to be subject to the confirmation of the Secretary of State which, I assure the House, would not be lightly given, and, just as important, the provisions of the 1958 Act relating to compensation will continue.
Clause 4 provides for the maximum duration of compulsory rights orders to be increased to 20 years. I would emphasise that this is maximum duration. It does not mean that all sites will be occupied for this length of time. But some sites are now much larger than was the case in 1958 and can be worked to greater depths.
Then we must allow five years for the full process of restoration and return to full productive fertility. Enough time must therefore be allowed for all these factors in the exceptional case. The average time of occupation will be very much shorter, and even on a large site I know it would be the Board's aim where possible to operate so that parts of the site could be restored and released propressively as the work proceeded.
Another problem in connection with site authorisation is dealt with by Clause 5. In many cases a site needed for opencast working is traversed by footpaths which need to be temporarily suspended or—in effect—diverted since, where there is a need, the Board must provide an alternative way. Then the original route is reinstituted when the works are finished and the site restored to normal use. That is what happens where footpaths have to be suspended or diverted. The procedure for these temporary suspensions is separate and different from that for authorisation to work an opencast site or, indeed, from that used for the permanent suspension of a footpath for other purposes.
The aim of Clause 5 is to provide a straightforward procedure which minimises unnecessary delay in deciding an 1356 application while preserving full opportunity for those concerned to make their views known and have them taken properly into account. The new procedure is similar to and is designed to operate alongside, and in combination with, the existing procedure for dealing with applications for authorisation to work opencast sites.
Clause 6 will improve the compensation available to the farmers against whom a compulsory rights order for the temporary use of their land may be made. After the site has been worked, the restoration process takes five years; a new drainage system is installed and the land is fertilised and cultivated. When handed back to the farmer, it is virtually new land. The new compensation proposed in Clause 6 is designed to help the farmer through the period while he is getting to know the new characteristics of the land and learning how to get the best out of it.
The remaining clauses and the schedules are consequential and spell out the details of these proposals.
§ Mr. David Watkins (Consett)
In effect, what my right hon. Friend has said in relation to the very important proposals about opencasting is that local authority planning procedures and planning permission processes are to be bypassed. Will he comment on that matter?
§ Mr. Varley
They will certainly be shortened—I want to make that absolutely plain—because there have been experiences in the past of unnecessary delays in the NCB getting access to sites. The new era of coal means that we must have a proper working programme for increasing opencast production, as I have said, from 10 million to 15 million tons a year. That is widely accepted by those working in the industry. As I thought I had indicated, there is provision for appeal to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State can exercise his powers and order a public inquiry if he deems it necessary. I hope that that answers the point raised by my hon. Friend.
Some of these matters, although I know that they are very large issues in some areas of the country, may be regarded as minor proposals—"minor" in the sense of bringing them before the House. But they concern an industry which has been through such very great drama so 1357 often and so recently. For myself, I believe that it is healthy that the coal industry should now get down to a workaday routine. The Government's aim is to keep it out of the headlines and in full production. It is in that spirit that I commend the Bill to the House.
§ 4.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson (New Forest)
The Secretary of State need have no fears about my indulging in any attacks upon the wage award made to the mining industry. I am content, for the time being, to leave it to the Government and the National Coal Board to resolve that matter. But the right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right when he says that the Bill appears against the background of an industry which has emerged from real difficulties in the recent past.
Of course, the Bill embodies many of the recommendations which were set out in the tri-partite report on the industry—namely, it seeks to deal with the problem of the hazards to health and the rest, to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred, and to provide better access to resources for the industry.
We have to regard this debate against the background of a continuing energy crisis. It is a crisis which is as much, perhaps more, economic than it is volumetric. The coal industry's fortunes have fluctuated very considerably ever since certainly I have been concerned with this subject in the House. Those who have studied the industry remember very well how the desire to flood the markets of the Western world with cheap oil began to eat into the fortunes of the coal industry. It certainly appeared to all Governments at that time, that oil provided the answer to many of our economic ills. The coal industry, for reasons which are now old history, was allowed to contract and to become dangerously small. As a result, markets for that industry were lost—some of which will never ever come back again. Indeed, it is fair to say that without the electricity generating market, the industry's fortunes would have been even more gloomy than they are already.
I remember very well winding up a debate for the Opposition side of the House on the Coal Act 1965, which was the Act which closed down so many areas of coal mining in this country. It was, of course, legislation brought forward by 1358 the right hon. Gentleman's predecessors. It was then that we moved away from the target figure, which was almost sacrosanct to many, of 200 million tons down to the now hard-to-believe 120 million tons. I am advised that we shall be lucky if we miss that by no more than 5 million tons this March. But that hard-to-achieve figure is very much lower than the target figure of the past.
Many hon. Members on both sides of the House warned in those days about the danger of putting all the eggs in the one basket and about the danger of the effect on the security of this country of letting this industry sink.
Therefore, I regard this piece of legislation and, indeed, the new feeling of confidence which I detect in the industry, as putting the coal industry back where it was 30 years ago—back where it was, perhaps, at the end of the war. Once again the cry now is for production and more production. That is something which I, certainly, have not previously heard since I have been debating this subject in the House.
It is not at all surprising to me that those who are engaged in the industry, those spending their lives in one of the most hazardous occupations in this country, should be demanding better bay and better general conditions. All that I am concerned about is that when we do manage to create an industry with high morale, we also manage to meet the essential production which this industry must provide for Britain's economic survival.
I want to see the real strength of machines added to the strength of the muscle of the miner.
Admittedly, there have been false dawns in this respect in the past. We have all heard of various devices which were to rip coal out of the seams of this country and to provide the answer. We shall not go into the history of Bevercotes. Those familiar with the industry will perhaps know the over-ambitious plans put forward there, and the Colins robot miner that was going to get down to those narrow seams. I understand that another robot miner is now being considered. My right hon. Friends and, indeed, the Secretary of State, were among the first to see the ROLF remotely operated long-wall face when we came to the House in 1964. Now we hear of less sophisticated but 1359 even more important automated ways of raising coal.
I am absolutely convinced that the experience of all these various pieces of technology will bear fruit and is, indeed, bearing fruit, and that a new mechanical age of coal cutting is at hand, every bit as important as the remote radio-controlled conveyor and the self-advancing roof supports. This is absolutely right. Capital investment is dramatically increasing, with about £1,400 million being spent over the next 10 years. A new era is dawning, which I welcome, because coal and oil still carry the base load of our energy requirements.
The Bill aims to accomplish a number of objects. It aims to make provision for those who, through no fault of their own, have had their health damaged or ruined by working in this industry. The Bill also provides opportunities for us to exploit what will be the biggest mine in this country, namely the Selby coalfield, which has a potential of about 2,000 million tons in resources under the ground. In the early stages we are talking about the Barnsley scheme, which has 500 million to 800 million tons in all. With a production of 10 million tons a year, that area is as significant as some of the major liquid hydrocarbon finds in the North Sea. This legislation will enable the NCB to recover that coal.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned Clause 1, which deals with the compensation scheme. Although that is a major step forward, the Opposition have misgivings that not every sufferer or sufferer's widow will benefit as much as they should because of various time barriers which exist. We are now talking about three distinct groups of beneficiaries under the pneumoconiosis scheme. There are 39,500 pneumoconiotics. There are two groups of widows—those whose husbands died between January 1970 and October 1974, and those whose husbands died before 1970. The distinction between the two groups exists for a simple and real reason. Records covering many of those individuals no longer exist because, after a five-year lapse, they were destroyed. We must look again at that problem in Committee.
There is a serious gap in the provisions of the Bill for the 8,000 to 10,000 1360 people who commuted their rights before 1948 for what may in many cases have been little more than a few hundred pounds and who are now totally excluded from the new scheme since their rights have been removed. The Opposition wish to look at that matter seriously.
The Secretary of State explained that the £100 million writen into the Bill would perhaps not be sufficient. The NCB will make a contribution. However, we must realise that we have a moral responsibility—I put it no higher—to make up the difference to those who have commuted their rights. The Minister will be able to ascertain that figure. Those people form a hardship group which should receive additional support.
The Secretary of State will be aware of the report in The Guardian on 17th February in an article headed,Cancer and arthritis, the price the miners pay".The article said:Two new published surveys have highlighted the high price of coal in human terms. A study in The Lancet says that Lancashire miners with pneumoconiosis show an incidence of lung cancer much higher than that of the general population. And an Arthritis and Rheumatism Council booklet puts miners high in the back-pain league table.The Lancashire figures contradict a long-held belief based on surveys carried out by the National Coal Board and independent authorities largely in Welsh mines, which showed no apparent, additional cancer risk for miners.The new survey carried out by Doctor Francis Mooney at St. Helens Hospital, Lancashire, says that of 300 miners who had pneumoconiosis and have died since 1967, 14 per cent. had lung cancer compared with an average for the whole of the area's population of around 9 per cent.
§ Mr. Alexander Wilson (Hamilton)
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point, I should like his comments on the two surveys which were made in the mid-1950s in relation to the incidence of bronchitis amongst mine workers. I put a political point straight to him. If he now appears to be sympathetic to the higher incidence of cancer in miners who suffered from pneumoconiosis, why did not the Conservative Government take action on the 1956 Report which showed a higher incidence of bronchitis amongst miners suffering from pneumoconiosis? Why did not the Conservative Government, who were in power longer than this Government have been, take that into account 1361 and put bronchitis on the schedule industrial diseases?
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
I respect the views of the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Wilson). I know that he is an expert on the subject. I take his point. All Governments must take an element of blame. However, we must look forward and recognise that new research will throw up worrying situations and that it is for Parliament to alleviate them.
The right hon. Gentleman described Clause 2 in some detail. I have always thought that the best description of coal mining was trying to get the jam out of the sponge cake. It is not easy because the two sides, the roof and the floor, come together. Since the support referred to in the Bill is the coal in the seam, and since the rock tends to fall into the open space, there is subsidence. The right hon. Gentleman referred to lateral support. He will also know that the phenomenon which causes subsidence is the result of lateral draw—the filling up of this gap and the pulling in of the land on either side.
I understand that the geological concept indicates that one should regard 35 degrees as an angle arising from the coal working out to the surface which provides the limits at which lateral draw will take place. That depends to a considerable extent on the depths at which mining is taking place. If the depth is different, the angle can also be different. In Committee, we shall wish to be certain that the effects of lateral draw do not create situations in which the Bill will not provide the necessary compensation and other requirements which should be present.
The right hon. Gentleman will know that there has been considerable concern in Yorkshire about the work that will take place in this coalfield, not because people in Yorkshire are strangers to coal mining but because sewers and other public works might be severely damaged. The right hon. Gentleman will have seen many Press reports of that concern. For instance, he will have seen that worry was expressed by many members of the Yorkshire Water Authority that the damage to sewers and drainage would be considerable. He has probably seen the report in the Yorkshire Post on 31st January which, referring to the situation, also 1362 referred to a meeting which had taken place about Selby coalfield. It said:As reported in the Yorkshire Post on Tuesday, sewers could collapse as a result of the mining, but the meeting agreed that measures must be taken by the NCB to prevent any damage.Under the agreement the NCB must supply information on its mining operations to the water authority in order to see any deterioration on land drainage because of mining.I am delighted to see that the NCB will provide information to the water authority. It is also desperately important that the maximum amount of information should be supplied to the people in the area, rather than that no notice period be given between the decision to start working and the time that it might begin, as provided in the Bill. I also feel that, information being so desperately important in this situation, we must ensure that the widest coverage exists in all the local Press and not, as I think it says in Clause 2, just in one or two local newspapers. I do not wish to make too much of this point, but it is extremely relevant.
Recently, there was a report by some students from Aberdeen University pointing out that there are some 33,000 old working in the country which are totally uncharted. We may well hear of examples—and I have no doubt that we shall in Committee—where, as a result of old workings, real subsidence has occurred. For many years I worked in South Wales, in the Swansea Valley, and I am very familiar with the situation.
Clause 3, dealing with copyhold rights, again is very important to this coalfield. About 8¼ per cent. of Selby is in a situation where these rights could apply. The rights themselves are no longer being granted. As the Secretary of State said, they stopped in 1926. But the Bill describes the situation whereby a copyholder will relinquish his rights on the basis of a willing grantor and a willing grantee. Those words are imprecise. The alternative is compensation based on 1p—i.e. one new penny—per ton of estimated coal. When we consider the clause in Committee, we shall want to look at that definition in rather more detail.
The opencast argument is well known to us all. As the Secretary of State said, there is a need for increased production. We want it up by 5 million tons. That means that about another 20 sites—from 1363 50 to 70—will be needed to produce this figure.
When opencast coal is worked, it produces necessarily a great scar on the land. There are environmentalists who put amenity ahead of energy. This is a balance which has to be struck. It is a balance which also applies to the use of land for agricultural purposes, and the right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the National Farmers' Union, especially the Morpeth Branch in Northumberland, is concerned about this problem and has registered unhappiness about existing plans there. There are examples of animals suffering from scouring, which is dust in the intestines, which can have a serious effect on herds. The effect upon farming land of opencast mining is a matter that we must look at carefully when we consider this clause in Committee.
The future for the coal industry is brighter than it has been for a very long time. The export possibilities for the industry long term are very good. There will be a great market for power station coal in the EEC. Provided that we can get production to the right level, I believe that the industry will show itself to be every bit as important as anything which is happening today in the North Sea.
It was the Prime Minister who said that Britain was made of coal. He is not the first politician to make that comment, of course. What is more, that in itself is not the complete answer. But I believe that, if this legislation is able somehow to alleviate the hardship and suffering of those who have had to give their health in the interests of everyone in the country, be they domestic consumers or industry, my right hon. Friends and I will welcome it. Equally, if the legislation can assist Britain in the urgent quest to make the country independent of imported energy, subject to the proper scrutiny, the Opposition will support it.
§ 4.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Alexander Wilson (Hamilton)
First, may I ask the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) to ponder at least one question? We all hope that this Bill will help the coal industry and help Britain. However, when we talk about more mechanisation in the mines, we have also to consider one other factor. I have said this often in the House, 1364 and hundreds of hon. Members representing mining constituencies have said it before me. We cannot get coal without the miners and, when we consider the extra incidence of mechanisation in the pits, we have also to look at the resulting dust hazards. This, for me, is the main part of the Bill.
Dust hazards used to be considered reasonably safe if the content was 850 particles per cubic centimetre. Today, with different types of mechanisation, we are producing between 2,000 and 2,500 particles per cubic centimetre. That is not a state of affairs in the mining industry which any hon. Member will want to see continue.
We must ask the Government to look very seriously again at the health of the miner, not merely waiting and then having to plead and fight for compensation after a man has contracted what is considered to be an incurable disease.
For more than 20 years, I have been working for miners who have contracted pneumoconiosis, and I have had to fight for justice for their widows and dependants all that time. If ever I was proud of having a Labour Government, it is today when they introduce this Bill providing the basis for giving justice to men who should have had justice many years ago.
I have seen young men dying a slow painful death from silicosis, especially in South Wales, with no compensation other than two or three measly bob a week. I have seen wives housebound because their men were literally bedridden, with oxygen cylinders at their bedsides, gasping for every breath, fighting a losing battle against pneumoconiosis and knowing that at the end of the day poverty would come, not to speak of the deaths of their husbands.
Although I welcome the Bill, it contains two distinct anomalies. The hon. Member for New Forest referred to one of them when he spoke about the commuted cases under the old Workmen's Compensation Act—the pre-1948 cases. The Government should extend the scope of the Bill. Already we know that the £100 million allotted to the pneumoconiosis benefit scheme will not be sufficient for the estimated number who will benefit under the scheme already drawn up by the National Coal Board and the NUM 1365 and accepted by the Government. Those persons who were forced to commute their measly two or three shillings a week were offered £200 or perhaps £300. I estimate—and I am open to correction because I do not want to overstate the case—that there are still betweeen 8,000 and 10,000 such people in this country. By coercion or by pressure they relinquished their legal right to compensation. I believe that a Labour Government have a moral duty, if not a legal duty, to do something about the extension of the financial provisions contained in the Bill to take care of the pre-1948 commuted cases.
§ Mr. Richard Kelley (Don Valley)
Besides the people who commuted their claims under the old workmen's compensation legislation, there were two cases of which I am aware—I had something to do with one of them—in which common law damages were awarded out of court. The case for which I had a responsibility was settled for a meagre sum, bearing in mind the substantial degree of disablement. That sum was accepted because of the almost impossible legal tangle in which the man found himself and the difficulties that would have ensued if he had tried to establish his claim in court. I hope that people who were in a similar position will not be prevented from obtaining an award under the scheme to which my hon. Friend is referring.
§ Mr. Wilson
My hon. Friend has probably had more experience in the industry than myself and perhaps greater experience of fighting for those in the industry. I accept his proposition and I hope that the Government accept it as well.
Apart from the activities of the famous or infamous indemnity societies in coercing or badgering people to accept a commutation of their compensation after men were certified as unfit, the men concerned were, in fact, suspended from the industry. The moment that they were certified they were suspended. That carried with it not just the meagre sum offered by the indemnity societies but, in most cases, almost immediate homelessness. That was because they were living in colliery houses. There was no nationalisation then. When a miner could not work, 1366 the coal owners had no hesitation in putting him out of the industry and out of his home. We must look back in order that we may go forward.
Even if those who were turned out of the industry were able to continue in other work because they did not suffer the most serious effects of pneumoconiosis, jobs were so scarce in the mining areas that they were virtually at the door of the poorhouse whenever they contracted the disease. I am not putting it too strongly when I say that they were faced with uncertainty about their housing because of the conditions which were laid down in relation to employment in the coal industry. Continuity was the issue that was thrown at the men and women in the industry in those days. There had to be continuity of employment. The disease that they contracted by virtue of their work for the owners was the reason for which they lost their homes. They could not possibly get another job in the mining areas.
In The Guardian of Tuesday of this week there is the example of a Mr. Griffiths, who is now 67 years of age. He worked in the pits for 25 years. On being diagnosed as pneumoconiotic, he lost his job in 1948. After being out of work for a year he commuted his weekly pension of 32 shillings for a lump sum of £375. If he had not commuted his pension and if he were allowed to participate in the Government's scheme I estimate that he would receive £6,000.
The question that the Government must ask themselves is why a man in Mr. Griffiths' position should not get that sort of money. Let the Government take into account the circumstances which governed his life at that time. All the commuted cases were faced with uncertainty. The lump sums given by the indemnity societies were very small and reflected only in a small part the loss of earnings as a result of the certification of pneumoconiosis. They did not include and could not include—and the money that is allowed now could not include—compensation for the pain and suffering and the loss of amenities that those concerned had to suffer because of the contraction of pneumoconiosis. I ask the Government to consider seriously the position as I have tried to explain it. I believe that I have dealt with a serious 1367 anomaly in the Bill. I hope sincerely that we shall be able to do something about it in Committee if my right hon. Friend is not prepared to make a concession at this stage.
§ Mr. James Sillars (South Ayrshire)
Would it not be fair to say that it is not just an anomaly in the Bill but an anomaly in the agreement made between the NUM and the NCB on 13th September 1974? As well as blaming the Government, I believe that we should direct a fair degree of criticism to the other two parts of the tripartite agreement.
§ Mr. Wilson
No matter what percentage of blame is apportioned to each party, my job—and I believe that I am doing it—is to get extra money for those who are suffering. The blame can be divided among any of the parties concerned, but all I want is justice for every one of the commuted cases not included in the Bill.
I adopt the phrase used by the hon. Member for New Forest, who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench. Let us look forward and let us ask the Government to commit themselves to giving justice to the commuted cases. As I have said, I estimate that there are about 8,000 to 10,000 such cases.
Next, I deal with the pre-1970 widows. I think that the sum being offered to them is even worse than that which was offered under the old indemnity society rules. It is a disgrace and it cannot be justified morally by the Government. It can be justified only in the sense that red tape is responsible. It seems that the National Coal Board and the Department of Health and Social Security do not have the necessary records previous to 1970. In my opinion, that is the only thing that is holding up justice for the widows and dependants. When the scheme was devised by the three parties, the political situation was uncertain. It was not uncertain in my eyes because I knew that a Labour Government would be elected.
§ Mr. Cyril Smith (Rochdale)
What the hon. Gentleman was not sure about was when that would take place.
§ Mr. Wilson
The fact is that we are back. That proves that I was right. The political situation was uncertain, hence the hasty drawing up of the agreement and 1368 the implementation of the scheme. It was agreed that there should be a lump sum payment to pre-1970 widows of £300 provided that it could be proved that their husbands had died from pneumoconiosis. In other cases, the sum was £150. I want the payments to these widows considerably increased.
The Minister has ample scope under the Bill to double the £100 million. I hope that I shall not be told that we cannot afford it in present economic circumstances. He could get the other £100 million by clearing Holy Loch of Polaris submarines. The Explanatory Memorandum says that Clause 1gives power to the Secretary of State to make grants to the National Coal Board (not exceeding £100 million) … (or any variation of that scheme approved by the Secretary of State with Treasury consent).There is nothing there to prevent my right hon. Friend from making the two concessions for which I have asked.
The mining industry and the unions need this compensation. The men and women to whom I pay homage have waited too long for this measure. This essential financial support will provide a base for the expansion of the industry. This has been forced upon the House now that it has accepted that coal is and will remain for a long time our main fuel. The Bill gives a large measure of justice to miners and their families. This is one of the truly Socialist Bills presented to the House. On behalf of the Miners' Group I welcome it, but I hope to amend it in Committee.
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Adam Butler (Bosworth)
I, too, generally welcome the Bill. If all Socialist measures were like this, they might get through the House much more quickly. I hope and believe that, unlike some coal Bills, this one will not create antipathy between the two sides of the House. We respect the experience and feelings of Labour Members, who have much more practical knowledge of this subject than all or most of us can ever hope to have, but I hope that they will accept our genuine interest in the future of a profitable industry and a prosperous work force.
This is a relatively small but nevertheless important measure to ease the future mining of coal and to compensate 1369 for some of the harmful effects of accelerated production in future and for the most harmful consequence of working in the pits—namely, pneumoconiosis. I will not be drawn into any discussion of wage settlements, except to reiterate the point that I have made frequently before, about the need for some meaningful and effective productivity scheme, based either on a single pit or on a group of pits, as the best way of boosting production and improving wages still further.
It is perhaps easier for an outsider, particularly someone with experience of a variety of factories and plants, to look objectively at mining as a job. Face working and roadway development are undoubtedly hard work. Conditions can be tough and unpleasant, but so can those at some other places of work. What distinguishes mining from almost any other occupation is the continual hazard to health, to the lungs of men working week after week underground.
I am glad that recruitment figures are good, that the increase in wages is having the effect that one would hope. However, I would say without any shame that, although I have worked in many different conditions, some less pleasant than others, I would not work down a pit, because of pneumoconiosis. I have said that before and have pressed many times, here and elsewhere, for generous compensation for the victims of that disease. I therefore very much welcome the scheme for past sufferers. I would add my weight to that of the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Wilson), and of my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) in asking that the question of those who commuted their rights should be looked at again as generously as possible.
It would be fair to say that this payment and the sums to be paid under the new compensation scheme should be seen as part of the industry's "social wage". I think that it is correct to say that, in wage negotiations, the present Government see the social wage element as one factor in the social contract. No one will begrudge the payment of compensation to the minority who suffer from pneumoconiosis and I hope that no one will begrudge the miners a high wage, part of which is to compensate for the 1370 risks that underground workers run. On the other hand, those taxpayers who contribute to the sums authorised in the Bill would not be human if they did not look for some practical gratitude.
It must be right to develop ways of minimising the risks of this disease in future. I was impressed the last time that I went down one of my local pits to learn that they were experimenting with steam rather than water at the cutting face in an attempt to suppress dust better than at present. One must work, where practicable, towards such technological advances as the radio-controlled shearers which have been mentioned.
Turning to compensation of a different kind, I welcome the additional compensation for farmers for the effects of opencast mining. I would, however, warn that the Board is likely to stir up hornets' nests in trying to divert or close footpaths. Local residents and parish councils will inevitably put up some resistance.
There is one important omission in regard to compensation. I have already tried to press the Minister on this matter. One effect of, in the slightly quaint expression, "withdrawing support from land" is subsidence, the worst effect being that of drag. I am concerned here mainly with the effect on private dwellings. The 1957 Act, even if interpreted with leniency, as it generally is nowadays, provides adequate but not generous compensation but it does not cater, for example, for consequential loss.
Where is the review? The Conservative Government set in train a review, and whenever I have asked about it I have been told that it is just around the next corner but one. Perhaps it got lost when the Department of Energy was set up. One of the effects of accelerating mining operations must be an increase in subsidence damage. Those who mine coal must not have 100 per cent. of the attention, since there are many people who suffer from the effects of subsidence. Will the Minister dig out the review to which I referred and come forward with proposals to improve compensation?
The Secretary of State commended the Bill to the House. I welcome it as a valuable contribution to the long list of coal legislation. It is designed to assist the production of coal and to ease the 1371 troubles of those who suffer, and who have suffered, through no fault of their own, from the effects of the coal production which is so necessary for our nation.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Alec Woodall (Hemsworth)
I wish to thank the hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Butler) for his helpful and kind remarks on the Bill.
As an ex-miner of 40 years service to the industry, and representing a constituency in which 70 per cent. of the electorate are miners or are connected with mining, I claim to be able to convey to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy, the feelings of those directly affected by the provisions in the Bill, especially those in Clause 1. Although I can tell my right hon. Friend that there is wide acceptance of the broad issues of the Bill and of Clause 1, I wish to draw his attention to the wide concern at the drafting of the pneumoconiosis compensation scheme. My right hon. Friend may reply that the drafting of the scheme was left to the National Coal Board and to the unions concerned and that they drew up the scheme without interference from the Department. I accept that, but I still wish to draw his attention to a serious anomaly which has been brought to my attention, mainly by beneficiaries—that is to say, by widows of former pneumoconiosis sufferers.
I am referring to the fixing of the date of 20th January 1970 for a variation in the benefit due to widows under the provisions of the scheme, commendable though those provisions are. I repeat that the broad outlines have been widely accepted, and indeed applauded by those directly and indirectly concerned. However, there is still widespread unease about this anomaly which I can best explain by outlining a particular case.
Let me refer to the situation of a widow of a man who died from this terrible disease before 20th January 1970. The man in question died on 19th January 1970 and his widow could receive under the scheme only £300. Yet the widow of a man who died after 20th January 1970, probably on 21st January, would receive—depending upon the husband's age and degree of certified incapacity—a sum of several thousand 1372 pounds. Although there were only two days difference between the dates of those deaths, there was that great difference in the amounts of compensation due to the respective widows.
As I have stated, I have received—as I am sure have many of my right hon. Friends and colleagues who represent miners—many representations about this anomaly. Protestations have been made to me by widows who benefit the most—namely, those widows whose husbands died since 20th January 1970. Their view is, "Why not call in the money and share it out again equally?" They say—and they should know—that there is little difference between a man coughing his life away and dying fighting for breath, certified at 50 per cent., and a man who is certified at 100 per cent. In other words, they say that there is no difference between men who died before 20th January 1970 and men who died after that date. The widows' view is that the men are dead anyway and the widow in one case is just as much a widow as the other.
I appreciate that when new schemes such as the present scheme, laudable though they may me, are introduced and dates are set, lines have to be drawn. Consequently somebody is left out in the cold. However, I should like to deal with a specific case in my constituency. I refer to a Mrs. Dobinson of Brierley, the widow of George Dobinson—as fine a man as one could wish to meet. George was severely injured at Frickley colliery in July 1947 when the new Industrial Injuries Act was being brought in. Had George died then, or shortly afterwards, Mrs. Dobinson would have received the princely sum of £300 under the Workmen's Compensation Act. In fact, due to her loving care, devotion and attention to his daily needs, George lived—if one could call it that—until 30th November 1973. On that day George died in Pinderfields Hospital, Wakefield, and was certified to have died from spinal cord degeneration and quadreplegia—in other words, from the injuries which he had received 26 years earlier.
However, due to the date fixed in the new National Industrial Injuries Scheme in 1947 Mrs. Dobinson was awarded £300 payable under the old Act. As far as I am aware, the sum of £300 is still 1373 being held by the court because Mrs. Dobinson refuses to accept it. She looks upon that sum as an insult to her husband who suffered so much over a period of 26 years.
Furthermore, due to the date fixed in the 1947 Act, Mrs. Dobinson cannot be accepted as an industrial widow and thereby loses a sum of 55p per week payable to industrial widows. I have submitted these facts to my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Department of Health and Social Security, but they regret that nothing can be done in Mrs. Dobinson's case.
In the opinion of many—and this is one of the heartbreaks which union secretaries and Members of Parliament have to face—nothing can be done and they have to say, "Sorry". These are the pitfalls, to use a mining metaphor, in fixing dates in schemes such as these, commendable though this scheme undoubtedly it. There are always anomalies. I would ask whether the Minister, even at this late stage, could amend Clause 1 (4)(b) of the Bill relating to this very much-needed and desired scheme.
Finally, I wish to underline to those who say harsh things about miners that mining is a hard, dangerous, monotonous and unrewarding job which must be done by somebody. I would remind them of the heartbreaks that mining often leaves behind in some mining families.
The House should be aware that by Clause 1 the Government are providing £100 million to recompense pneumoconiotics. There are 35,000 known sufferers and 10,000 widows of former sufferers. These are in addition to all those who are killed and maimed daily in the coal mining industry.
I should like at this point to ask the Minister a question, and I echo the comment made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Wilson). Is £100 million enough to cover all past known cases? Fortunately, the figures for those killed and injured in the industry during 1974 are the lowest on record. I agree that these figures are probably helped by the strike that took place earlier in 1974. However, I trust and hope that this favourable trend continues, but all those who are critical of the miners should ask themselves several questions.
1374 What is the true price of coal in terms of human suffering? Is the coal that we burn as expensive as it at first appears? We must have miners, and the only way in which we can retain and recruit them is by offering better pay and better working conditions.
Pneumoconiosis is one of the great scourges of mining. It behoves us to look after the pneumoconiotics. When they pass on, often after many years of suffering and disability, their dependants should be properly provided for.
On behalf of all miners, and especially pneumoconiotics and their dependants, I thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for what he has provided in the Bill. I hope and trust that we have the support not only of the hon. Member for Bosworth but of all his right hon. and hon. Friends. I hope that the Bill will have an unopposed Second Reading.
§ 5.21 p.m.
§ Sir Paul Bryan (Howden)
I welcome the Bill not only because of the beneficial effect it will have on the sufferers from pneumoconiosis, whose fate is so well understood by Labour Members who have worked in the industry, but personally because it will give me an opportunity over the weeks in Committee of putting many questions which are of deep concern to my constituents.
The Bill is entitled the "Coal Industry Bill". In my eyes, perhaps understandably, it is more aptly to be entitled the "Selby Coalfield Bill", because half of this coalfield, destined to be the largest in Europe, is in my constituency. This half of the coalfield is under a completely rural area. The people who live there live in small villages, and the majority of them work in agriculture or commute to Selby or York.
The community there is unfamiliar with coal mining. My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) said that Yorkshiremen are not strangers to coal mining. I can assure him that they may not be strangers to it in South Yorkshire or West Yorkshire, but they certainly are in villages such as Naburn, Riccall and Escrick. The community is naturally apprehensive of the effect the coalfield will have on the farms, on their livelihoods and on the environment of their villages.
1375 This does not mean that they take a negative or hostile view of the project. The coalfield committee of the Selby District Council has done a superb job in gathering information and expressions of opinion from relevant bodies and individuals for the benefit of the county council and in preparation for the coming public inquiry. Such ad hoc bodies as the Escrick and Deighton Residents' Association have approached, with professional advice, this possible threat to the environment of the area in a positive and constructive way.
The county council planning department has already invited the views of the public on five alternative plans for accommodating the influx of people expected to move into the area over the next 15 years. As this influx will consist of some 3,000 miners, paid at a much higher rate than the average wage in the area, I hope that they will be given opportunities to buy their houses rather than have to depend on subsidised housing supplied by the local authority.
The National Coal Board has done its best to inform the public about its plans, but now the public relations exercise is over. The time has come to answer detailed questions, many of which will be put during the public inquiry in April. It will save time and worry if some of them can be answered in advance during the Committee stage of the Bill.
This Second Reading debate is short, and it behoves us to make short speeches. I shall use my ration of time to give notice of a few of the subjects I shall wish to raise, and the amendments we shall want to put down, in Committee.
I start with the question of compensation. A constituent writes to me from the village of Stillingfleet, where one of the satellite pits is to be sited. He complains that his house, for which he had received a number of offers, suddenly became unsaleable on the news that the satellite pit was to be there. He asked the National Coal Board what compensation was available for the loss he had suffered in the value of the house. He received the following reply:The Board cannot accept liability for the effects of their proposals on local property values. The carrying-out of any new industrial or commercial development in any area inevitably causes some fluctuation in the value of residential property there but this is so what- 1376 ever the nature of the development and is not peculiar to coalmining.I would value the Secretary of State's comment on that ruling, because it will set a precedent for a thousand similar cases which are bound to arise during this period. If he confirms it, many of my constituents will want to know why it is that compensation is available for those who suffer from the proximity of a new motorway but not for those who suffer from the proximity of a satellite mine shaft.
§ Mr. Woodall
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that because the National Coal Board is to develop the Selby coalfield, a thousand of his inhabitants will leave the area?
§ Sir P. Bryan
I am not saying anything of the sort. I am trying to put forward, in a reasonable way, the thoughts that people will have in an area which is unfamiliar with coal mining. I do not think that what my constituent put to me was unreasonable from his point of view, although it might have shown his lack of knowledge of what happens in coal mining areas.
Clause 2 deals with the right of the Board to withdraw support to enable coal to be worked. In other words, it deals with subsidence. Subsection (2) deals with the notice to be given, which seems inadequate in two respects. First, the actual notice of the land to which it relates does not seem sufficiently precise. Secondly, the publishing of the notice does not appear to be sufficiently widespread.
My objection to subsection (3), in which we are told that the Board willpay proper compensation for damageis more serious. It is at the heart of the general worry in the area. With so high a water table and so complicated a system of drainage as exists in that agricultural area, even the National Coal Board acknowledges that subsistence is likely to cause widespread damage, either temporary or permanent, to much farmland. Yet in the Bill "proper compensation" is promised, in language which, according to my legal advisers has no precedent in any other Act. Because of the vital importance of that one sentence, we shall introduce an amendment to clarify its meaning, to spell it out in greater detail.
1377 The Explanatory and Financial Memorandum, under the heading "Financial effects of the Bill" says:The financial limit will be £100 million.Will the Minister explain that figure? What is it supposed to cover? From what we have heard already, it seems hardly an amount sufficient to cover the pneumoconiosis claims. It is surely not possible at this stage to have the slightest idea of the liabilities incurred in compensation, apart from the National Coal Board's pneumoconiosis compensation scheme.
Clause 3 which deals with the right of the Board to work coal in former copy-hold land, is complex. We shall be well advised to leave the main discussion of this clause to the Committee stage, but there is one point I would like to raise now. I understand that under the present law some former copyholders of land still have retained interest in coal for which the clause now requires the Board to pay compensation. However, it is difficult for some of the owners of these retained interests to establish their rights. No mention of the rights occurs in many title deeds. They are ancient manorial rights, recorded in manorial records, many of which are hard to locate.
I have been advised that the Board has a large number of these records in its possession, the Church Commissioners having handed over 800 such records to the Coal Commission in 1938. The Bill puts on the owner the onus of establishing a right to retained interest. I hope that the Board will help potential applicants by giving access to its records. In a way, it has a particular moral obligation to do so in that all previous legislation required the Board to identify and compensate the holders of coal rights before that coal could be worked. The fact that no fewer than 12 years is allowed for copyholders to establish their rights is an acknowledgment of the complications and difficulties of so doing. When answering, I should be interested to hear the Minister's estimate of the total sums likely to be paid in compensation under the clause. Is it a matter of thousands or millions of pounds. It is difficult to know.
Finally, I should like some guidance on the general policy of the NCB in 1378 working the coal. For instance, when one considers the proposed siting of the satellite shafts, one cannot help suspecting that technical convenience below the ground will take precedence over environmental considerations above the ground, especially as no compensation will be payable for any of the ill-effects of the 70 ft. shaft, and so on. I should like some expression of policy on this aspect of the problem.
§ 5.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Walter Padley (Ogmore)
Twenty-five years ago tomorrow I had the great honour of being elected the Member of Parliament for the Ogmore constituency which was then, as now, a major centre of the South Wales coalfield. Throughout those 25 years my knowledge of the mining community has deepened and my appreciation of its great qualities has grown. I therefore give a wholehearted welcome to the first part of the Bill which, at last, provides the measure of justice to the victims of that dreaded disease pneumoconiosis for which many generations have campaigned.
At the same time, while recognising that the Government have underwritten the agreement between the National Union of Mineworkers and the National Coal Board, I add my voice to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Wilson), speaking on behalf of the official Miners' Group, in urging the Secretary of State and his colleagues to look again at the anomalies that will arise with the commuted cases and the pre-1970 widows.
In my area, which includes the Llynfi, Garw and Ogmore Valleys there is a sense of gratitude for this giant measure of social reform, but there is still a feeling that the whole problem could be solved at not too great an additional cost. On this occasion we are fortunate in having a Secretary of State and an Under-Secretary who know the mining industry and have personal experience of the problem in all its aspects.
I turn now to open-cast mining. My constituency comprises not only three beautiful mining valleys, but six or seven miles of beautiful coastline and the Vale of Glamorgan. That means that, for the whole period that I have represented the area, it has been not only a major producer of deep-mined coal but a major site for open-cast mining. So far open-cast 1379 mining operations have not caused much civil disturbance. I can recall only one scheme at Aberkenfig 20 years ago when public outcry was so great that it was stopped before planning permission was granted. But other schemes have gone ahead.
Last May, when it emerged that the NCB proposed to take over 850 acres to be worked for 20 years, there was a sense of outrage in the mining community of the Ogmore constituency. The chairman of the protest committee is a NUM officer of long standing who has served for 20 years as a lodge secretary. The Ogwr Borough Council and the Mid-Glamorgan County Council have intimated their objection to the scheme. From that it will be appreciated that this mining community fully appreciates all the environmental arguments, though it is also concerned with the economic arguments—for example, the need for coking coal to feed the great Abbey steelworks at nearby Port Talbot.
Typical of the 200 to 300 letters that I have received is one from a lady who says:I am 79 years old and a widow. I was born and lived all my life on the side of our mountain. We were 11 children—three sisters and eight brothers. My husband and my eight brothers all died from dust. When I look through the window of my home, about 200 yards down the alley is the little chapel where my husband and my eight brothers are at rest. Now the Coal Board wants to take our lovely valley from us for opencast mining. Don't you think, sir, that we have suffered enough?When this project was first announced, I attended a mass meeting and had consultations with the local officers. I got in touch with the Under-Secretary of State, via the Secretary of State, and he detailed the procedures that would have to be gone through before the NCB could proceed with what is called the Fernbank Site scheme at Pencoed near Bridgend.
When it was announced that the Bill would reintroduce and strengthen compulsory powers, there was natural concern whether the previous information that I had received about the legal processes to be gone through would still apply. From my reading of the Bill it is still necessary for an advertisement to appear in the London Gazette and one local paper and for notices to be served on the borough council and the county council 1380 as well as on persons immediately affected. If either of the councils or any of those affected object, I understand that the Secretary of State must hold an inquiry. Apart from that, he can institute an inquiry at his discretion. I have had assurances that the Bill, in restoring the compulsory powers under the 1958 Act which lapsed in 1968, will not interfere with that machinery. I ask the Under-Secretary, when he replies to the debate, to reiterate that assurance.
There is a need to balance the economic requirements of the country with the environment of a great mining community which thrives on its deep-mined coal. Opencast mining is an addition to an already great contribution which this mining community is making not only to Wales but to the whole of Britain. I am sure that the Under-Secretary, with his distinguished record in the Scottish NUM, will be sympathetic to the argument that I have put forward and will give the assurances for which I ask.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Alison (Barkston Ash)
The hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Padley), like the hon. Members for Hemsworth (Mr. Woodall) and Hamilton (Mr. Wilson), spent most of the time discussing Clause 1. I hope they will not regard it as an insensitivity to dust disease on my part if I do not deal with that aspect on which they spoke so graphically and about which they know so much more than I. I say only that I hope that the Under-Secretary and the Secretary of State will listen carefully to the specific requests by the hon. Members for Hamilton and Hemsworth, because if they do not do so they may find some curious happenings in Standing Committee. There may be some unholy alliances across the benches—and I am sure that the Minister knows what I am referring to. The more articulate and the more convincing hon. Members opposite have been about dust disease, the greater the likelihood of bipartisan support for them.
I wish to deal with the main part of the Bill in Clause 2 and the clauses which follow. The Secretary of State spent a little time on a wide-ranging appraisal of the coal industry. Taking my cue from him, I wish to make a few general comments about Selby coalfield. I have 1381 the privilege to represent the town of Selby and the surrounding countryside in a very large constituency. I want the Secretary of State to make sure that one principle is followed in development of the Selby coal find.
The folk at Selby and my other constituents recognise that this find is good for Britain. For that reason the overwhelming majority of them understand the necessity for exploiting it, but we do not want the principle invoked that what is to be good for Britain is bad for the local folk. That may have been an acceptable approach in bygone generations in the exploitation of coal. It will not do in the twentieth century. What is to be good for Britain must be at least as good for the people of Selby. That means that if hundreds of millions of pounds are to be spent in exploiting this coal find, at least a fair and reasonable proportion of the capital outlay must be applied to maintaining and improving the environmental features of this part of the world. There must be better schools, better roads and better recreational facilities. There must be better health facilities and better facilities generally for the local environment.
I am certain that the Under-Secretary, who has visited this part of the world, will agree that it would be the most ludicrous anomaly if the most modern coalfield in Europe, which it will be by the time it is in operation in the 1980s, has to co-exist with the Selby toll bridge, an eighteenth century wooden construction which spans the River Ouse on the main trunk road. There is no provision for a replacement at present. There must be a Selby northern route bypass if the coal development is to go ahead.
My hon. Friend the Member for Howden (Sir P. Bryan) mentioned the possibility of incoming miners buying their own houses. I, too, would like to draw this matter to the Under-Secretary's attention. NUM branch members whom I met and talked with at Ledston Luck colliery not many months ago asked me to make representations to the National Coal Board that if miners are to move into the area—and many of them would prefer not to but to travel to work—they should not be put into pit villages. They want help from the National Coal Board to buy their own 1382 homes. That practice would be very much in keeping with the locality where the community lives in small villages, some of them recently expanded. These are mixed communities but they are compact, and that is how we want to keep it.
§ Mr. Alison
I hope that between them Sir Derek Ezra and Mr. Ortoli will be able to arrange decent mortages for miners to buy their own houses in this part of the world.
I wish to turn to the question of coal pillars. The Selby field will occupy an enormous area of open agricultural land with villages and towns dotted around the perimeter. It is essential that the maximum number of coal pillars should be left beneath the residential areas. At present the only localities which can be certain of having coal pillars beneath them are the pit service shafts where they appear—some in my constituency and some in the neighbouring constituency—and Selby Abbey. These are the only places which will qualify automatically. It is ludicrous that ancient monuments and inanimate machinery should qualify for coal pillars but that human beings living in houses with the possibility of cracks running down the walls and slates falling off the roofs should not qualify. This is a reversal of correct human priorities. I am certain that Labour Members will support my view that the needs of human beings, many of whom have bought their homes with their savings, should enjoy priority as high as that of the service shafts.
§ Mr. Kelley
There is a school of thought which maintains that with the rapid rates of advance and extraction of coal it is wrong to leave in pillars to preserve the surface. It is argued that it is better to allow the surface to descend over an entire area rather than to prop up with one pillar and allow the line to draw back out at the surface at some point far removed from where it was intended. That might affect residential property in the area far more than if the surface were allowed to descend.
§ Mr. Alison
I am obliged for that expert intervention. However, it merely enables me to underline my main point that the National Coal Board must have in mind first and foremost the needs of human beings and not the efficiency of the industry. After all, the object of coal production is to make life better for human being; it is not simply to stack up coal. The Board must be guided by what will maximise the advantages and benefits for human beings.
One or two specific aspects of the Bill cause me some misgivings. The first is in relation to the provision for compensation for this weird category of land ownership called a copyhold interest. Is the true intention of the Bill to compensate the landowner or the copyholder at the time at which the land surface is lowered? Normally, there is not likely to be much of a time lapse between the issuing of an order under Clause 3 and the subsequent lowering of the surface.
However, the Board might decide to issue a blanket notice because of the great number of copyhold interests in the Selby area. That would be the most rapid and administratively efficient way of working. But in that case the land surface might be lowered many years after the blanket notice had been given. The compensation is tied to the time at which the notice is issued. With inflation running at 15 to 20 per cent. there would be, with a three-year lapse, a 60 per cent. loss in the value of the compensation. This will not do.
Some other matters arise in the context of the progress of inflation. Disputes are provided for in the Bill. If a dispute continues after the surface has been lowered, there is no great pressure upon the Board to bring negotiations to a conclusion. After all, it has got what it wanted, the land has been lowered. The longer the negotiations drag on, the more a disputant is disadvantaged because of inflation. There should be an arbitration machinery if disputes look like continuing too long.
My hon. Friend the Member for Howden made some important points about compensation. There is apparently no firm basis for fixing compensation. Clause 3 makes a vague reference to it. In this context, the land owner has no 1384 inviolable right of possession. He is in an analogous position to someone in a local authority area who is not negotiating with the local authority over an agreed sale but is subject to a compulsory purchase order. The land owner has no inviolable power or right of possession to any copyhold. As a result he is treated in the context of compulsory purchase.
We must know the basis of compensation if this is the case. The Chief Executive of the Selby District Council, Mr. Jack Wakefield, took the trouble to motor down from Yorkshire last night to brief me on the Bill. He returned the same night—such is his devotion to the interests of the locality and his good will. He advised me that the copyhold compensation, for which he was able to find some precedents, might be at a rate of £50 per foot acre—£50 for each foot thickness of a seam per acre of land. It will be interesting to see whether this is the level of compensation being considered. If it is, it implies a large outlay for the Government. There must be fair compensation in the context of acquisition which looks like being more or less compulsory.
I turn to the 12-year duration of the period of notice, during which time claims can be made by copyhold interests. That period is not sufficient. It is easy to overlook the London Gazette, the Edinburgh Gazette and the Belfast Gazette. It is not nearly so easy to overlook the Selby Times, the Selby Gazette & Herald, the Skyrack Express and the Boston Spa News. Even then, notices go amiss. The Statute of Limitations prescribes a period of 30 years for notice of claims of adverse possession. There should be a comparable period in this Bill. The 20 years' period, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Howden referred, which is the period for which land has to be held by the Board after open-cast work is too long.
Consider the farmer who starts farming at the age of 30, and is then deprived of a chunk of land for 20 years. That would bring him to the age of 50 before he could use that land. That is too long. Ten years may be too short and 20 too long. Fifteen years is a fair compromise. I hope that the Minister, in advance of the Committee stage, will consider cutting the 20-year period by at least five years.
1385 I am unhappy about the provision in Schedule 1 about new structures. By failing to stipulate the kind of construction the Board will put the owner or the builder of a new structure in a dilemma. Should he build it intelligently, using the most modern techniques, material and concrete so that it stands firm? If he does this without a stipulation from the Board, he will get no compensation for the extra cost involved. Because the Board has not stipulated that he must build it in a certain way, should he build it in a cheap way, knowing that it will come tumbling down? Only then will he get compensation. It is necessary for the Board to be required to make a specific stipulation. I hope that the Secretary of State will give some thought to that.
There is an absence of any provision, except in Clause 6, for consequential or continuing loss of crops and quality of crops. This is a gap in the Bill. The Secretary of State, reasonably and fairly, for open-cast operations has set the precedent of following through in the first 12 months after the land has been returned to the farmer when loss may occur. This is very good. Why cannot we have this provision for deep-cast mining, too? All sorts of problems arise for farmers when land is brought back into use for farming. I quote from a letter I have received from the NFU. It says that a farmermay well suffer considerable loss due to the decline in the inherent fertility of the land due to loss of organic matter, loss of soil structure, compaction, loss of essential nutrients from the topsoil and a number of other causes.This can happen in open-cast as well as deep-cast operations. There should be compensation for this kind of loss. The Secretary of State has provided for it in Clause 6 and I hope he will consider providing for it in other parts of the Bill.
Apart from these critical and inquiring points on behalf of my constituents, I warmly welcome the Bill.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ Mr. David Watkins (Consett)
The hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) spoke as someone who represents a constituency which is not familiar with coal mining but which is about to become familiar with it in the not-very-distant future. I speak by contrast as one who 1386 represents a constituency which has been familiar with coal mining for a very long time. Many of the towns and villages in my area came into existence simply because pits were sunk in those localities.
Clause 1 of the Bill deals with compensation for victims of pneumoconiosis. When my right hon. Friend moved the Second Reading he rightly described this as one of the noblest clauses which had ever been included in any Coal Industry Bill, with its proposals to give powers enabling grants of up to £100 million to be made for the compensation of pneumoconiosis victims.
Money can never replace the health of victims nor can it bring back those who have been killed before their time as a result of that disease. The clause embodies the principle of national responsibility for those who have suffered in winning the coal from which the entire nation has benefitted and will continue to benefit. The nation may have to bear in mind, as several hon. Members have pointed out, that the figure of £100 million may have to be increased.
My constituency has only one coal mine whereas it once had 15 or more. It still has a not inconsiderable number of miners. It always had, and still has, a large proportion of pneumoconiosis victims. One of the most distressing features of my work during the nine years I have been privileged to represent the constituency concerns my interview sessions with constituents—the sad procession of sufferers and widows of those who have been killed by this disease. The proposals in Clause 1 of the Bill will be warmly welcomed in my constituency and everywhere else that this scourge of the coalfields prevails.
The proposals in regard to opencasting will not be so welcome in my constituency and elsewhere as are the proposals contained in Clause 1. Clauses 4 and 5 in particular give the National Coal Board very strong powers of compulsory purchase for opencast mining operations. The powers are much stronger than the lapsed powers of the 1958 Act. Clause 4 refers to temporary rights of occupation and use. As my right hon. Friend pointed out, those temporary rights can extend for a period of up to 20 years—twice as long as was permitted under the powers contained in the 1958 Act.
1387 I praise the National Coal Board's restoration of land after opencast operations have taken place. Without exception, remarkable land restoration takes place, but if the operations continue for up to 20 years and then restoration takes, say, five years, it is stretching the definition of "temporary" to extraordinary lengths.
What I find disturbing also is that to some extent the National Coal Board can be virtually judge and jury in its own cause. I am aware that the Bill gives the Secretary of State the final word in all applications, but what worries me and many people in my constituency and in the North-East is that local planning procedures are bypassed and the whole Bill is weighted in favour of the National Coal Board and against everybody else's right to object. The Secretary of State's determination of all applications will inevitably be weighted in the same direction.
In the late 1960s the NCB sought opencasting powers in the valley of the River Derwent in my constituency. The operation was proposed to be carried out in an area of considerable amenity—woodlands. To use the term employed by my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Padley), there was an immediate sense of outrage in that historic mining community. The district council and the county council both expressed very strong objections to the proposal. As a result, in the event in 1970 the NCB applied to opencast in a much smaller area than had been originally intended. There was an immediate public outcry and almost unanimous opposition among large numbers of my constituents living in villages in the area where the operations were to take place. In the event, after a public inquiry the application was rejected by the then Secretary of State.
Under the powers in the Bill, all that volume of objection could be swept away. There are no proposals for local planning powers to be exercised by elected local authorities.
I come rapidly to the conclusion of my remarks.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)
The hon. Gentleman promised to speak for only five minutes.
§ Mr. Watkins
I accept your rebuke, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and will quickly conclude my remarks. I recognise that we are on the horns of a dilemma in having to reconcile the demand for coking coal, which is available in large quantities by opencast methods, with defending the rights of people to object. My final word to my right hon. Friend is that I think that the Bill is weak in that regard and that it needs strengthening in Committee.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
Mindful of your warnings, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall give my welcome to the Bill quickly, subject only to some reservations similar to those expressed by hon. Members opposite about pneumoconiosis victims from the earlier period, to the reservations expressed by the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. Watkins) about local authorities' planning powers, and to some further points that I will mention. I will not add to what has been said on the first two points.
That Clause 1 should be in the Bill at all is a vivid illustration of the background against which something like the miners' pay settlement should be judged, because mining as a career exacts a heavy price in death, suffering, pain and discomfort which no compensation, however calculated, can ever make up for. No compensation can restore health or make up for making a man a physical wreck.
At least in the case of pneumoconiosis we have a defined and identifiable scourge and the Bill makes possible substantial improvements in the compensation paid. In addition to this, there are the very limited specific forms of compensation for other hazards of mining available under the industrial injuries legislation and its predecessors. None of these provisions, in my view, takes away the mining industry's reasonable claim to be a high-wage and highly rewarded industry, because a high financial reward is the least that we can offer when we ask a man to live with the dangers and the discomforts, of which penumoconiosis is only one.
In my area—the northern part of the Northumberland coalfield—it is, perhaps, some of the other scourges which are as apparent as pneumoconiosis, because we are by no means the worst area as regards 1389 the incidence of pneumoconiosis. It is injuries—accidents to the spine and such happenings—which must also be seen as part of the general background of risk and danger that every miner faces.
When talking about the pay settlement and thinking, for example, of surface workers, where comparisons are often drawn with other industries, one cannot but be reminded of how many surface workers in the coal industry are themselves the casualties of working at the face and are the people in whom these injuries have been found.
Anybody who represents a mining constituency and who has to deal with constituency cases of people who have suffered these injuries and these diseases looks upon any mining pay settlement in a slightly different light from anyone who has not had such experience. Anyone who goes underground regularly would recognise that perhaps in the past the NCB overdid its propaganda and the public were led to believe that were now in a world of whitewashed roadways and ample working spaces. However, the era of the 20-inch seam has not gone in the kind of collieries, such as Shilbottle, that I represent.
If we say that mining is special and that it is distinct, it is wrong and immoral to try to use pay settlements in the mining industry as any sort of guideline for other industries. We must, in what we pay for our coal, pay what we think our miners are entitled to.
I turn from the deep-mining aspect of the Bill to the substantial part which is concerned with opencasting. This is a very important source of energy of which we have seen a considerable amount in my constituency and of which we expect to see more. Opencast mining has been accepted in my area and the appearance on the landscape of massive cranes has begun to be regarded almost with affection. One of these cranes is know affectionately as "Big Geordie". When my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) came on a visit to the area, some confusion arose whether the name applied to the machinery or to the visitor. That crane has become part of the landscape and is accepted.
At the end of the day, as the hon. Member for Consett said, the landscape 1390 may well be the better and not in any way the worse after restoration has taken place. It is in the interim that the difficulties arise. It is not without considerable upheaval for agriculture and for the local communities that opencast mining proceeds.
In one case in my constituency the opencast mining development led to the complete removal and replacement of a village. There is one Member of the House who was born there. If the hon. Member for Kingston-upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson) were to go back to his birthplace he would find little trace of it, because the whole village of Radcliffe has been removed.
Most people would agree that that was a success story. A whole village was transplanted to the edge of the nearby town of Amble. New homes were provided there. The community was kept together. Help was given to to the Methodist Church and a new workingmen's club was built. This was all in an effort to keep the community together.
The difficulties are, perhaps, greater for communities that remain on the edge of opencast development. It is not much consolation to the older people in such communities that the area in which they live will be transformed into a beauty spot in five, 10, 15 or 20 years' time, because they must live out their days with the present difficulties. They have the problems of the ugliness which may surround them, and perhaps more pressing to them than the dirt and dust which comes into their homes, which makes keeping the houses clean very difficult. They have problems resulting from the dislocation of rights of way. One village in my constituency, Hauxley, experienced this problem from opencast development which took place between the village and Amble.
The rights of way provisions in the Bill are not simply matters of recreational needs. One would suppose that the recreational interest in some of the footpaths affected by opencast sites would fall off sharply while opencast mining was taking place. After all, not many of us would choose to spend our Saturday afternoons walking in areas of opencast mining. It is the local community's use of short-cuts and other routes which is most seriously affected.
1391 I am therefore anxious that we should be clear about the implications of Clause 5 and Schedule 3. It seems to me that a parish council, as the sole objector, would have the right to an inquiry. I hope that my reading of the Bill is correct and that the Minister will confirm that if a parish council were to be the sole objector on behalf of a village to the stopping up of a right of way by an opencast operation an inquiry would ensue. That is potentially a matter of considerable importance to the communities affected.
Perhaps equally important is that the National Coal Board and the contractors involved in opencast operations should recognise the needs of the communities near whom they work and maintain good communications with the local people while opencast mining continues.
To summarise, the Bill is welcome as long as there is recognition of the high rewards which are due to the men who work underground; these benefits must be at the expense of the benefits which some of the rest of us might have in our wages and the price at which we buy coal. It is welcome as long as it is recognised by the National Coal Board and the opencast contractors that there are special problems in the communities affected which should be considered with great care. If there is such recognition, I shall have no difficulty in supporting the Bill.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Mr. John Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
I am delighted with the pneumoconiosis provisions in the Bill, but I ask the Government first to make it absolutely clear that the responsibility for compensation lies with the National Coal Board as an employer and not with the Government. I say that because pottery workers suffering from pneumoconiosis who live side by side with miners in my constituency are aggrieved that the miners are to get a lump sum and they are not. We have to tell the pottery workers that their payments should and must come from the profits of the pottery manufacturers and not from the State.
Secondly, the Government must take note that the vast army of miners crippled by emphysema will not benefit. Many of them suffer far more than people with pneumoconiosis. This injustice must 1392 be tackled before long. Thirdly, the Government must note that there is concern about the anomalies in the scheme which have been outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Wilson), and these should be dealt with if possible.
I turn to the rest of the Bill. Obviously the country needs coal, and Staffordshire can provide about 12½ million tons a year if it has the miners, the capital investment and the planning permissions to develop the rich new sources which the NCB has discovered—spending, incidentally, about £400,000 a year on geological exploration in Staffordshire. If the men are paid well enough, recruits to the mines will come forward, despite the hazards of the job.
The productivity scheme in the new wage settlement is to be particularly welcomed, but even without it productivity in Staffordshire increased last year by 7 per cent. There would be no economic crisis if half the critics of the miners had done as well last year.
But the miners need to be backed by investment. Local pits in my constituency, such as Silverdale and Holditch, are ripe for further development, but there are sources which have yet to be tapped, such as the 100 million workable tons at Stafford, as well as a large amount on the edge of the Westlands housing estate in my constituency.
To mine the coal more easily, the National Coal Board needs this Bill. It must have it. In return, however, it must do all it can to reduce the hardship which opencast and other mining can bring to local residents. It must be generous with subsidence claims. It must continue to be, as it is now, the most dedicated clearer of derelict land. The Board has made a considerable contribution to land reclamation in North Staffordshire. We look to it to continue the work.
I wish the Bill well because it will be good for Staffordshire, good for the environment and good for the economy. I hope that it will be passed very quickly.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. T. H. H. Skeet (Bedford)
As you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have indicated that there is a strict limitation on time, I shall not refer to any of the technicalities relating to the Bill which can be safely left for the Committee stage. I should, 1393 however, like to make two comments about the generalities of the coal industry.
First, I am disturbed that the target to be achieved by the Bill may fall behind, and I should like to mention one possible reason for that—planning. The Secretary of State wishes a drift mine to be created at Gascoigne Wood, South Milford, in Selby. He indicated in reply to a Question asked some time ago that it will be subject to normal planning procedures. The North Yorkshire County Council is to hold a public inquiry, starting on 2nd April 1975, and it is hoped that coal to the extent of about 2 million tons will be derived from the mine by 1978.
However, I do not think that it is practicable to extract the coal at this stage. In other words, I think that the date may fall behind. There is a drift mine nearby at Royston which is subject to the planning consent of the West Yorkshire Metropolitan County Council for which the sequence of dates is as follows. On 28th August 1974 planning permission was granted subject to detailed condtions. On 5th November of the same year a modifications order was made covering the system of working the coal and the rate of extraction because people feared the amount of subsidence which might take place. On 4th February 1975 a local objection was lodged and now, apparently, a date for the holding of a local inquiry is awaited. The Secretary of State's confirmation order will be required after the date has been fixed. There is, therefore, room for substantial slippage in the programme.
The Secretary of State cannot have it both ways. If he is to allow environmental considerations to emerge and the local population to have a say in these matters, which is perfectly understandable, it may not be possible to reach the figure of 10 million tons by 1985.
The other matter concerns the question of price. Labour Members, in their telling speeches, have said that there is a true price of coal. Do we expect the miners to mine it for an unrewarding sum? The new wage rates should be understood by the public. The basic rate for an underground face worker is £61. I worked it out that his gross earnings are likely to be £85 for a 42-hour 1394 week and if he works on night shift it will be £93 a week. Bearing in mind concessionary coal and additions for such matters as housing, the miner will be well placed, and we wish him well.
Let me make two observations on the question of concessionary coal. The annual consumption of coal-using families in the United Kingdom is 2½ tons. Serving miners receive betwen 6 and 11 tons per annum. In lieu, they receive £117.14 if they live in smokeless fuel areas. The total cost to the National Coal Board of supplying coal or smokeless fuels to the people eligible is £28 million. Valued at retail prices and not pithead prices, concessionary coal costs the NCB no less than £50 million.
I happened to indicate, of course, that one must add in loans from the ECSC for miners' housing for which a 17 per cent. interest rate is charged over a term of 25 years. This is very gratifying. I do not begrudge the miners all these advantages but I say to them that they are now amongst the peers of industry. They are receiving more than Members of this House under the new deal and I wish them well. But there is a price beyond which the public will not go.
If I may cite a Question of mine which the Secretary of State answered the other day, the cost of coal for industrial users worked out at between 5.5p and 6.4p per therm in England at the end of 1974, compared with 9.5p to 10.5p for fuel oil. If this sort of thing goes on, and if further claims go in, the revised coal figures will be well beyond 5p to 8p per therm. Thus the position between coal and fuel oil will continue to narrow.
At the present pace of wage settlements, parity between the two fuels will become significant. The gap will be growing narrower and the era of cheap coal will be over for ever. If the target of 150 million tons is to be achieved, it means that we may have to sustain a lot of production for the United Kingdom which may be at an uneconomic and unsustainable rate.
I mention to the Secretary of State that the price of coking coal has gone up between 1973 and 1975 by 144 per cent. On this a major industry depends. In 1970–71 the total cost of coal for electricity generation, to the CEGB, was £368 million. Today, under the new 1395 arrangements, it is close on £1,000 million—that is, up 166 per cent.
I could give more figures but I do not think there is any great point in doing that. What I am saying is that for every wage claim that goes in, particularly with this one of the miners, the costs will be handed on to the consumers of electricity, to the consumers of coal and to the people who will promote manufactures and equipment in the factories of this country.
In relation to the plan which the Bill is seeking to procure by building up opencast coal—subsequent clauses deal with this—from 10 million tons to 15 million tons, which will increase the number of sites from 54 to as many as 70, environmental considerations would come into that. But I fully back the Secretary of State in what he is doing as opencast coal is the cheapest to produce in the United Kingdom. If he is to be able to achieve a respectable price for electricity in the United Kingdom comparable to that in Western Germany, where they have brown coal, he must have the aid of opencast coal.
I cannot agree with the TUC that the analysis of 150 million tons will be achieved by 1985. With the extension of pits and major schemes at existing pits, it seems that something like 120 million tons may be achieved by the time the Secretary of State wants it. Will he look at the figures once again if we are to give him the powers he requires in the Bill to let down the surface, difficulties retained by the copyholder and secure additional rights in opencast mining. These powers should never have lapsed in the earlier Act. Will the Secretary of State ensure that his calculations are such that he will be able to achieve the changes he has in mind and produce coal at economic prices?
§ 6.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Ellis (Wrexham)
Like the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) I, too, am not going to discuss Clause 1 and, like him, I hope that I shall not be thought insensitive. I shall set myself a deadline of five minutes, and will try my very best to meet it.
I want to talk about the second part of the Bill. This seems clearly to be in response to the increasing energy 1396 demand. I want to give a small table to illustrate how absolutely fantastic this increase in demand is. The figures are so important that I risk boring the House with them, but, because of their importance, I am sure that the House will forgive me.
In 1800, 175 years ago, it is estimated that the world energy consumption, in terms of coal equivalent, was 12 million tons. In 1860, 60 years later, that 12 million tons had become 160 million tons. In 1920, 60 years later on again, the 160 million tons had become 1,500 million tons. By 1965 the figure had reached 5,000 million tons. It is estimated that in 1980 it will have reached 12,000 million tons. So the figures are: 12 million, 160 million, 1,500 million, 5,000 million, and in the last 15 year jump, 12,000 million.
In effect what I am saying is that more energy will be consumed in this world during the 20 years between 1965 and 1985 than was consumed during the whole existence of the world previously. That is a measure of the fantastic increase in demand.
The obvious question that arises from this set of figures, the question that dwarfs all others, is "where is it to come from?" It is because it does dwarf all other questions that I feel fully entitled to criticise previous Governments and energy departments and to accuse them of having been culpably complacent.
Coming now to the immediate position of the Bill and the coal industry, the immediate position of the coal industry is far from happy. It faces a Herculean task but there are no signs that it is girding itself, like Hercules, to measure up to the task. For example, the Secretary of State gave figures towards the end of November about wage costs. I should explain that I am not talking about wages. I, too, like the hon. Member for Berwick upon Tweed (Mr. Beith) believe in a high wage industry. But the fact is that in real terms the wages costs for coal—and they comprise roughly two-thirds of the total cost—have gone up during the last three years by 30 per cent. The gravity of this trend can easily escape us. Energy is a primary resource, the demand for which is rising. We are in a so-called quaternary economy with services to services and so on. It is not as if the costs of the services to 1397 the services were rising. With the cost of primary resources going up in real terms within a quaternary economy, then this is a very serious and grave situation. Indeed, I do not think that anyone can over-emphasise the seriousness of the trend.
I know that oil, which started off the immediate decline in the coal industry, has quintupled in price. But there is a world of difference between flexibility in the price of a key product of one country and the pressure of costs on a key product of another country.
I welcome this Bill to the extent that it helps, in that it does something to increase total demand. I think that it is in this regard, this unit cost regard, that the key word is "output". Productivity and capacity are both important, but the key word is "output". Every colliery manager knows that a large output covers a multitude of sins. Unfortunately trends are rather against us because improvement in output and productivity this financial year, ending next month, has been only marginal.
We now have to look elsewhere than mechanisation, because we are already fairly well mechanised. We now have to look towards getting a substantial increase in output. There are only two places to look for it. One is a qualitative improvement in the operations themselves—operational efficiency—and, of course, increased capacity, with which this Bill is most closely concerned.
Within the industry itself we are beginning to realise things that we should have realised a long time ago. For example, we have considered that a third of the manshifts worked in the industry were true coal-getting shifts. We now find that is not correct. It is more like one quarter of the shifts. The men replaced by the final mechanisation at the face ends have not got on to the true coal-getting process. To that extent, I think that the industry has a great deal to worry about.
One of the problems of the industry has been what I call the question of the balance of the industry. For far too long the industry has gone from one extreme to the other—from being overenthusiastic about first one particular bandwagon and then another. For example, we had the great drive to get 1398 the 15,000-tons-a-week face. What is needed is not the maximisation of output from one face but the optimisation of output from each face to maximum colliery capacity. It is to those objectives that the coal industry should devote its whole energies with a view to meeting this great extra demand for energy.
I hope, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I have met my five-minute deadline.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas (Merioneth)
I, too, shall try to be brief. I want to welcome warmly the provisions of Clause 1 to introduce the compensation scheme. There are few of us from the coal mining or slate quarrying areas of Wales who have not seen the terrible price paid in physical suffering by members of our families in those communities and people there who have contracted this vicious industrial disease, pneumoconiosis. They have had to depend in the past on the very low level of industrial injuries and national insurance benefit for pneumoconiosis sufferers.
That benefit is inadequate and has long been recognised as being so by anyone who has had direct experience of individual cases of the disease. The levels of the basic disablement pension and the special hardship allowance and unemployability supplement have been totally unrelated to the real suffering. With the introduction of this new scheme we are moving, at least concerning the coal industry, to a position in which there will be some relationship between the degree of compensation and the extent of the suffering.
However, there are basic issues about the administration of pneumoconiosis medical panels which remain to be analysed. I find, for example, that the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council's study, published in Command 5443, is totally inadequate in its analysis of the injustices which I have found in the operation of pneumoconiosis medical panels. I hope that the Royal Commission on Civil Liability and Compensation for Personal Injury will recommend a comprehensive industrial injuries scheme for all industries to cover cases in which a sympathetic medical board is satisfied that an illness arises out of and in the course of a particular job.
1399 What I am particularly concerned about in relation to pneumoconiosis medical panels is the inadequacy of the radio-graphical evidence when diagnosing the percentage of pneumoconiosis disability. The status of related chest and heart conditions, such as tuberculosis, in relation to qualifying for benefit should be totally reappraised by the Royal Commission, as should all these issues. I hope that this will happen when the Royal Commission comes to report.
Equally we are concerned about the paltry level of death benefits so far available when a sufferer dies. I have seen recent cases of widows of sufferers who were in receipt of 100 per cent. disability pension when alive having been subjected to the final cruelty and indignity of postmortem examinations of their husbands to obtain an abysmally small widow's benefit. In many cases the cause of death is described as cardiac failure, or something else, and although this cardiac failure can be a direct consequence of pneumoconiosis, no widow's benefit is paid. I am determined that this practice should cease and that all widows of pneumoconiosis sufferers should receive death benefit as of right whenever pneumoconiosis has been diagnosed.
The payment of percentage disability must also be called into question. In too many cases pneumoconiosis sufferers who are diagnosed at 10 per cent. disability know full well that this progressive disease will increase their disability and that total disability is only a matter of time. There are many men in my constituency, particularly in the 50–60 age group, who are on a low level of income because they have been diagnosed at only 10 per cent. disability despite their being unable to work at any full-time job. The whole structure of percentage disability must be reviewed.
I want to mention quickly a detail of the coal industry scheme. One major group of people in my constituency are excluded from any compensation. I do not want to criticise the NUM's decision—recorded at paragraph 8 of Appendix A of the Coal Industry Examination Final Report—not to support claims at common law, but I am concerned that the current levels of lump sum compensation in the majority of cases are only 30 per cent. of what the more severe 1400 cases could get through common law litigation.
I have taken advice on this matter and I understand that in current claims, which will now be withdrawn, the less severe cases are now getting more by way of lump sum compensation than they might have got at common law, but the more severely disabled cases are getting substantially less. I should like the Minister to comment on that matter.
I am also concerned about the arbitrary time scale of the scheme, which has already been mentioned, and the question of the benefits for people who have commuted their benefits under the Workmen's Compensation Act.
I should like finally to draw the attention of the House to a substantial group of pneumoconiosis sufferers who will not be compensated. They are employed in an extractive industry which was not taken into public ownership in 1947, as ought to have happened. Most of my experience of pneumoconiosis sufferers is derived from the hundreds of men in the slate industry in North Wales who have suffered throughout their working lives, with disgustingly low wages as compared with wages in the coal industry. This is an extractive industry. They are now denied access to the compensation scheme, to the type and level of compensation which will be payable to their brothers in the coal industry. I have raised this issue with the Department in correspondence, and I have not been satisfied with the replies I have received to date.
I do not accept the reasoning that the public and social responsibility to workers who are suffering from the same disease in a private industry does not lie with the Government. I believe that the public responsibility to workers who are suffering the same diseases cannot be set aside because the particular industry in which they are working is not in public ownership. This point was made very forcibly in a letter from Gwynedd County Council to the Secretary of State for Energy on 17th February, which no doubt he received, the contents of which I shall not quote.
According to the Digest of Pneumoconiosis Statistics, 815 people in other mining and quarrying activities were paid benefit at 31st December 1971, but I have 1401 not been able to get detailed figures for the slate industry in North Wales. In my estimate, however, the cost of either extending the NCB scheme to these men or their dependants or of setting up a parallel scheme financed, as this scheme is, mainly from Government sources would be minimal as compared with the total cost of the coal industry scheme.
These men have suffered and still suffer from the same disease. Are the Government going to say that men who have suffered exploitation by private enterprise are less entitled to compensation than those who are now in publicly-owned industries? That is an argument which I cannot and will not accept. The people in my constituency who are suffering from this vicious disease will not accept it, and neither will the Transport and General Workers' Union. I look for a positive statement from the Minister that the Government will discharge their responsibilities towards the slate quarry men who suffer from pneumoconiosis.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Gwilym Roberts (Cannock)
I shall also maintain the timing which previous speakers have set and keep within five minutes.
I welcome the Bill. It will have great advantages for my constituents. I shall not develop the very good work that has been done by some of my hon. Friends in covering Clause 1, but I have hundreds, if not thousands, of constituents who are affected by the clause. I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to look again at the pre-1948 commuted cases. I have had several representations on this subject. There being, I understand, no more than about 8,000 people involved, I am sure that the cost factor for the inclusion of this would certainly not be prohibitive.
I want also to comment on the other clauses and to stress what my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) has pointed out—that is, that there are other important development areas, in Staffordshire in particular, apart from Selby. In my constituency we have already seen some developments under the present Government, but we are looking forward to other developments taking place, and fairly quickly.
1402 I do not wish to cast any doubts or to take a bitter attitude. My right hon. Friend will know that the mining situation has changed over the past few years. We know from the history of mining that if people become drunk on North Sea oil, or if there is a startling breakthrough in nuclear energy, the situation of the mining industry will again change. It is vital that these developments should go forward as quickly as possible. It is all-important that mining development should form an integral part of the development of the community. Mining and housing developments are proposed in south Staffordshire, and should be tied together. If the mining community is to make progress the environment, in terms of housing, other facilities, and mining, must be developed as a whole. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will look carefully at that point.
I welcome the Bill, which represents a major step forward for the mining industry.
§ 6.41 p.m.
§ Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)
Although the provisions of the Bill are largely non-controversial, and although we have only a limited amount of time at our disposal, I nevertheless submit that this is an important measure in human terms and is one of the most important measures debated during this parliamentary Session.
Over the years many hon. Members have tried to persuade the National Coal Board that there is a need for compensation for the widows of those who have died from the industrial disease of pneumoconiosis. If they could all assemble spiritually together here—if they are not present now—and express their profound feeling, they would say that at last justice will be done in many cases. Many of us who over the years have had long conversations with the widows concerned and have made appeals and attempts and have failed, will know exactly what I have in mind.
I wish to speak about the position of those widows who are treated differently from other widows. It is essential that everyone who knows of such cases should bear witness and support the appeal made so movingly and convincingly by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Wilson). In supporting what he said I wish to quote one case of a widow 1403 of a miner from the South Yorkshire coalfield who wrote to me from an address in Hoyland Common. This morning I received a second letter. When she first wrote telling me that she would receive only £150 in compensation I advised her to see a senior area officer of the National Union of Mineworkers. I said that I was sure that she would receive a sympathetic reception. She has sent me a copy of the reply from that senior officer of the NUM, Yorkshire area. It says:The widows of men who died after 26th January 1970 in many cases were given considerable sums, and rightly so, whilst the widows of men who died before 26th January 1970 were given a pittance of £300 or £150, as in your case. You can rest assured that this union in Yorkshire will continue to press for changes in the agreement which will bring to you, if we are successful, an increase in the measly allowance you have been awarded under the terms of the pneumoconiosis scheme.I ask my right hon. Friend, who has such profound experience of the industry, to take up this case as expressed by one of the senior officers of the union in our region, and to make it his business to put the matter right before the Bill is enacted after Third Reading.
This is not the occasion for a general far-reaching debate on the future of the coal industry. However, when we have such large plans for the future of the industry this matter should be dealt with straight away so that the surviving widows may feel that, while many millions of pounds will be spent in future on the industry, their cases will be put right immediately. I know that no one has more profound feelings on the subject than the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary. Sometimes it is useful and necessary for Ministers to know the strength of feeling amongst those directly concerned and to know that we shall not rest till the matter has been put right.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ Mr. John Hannam (Exeter)
Since my arrival in the House nearly five years ago—sometimes it seems a much longer period—I have attended most of the debates on the coal industry. I have always been deeply impressed by the depth of knowledge and the understanding shown by hon. Members on both sides.
Although many Government supporters who represent coal mining constituencies speak with deep authority about the coal industry—as this short but excellent 1404 debate has shown—the House has a deep understanding of the nature of this vital industry. The speeches from both sides have contributed valuable objectivity to a debate on a Bill which is essentially non-controversial and which at first sight is of a technical rather than of an emotional nature. The speeches pointing out the horrors of the dreaded dust disease, from which some miners suffer, have introduced an element of emotion, which has just added stark reality to what on the face of it appears to be just another piece of Government legislation. Despite the uncontentious nature of the Bill, the House has seized the opportunity to hold a worthwhile discussion about our coal industry, especially in the light of the recent pay award and its effect on coal prices.
Some very important questions have been raised relating to coal supplies in different parts of the country following the new types of development which will take place. Questions have been raised about our general energy problems. Many specific queries have been raised about the effect of the various clauses of the Bill, with which I hope the Under-Secretary will be able to deal. I am sure that he will be able to remove some of the doubts and worries that would otherwise have been raised in Committee.
We welcome the general objectives of the Bill, although in Committee we shall wish to examine in detail the implications of the new powers which are accorded to the National Coal Board by the clauses dealing with the withdrawal of support, copyhold rights and opencast mining. My hon. Friends the Members for Bosworth (Mr. Butler), Howden (Sir P. Bryan) and Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) have raised important points about their constituents' fears and worries about the effects of some aspects of the Bill.
Regarding the proposals for compensating pneumoconiosis victims, from a personal point of view, as an officer of our all-party disablement group, and as someone who has endeavoured to help ex-miners suffering from this dreadful affliction. I wholeheartedly welcome the Government's intention to provide £100 million in grants to enable compensation to be paid without the need for long legal processes to establish liability. Wearing another hat, I can only wish that the same expediency could be applied in other cases such as vaccine-damaged 1405 children. However, that is another issue for another day.
My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) and many others referred to those original pneumoconiotics who commuted their pensions before 1948 under the Workmen's Compensation Act. The figure ranges between 8,000 and 10,000 who did this and who lost their common law rights to further compensation. As the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Wilson) illustrated so graphically, there is a moral obligation to give some further assistance to those mainly over 70-year-olds, and I want to press the Under-Secretary about this. Can he say how much would be required to meet this moral obligation? He knows that the whole House would like to press for this further assistance, and the inclusion of the pre-1970 widows is another extension of the grant which this House would want to see examined fully in Committee.
The hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Woodall) spoke of the effect of just a two day's difference in timing and of the hundreds, indeed thousands, of pounds which could be involved in compensation. It may prove to be necessary to increase the grant figure, and we have heard suggestions of an increase from £100 million to £150 million. At some stage in the tripartite discussions, obviously it was considered that a larger amount would be required to consider these cases.
Apart from those reservations, we welcome the agreement which has been reached between the National Coal Board and the unions concerned. It is a great step forward.
Clause 2 deals with a matter which was not foreshadowed by the tripartite agreement—the "withdrawal of support" to enable coal to be worked. Here we enter an area which needs careful study and understanding if the wrong conclusions are not to be drawn by the general public.
The fear of subsidence—the caving in of roads and the collapse of buildings and homes—is a real one for residents in mining areas. My hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash referred to the need for pillar support to be created under living communities. I consider this to be of vital importance, and I hope that the Under-Secretary will deal with the point. It is vital that every possible 1406 action be taken by the National Coal Board to avoid subsidence.
My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest used the analogy of the sponge cake. He illustrated graphically the effect of taking out the middle layer, causing a downward movement of the upper layer. I remember being extremely partial when I was a child to the jam in the middle of a sponge cake. I soon learned the trick of squeezing the two parts together in order to get at it before anyone else. However, the jam here is that vital commodity, coal. As a nation, we have to have coal.
The new fields being prospected and developed are needed to produce the extra 10 million to 20 million tons of coal a year for which the country hopes. But the existing rights to mine coal and thereby withdraw its natural support at 500 or 1,000 yards below the surface date back to the 1938 Act and do not cover all the new areas now being prospected. They are now before us for up-dating and alteration.
From my observation of the NCB's modern procedures and planning, I know that a great deal is done to avoid subsidence in these new areas. I have been impressed by the consultations taking place with the inhabitants of the Selby area. Local residents are being somewhat reassured by the details given to them of the environmental protection plans instituted by the NCB. Nevertheless, there are aspects of drainage and other geological factors which we shall need to examine carefully in Committee.
My hon. Friend the Member for Howden and my hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash raised the important matter of advance warning notices. The present rules will need to be extended. Perhaps the Minister can say what length of advance notice will be given under present agreements. A notice in the London Gazette and others in one or two local newspapers are not enough. Will the hon. Gentleman consider putting notices in all local newspapers plus, possibly, a national daily newspaper circulating in the area, and the posting of public notices covering the whole area? It is vitally important in environmental matters to ensure that people are given the fullest possible notice of proposed changes.
1407 The interesting feature about the copyhold clause is that most people to whom I have spoken who live in mining areas have never heard of copyhold rights. They date back to feudal times, so probably that is understandable. But, after some of these discussions, the people to whom I have talked have rushed off to check their own deeds in order to see whether they have been missing out on 1p per ton on the coal extracted beneath them. I hope that the Board will not be submerged in copyhold claims as a result of this debate.
The speeding up of the legal processes to enable the working of coal to take place in our new coalfields, with a compensation period of 12 years, seems a reasonable improvement. But there are technical points which we shall have to discuss in Committee, especially with regard to the length of time and whether it should not be extended to 30 years rather than just a period of 12 years.
Clauses 4 and 5 result from the tripartite report and relate to open-cast sites. Here we move into the difficult area of environmental factors. It is only in the context of our energy crisis and the national need for 15 million tons of open-cast coal by 1985 that the compulsory powers proposed are acceptable. It is a question of need versus amenity, and hon. Members on both sides of the House have raised their constituency problems.
The area in which the major Selby development will take place is mainly a rural area, and the development represents a tremendous change in the environment. The previous 10-year provisions of the Act will be superseded by a 20-year compulsory acquisition period. This includes a five-year period for the agricultural use of land. As a result of the matters raised in this debate, the Committee will obviously consider the possibility of reducing the period from 20 to 15 years.
Of all the forecasts and targets being set by the Secretary of State, the one which is attainable is the open-cast coal target of 15 million tons by 1985. But the environmental implications and the effect on agriculture of a total of 14,000 acres of land being used on the 70 sites proposed are of great significance and need to be considered carefully.
1408 The closure of footpaths and bridle ways has always caused many problems. It will have to be handled carefully by the NCB. It has a great deal of experience in these matters already, but I hope that it will ensure that the acquisition of routes, bridle paths and footpaths during the process of mining will not result in the loss of any which may not have been proved and registered by constant usage. Clause 6 and those preceding it will no doubt be examined carefully by all the responsible national organisations, and I trust that any representations which they wish to make will be received by the Minister.
The Bill represents a continuing process of rehabilitation of the coal industry. It started well before the oil crisis of 1973. When I served on the Standing Committee which considered the last Coal Industry Bill in February 1973, I recall the then Minister for Industry, Mr. Tom Boardman, introducing his £1,100 million aid for the coal industry which was welcomed by the industry and by all the members of the Committee. He provided for a doubling of the existing pensions, for redundancy payments, for increased stocks, and for £210 million to keep open uneconomic pits.
Long years of decline had ended. The decline had been caused by a basic un-competitiveness of coal during the 1950s and 1960s when cheap oil was the order of the day. A Conservative Government halted that decline and began the process of revitalising the coal industry. Since then the industry has rarely been out of the headlines. It is relevant to the Bill to consider the situation now facing coal and to project a little way into the future. All hon. Members have shown that they have the interests of the coal industry at heart. I am sure that they will agree that all the tripartite plans in the world, all the production targets and all the investment programmes involving thousands of millions of pounds will be to no avail if the industry prices itself out of the market.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth stressed the importance of linking productivity with wage increases. We all regretted the failure last November to agree on the productivity scheme put forward by the Board. It was a blow to the Government as well. We ask now for a link to be established between wage increases and productivity.
1409 My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet), in his usual detailed and excellent speech, dealt in detail with the likely production figures and the shortfall on the targets laid down by the Government. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will give us some idea of the latest coal production figures for the current year and confirm what the shortfall will be below the original target of £120 million tons.
Sir Derek Ezra the Chairman of the National Coal Board, in one of his appraisals of the coal industry given at the NUM Conference last year, said:If we are to remain competitive and go on providing real improvements in earnings, we must do so out of increased productivity.The Secretary of State in his interim report to Parliament on the tripartite examination said:It is now quite clear that there is a secure and indeed prosperous future for coal, providing it can retain its new-found competitive position.He later said:However, we recognise and accept—as I am sure does everybody in the industry—that the future prospects of the industry should be determined by its long-term competitiveness."—[Official Report, 18th June 1974; Vol. 875, c. 226.]I asked the right hon. Gentleman then for an assurance that any investment in future would be related to increased productivity and output.
I now ask whether the coal industry itself can survive the pressure which is building up as a result of large wage increases. Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State will tell the House what the price per therm of coal-generated power will be as compared with oil after current increases in costs are included. The gap widened considerably last year to approximately 30 per cent. It is now narrowing again. With oil prices remaining fairly stable—and there is a possibility that they could even marginally drop—the crossover point when coal becomes more costly than oil becomes ever nearer as one wage claim follows another. By the end of the year there will possiby be a difference of only a penny or so per therm.
§ Mr. Alexander Wilson
In weighing up the competitiveness or otherwise of the mining industry, why does the hon. Gentleman do so on the basis of pounds 1410 shillings and pence? Why does he not put a price on the suffering of the men who are working in the industry? Why does he not put that into the scales against the cost of coal?
§ Mr. Hannam
On that basis I am sure that we would not wish to continue with an industry which caused such suffering. It is clear that that would be the attitude of hon. Members on both sides of the House. I am only substantiating the comments of the Secretary of State and the comments of the Chairman of the Coal Board—namely, that coal must remain competitive. We want as much coal as possible from our pits. We want our miners to be rewarded for the dangerous and difficult job that they undertake. Surely Labour hon. Members, and especially Ministers in the Department of Energy, with their wide knowledge and background within the National Union of Mineworkers, will agree that in a balanced four-part energy system that we are lucky enough to have, with oil, gas, coal and nuclear power, it is vital that the coal industry remains as competitive as possible with its vast indigenous resources.
The Secretary of State has recognised the four-part economic structure and the rôle that coal has to play as a competitive fuel, but even he must be deeply and inwardly concerned by the attitude being adopted in the wage negotiations which have taken place. I emphasise that in supporting the Bill and others before it we are endeavouring to provide a better working life for our miners and better assistance to the National Coal Board in its efforts to secure coal supplies. Those efforts will be to no avail if we have a continuing and uncontrolled spiral of wage inflation. Already there is evidence of private and industrial consumers cancelling their plans to switch over to solid fuels. The CEGB would like to have a great deal more coal available at the right price. It is having to continue the construction of oil-fired generating plants.
We support the Bill all the way. We support it in principle and we support many of the details within it, especially the provisions for the pneumonconiosis sufferers and their families. Some queries have been raised on some technicalities and I hope that we shall have a few of the answers when the Under-Secretary of State replies.
1411 I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will accept the pressure on both sides of the House to extend the grant aid being given to the pneumoconiosis victims and their families. Further, I hope that he will recognise the fear expressed by hon. Members that is felt by people outside the House that this great industry, which appeared to be in decline but now has all our support in expanding and modernising again with new plant and new research projects, will allow itself to lose its competitiveness and, therefore, to lose its long-term prosperity.
The Bill is much welcomed on this side of the House and with some amendments in Committee it will constitute a marked and welcome step forward in improving a great industry. I hope that we shall enable it to pass into Committee at the end of its Second Reading.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Energy (Mr. Alex Eadie)
This has been a wide-ranging debate going well beyond the somewhat narrow issues of the Bill itself. I am glad that has been the case. The main aim of the Bill has been to facilitate the enormous task of getting the coal the nation needs—surely one of the most important tasks before the country.
After the trials and vicissitudes of the past, it is a great personal privilege for one who has spent a lifetime in the industry to be associated with the resurgence of coal as a basic rather than a residual factor in our energy situation. Over the past 18 months the complete reversal in the structure of energy prices following the fivefold increase in oil prices has dramatically transformed the future outlook for the coal industry.
Last year was distorted because of the strike, but in 1973 coal supplied some 38 per cent. of our total energy needs and we had difficulty in exporting less than 3 million tons. It is true that ours was still far and away the largest coal industry in Western Europe. But does anyone now believe that we would not be in a very much more favourable position if the industry had not been allowed to run down?
The neglect of the past years cannot be redeemed overnight, and we have many other things to do. The way is now open to further development of nuclear 1412 power. We have to secure the speedy development of North Sea resources in the interests of the community as a whole. We are building a comprehensive programme of measures on energy conservation which reflects the need both for immediate savings on the balance of payments and for longer-term change in attitudes on the part of consumers. We are playing a full part in international co-operation on energy matters. But a central strand of our new energy policy is the commitment to the long-term future of the coal industry that has emerged from the coal industry examination which we conducted with the unions and the National Coal Board.
We have halted the rundown, and a modest increase of output is in prospect. I only wish it could be more, and I am sure that that goes for everybody in the industry. Wherever I have gone in my travels—I have visited every coalfield in the industry—I have said to the miners that more coal for the country means better schools, houses and pensions provision. I believe that there is a new spirit of expansion in the industry. Now that the wages issue has been settled and a productivity scheme agreed, I believe that the coal will be forthcoming.
§ Mr. Eadie
No. The hon. and learned Gentleman did not come in until the middle of the debate.
Coal has an unparelleled opportunity to win for itself a viable, secure, competitive future with the assurance that short-term fluctuations in the price of other fuels will not be allowed to interfere with its development. The substantial reserves of gas and oil now under development are in no way a threat to the opportunities facing the industry. Our reserves of coal are even greater and we shall certainly not be so rich in other fuels as to be able to afford to undervalue coal.
It has been said that not only is there a Selby coalfield: there are other rich new finds as well. As my hon. Friends have said, there are new exciting coalfields all over Britain. We are boring more for coal than for oil—in Oxfordshire, Eastern Nottinghamshire, Seafield off the Scottish coast and the area in 1413 Staffordshire that my hon. Friends have mentioned.
§ Mr. Eadie
I will not give way.
It is because of this new importance of coal in our national economy that we make no excuse for the proposals in the Bill, which are designed to iron out some of the practical and procedural snags which could so easily hold up coal production and deny the country the valuable contribution that the industry would otherwise be able to offer. At the same time, with all the emphasis that must rightly be given to the paramount need to solve our economic problems and to allow coal to help fully in that task, we must never forget the human aspects—the need to respect the dignity and rights of the individual and to have regard for our environmental heritage. We believe that the Bill holds a fair balance.
Indeed, the Bill starts off in Clause 1 with a matter which must concern every Member of this House—the relief of suffering. In this case I am talking about pneumoconiosis, for many years recognised as one of the greatest evils attendant on the coal industry. Great efforts have been made by all concerned over the years to deal with the airborne dust problem, unfortunately accentuated by the mechanisation which in other ways has made the miner's life less arduous. Nobody is more pleased than my right hon. Friend and myself, as coming from the mining industry, with the considerable advances that have been made. The figures tell the story. The number of new cases in 1950 was over 4,000. By 1960 it had almost come down to 3,000. Last year there were only just over 500 new cases.
This progress has been achieved by the fullest co-operation of all concerned—management, unions, the Mines Inspectorate, the mining equipment manufacturers, the research institutes and so on—and I should like to pay tribute to them all. The main effort must be directed to tackling the problem at source, where the dust is produced, but standards have been improved all round. New methods of sampling have been put into operation, and stricter dust controls have recently 1414 been introduced by the NCB in anticipation, I understand, of new statutory regulations which are expected later this year. All this is contributing to lowering the incidence of the disease.
The effort must go on. At present there is a tragic legacy of the past of nearly 40,000 registered sufferers. A good many cases would have to be taken through the courts. Legal expenses would be heavy and it would take a long time. Some of the sufferers would be unable to provide the necessary evidence of things that may have happened many years ago. Some may not survive to hear the results of their case. That is the answer to the hon. Member who raised this issue and to any criticism of the agreement negotiated by the NUM and the NCB. We want to give people financial provision when they are alive, rather than when they are dead, and to avoid long-drawn-out legal processes.
For this reason the whole House must welcome the scheme that the National Coal Board and the unions have worked out together. It is with pride that I refer to the provision in Clause 1 of £100 million to help the Board meet the costs of compensating the existing sufferers. This is the finest possible example of the regard for the individual which the present Government have and always will have.
But though other examples may not have gained the same appeal in human terms, there are individual rights which we have not forgotten in drawing up the provisions of the Bill. It has been necessary, as my right hon. Friend and I have sought to show, to strengthen the powers of the National Coal Board in the daunting task it has in front of it.
This simply cannot be done without some erosion of the rights of the individual. The provisions in the Bill permit the NCB to withdraw support from some land owners at the margins of coal workings where their rights are now in doubt. They permit the Board to mine coal from under land where there is the retained interest of a former copyhold tenancy without the delays involved in seeking permission from owners who in many cases might be difficult to identify. The Bill resurrects compulsory powers for the temporary occupation and use of land for 1415 opencast coal working and a new procedure for the temporary closure or diversion of footpaths. But full provision is made for the individuals who object to be able to make their case and to have it fully taken into account, if necessary by a public inquiry.
The Board and the Department care about the environment—quite apart from the fact that the Countryside Act constrains them to do so. No application to work an opencast site is made before the Board has gone fully into the local situation and tried its best to meet the wishes of local opinion in regard to the area to be used and the methods of working and so on. I can assure the House that in considering such applications the Secretary of State gives every consideration to the need to minimise the impact on the environment and on the people living in the locality. Conditions are imposed with regard to methods of working and the way the site is to be restored, and in drawing them up we invariably consult the Ministry of Agriculture where farming is concerned and the Department of the Environment and the Welsh Office or Scottish Office as the case may be.
The expansion of the opencast coal programme from 10 million tons to 15 million tons a year which was announced in the reports of the coal industry examination is absolutely essential to the future economic well-being of this country. This will mean correspondingly more sites, but in the ways I have outlined I give a pledge to those concerned that everything possible will be done to minimise the nuisance and the damage to the local amenity, to complete operations as speedily as can be and to restore the land as attractively and beneficially as it is possible to do.
Several hon. Members have mentioned the wives who were widowed before or after 1970 and the men who had commuted their pension rights. I do not want there to be any misunderstanding. This is not a scheme put forward by the Government. What the Bill provides is the grant of £100 million that the Government decided on as an act of compassion and concern for those who worked in the industry. The scheme has been drawn up between the NCB and the NUM and any amendment of it would require to be negotiated between those two parties. The Government are proud to make their con- 1416 tribution, but I emphasise that it is a scheme which will be drawn up between the two parties.
As for the points which were made about how people will be affected depending on whether their cases were dealt with before or after 1970 and the matter of commutation, I am sure that this debate will be read by many outside the House. Therefore I hope that my hon. Friends who raised these points will feel that amendment of the Bill will not solve the problems they raise. I repeat that this debate will be read widely and those points will be borne in mind.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) was right to say that the scheme had been drawn up between the National Coal Board and the unions. If there is any argument or dispute in the area which he represents, it is a matter for the employers to consider. If the pottery employers want to introduce a scheme, they are at liberty to do so. It is a matter for them.
I believe that great credit should be given to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy for the fact that we have managed to make a contribution of £100 million. My right hon. Friend managed to achieve that sum under great difficulties. Therefore, I hope that the House will not be unmindful of that important consideration.
I have already exhausted the time at my disposal and I hope that the House will not consider it discourteous if I do not reply to a number of the points which have been made. Many of them are important, but I hope that we shall be able to discuss them further in Committee.
In conclusion, I should like to stress the mutual nature of our strategy for the coal industry. It is up to management and unions alike to grasp the great prize of a stable, expanding and competitive picture which now lies before it. It is up to the Government and the community as a whole to substantiate their commitment to such a future for the industry. I do not think any Government could have done more to demonstrate our commitment than have the present Labour Government—who, after all, have had only 11 months in office. I am proud to be associated with this administration. Furthermore, the Bill 1417 gives evidence of the continuing nature of that commitment. It shows compassion and understanding for those in the industry who are affected by the legislative procedures. Accordingly, I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).