HC Deb 08 July 1976 vol 914 cc1596-8
Q1. Mr. Wigley

asked the Prime Minister if he will pay an official visit to Talysarn.

The Prime Minister (Mr. James Callaghan)

I have at present no plans to do so.

Mr. Wigley

Is the Prime Minister aware that if he did visit Talysarn and many other slate quarrying villages, he would be forcibly impressed by the suffering from silicosis and other lung diseases? The practical situation facing these people puts them in a special category, because the former quarrying companies have gone defunct and the workers cannot get justice in the courts of law. Would the Prime Minister look at this situation again, in the same way as he has looked at the position of coal miners, who have been helped considerably by the Government?

The Prime Minister

I know the villages concerned, and many years ago I lived in that area. I have great understanding of the problem. Silicosis is a grave disease. A great deal of research has been done on it in my former constituency of Penarth. In logic, there is very little reason why remedy should be limited to coal miners, as such, but I think we should await the report of the Pearson Committee and see whether it brings forward any proposal on the matter of physical disability. When it has reported, we can consider future action.

Mr. Cryer

Irrespective of the Pearson Committee report, there is an urgent need to look at the incidence of silicosis among foundry workers. Having opened the door to a proper scheme of compensation by the National Coal Board for miners suffering from pneumoconiosis, I believe that the scheme should be extended to cover people who work in foundries.

The Prime Minister

The same considerations apply to foundry workers as to slate quarry workers. It is my understanding that the Pearson Committee intends to review this matter, and I think that we should await the proposals that it will bring forward.

Mr. Charles Morrison

Although the Prime Minister may not be visiting Talysarn, will he take an early opportunity to announce, here or elsewhere, his proposed cuts in public expenditure? In that respect, is he aware that in spite of the huffing and puffing from members of his Left wing, they will make the best of Lobby fodder?

The Prime Minister

At Talysarn there is a considerable programme of current derelict land clearance, to the tune of £320,000, which I hope will help the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) and his constituents. They have been discussing additional expenditure for this and other matters.

Mr. Skinner

To get back to the more serious aspect, as the Prime Minister knows, the latest news arriving from the Isle of Man miners' conference is on the question of the retiring age being lowered. One of the main causes of pneumoconiosis and associated diseases is the fact that miners have to work up to 50 years in appalling conditions. Does my right hon. Friend agree with the National Union of Mineworkers in what it said on this matter this morning, or does it conflict with the pay policy? Will he give this matter his attention?

The Prime Minister

The question of earlier retirement for coal miners should be considered very seriously, because of the special conditions under which they labour. To introduce such a scheme now probably would conflict with the existing pay policy, but that is no reason why we should not consider any proposals that the NUM puts forward, particularly if it regards this as a matter to which it attaches priority. However, I could not give any guarantees this afternoon about implementing such proposals.