HC Deb 17 March 1976 vol 907 cc1332-41

3.56 p.m.

Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the law relating to the licensing of privately-owned coal mines. The history of this matter is that the 1946 Act transferred the ownership of all coal mines to the National Coal Board and allowed persons to work coal mines only by licence from the NCB. At that time there were about 480 private coal mines, but by 1964 production had fallen from 2 million tons to 1.4 million tons. Now it is in the region of 600,000 tons and the labour force employed in private coal mines totals about 1,600 people.

The power to license these mines rests with the National Coal Board. It is a curious idea that the private mines' chief competitor should be he who issues licences.

Furthermore, the National Coal Board has the power to charge rent or royalties on coal worked in privately-owned mines and the power to alter or revoke a licence or impose conditions on a licence and so to order the affairs of privately-owned coal mines that they cannot possibly compete on fair terms.

The Bill I seek leave to bring in would alter this situation so that the power to license mines would be in the hands of the Government. The Bill provides that a Government should refuse a licence only on the grounds of safety or health in the operation of the mines and should not seek to revoke a licence on the grounds of preventing or frustrating competition.

It is the aspect of monopoly which prompts me to seek leave to bring in this Bill. The Minister of Fuel and Power who brought in the 1946 Act was asked by a member of the then Cabinet whether a special clause should be inserted to confirm the National Coal Board's monopoly position.

It has always seemed to me rather curious about the Labour Party that it and the trade unions, which so often run with it, have railed against monopoly throughout their history, yet when they have nationalised industries they have instituted open monopoly. They have seen a virtue in giving State industries a monopoly which I think the whole House would agree is undesirable in the private sector. Indeed, the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) just now accused the Press of being a monopoly, yet no doubt he will seek to oppose my request to open up a monopoly in the public sector.

We have monopolies in postal services, telephone services, steel, gas and medicine—in whole areas of our economy. We have the spectacle of the Government seeking to enforce monopoly—and where it is not yet total monopoly, to make it so—in health and education and in the case of Laker Airways.

All this makes people ask "Why does this State industry need to be bolstered by monopoly powers? Is it because it is so inefficient? Are the Government so ashamed of its performance that they wish to conceal its weaknesses by preventing competition?" It must be the weakest thing that could be done by a Socialist Government to insist on a statutory monopoly in any of these sectors, but particularly in coal mining, where there is no utility content in the work done by the National Coal Board, because in effect it declares that the Government have no confidence in the efficiency of these industries, that they cannot be sure that they can compete and, therefore, that the Government must necessarily suppress all competition.

Why should not people be allowed to dig coal in this country? This island is made of coal and is surrounded by fish. But its citizens are not allowed to dig coal. Why not? Why should not our citizens be allowed to catch fish as long as the Government do not nationalise fishing? If a citizen wished to do so, it would be to the benefit of the country that he should be allowed to open and run coal mines on any basis he liked.

The customers of the coal industry would benefit from alternative sources of supply. Why should they be denied the opportunity of getting coal from other than the NCB? I see every advantage in alternative sources of supply. I see every advantage in competition in the provision of coal. Why should it not be allowed?

Most important of all is the effect of the situation upon the coal industry itself. Nothing so weakens the spirit of initiative and enterprise of people as belonging to a monopoly, because it seems to stretch for far ahead, with the right to go on doing whatever one has been doing without facing realities and economic changes where they are necessary.

I shall illustrate what I mean. The possibility of paying pitmen vast sums more through vastly greater productivity in the coal mines is denied by insisting that they cannot opt out of the system. The labour relations of the coal mines are not such that one would advocate having a unit of 250,000 people. It is impossible to communicate, to participate, in a unit of that size. We have shown how the wages are determined by politics, how the National Union of Mineworkers becomes the bully boy of the industry and how the workers are denied the opportunity to better themselves through higher productivity.

We hear and will hear more from the Labour Party about worker participation. Some absurd White Paper or Green Paper—perhaps even a Bill—will be produced. But the way to achieve worker participation in the coal industry is to give the pits to the miners. Let them run their own pits and double or quadruple their wages, if they can, by their own efforts. Let them be responsible for their own capital and their own investment. That is the way to get participation, to get profit-sharing and to get that spirit of enterprise which is so lacking in our public sector.

Labour Members may laugh about this. They may think that they are the masters now. But they can look at the declining industrial performance of the country. It is falling back to being a country of low wages, low productivity and industrial backwardness. If they do not soon take the point that somewhere along the road they have to give people a little bit of participation, a little bit of profit-sharing and responsibility for the results of their own actions, they will reduce us to the state of Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia or some other grim, grey, Communist satellite. That is where hon. Members opposite are bringing us, so I ask the House to give me leave to bring in the Bill.

4.5 p.m.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

I oppose granting the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) leave to bring in the Bill.

The hon. Member referred to "bully boys" in the trade unions, yet his current Leader is running around the country trying to woo the trade unions in order to gather a few votes in whatever elections may ensue, either locally or in parliamentary by-elections.

It is all rather ironic, since the hon. Member comes from a coal-mining family. [HON. MEMBERS: "Coal-owning."] When I say "coal-mining family" I use the term in its broadest possible sense. I was not, I hope, giving any indication that the hon. Gentleman ever got down a coal mine and dirtied his hands, or got to the pit face and dug out the coal. I think that we should pay some attention, however, to the rôle that the hon. Gentleman's family played in the coal industry before it was nationalised. Like many other large coal-owning families, it was very much concerned with the profit motive in the coal mines and was to some extent extremely successful until it found that coal production was not yielding the bonanza that it used to yield.

The experience of the coal industry under private ownership caused the Labour Party at the time—and it could be argued that most people in Parliament agreed—to come to the view that, if we were to sustain a coal industry for the nation in order to produce the coal so badly needed, certainly after the war, to the extent of 250 million tons, it had to be done on a planned basis. Indeed, Tories, Liberals and countless other types in this place and outside it were of the joint view that it had to be done on a planned basis. Thus, nationalisation of the Morrisonian type was applied to the coal industry. It can be argued now that that system is not the right kind for a planned coal industry, but in saying that we certainly could not go back to the system promulgated by the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury.

Mr. Nigel Lawson (Blaby)

My hon. Friend wants to give the mines back to the miners.

Mr. Skinner

The hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) suggests from a sitting position that the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury is concerned about giving the mines back to the miners. I remind the hon. Member for Blaby that the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury was really saying something entirely different. He was concerned about allowing the winds of competition and free enterprise to blow across the coal industry so that other people and not those actually digging the coal could make money. Let us have none of this nonsense. The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury wanted to embellish his argument and make it appear to be palatable, perhaps, to some of my hon. Friends by referring to the miners. I am certain that it will not appear palatable. We have been through that experience.

When the hon. Gentleman's family and others like them were involved in running the coal mines, they paid more attention to the survival of ponies at £80 a time than to men injured underneath the ground. They knew then that they could replace any one of those men killed in the coal mines without any cost whatsoever, but it cost £80 to replace a pony. That was the value they put upon human life for many years throughout the coal industry. Therefore, we shall have none of this nonsense.

There are some privately-licensed mines in the great British coalfields at the present time. As the hon. Gentleman indicated, they employ about 1,600 men. They are fast falling because of the standards laid down in this House as a result of the efforts of the National Union of Mineworkers and other unions associated with the coal industry. Those who have tried to make a few bob out of these ramshackle private mines have in the main found it increasingly more difficult to do so because of the standards laid down. They cannot keep up with the standards to which they are expected to adhere rigidly in this extremely dangerous industry.

For those reasons and a multitude of others, I oppose the Bill.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select

Committees at commencement of Public Business):—

The House divided: Ayes 154, Noes 205.

Division No. 89.] AYES [4.13 p.m.
Adley, Robert Goodhew, Victor Mudd, David
Alison, Michael Grant, Anthony (Harrow C) Neave, Airey
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Grist, Ian Nelson, Anthony
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Hall, Sir John Neubert, Michael
Awdry, Daniel Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Onslow, Cranley
Banks, Robert Hannam, John Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)
Bell, Ronald Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss Parkinson, Cecil
Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham) Higgins, Terence L. Peyton, Rt Hon John
Benyon, W. Holland, Philip Pym, Rt Hon Francis
Berry, Hon Anthony Hordern, Peter Raison, Timothy
Biggs-Davison, John Hunt, David (Wirral) Renten, Tim (Mid-Sussex)
Blaker, Peter Hunt, John Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Boscawen, Hon Robert Hurd, Douglas Ridsdale, Julian
Bottomley, Peter James, David Rifkind, Malcolm
Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown) Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd … W'df'd) Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)
Braine, Sir Bernard Jessel, Toby Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Bryan, Sir Paul Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Buchanan-Smith, Alick Kershaw, Anthony Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Buck, Antony Kilfedder, James Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)
Budgen, Nick King, Evelyn (South Dorset) Royle, Sir Anthony
Burden, F. A. Kitson, Sir Timothy Sainsbury, Tim
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Lamont, Norman Scott, Nicholas
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Lane, David Scott-Hopkins, James
Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Langford-Holt, Sir John Shepherd, Colin
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Latham, Michael (Melton) Sims, Roger
Clegg, Walter Lawrence, Ivan Skeet, T. H. H.
Cockcroft, John Lawson, Nigel Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Cooke, Robert (Bristol W) Le Marchant, Spencer Sproat, lain
Cope, John Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Stanbrook, Ivor
Cordle, John H. Lloyd, Ian Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)
Corrie, John Loveridge, John Stradling Thomas, J.
Costain, A. P. McAdden, Sir Stephen Taylor, R. (Croydon NW)
Critchley, Julian McCrindle, Robert Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Davies, Rt Hon J. (Knutsford) Macfarlane, Neil Tebbit, Norman
Dean, Paul (N Somerset) Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham) Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Townsend, Cyril D.
Durant, Tony Marten, Neil Wakeham, John
Eden, Rt Hon Sir John Mather, Carol Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Maude, Angus Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
Elliott, Sir William Mawby, Ray Wall, Patrick
Eyre, Reginald Mayhew, Patrick Walters, Dennis
Fairgrieve, Russell Meyer, Sir Anthony Warren, Kenneth
Farr, John Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove) Weatherill, Bernard
Fell, Anthony Mills, Peter Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Finsberg, Geoffrey Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Wiggin, Jerry
Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N) Molyneaux, James Winterton, Nicholas
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Monro, Hector Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Fookes, Miss Janet Montgomery, Fergus Younger, Hon George
Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St) Moore, John (Croydon C)
Gilmour, Rt Hon Ian (Chesham) More, Jasper (Ludlow) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Gllmour, Sir John (East Fife) Morgan, Geraint Mr. Ian Gow and
Glyn, Dr Alan Morris, Michael (Northampton S) Mr. Nicholas Ridley.
Goodhart, Philip Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)
Abse, Leo Canavan, Dennis Delargy, Hugh
Allaun, Frank Cant, R. B. Dempsey, James
Archer, Peter Carter, Ray Dormand, J. D.
Armstrong, Ernest Clemitson, Ivor Douglas-Mann, Bruce
Ashley, Jack Cocks, Michael (Bristol S) Dunn, James A.
Ashton, Joe Cohen, Stanley Eadie, Alex
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Coleman, Donald Edge, Geoff
Atkinson, Norman Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Corbett, Robin Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Cox, Thomas (Tooting) English. Michael
Bates, Alf Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill) Evans, Fred (Caerphilly)
Bean, R. E. Crawford, Douglas Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)
Beith, A. J. Crawshaw, Richard Evans, loan (Abordare)
Bidwell, Sydney Cryer, Bob Ewing, Harry (Stirling)
Bishop, E. S. Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.
Boardman, H. Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh) Fitch, Alan (Wigan)
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Davidson, Arthur Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) Flannery, Martin
Brown, Ronald (Hackney S) Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)
Buchan, Norman Deakins, Eric Forrester, John
Buchanan, Richard Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Freeson, Reginald
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) de Freitas, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Freud, Clement
Garrett, John (Norwich S) Madden, Max Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)
Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) Magee, Bryan Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Golding, John Mallalieu, J. P. W. Silverman, Julius
Gould, Bryan Marks, Kenneth Skinner, Dennis
Grant, George (Morpeth) Marquand, David Small, William
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Snape, Peter
Hardy, Peter Maynard, Miss Joan Spearing, Nigel
Harper, Joseph Mellish, Rt Hon Robert Stallard, A. W.
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Mendelson, John Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Heffer, Eric S. Miller, Mrs Millie (llford N) Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)
Hooley, Frank Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen) Stoddart, David
Horam, John Molloy, William Strang, Gavin
Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Moonman, Eric Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Huckfield, Les Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey) Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Tierney, Sydney
Hughes, Mark (Durham) Newens, Stanley Tinn, James
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Oakes, Gordon Tomilnson, John
Hughes, Roy (Newport) Ogden, Eric Torney, Tom
Hunter, Adam Ovenden, John Tuck, Raphael
Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill) Pardoe, John Urwin, T. W.
Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford) Park, George Wainwright, Richard (Coine V)
Janner, Greville Parker, John Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Parry, Robert Ward, Michael
Jeger, Mrs Lena Pavitt, Laurie Watkins, David
Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Pendry, Tom Watkinson, John
Johnson, James (Hull West) Penhaligon, David Watt, Hamish
Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Perry, Ernest Wellbeloved, James
Jones, Barry (East Flint) Prentice, Rt Hon Reg Welsh, Andrew
Kelley, Richard Prescott, John White, Frank R. (Bury)
Kilroy-Sllk, Robert Price, William (Rugby) Whitehead, Phillip
Kinnock, Neil Radice, Giles Whitlock, William
Lambie, David Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S) Wigley, Dafydd
Lamborn, Harry Reid, George Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Lamond, James Richardson, Miss Jo Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Latham, Arthur (Paddington) Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Williams, Sir Thomas
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Robinson, Geoffrey Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Lipton, Marcus Roderick, Caerwyn Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Loyden, Eddie Rodgers, George (Chorley) Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Luard, Evan Rooker, J. W. Wise, Mrs Audrey
Lyon, Alexander (York) Roper, John Woodall, Alec
Mabon, Dr J. Dickson Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight) Woof, Robert
McCartney, Hugh Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock) Wrigglesworth, Ian
McElhone, Frank Rowlands, Ted Young, David (Bolton E)
McGuire, Michael (Ince) Sandelson, Neville
Mackenzie, Gregor Sedgemore, Brian TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Mackintosh, John P. Selby, Harry Mr. Gwilyn Roberts and
McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Shaw, Arnold (llford South) Mr. Edwin Wainwright.
McNamara, Kevin Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne)

Question accordingly negatived.