HC Deb 13 February 1978 vol 944 cc7-9
4. Mr. Townsend

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what conclusions his Department has reached as to the effect on the production of coal of productivity agreements, from the evidence forthcoming from pits where such schemes are operating.

30. Mr. Warren

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on the change in coal output resulting from the new pit productivity bonus system.

Mr. Eadie

I am informed by the National Coal Board that incentive agreements have now been negotiated for most parts of the country but as yet have been fully implemented in less than one-third of the collieries. It is not yet possible to make any balanced estimate of even the initial effect of these schemes on overall national output. Production for the last three weeks of January in the relevant areas increased by about 10 per cent. compared with the pre-incentive position in October and November 1977.

Mr. Townsend

Is not the Minister concerned about the growing anomalies in bonuses paid between different areas? If so, what does he intend to do about the matter? On reflection, does he not wish that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had been a bit more vigorous at the time of the national ballot?

Mr. Eadie

My right hon. Friend has made his position perfectly clear. It is too early to start drawing definite conclusions about the variation of figures. The schemes are self-financing and will be paid for out of increased productivity.

Mr. Kelley

Before reaching any euphoric conclusions about the future output of the coal industry as a result of the productivity schemes, will my hon. Friend take into consideration the fact that they are likely to lead to widespread industrial unrest because of the conclusions reached by people who are not able to take into account the varied conditions in the mining industry generally?

Mr. Eadie

I realise that the view expressed by my hon. Friend has been expressed elsewhere. It is too early yet to make predictions about what will happen in the coalfields because of the implementation of productivity schemes. Perhaps the House will want to come back to this subject. I would not want to hang my hat on the argument that the schemes will mean more industrial action until they have run a little longer.

Mr. Rost

If it is too early to judge how the productivity schemes are working, may we ask for an assurance that the Minister will keep his eye on these schemes to ensure that there is fairness and that they are genuine productivity schemes? Will he bear in mind that there will be wide discrepancies between the more easily operated pits and those which are more difficult to work and that it will, therefore, be necessary to produce a genuine reward for the men in both types of pit?

Mr. Eadie

The schemes are genuine productivity schemes. The hon. Member asks me to keep my eye, like Big Brother, on the miners in various areas. That is not on. The only people who can produce coal are the miners. They will produce the coal that the country needs.

Mr. Litterick

Does not my hon. Friend agree, however, that, if his Department's assumptions about the relationship between money incentives and man-shift productivity are accurate, the effect of the productivity schemes must be to produce accelerated redundancies in the industry which in turn—given that the Department is still prophesying a long-term decline in demand for coal—will mean that a valuable national asset, the labour force in the mining industry, will be dissipated?

Mr. Eadie

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend when he says that the men who work in the industry constitute one of the country's most valuable assets. I do not think that I necessarily accept his argument that increased productivity will mean accelerated redundancies. We have been discussing such items as this at the meeting of the Energy Commission this morning. Increased productivity will be of benefit to the mining industry. Even before the incentive scheme was agreed to, the national leaders had been telling the miners that there could be increased productivity.