HC Deb 19 March 1979 vol 964 cc1084-5
10. Mr. Ridley

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what extra finance will be made available to the National Coal Board as a result of the recent miners' pay settlement.

Mr. Benn

The extent of the Government's financial support to the industry next year will depend on a range of factors, not all of which can yet be identified.

Mr. Ridley

Does the Secretary of State think that it is the right way to conduct a wage claim for the union to negotiate with the Prime Minister about how much money he would make available and then for the union to split up that money among its members in the way that it saw fit? What is the place of management in these negotiations? Is it not normal for management to carry out the negotiations?

Mr. Benn

There was no negotiation with the Prime Minister about the wage claim. I was present on that occasion, and it was a discussion about the future of the industry. Negotiations took place between the Coal Board and the NUM. There were two meetings of the tripartite committee with Treasury Ministers, myself, the Coal Board and the mining unions to look at"Plan for Coal ". Against that background the negotiations took place.

The hon. Gentleman is five or six years out of date with Government handling of the mining industry. I hope that he will not remind himself of his own contribution at that time, which was not altogether without its difficulties.

Mr. Woodall

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that whatever contribution the Government make towards the miners will be amply repaid by extra productivity? Will he also confirm that, no matter which Government have been in power, the miners' contribution towards the wealth of the country has been overwhelming and will continue to be so?

Mr. Benn

I confirm everything that my hon. Friend says. Productivity has risen sharply over the last year. Miners have—at some cost in life, as we know from yesterday's disaster—maintained our supplies. Any Government of any political party would be mad not to develop the mining industry, upon which we know we can rely for security of supply for the next 300 years. That cannot be said of oil or gas—or even, for that matter, of nuclear power.

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