HC Deb 05 December 1984 vol 69 cc341-3
8. Mr. Ron Brown

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what he estimates has been the cost to date to the Scottish economy of the mining dispute.

Mr. Allan Stewart

The loss of coal output directly reduced industrial production by some 2.5 per cent. in the second quarter of this year. The recovery in manufacturing output is continuing. The main effect of the strike has been the hardship suffered by the families of striking miners.

Mr. Brown

Will the Minister face facts? The Government are responsible for the crisis. It is obvious that the miners are standing firm and will not be defeated, and so something must be done to resolve the crisis by bringing both sides together. What, if anything, do the Government intend to do?

Mr. Allan Stewart

The people who should be facing facts are Mr. Arthur Scargill and his colleagues in the National Union of Mineworkers, and the fact that they should face is that there is a perfectly reasonable basis for setlement in the terms put to, and agreed by, NACODS.

Mr. Henderson

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the most unnecessary costs of the mining dispute has been incurred by local authorities which insist on dishing out ratepayers' money to support the operation? That has affected not only ratepayers in the domestic sector, but businesses as well, and there is bound to be a knock-on effect on jobs.

Mr. Allan Stewart

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I know of the anger that that action has caused among ratepayers, especially in my hon. Friend's area. It is indeed surprising that councils which constantly claim that they are tight on resources should apparently be so flush with funds for such purposes.

Mr. Eadie

If the hon. Gentleman will return to the original question about the effect of the strike on the Scottish economy and its cost, he must concede that the cost has been enormous. Will he note that the way to resolve the problem is to get back to the negotiating table to achieve a negotiated settlement? Is he aware that, since the Conservatives have been in Government, there has been less investment in the mining industry in Scotland? Is he further aware that there was less investment in the industry in Scotland in 1983–84 than there was in 1979, when Labour was in power?

Mr. Allan Stewart

The Government have an outstanding record on investment in the coal industry. We have invested £2 million a day in it.

Mr. Eadie

Not in Scotland.

Mr. Allan Stewart

As to the adverse industrial consequences of the strike, there have been reduced purchases of mining machinery, and loss of income has hit suppliers of goods and services to the mining community. However, the recovery in manufacturing output in Scotland is continuing—it was up 5 per cent. in the first half of 1984. Scotland is in favourable circumstances with regard to electricity supply because, as the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the electricity boards have alternative sources of supply.

Mr. Maxton

As the Minister is so anxious to bring the strike to an end, why does he not advise the Cabinet to instruct the National Coal Board to go back to the negotiating table and start negotiating on the true facts about the viability of pits instead of the nonsense that it has talked so far? Is he aware of the report that I have in my hand, and which is marked "Confidential"? In it, five leading accountants, including two professors of accountancy, show quite clearly that the facts and figures that the NCB has used so far are utter nonsense? Will he go back to the negotiating table on that basis? [Interruption.]

Mr. Allan Stewart

It is Mr. Scargill who has said that he has not budged an inch. The NCB has proposed a basis for settlement, which has been accepted by NACODS. Perhaps I might tell the hon. Gentleman and others who are cheering what he said that 2,267 miners are working in Scotland today. My right hon. and hon. Friends commend them for going back to work and their bravery in the face of intimidation. I know that Opposition Members regard them as scabs. That is the difference between us. We are the party of the workers, they are the party of the strikers.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall take the point of order afterwards.

Mr. Andy Stewart

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Scottish economy would have been worse affected if the Nottinghamshire miners had not continued to work?

Mr. Allan Stewart

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is a pity that miners in Scotland did not get the opportunity to ballot, as did Nottinghamshire miners, as they would have been at work as well if they had had the chance.

Mr. Douglas

Will the Minister restrain his hon. Friend the Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Henderson) and concur with the convenor of Fife regional council in that, first, nothing that the regional council has done in support of the miners has broken the law and, secondly, that he is perfectly right to say that, "nae wain in my region will have a hungry belly."? Do Conservative Members intend to win the strike on the basis of hungry bairns' bellies? As we are approaching the season of good will, will the Government show good will and get the Secretary of State for Energy to call the parties to the negotiating table to achieve an honourable settlement to the dispute, or do they intend to win by attrition?

Mr. Allan Stewart

My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Henderson) did not say that the action of the regional council was illegal. He said that he deplored it, as I do. As for the emotive language used by the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas), I believe that the striking miners have a responsibility to take into account the interests of their families and to go back to work. Their jobs are there for them.

Mr. Hugh Brown

I am glad that the Leader of the House is in his place as I wish him to repeat what I believe he said yesterday, although it is not in Hansard, when he urged the NUM to return to the negotiating table. If that is indeed the Government's position, will the hon. Gentleman instruct the NCB to be a bit more conciliatory?

Mr. Allan Stewart

What I said, and am happy to repeat, is that in my view there is a perfectly reasonable basis for a settlement on the terms already accepted by NACODS. I am sure that if a ballot were put to members of the NUM as a whole on that proposition it would be accepted.

Mr. Malone

If my hon. Friend reads the report to which the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) referred, will he bear in mind that it was prepared by academics with little experience of the mining industry and that it was immediately ripped apart on breakfast television by a leading practical expert?

Mr. Allan Stewart

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As a former academic myself, I often take with a pinch of salt documents produced by academics.

Mr. Dewar

Does the Minister accept that his synthetic rage in the past few minutes had made hint a somewhat ludicrous figure, like some demented Paddington Bear dancing at the Dispatch Box? Will he accept that the Opposition give the strongest possible support to local authorities in Scotland, which have shown concern and compassion for the real hardship being endured in their areas, and that we would welcome a gleam of humanity on this issue from Ministers of the Crown in Scotland?

Whatever the record for the United Kingdom, will the hon. Gentleman admit that investment in the Scottish coalfields has declined since 1979 and that that is one of the major problems? Will he give a categorical assurance that, to the best of his and the Government's knowledge, there is no plan to close pits and reduce the work force on the lines forecast on fairly compelling evidence by the STUC and other bodies in Scotland?

Mr. Allan Stewart

I am not prepared to comment on the status of documents which the NUM or STUC claims to possess. That is a matter for the National Coal Board. We all saw the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) on television, giving support to Mr. Arthur Scargill in the Usher hall. He is now clutching at straws to hide the extreme embarrassment felt by him and some of his colleagues at the conduct of the National Union of Mineworkers.