HC Deb 10 December 1984 vol 69 cc720-2
4. Mr. Harvey

asked the Secretary of State for Wales how many jobs have been lost in Wales as a result of the coal mining dispute; and how much the total cost of the dispute has been to the Welsh economy.

17. Mr. Terlezki

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what is his assessment of the impact on the Welsh economy and on the prospects for employment in Wales of a further prolongation of the coal mining dispute.

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Nicholas Edwards)

It is not possible to give detailed figures in respect of Wales, but there is no doubt that jobs are being lost, particularly in businesses with direct connections with the coal industry. The longer the dispute continues, the greater will be the threat to those businesses and to economic development.

Mr. Harvey

Does my right hon. Friend accept that this represents a shameful and tragic waste of human resources in Wales? Will he urge Welsh miners to follow the excellent example set by Bersham colliery workers in going back to work?

Mr. Edwards

As I said at the CBI dinner on Friday, I agree that the most tragic aspects of this dispute are the waste of the resources involved, the destruction of coal faces, and the loss of markets and of resources that would be going into new productive industry.

Mr. Terlezki

Have we not lost the order for 600,000 tonnes of coal that were to be exported to France because of this violent and undemocratic strike? At the same time, will not British Rail, the National Bus Company and, in particular, small businesses suffer because Mr. Scargill and his subordinates are denying their members a free and democratic ballot?

Mr. Edwards

Undoubtedly, jobs and exports are being lost, and industries and markets are being affected. For example, I know that the National Bus Company had to lay off about 20 people at its Bridgend depot as a result of the dispute.

Mr. Ray Powell

I do not understand why the Minister did not couple question 14 with these questions. Is the explanation that he is pandering to his Conservative colleagues? Has he read the January edition of Accountancy, which clearly states that the National Coal Board's accounting system needs to be thoroughly investigated? Is he aware that in this magazine five accountancy experts said that it was time the system was changed? Is he further aware that if this system of accountancy had been operated in the Wyndham Western colliery in my constituency, which closed on 7 January, in all probability it would still be open?

Mr. Edwards

I did not couple the hon. Gentleman's question with the other two because it is a different question. The taxpayer knows from the amount of money being paid to loss-making pits that, no matter what form of accountancy is used, substantial losses are being made by several pits and that the cost of producing coal in the best pits is very much less than in the most expensive loss-making pits.

Mr. Gwilym Jones

At the end of the Scargill strike, which surely cannot be far away, will British Rail be able to win back all the coal traffic that it previously carried, particularly between Port Talbot and Llanwern?

Mr. Edwards

That will be a matter for the customers to decide. I understand that the cost of road transport has proved comparable and sometimes competitive with that of rail transport. Thus, some changes may take place, but that will be for the management of the steel industry and others who use coal to decide.

Mr. Ron Davies

Is the Secretary of State aware that there are fewer miners working today in south Wales than last week? Does he not understand that there is no possibility of the striking miners in south Wales going back to work, other than on the basis of a negotiated settlement that suits them and the NUM? Will the right hon. Gentleman at last begin to take his responsibilities seriously? Last Thursday the Leader of the House told the House that he wanted further talks on the basis of the NACODS settlement. Given the Secretary of State's responsibility for the turmoil in south Wales, will he tell Welsh Members what he is doing, at Cabinet level, to bring about the resumption of those talks?

Mr. Edwards

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his clear statement that the leaders of the NUM are apparently interested only in negotiating on their terms, and not in considering the interests of the nation as a whole, of other industries, of the consumer, or of the future of the coal industry.

Mr. D. E. Thomas

Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to repeat in the House the remarks that he made at the CBI dinner in Cardiff on Friday? Those remarks were considered deeply offensive by 100,000 miners and their families in south Wales.

Mr. Edwards

I cannot see how anyone could have found offensive my condemnation of violence, my view that the terrible waste was destroying markets and job prospects, or my appeal that people should be allowed to return to work without the threat of violence and should be able to hold a ballot, as is their natural right

Mr. Grist

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that record investment of more than £100 million is earmarked for the south Wales pits if they return to work, and that Mr. Sid Moore, the marketing director of the NCB in south Wales, has stated that the threat of massive closures in south Wales is political bunkum?

Mr. Edwards

I noticed that the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Thomas) threatened that more jobs would be lost in south Wales than now exist in the south Wales coal industry. That would seem to suggest that he has been exaggerating his case, as so often happens. It is known that the NCB is anxious to get on with considering investment in west Wales, at Margam and elsewhere, and that its plans are being held up because of the dispute.

Mrs. Clwyd

Will the Secretary of State confirm that as a result of the Government's incompetence and bigotry the financial cost of the dispute stands at between £2.5 billion and £4.5 billion and that the social cost cannot be calculated? The attempt to bribe miners back to work has failed dismally in south Wales. The right hon. Gentleman should be trying to negotiate a decent settlement instead of confirming losses and attempting to exaggerate the situation.

Mr. Edwards

I would welcome negotiation on the basis of the NACODS settlement, but it is very difficult when the leader of the NUM says that he is not prepared to negotiate on the central issue in dispute.

Mr. Barry Jones

Is not the only way to resolve the dispute for the Government to get the parties to the negotiating table before Christmas? Otherwise, the dispute will last well into 1985. Will the Secretary of State urge his Cabinet colleagues, specifically the Secretary of State for Energy, to involve themselves in negotiations? Does he agree that he should bring more statesmanship and a little less contemptible behaviour to the issue?

Mr. Edwards

There can be little point in proceeding with negotiations if the president of the National Union of Mineworkers says that he is not prepared to negotiate on the central issue of the strike—whether uneconomic pits should be closed, as they always have been under every Government.

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