HC Deb 23 July 1984 vol 64 cc703-5
5. Mr. Ray Powell

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he next intends to meet the chairman of the National Coal Board to discuss the problems of the coal industry in south Wales.

The Under-Secretary of State for Energy (Mr. Giles Shaw)

The chairman of the NCB has sound plans for the future development of the coal industry and its markets. The future of the south Wales coalfield will not be helped by miners damaging the steel industry and encouraging steel plants to look elsewhere for coal supplies.

Mr. Powell

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) has said, this is a fight for jobs. When the Minister meets the chairman of the National Coal Board, will he remind him that three collieries have been closed in the Ogmore constituency since 1979? Wyndham Western in Nantymoel was closed on 7 January this year. There has been a total loss of 1,500 jobs in the Ogmore constituency. Is the Minister aware that one of the collieries on the hit list is St. John's colliery in Maesteg, closure of which would mean a further loss of 842 jobs? Is he aware that at present unemployment in Maesteg stands at 24 per cent. and that, if the colliery is closed, male unemployment will shoot up to 45 per cent?

Mr. Shaw

The hon. Gentleman must recognise that the jobs of miners depend upon the number of customers that can be found for the coal that they produce. I ask the hon. Gentleman to apply his mind to the effect on steel workers at Llanwern? If those workers are denied access to the raw materials for producing steel, that will in turn bring about a substantial reduction in jobs not only in the steel plants but in the coal industry. A total of £20 million was invested in south Wales in the past financial year. The prospects for investment this year would have been higher, but because of the dispute all the bets are off.

Sir Anthony Meyer

Is it not true that the coal strike has been very damaging to jobs in the steel industry in south Wales and that that in turn threatens jobs within the coal industry supplying the steel works? In any discussions that he may have with the chairman of the NCB, will my hon. Friend remind the chairman of the vital importance of safeguarding the position of those miners who have carried on working throughout the strike, as at Point of Ayr in north Wales?

Mr. Shaw

I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to those miners in north Wales who have continued to work. They recognise that the future of the industry vitally depends on producing coal from effective mines at prices that the market will accept.

Mr. Roy Hughes

Would it be too much to ask the Secretary of State to be a statesman for once, instead of perpetually attacking the NUM leadership? Is he aware that that is counter-productive? Cannot the right hon. Gentleman see that the dividing line between the two sides is marginal? If he would take a more sensible stance and intervene in the dispute, it could be resolved very quickly.

Mr. Shaw

If that is the case, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that a mine that has no beneficial product for Wales is a mine that must have serious consideration for closure.

Mr. Marlow

What hope can my hon. Friend offer to miners' wives in south Wales, such as the miner's wife who wrote to me —because she was ashamed of her constituency MP—saying that her husband had been on strike for 19 weeks and wants to go back to work? They have a nice house and she is frightened that the windows will be broken or smeared with paint. She is frightened that her husband will be injured by what she calls Scargill's bully boys.

Mr. Shaw

It is well evident that there are intimidatory activities going on that bear no relationship to the average miner's view of his industry and certainly no relationship to the standards of behaviour in south Wales.

Mr. Rowlands

Is the Secretary of State aware that the south Wales mining communities deeply resent and reject the squalid comparison made by the Prime Minister last week between the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands and the miners' strike? Is he aware how many youngsters from our mining communities fought in the Falklands for the rights of those islanders, 7,000 miles away, to remain in their community? Is he aware that miners are also fighting to remain in their communities? Will he at least dissociate himself from the worst remarks made by the Prime Minister last week?

Mr. Shaw

The remarks of my right hon. Friend have already provoked a great deal of comment. She was referring to the danger of militant activities undermining the state. The hon. Gentleman's view of these matters is fair and I am sure that he agrees that the undermining of democratic institutions starts with those who refuse to accept the right in the rule book for members to be balloted before being called out on strike.