HC Deb 24 July 1984 vol 64 cc821-2
Q5. Mr. David Atkinson

asked the Prime Minister if she will estimate the cost to date of the police operations in connection with the current coal dispute.

The Prime Minister

It is the responsibility of each police authority to assess the cost incurred in policing the dispute in the first instance. We have not so far required police authorities to submit running records of their costs, but my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has recently asked them to provide such information for the period up to 30 June.

Mr. Atkinson

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, whatever price is being paid, it is one that the British people are prepared to pay for as long as it takes to defend the rights of miners who wish to work? Does she agree that the miners are now being led by self-confessed Marxists, who are more concerned with pursuing section 3S of the NUM rule book—the overthrow of our free enterprise system—than they are with honouring rule 43, which provides for ballots before any strikes can take place?

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend. One can never give in to violence and intimidation. If one does, it is the end to democracy in this country. I agree with my hon. Friend that where there have been ballots in the National Union of Mineworkers, as in Nottingham, they have shown that people want to return to work; in some cases they have returned to work and are now turning cut coal. I notice that some time ago the Leader of the Opposition said in the House: Will the Prime Minister join me in welcoming the fact that a national ballot of the National Union of Mineworkers is now a clearer and closer prospect than it was before today's meeting?" —[Official Report, 12 April 1984; Vol. 58, c. 522.] That was in April. In July, the right hon. Gentleman said, outside the House, There is no alternative but to fight. I agree that we need a ballot.

Mr. Barron

Will the Prime Minister tell us how she can ignore the fact that thousands of families are in urgent need of help as a result of the strike? The Government cannot consider the cost to the coal industry of the planned reductions by herself and Mr. MacGregor until they take into account the social cost, which is rarely mentioned by her or by the Secretary of State for Energy. Why does she not consider the social cost to the mining industry?

The Prime Minister

As I said in answer to an earlier question, there is always a good social grant. The cost of voluntary redundancy, which is also borne by special grant, is about £250 million a year. The sums given are greater than those given by any previous Government. As the hon. Gentleman will have noticed, when the Whitehaven pit was closed, the miners said that they were satisfied with the money they received. The Government have fully taken care of the social cost, and I note that more mining jobs have been lost under Labour Governments than under Conservative Governments. The compensation given was not half as good.