HC Deb 25 June 1984 vol 62 cc670-2
4. Mr. Ray Powell

asked the Secretary of State for Wales when he intends to meet the chairman of the National Coal Board to discuss the effects in Wales of the miners' strike.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

I have no immediate plans to do so.

Mr. Powell

We well understand the reply that we get continually from the Secretary of State for Wales. Does he not share the Prime Minister's view, expressed at Porthcawl on Saturday, that for all our sakes the miners' strike should be over soon? What input is the right hon. Gentleman giving to get the two sides together? Does he not appreciate that the strike is affecting the economy of Wales and is a further threat to the Welsh steel industry? When the Prime Minister left that conference she had egg on her face, thrown not by miners but by farmers, the supporters of the Government. Why were the farmers' wives not arrested, as they would have been had they been miners?

Mr. Edwards

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has come round to recognising that the strike is damaging jobs in the coal industry as well as threatening them in steel and on the railways. I hope that he will join in condemning those in his party, including his Deputy Leader, who are going out of their way to encourage this damaging strike.

Sir Anthony Meyer

In view of the evident demonic determination of the leadership of the National Union of Mineworkers to destroy not only their industry but the steel industry and, come to that, the railway industry, as revealed by the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell), does my right hon. Friend think that the mere passage of time will suffice to bring the leaders of the union to their senses?

Mr. Edwards

I do not intend to speculate, but it is clear that many in the coal industry and other industries recognise fully the damaging consequences of this political strike, and hope that it will end soon.

Mr. Foot

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that all of us in the Opposition understand that if the Government had done their job the strike need never have happened? Is he a member of the ministerial team that discusses the Government's attitude to the strike? At those meetings, has he discussed and supported the proposal made the other day by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Pendarth (Mr. Callaghan) for a mediator to be appointed to see whether the strike can be ended?

Mr. Edwards

What I do know is that the Labour Governments, of which the right hon. Gentleman was a member, closed far more pits in Britain, and in Wales, than this Government have ever closed. Unlike the right hon. Gentleman, I do not intend to disclose what goes on in the Cabinet or Cabinet Committees.

Mr. Gwilym Jones

As it now seems that Mr. Scargill is bent on destroying the steel as well as the coal industry, has my right hon. Friend seen the article in this morning's edition of the Western Mail, which states that Ravenscraig would be in the best position if a choice had to be made between Ravenscraig, Port Talbot and Llanwern?

Mr. Edwards

I believe that the steel workers of Llanwern and Port Talbot, by their actions, have made their plants very competitive and efficient, and deserve to succeed. It would be tragic if the actions of Mr. Scargill and his cohorts, encouraged by the Labour Benches, put those plants at risk.

Dr. Marek

Is the Secretary of State aware that probably well over half the country places responsibility for the coal miners' strike fairly and squarely on the Government? Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us how much extra the people of Wales have had to pay through their rates because of the police operations which have supposedly been necessary during the strike?

Mr. Edwards

I do not have the figures. However, I know that they are nothing like as much as the people of Wales have had to pay to keep uneconomic pits going, and which industry generally has had to pay. It makes sense for this country to produce coal and fuel economically so that we may be competitive and succeed in the world economy.

Mr. Grist

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of my constituents worked in the Llanwern steel works before the 1980 steel strike, but that fewer of them now do so as a result of that strike? Is my right hon. Friend further aware that if the coal industry strike goes on, none will probably do so?

Mr. Edwards

Of course, strikes such as this always destroy jobs not only in the strikers' own industry but in the other related industries. That is the tragedy of this strike, which is why we must hope that those who are apparently determined to continue will have second thoughts.

Mr. Rogers

As the NUM seems to be the only body in Wales that is fighting for jobs, and as the Secretary of State obviously evaded the question by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), will he take this second opportunity and answer my right hon. Friend's question rather than duck it as he so obviously did?

Mr. Edwards

I have already answered the question by the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot).

Mr. Rogers

The right hon. Gentleman has not.

Mr. Edwards

I do not intend to answer it a second time.

Mr. Terlezki

It is a tragedy that the Welsh economy—and, indeed, the British economy—is suffering so greatly because of the strike. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is not for the rank and file politicians to settle the dispute but for those who work and are involved in the industry to do so?

Mr. Edwards

It would be sensible if people sat down and discussed the great future that is available to this industry, which has been backed by record investment by the Government. It is tragic that that investment is being wasted and that the future of the industry is being put at risk by those who are not seeking to save jobs but are destroying them.

Mr. Barry Jones

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that neither he nor the Prime Minister should wash their hands of the dispute, but should organise an urgent, decisive intervention? Will the right hon. Gentleman, for the third time of asking, answer the question? Is he a member of the ministerial Committee handling the dispute?

Mr. Edwards

The most decisive intervention is being provided by miners in the hon. Gentleman's area of Wales. I am glad that an increasing number of miners are at work at Point of Ayr. The way to settle the dispute is for the miners to go back to work.