HC Deb 08 March 1984 vol 55 cc1041-81

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum not exceeding £289,952,000 be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund to defray the charges which will come in course of payment during the year ending on 31st March 1984 for expenditure by the Department of Energy on assistance to the coal industry including grants to the National Coal Board and payments to redundant workers.—[Mr. Buchanan-Smith.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

More than 25 right hon. and hon. Members have told me that they will be seeking to catch my eye. The moral is obvious — the briefer the speeches, the more right hon. and hon. Members can participate in the debate.

7.1 pm

Mr. Ian Lloyd (Havant)

The Select Committee on Energy is grateful to the House for this opportunity to debate its report. It is some years since we last debated a report from my Committee, which then dealt with nuclear power. In the interim, we have produced several reports. We should like our reports debated more frequently.

I thank the members of my Committee from both sides of the House who performed a marvellous piece of work in producing this report in just one week. I thank them for the assiduous way in which they handled the paperwork, cross-examinations, and so on. I thank also the Committee staff who performed a miracle in producing such a comprehensive report in the short time between Tuesday 28 February and Monday 5 March.

I shall start with the highly particular and end with some rather more general observations. The former will summarise the essential conclusions of my Committee's report. I must emphasise that the Committee members were, as we invariably have been, unanimous. I hope to carry the House, if not the Government Front Bench, with me at least that far. I hasten to add that I have some sympathy with my hon. Friends who, doubtless, will echo the "expectancy and apprehension" expressed by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury over the Treasury Select Committee's report on Tuesday.

Those elements cannot be avoided. First, a Select Committee that does its work properly is bound to offer more criticism than praise, and it will do so whichever Government are in power. Secondly, the Select Committee on Energy especially, which has the somewhat daunting responsibility of monitoring the national interest throughout the major energy industries—amongst the largest in the country—is bound to find weak points in a very large system that may generally work well and achieve, on average, acceptable standards of performance. Sometimes, we must examine those standards as a whole and ask whether they are sufficiently demanding, making international comparisons where necessary. On other occasions, we must look at the attainment of the standards that the Department and the industries it monitors have set themselves.

The Select Committee performs the role of the national shareholder who asks awkward questions at the company's annual general meeting. We have more powers of inquiry than the average shareholder, and, regrettably for Governments but fortunately for the nation, we are part of the self-discipline of democracy which others find so difficult to understand. We will not go away.

The debate is, in some senses, a continuation of Tuesday's public expenditure debate. We have now moved on from the global to the particular. On that occasion, the Chief Secretary said: we expect better cost control and greater efficiency". He asked whether the mechanisms for control are adequate."—[Official Report, 6 March 1984; Vol. 55, c. 746–50.] Those premises precisely underline our present inquiry, which follows from the adherence in the spring Supplementary Estimates to a figure of £290 million for the whole industry—a large sum of money launched on three sentences in the Supplementary Estimates.

The facts are easily summarised. The sum is a quarter of that called for in the Estimates as a whole. It represents a 50 per cent. increase in the support of the National Coal Board in 1983–84. It is explained by three factors—an increase in social grants of £10 million, an increase in the redundant mineworkers repayment scheme of £88 million, and an increase in deficit grants of £192 million. Those facts raise important issues.

The deficit grant concealed two significant developments—the overtime ban and subsidence. The former has now cost a certain £135 million and the latter a certain £162 million.

Mr. T. H. H. Skeet (Bedfordshire, North)


Mr. Lloyd

As my hon. Friend says, "Subsidence." Both amounts are likely to increase substantially. The amount for the overtime ban is almost unquantifiable, and a forecast of a further £128 million for subsidence has been revealed.

The House will agree that those are formidable sums. Collectively, they outweigh either the net result of the increase in electricity prices or the savings made by each of the four major Departments of State, which have just managed, with all the pain and agony of which the House is well aware, to trim their cash programmes for next year by a similar amount. It is worth noting, that, if there were no subsidy to the industry, electricity prices would increase by 5 per cent. or 6 per cent. Our inquiry disclosed also that that is merely the vortex of a large and destructive financial black hole in the economy. It is clear from the evidence — the Committee has so reported — that the Supplementary Estimate of £290 million will not be sufficient to deal with the problem.

There are two issues. The first and most serious is the financial cost of transforming an industry so as to make it profitable when its management must operate within a series of powerful and, in the view of some hon. Members, damaging and largely unnecessary constraints. Secondly, subsidence claims appear to be virtually out of control, although we believe and hope that the National Coal Board is making resolute attempts to regain policy and financial control.

I hope that so far I have carried the whole of my Committee with me. The major issue is of redundancies in the coalmining industry. Sometimes, I wonder whether, despite all the publicity, the country as a whole has any idea of how much it is being asked to pay to achieve the modernisation and transformation of the industry's economic prospects, which is an objective common to both sides of the House. Within the past 24 hours the announcement of the introduction of a further massive redundancy payments scheme has burst on the nation, which is almost immune to the shocks of public expenditure. I hope the House will allow me to examine that scheme in detail, because it reinforces my Committee's argument and shows yet again that the vast efforts to trim expenditure in one direction can easily be squandered by the stroke, if not of a pen, at least of a statutory instrument.

This morning a draft statutory instrument dealing with redundant mineworkers was made available in the Vote Office. It deals with redundancy payment schemes and extends them to those aged 50. It exempts those affected from the exhaustion of unemployment benefit, and I understand that that is unique in this industry. It improves the lump-sum provisions available to those aged 21 to 50. The measure grants a second lump sum to those aged 50 to 60. It reimburses the National Coal Board for the cost of concessionary coal to redundant employees over 50, giving the full amount for mineworkers up to the age of 60, and thereafter half for life.

There are other interesting provisions. The weekly sum is index-linked. The Government will pay an additional sum to compensate for a higher rent that may be charged by the NCB for a house, up to £1.50 a week. It ignores part-time or self-employed work for anyone who might be qualified up to 16 hours a week, and, a particularly generous and most interesting contribution, it completely ignores by definition—it is clearly defined—any period in which any applicant has ever been on strike. Of all, the most interesting provision is the one that is not there. There is no sign, from beginning to end of the document, of what the cost is likely to be to the Exchequer or the nation.

To whom does it apply? There would be general agreement in the House that wherever possible the establishment should be as generous as possible to the miners on the coal face and to those associated with dangerous and difficult work. That is the mood of the nation as a whole. Does the document apply solely to those in that category? No, it includes those employed in area offices and establishments, laboratories — electricity distribution stations, estate and house maintenance depots, those who work in the granaries kept for the pit ponies and those who look after the ponies, those who work in medical centres, railway sidings, road transport depots, waterworks, workshops and training centres, and to commissionaires, typists and accountants. Here is where these major types of failure of control are to be seen.

Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, East)

The hon. Gentleman is giving a report to the House of the work of the Select Committee that discussed the Supplementary Estimates. The document to which he was referring was not before his Committee, and I feel that he does not have the right to speak as Chairman of the Committee on this issue.

Mr. Lloyd

I understand the right hon. Gentleman's point. I would not have done so had this document not precisely and unequivocally fallen in that part of our concern over the National Coal Board and public expenditure on it. It is an illustration of that, and an enlargement of our concern, and as such I felt not only entitled but obliged to call the attention of the House to it.

I shall move away from this subject now, because I do not want to take too much of the time of the House. However, the cost of the Supplementary Estimate and all that is implied by it, in addition to what we have learnt overnight, is formidable. Control will be virtually open-ended. That is what lies at the heart of the public expenditure control problem. A privileged group has been created that is exempt from the restrictions applying to many other categories in our society. A large number of employees will be eligible who cannot claim the special consideration that applies to coal miners.

I had four questions for the Minister about this, but in deference to the right hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme), I shall reserve them for another occasion. However, in a remarkable and interesting speech the other day, we heard the right hon. Member for Chesterfield, (Mr. Benn) talk about Chesterfield having mined coal for several centuries, and in this context he talked about the views and philosophy of someone whom he described as abacus man. In this interesting context, he suggested that abacus man had no heart, compassion or feeling. The right hon. Gentleman said that government by abacus man was appalling government. However, he did not say what the alternative would be.

The alternative is government by ayatollahs, by the flight-lieutenants who govern Ghana and some of those other countries where we have seen the collapse of the value of the currency, of trade and of the whole economic system. I make this point to say that the Select Committees and those who serve on them, the process of analysis and examination, which we support, is that which is sustained by and requires the existence of, if not abacus man, his modern equivalent, computer man. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield is a former Minister of Technology and to suggest that modern man, man who calculates, measures and thinks, is not required is deplorable. We admit that even when he does calculate and measure he sometimes gets it wrong, but the alternative, the ayatollahs of this world, make the most appalling mess of our society.

7.15 pm
Mr. J. D. Concannon (Mansfield)

The hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Lloyd) thanked the members of the Energy Committee, who I know work very hard. When I was put on the Select Committee, I did not think that I would have to work as hard as I have done. The amount of time and effort that we have put into the reports have benefited from the hon. Gentleman's chairmanship of the Committee. I am sorry that he has spoilt that today by some of his other remarks, which were not necessary in a debate such as this. The hon. Gentleman should have stuck to the Select Committee report.

When I first served on this Committee, I went with open eyes, feeling glad that I was on such an important Select Committee. After this latest report, I do not know whether I am lucky or plain unlucky. A great slice of it centres on my constituency. Hon. Members will have to give me a little licence if I say something about the effects of this Supplementary Estimate on my constituency. I shall try to explain it fairly as I go through the report.

This is a Supplementary Estimate of £290 million. It is the largest spring Supplementary Estimate of any Department this year. The amazing thing is that we had hardly got through the door of the Committee when we found that the Supplementary Estimate about which we were talking bore no relation to the financing of the industry. The Secretary of State for Energy came along and casually said that this Estimate would shortly be followed by another—also for about £200 million.

We are talking about £290 million, a deficit grant of £192 million, £10 million on social grant and £88 million on the redundant mineworkers' scheme. The social grant for pit closures, resettlement and transfers gets an extra £10 million. Part of the £88 million is due to the fact that the Coal Board had estimated for 10,000 redundancies in the year, but, lo and behold, it has found that there are 20,000 redundancies. That will fuel certain arguments that have raged in the industry over the past year. In effect, £90 million is to pay for the extra redundancy payments to 10,000 people whom the Coal Board had not put in for originally. We have to be careful because the industry is in a perilous position. Those who represent the area will have an interesting weekend. I had an interesting weekend last weekend as well, but I shall leave that for now.

From what was said in the Committee about extra redundancies, pit closures, resettlements, transfers and the effects of the overtime ban, it became obvious that changes of policy that had taken place had been helped and encouraged by the Government. One has only to turn to page 97 of the report to see that. The chairman of the National Coal Board was asked: Is it true to say, or is it a fair comment for me to make, that it appears that the Government has underwritten the management to continue to manage in the way that it thinks best, even if that means continuing the overtime ban indefinitely? Mr. MacGregor replied, "Yes, that is correct."

The present overtime ban and other activities in the coalfields are being underwritten by the Government in that way as part and parcel of the Supplementary Estimates. The lads in the industry are getting a bit trigger-happy and are about ready to take decisions on further action, as much out of frustration as anything. The miners have been engaged in an overtime ban for many weeks in response to threatened pit closures. They find that more pit closures have taken place and that the effect of the ban has not been felt at all outside the mining areas. They have come through the winter and nothing seems to be happening except a reduction in the Coal Board's finances, which are being underwritten by the Government. That will have a devastating effect on its finances years hence.

A pay claim has been outstanding since November, and the board will no longer consider negotiating. This weekend 180,000 miners will be deciding what to do next. Should they escalate their present action, when no one seems to be taking any notice of it, or surrender to the butchery of their jobs? Those of us who represent mining areas will have an interesting weekend, as we shall be called upon to attend NUM meetings.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) said that fear plays a predominant part in the issue, especially the fear of losing jobs. Should miners fight for their jobs now, or wait and perhaps find in a few weeks that they have no jobs to fight for? It is easy for me to stand here and speak for an east midlands constituency, as we have not been so badly affected as Scotland or Wales, where many thousands of jobs have been lost, and perhaps thousands more will be lost. The miners in those areas are in a more perilous position than their colleagues in the area that I represent.

Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark)

The right hon. Gentleman properly deals with the situation in the mining industry. A sensible way might be to organise a ballot among miners to find out what they really want in such a difficult situation.

Mr. Concannon

That is not my business. It must be decided by the National Union of Mineworkers. It is still a federation of unions and each area has its own rule book. The national rule book comes into play only when a dispute becomes a national issue. If a national strike is called, there will have to be a ballot. Each area, however, conducts its business in its own way. It is obvious that Ray Chadbum has his finger on the pulse in Nottinghanshire. He says that he will not call out the Nottinghamshire miners without a ballot, but other areas will work to their own rules.

I hope that hon. Members will not start complaining about the way in which the NUM conducts its business. Over the years, many Conservative Members have thanked the miners for the way in which they have conducted their business. I sometimes wonder whether that was because the outcome has been what Conservative Members have wanted. We must be careful not to get involved in union matters, as the report recognises.

The report, in page 11, says that the industry lost 32,000 jobs between March 1981 and September 1983 and that scope for further voluntary redundancies is very limited. In September 1983 there were about 190,000 miners. There are only 180,000 now. I expect that the number at the end of September 1983 was considerably reduced. Even so, if the number of miners aged 55 and over is 18,000 out of a total of 190,000, no doubt there will be even fewer middle-aged miners in future. The number may fall to as low as 11,000 or 12,000. There are only 22,000 men in the 50 to 54 age group.

We are not talking about a bottomless purse, despite what has been said. We are reaching rock bottom for that age group. After so many voluntary redundancies we are coming to the crunch, and there must be some compulsory retirements. My union will certainly be considering that fresh problem.

I felt it necessary to make those opening remarks about the mining industry, but I shall return to the Suplementary Estimates. The deficit and operating grant and the overtime ban are included in the Estimates, but the overtime ban takes up only £30 million to the end of December. After the end of March, that figure will be £135 million. As a Select Committee member said, based on information emanating from various quarters, it was a surprise to him. We were all told that the overtime ban was not having a positive effect. Now we find that the overtime ban will finally reduce the board's finances by £135 million, only £30 million of which is provided for in the Supplementary Estimates.

Subsidence claims account for only £60 million in these Estimates, although we were originally told that a further £68 million was to be added. The subsidence claim will thus become £128 million, and the overtime ban will become £135 million.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

My hon. Friend has long experience in the House and association with nationalised industries. Can he remember a previous occasion when, in the space of six months, a nationalised industry chief, such as Mr. MacGregor, has said at the outset of an overtime ban that he was prepared to see it last for decades because it would benefit the Coal Board financially? However, after a ban of 18 or 19 weeks, the Coal Board is at least £135 million in debt, as the Estimates show. Does my hon. Friend know of any chairman who made a monumental error, tactical blunder or whatever it was, such as that made by Mr. MacGregor, and yet survive and keep his job?

Mr. Concannon

The Select Committee would agree with all that my hon. Friend says. That criticism was made in the report. I do not know whether my hon. Friend was in the Chamber at the beginning of my speech, but I read out a question put to Mr. MacGregor by the Committee. His answer shows that the Coal Board's losses have been willingly underwritten by the Government out of public expenditure.

The Government are involved politically and financially in this dispute, because they are willing and able to underwrite the Coal Board's losses in the Supplementary Estimates. If the Estimates had been put forward without provision for the overtime ban, I am sure that the Government would have taken much stronger action against the miners.

A figure of £68 million has been allowed for additional subsidence claims, plus another £60 million, making a total of £128 million, which must be considered against the original Estimates of £102 million for the whole of the industry. The addition of £128 million puts up the Estimates immediately to £250 million for claims from the industry as a whole. Mansfield was allocated £35 million from the original Estimates. I knew there might be changes in subsidence claims from Mansfield, but I never thought that they would be of such magnitude. Out of that £128 million, all but £15 million, which is spread over the rest of the mining areas, will go into the office at Mansfield, making a total of £148 million for the year.

The north Nottinghamshire coalfield made a profit of £310 million from 11 pits between 1973–74 and 1982–83. One may ask how that has been achieved and what might have been done to avoid the present situation. During the weekend I had many interesting meetings and telephone calls, not to mention conversations with people from the press, television, and the rest. I wish to be as fair as I can for the benefit of my constituents and others. In December, which really amounted to no more than two weeks, 647 new claims arrived at the Mansfield office. There are already 8,000 claims outstanding. Taking the average given in the report of £8,700 per claim, those claims amount to £69,600,000. I am not absolutely sure, but I believe that most of that is covered in the second Supplementary Estimate.

In all my time as a Member of Parliament I had no problems with the Coal Board about subsidence claims until two years ago. The performance of the NCB in my area was excellent, processing claims extremely quickly with a staff of four plus office staff. There is now a staff of 25 plus office staff to deal with subsidence claims.

Mr. Skinner

That is the free market economy.

Mr. Concannon

I shall come to that.

Why is there suddenly such a surge in the number of claims and in the scrutiny that they receive from the House and the media? I cite just a few headlines. The Yorkshire Post says, "Town sinks into riches". The Daily Telegraph refers to a "Rich Vein for Estate Agents", and the Nottingham Evening Post writes of a "£113 Million Pit Bombshell" and of Coal Board 'Millions' going on Luxuries such as cruises and new cars. When the Select Committee inquiry began, we all thought that we should be considering the cost to the industry of the overtime ban and redundancies. I knew that there had been an upsurge in subsidence claims in my area, but I had no idea that it was so great. Why Mansfield?

Mr. John Heddle (Mid-Staffordshire)

The right hon. Gentleman is about to explain the position in Mansfield. He speaks vociferously and persuasively on behalf of his constituents, and we respect that. Does he agree, however, that the problems of subsidence are not confined to the coalfields of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire? In Staffordshire, whole villages above mine-workings are sinking.

Mr. Skinner

The hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle) should declare an interest. He makes money out of it.

Mr. Heddle

Does the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) agree that the basis of compensation enshrined in the 1975 Act allows the NCB to act as judge and jury and to offer compensation on a take-it-or-leave-it basis so that his constituents and mine do not necessarily receive a fair deal?

Mr. Concannon

I said that I wished to be as fair as possible. I shall deal with that point later in my speech. First, I wish to deal with Mansfield.

Clearly, mining under the fields or the sea, or under the mountains of Scotland or Wales, creates very few subsidence problems. In areas such as mine, however, coal has been taken out from under built-up areas for many years. The problems are therefore much greater and the claims seem to have caught up with the NCB all at once—with considerable help from professional agents. As Mr. MacGregor rightly said in his evidence, people's hopes have been raised by the activities of agents.

In recent times local newspapers in the area have been full of advertisements from agents touting for claims. There is one aspect that I find morally unpleasant. It is not unusual for agents to leaflet certain parts of the town touting for business. My constituents appear to have nothing to lose from putting their claims into the hands of such agents, as the agents charge on results. The going rate seems to be 10 per cent.—5 per cent. from the Coal Board and 5 per cent. from the client—falling to 2.5 per cent. on amounts above £10,000.

I gather that all this was set in motion a few years ago when an ex-NCB employee, having left the estates department, set up as an agent-consultant in the area. There are now more than 40 such agents in Mansfield. One agent's name crops up in every discussion. I am reliably informed that this agent handles 75 per cent. of the claims and has made himself a multi-millionaire in no time at all. After all, 10 per cent. of £148 million is a great deal of money. It hurts me to think that a great deal of money is being made out of the coal industry by a person who has probably never hit a lump of coal in anger in his life.

Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport)

Was that ex-NCB employee eligible for redundancy money? If so, was it paid to him?

Mr. Concannon

This is a serious matter and I am trying to be as fair as I can. I hope that interventions will keep to the point. A great deal of money is flying about in my area, as well as a large number of stories which I hope the House will help me to kill.

The agents take the view that they are simply catching up with the NCB on claims that should have been made over the years. Many of the claims relate to coal dug five, six or seven years ago, and new claims now coming in relate to damage caused by diggings in the past two or three years. I saw some of the claims last weekend. One was for £45,000. After investigation, it was knocked down to £24,000. To be fair, I must make it clear that the NCB investigates claims carefully. In respect of a house valued at £8,000, a claim was made for more than £14,000. The NCB paid £13,000. Those claims have been settled, but 8,000 remain remain outstanding.

I am surprised at the amount of detail given in the claims. One contained 17 foolscap pages of details such as Take down house number plates, store and later replace … £1.50. Take down, store and later refix pelmet 1.5 metres long … £7.50. Take down and renew softwood curtain rail … £3. The claims are very detailed and must be gone through in detail with the NCB.

No one is saying—the NCB is not saying this and neither am I—that my constituents should not claim. If damage has been done to their property, they should certainly claim. Indeed, the agents may be right that over the years the people of Mansfield have tended to regard cracks in their ceilings, doors not fitting, and so on, as part and parcel of living in a coal mining area.

The NCB's point of view was given by the NCB press officer to the Nottingham Evening Post, which, on 1 March 1984, reported as follows: He said the NCB in Nottinghamshire did not feel it was `being taken for a ride' by claimants and surveyors. `We feel surveyors have got their job to do and we have got our job to do. We try to deal with all claims in a reasonable manner. `It is true that some of the claims are settled for cash and we are aware of the fact that some of these claims are not spent on repairs. But these claimants sign a document from us saying they have been properly compensated.' That is the board's point of view. The board's view is also that, due to the surge of old claims for mining carried out in the past few years, and further expected claims, the Supplementary Estimates for this year are certainly necessary to cover them.

The profit and loss accounts of two mines in my area —Sherwood and Mansfield—and one, Sutton, in the area of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) will be affected. The situation is an absolute mockery. Those three pits will De charged 75 per cent. of the bill. What is ridiculous is that subsidence claims are charged against the mine from which the coal comes. As I have explained, three mines in my area which in the past nine years have made a profit of £310 million could become uneconomic overnight, not because they are not good or productive pits but purely and simply because the costs of subsidence claims will be quoted against them. In the previous year, one of those pits made a profit of £5.50 on every tonne on an output of 1 million tonnes. That profit has been turned to a loss of £4.50 a tonne in one year, perhaps because of these arrangements. One NCB official said to me that the effect on the three collieries this year will be horrendous, but that, once it has been paid, they will be able to carry on as if nothing had happened. Mr. MacGregor's evidence to the Select Committee was not as specific as that. He talked about new mining techniques—the sterilisation of coal and so on. There will be long-term effects on the viability of those pits and their length of reserve time. At my request, Coal Board officials visited the three collieries last weekend, or are to visit them, in order to explain the problems to the representatives. If there is to be a long-term problem—I was reliably informed that there is not—the effects on the economy of Mansfield and certain pits in my area will be disastrous.

In its speedy investigation of the Supplementary Estimates, the Select Committee brought to light some interesting goings-on. The report, in page 22, states: This may not however, be sufficient to satisfy public concern, particularly in the areas most affected, and we may therefore wish ourselves to return to this subject in the near future. I am sure that the NCB, the agents and my constituents would welcome the Select Committee to Mansfield. I believe that it is the only body that could now satisfy public concern.

Various questions can be asked about who should pay, and how the money should be paid. It is nonsense to charge it to the mine from which the coal comes. That ludicrous arrangement can turn profit-making collieries into loss-making ones. Should it be the area that pays or the NCB as a whole, or should the state cover the cost? I made that suggestion and got short shrift from the Secretary of State for Energy. However, one cannot expect three small collieries to cover these costs.

Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, looking back over the years, it has not been usual to pay compensation for subsidence to such an extent? The chairman of the NCB talks about mining techniques. It is not a question of the men who work in the pits. They have proved their ability by breaking output records. However, they are under pressure from management and from the Government to produce as much coal as they can. The ideas about mining techniques have come from management and the Government, and the responsibility is theirs. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we go on in this way, there will be more pit closures and more people in the dole queue?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. If we go on in this way, very few right hon. and hon. Members will have a chance to speak.

Mr. Concannon

I accept your strictures, but I hope that you will be lenient with me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as the Chairman of the Select Committee was.

At the beginning of his evidence, the Secretary of State for Energy pointed to me and said that it was all Mansfield's fault. I have therefore found myself mixed up in these matters. I hope that I am being fair. I am trying to put everybody's point of view. I apologise for speaking at length, but Mansfield and my constituents are involved.

There are certain matters that should be considered. Should we pay for completed work? I must be honest. One does not have to go far in Mansfield before one hears stories about what people have done with the compensation money. I do not know how large the problem is. Local councils, the gas board and the water board also have compensation problems. I have heard it said, on good authority, that, on odd occasions, compensation has been claimed and paid by the board and the beneficiary has then applied for a local council improvement grant and got it, the council not knowing that he had had money from the Coal Board.

There is also the unique problem of what used to be the Duke of Portland's estate, where payment of compensation is written into the deeds. I do not know how extensive the area is, but the duke owned most of Mansfield at one time. I do not have much information about that matter. When I went home last weekend I wondered whether Mansfield would have slumped into a huge hole, but, fortunately, it is still there.

I think that I have said enough.

Mr. Skeet

Hear, hear.

Mr. Concannon

I thank the hon. Gentleman. At least I understand the problems, having worked in the industry.

Mansfield is not usually in the public eye, and I do not believe that Mansfield likes to be in the public eye. I am concerned about our good name. Except for a handful of people who never touch a lump of coal in anger, no one is getting rich in Mansfield at the taxpayers' expense. I invite the Select Committee to "satisfy public concern" and "return to this subject". I ask the right hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) and the Select Committee to visit Mansfield soon to study the problem in greater depth. I hope that in that way we can do the right thing by my constituents, the industry and everybody else.

7.47 pm
Mr. Michael Morris (Northampton, South)

It is fortunate that the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) serves on the Select Committee, as it is clear that the problem is of major significance. I want to consider the macro-financial implications of the Supplementary Estimate and to reassure the right hon. Gentleman that Mansfield is not the sole cause of the problem.

Paragraph 12 of the report referred to the fact that no winter Supplementary Estimates were laid before the House. When the Secretary of State was questioned, he said that there was a general downward trend in the National Coal Board's deficit, that it was not until August that an upward trend appeared, and that the Department did not receive the figures for another five weeks. However, I presume that the Department had access to the chart that the Select Committee studied, which showed consistently that the estimated outturn of the whole of the board's finances was way above the original deficit grant limit. It would be to take us as a little more than credulous to suggest that we had no winter Supplementary Estimate because the Department was not clear what was happening. It is clear that the National Coal Board was clear about that, but with just three weeks of the financial year left we are asked to approve £290 million. That is extraordinary. However, that is not the end of the issue as, apart from the continuing problems of Mansfield, I should have thought that the House could have been slightly more reassured. In paragraph 15, the PAC draws attention to the fact that there is an additional £200 million. If we take out the £68 million for Mansfield, we are still left with an additional £132 million.

As has been said, that is not all. There is one element missing in these figures—the cost of the wage offer if it is accepted. That will not involve an additional £5 million or £10 million. We now find that one nationalised industry which operates through one Department of State is effectively asking the House for more than £0.5 billion in Supplementary Estimates. I know that the Committee was told that the extra £200 million, plus the wage increase, will be hidden away in next summer's Estimates. Were that expenditure to come under the control of the PAC and the Comptroller and Auditor General, it would not be acceptable. It would not be acceptable to any other Government accounting dimension that the House oversees, nor would it be acceptable to any of the private sector companies that are audited. Such laxity in forecasting is not acceptable to the House.

I must ask my right hon. Friend the Minister of State—I am sorry that the Secretary of State is not with us—what he and his colleagues are doing to control the financial dimensions of this nationalised industry.

When the Committee produced its report on electricity prices, I said that the 2 per cent. increase was a blatant example of the Government interfering in the pricing policy of a nationalised industry. I said that because last year the House tried to persuade the Government to extend the National Audit Act 1983 to cover the nationalised industries and we were told that if we did that we should be interfering in the nationalised industries and that we would not be able to do the job as well as the Monopolies and Mergers Commission or the then Secretary of State. The laxity in financial control cannot be acceptable to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. We cannot believe that he will accept an extra £0.5 billion.

I shall rest my case there and compensate, to some extent, for the length of the previous speech. Like the House, I should like to know when the Department believes that it will get its forecasting under control. Its present forecasting makes an utter mockery of our debate earlier this week on the public expenditure White Paper. It is a mockery to have Supplementary Estimates of £290 million with another £250 million hidden under the bed. I look forward to hearing what my right hon. Friend has to say.

7.54 pm
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

This is an alarming report and it has been recognised as such in all parts of the House. It is alarming because of what it reveals about the National Coal Board's ability to project its financial circumstances and about the Department of Energy's apparent lack of grasp about what is going on in the industry. It is not surprising that right hon. and hon. Members have referred to the fact that, since the Supplementary Estimates were produced, other major factors have come along, not least the announcement of a massive expansion of the redundancy scheme. I can see that there is obviously justification for that, but it is a substantial amount of expenditure, the cost of which has not yet been set out by the NCB or the Government.

The right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) dwelt on many aspects of that problem with expertise. The more I listened to him talking about subsidence problems the more convinced I became that the expansion of Ellington colliery is the best way ahead for the NCB, as subsidence problems do not occur under the sea as they do under built-up areas such as Mansfield. We are bound to feel sorry for areas that suffer a problem such as Mansfield. The fact that the climate of pursuing claims has changed so dramatically in one community is bound to suggest that the same can happen in other places.

The other key element of the report is the effects of the overtime ban. It was nonsense to claim that the ban was something that the board could live with or even benefit from. It is obvious—some attempt was made to explain it in the evidence that the chairman gave to the Energy Select Committee—that the ban will prove quite costly for the NCB, not least because it cannot continue to meet all the demands for coal, while at the same time it has surplus coal in other places. That points to a miscalculation by the NCB and shows that the overtime ban is not doing anyone any good. It is not stopping pit closures and it is not encouraging customers to take out long-term contracts for the use of coal. It is harming the NCB's finances and is an expression of real frustration among many people in the mining industry but it is difficult to see what benefit anyone, anywhere will get out of it.

The announcements and revelations of the past few days have increased frustration in most parts of the industry and alarmed people in communities that will be badly hit. Many of them are areas where the general effects of recession and Government policy are most severe, such as the north-east of England. Collieries such as Bates in Blyth and Ashington are in areas where alternative opportunities are negligible. Hon. Members who represent County Durham can tell the same story. The major closures are projected in areas where there is no prospect of replacing jobs.

There is, however, some prospect, at least in the Northumbrian coalfield that, by expansion in areas such as Ellington, we can create additional jobs. It is certainly possible that more investment in Ellington to take up the reserves under the sea northwards towards Amble can create new opportunities in that part of the Northumbrian coalfield. The industry must have investment to replace what is being taken away. We must have greater confidence that we are not removing capacity which will be needed quite soon. It is well within living memory that, during a Labour Government's term of office, 200 pits were closed and before very long we were importing coal because there was a clear under estimate of future demand for coal. The record of prediction by all of the energy industries is appalling, whether it be the coal industry, the nuclear industry or the electricity generation industry. All of their projections have been drastically in error, and miners are therefore bound to question the closure of pits where there are clearly mineable reserves.

I do not believe that we shall get out of the circumstances that I have described or benefit in any way from strikes in the coalfields. At its meeting today the NUM executive stepped a little way back from the brink. It refrained from calling a national strike. It is clear, however, that we now have an atmosphere in which there will be area strikes. That will not encourage the taking out of long-term contracts for the use of coal. Moreover, it will lead to the House being presented with Supplementary Estimates not for the things that we desperately need, such as new investment and schemes to deal with the fact that miners are not where the best mineable coal is, but to deal with a mess in the NCB's finances and the types of problems to which the report refers. We should be strengthening the industry's prospects by electricity generation in the coalfields, and industrial action in the coalfields will harm that.

The true motive for much of the emphasis on the nuclear alternative in energy policy is not admitted often enough. The Northumberland coalfield in my constituency is engaged in a bitter and lengthy argument about the installation of nuclear power at the Druridge bay nuclear power station. People in that area are bound to wonder what assumptions that is based on. There is no doubt that in the back of the mind of the Government and, I suspect, of previous Governments is the belief that unless we invest heavily in nuclear power, we place our energy supplies too much in the hands of the leaders of the National Union of Mineworkers. That feeling should be dispelled. I fear that industrial action in the coalfields will only play into the hands of those who use that argument for an expansion of nuclear power, which the costing figures do not justify.

We should be in the business of the promoting the use of coal. Some of the steps being encouraged by some leaders in the mining industry will have precisely the opposite effect. I do not want to see the House confronted with Supplementary Estimates to rescue the Coal Board from a financial mess. It should be considering estimates for investment in the coal industry, which will safeguard energy supplies and ensure mining in the most effective way in the best places.

The sort of report that we have seen today and its description of the implications of the overtime ban is just the beginning of the problems that could face us, if an unrealistic attitude is taken about the future of the coal industry.

8.2 pm

Mr. Terence Higgins (Worthing)

It must seem the most natural thing in the world to hon. Members who were returned for the first time at the general election that we are debating a particular Estimate and considering whether it is justified. At school we were all taught that the power of the House of Commons stems from its control over money, which is how it exercises control over the Executive. However, with the exception of a one-day debate in the previous Parliament, after we had reformed our procedures, this is the first occasion since the Lord Chancellor's bathroom was debated last century that the House has had an opportunity of debating an individual Estimate. If there were any justification for the new procedure, it is the debate that we had earlier today and this debate. They show how necessary such debates are.

What has been said gives grave cause for anxiety. I welcome the fact that no fewer than 25 hon. Members wished to speak. That shows the genuine demand of the House to consider individual Estimates. Two days ago we debated a White Paper covering a total cost for the current year of more than £120 billion. It is interesting that the House is now much fuller than it was when we debated the generality of public expenditure. It shows that we need to consider the matter in detail, and so far that has proved illuminating.

The last thing I wish to do is to speak at great length, since many hon. Members wish to speak. Therefore, I shall make three points. During the debate on the public expenditure White Paper the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) accused me of making a managerial speech. I make no apology for that because there is a great deal to be said for looking at the actual figures. Those figures represent matters of great concern to our constituents.

The right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) said how important the matter was for his constituency. It is equally important for my constituency. It is however difficult for my constituents to comprehend what is meant by £120 billion, or even £290 million, which is covered by this Estimate. If we pass the Supplementary Estimate, we will levy on every man, woman and child an additional £5 approximately, in taxation. That means £500,000 from my constituents. Therefore, it is right that we should question whether the Estimate is justified.

My second point relates to the White Paper on public expenditure. I shall ask Ministers two specific questions and, therefore, I hope that I shall have their attention. The report of the Treasury and Civil Service Committee cast considerable doubt on the figures in the White Paper, which showed for the present year a deficit on nationalised industries of £2.5 billion. The White Paper suggested that that deficit over the two to three-year planning period would come down to only £90 million. The Committee challenged that figure and cast doubts on its credibility.

Will the Minister tell the House whether the amount of this Supplementary Estimate was included in the White Paper figures? Are the additional costs for future years, which have been so clearly revealed by the Select Committee's report and tonight's debate, also included? It is estimated that the deficit of nationalised industries at the end of the present period will be down to £90 million. If doubts are to be cast on the figures in the White Paper, as they have been this evening, the Chancellor of the Exchequer should read the report of the debate before he introduces his Budget on Tuesday. I do not want to put him off making tax reductions but he should consider the matter.

My third point stems from what the right hon. Member for Mansfield said about his coal mining constituency. He suggested that subsidence costs should be borne by the individual pits, but I disagree with him totally. That cost should be attributed to the individual pit, taken into account in pricing policy and used when deciding whether a pit is economic. As that point was brought out clearly in the report and in tonight's debate, I hope that the Department and Mr. MacGregor in particular, and even the National Union of Mineworkers, will take that into account when considering whether a pit is justified in continuing to operate.

The cost of keeping uneconomic pits in operation, which has gone on far too long, is a burden on the rest of the community. We need to know who is subsiding whom. My constituents are paying out more than £5 a time for the cost of providing concessionary coal to miners—[HON. MEMBERS: "Untaxed."]—untaxed, as my hon. Friends say. It is strange that my constituents, many of whom are poorer than the miners concerned, are paying to provide them with concessionary coal.

For the first time in many years the House of Commons has an opportunity to look into these matters. There is overwhelming evidence that the cases we have debated tonight should be examined. I hope that they will receive the attention they deserve from Ministers.

8.8 pm

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)

I was a member of the Select Committee on Energy and found it interesting to consider the Supplementary Estimate in the short time that we had to do so. It was interesting and enlightening to listen to the evidence given by the Secretary of State for Energy and the chairman of the National Coal Board. I am worried about the Estimate. I was in the industry for many years before I became a Member of Parliament, so I know about the difficulties of rationalisation in the coalfields.

We should examine the apportionment of £290 million to the deficit grant, although it is not clearly defined. The subsidence allowance was originally estimated by the Coal Board to be £102 million for the year, but under Tonight's order the board will receive another £60 million, and a further £68 million is projected for the future. The Board has underestimated the subsidence damage compensation by more than 100 per cent. That is incredible.

The chairman of the National Coal Board was asked whether he thought that the National Coal Board was being taken for a ride. He said that he was sure it was but that he did not know how to stop it. That was the man for whom the British taxpayer paid a £1.5 million transfer fee, and he tells us that he does not know how to stop misconduct in handling claims in the Mansfield area. If all those claims are valid because of damage by subsidence, he should not have had to answer such questions. We must get to the bottom of the problem in Mansfield, because if taxpayers' money is being paid for damage that has not occurred, someone is guilty of misconduct and should be called to order.

The deficit grant includes £30 million towards the cost of the overtime ban. Paragraph 5 of the Select Committee report shows a table of the cost of the overtime ban. Mr. MacGregor has been telling us for a few months that the ban has caused no problems. However, the table shows that the board has lost 4.4 million tonnes of coal that could have been sold, although we have many stocks at present. The board has also lost 9.5 million tonnes of coal that could have been produced during that period. Even after the saving in wages was taken into account, the overtime ban still cost the National. Coal Board £135 million. Paragraph 15 of the Select Committee report states that another £105 million is likely to come from the summer Estimate. The total cost of the overtime ban to the British public will be £240 million.

Who is to blame? My right hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) said that during questioning Mr. MacGregor said that he had been given, if not an open cheque book, a licence to pay for the overtime ban in the mining industry. I cannot blame one organisation or individual for the miners' overtime ban, but everyone will agree that it stems from one organisation and individual. On that basis, we must protect the British public from having to pay that £240 million.

In The Times on 10 November 1983, Mr. MacGregor talked about the overtime ban that had then been continuing for only a few weeks, and said: The overtime ban is having no effect whatsoever. We have stocks and supplies that will last until 1985. Only a few months later he tells us that we have lost £240 million. In a television interview on 11 November 1983, Mr. MacGregor said that there was so much surplus coal in the world that the overtime ban could last for 15 or 20 years before our coal stocks were used up.

Those are incredible remarks from the chairman of a nationalised industry, who must have known then that the ban would cost the NCB millions of pounds, yet he and others were adamant that they could not get round a table and settle the dispute. This new style of management has come into the mining industry since Mr. MacGregor was appointed chairman of the board. It has altered the position of the industry extraordinarily. Since the industry was nationalised, we have never examined the concept that management is there to manage. At collieries we worked as teams and worked together on consultative committees. There has never been the dictatorial attitude that we have now. Thousands of my constituents are on strike because of the recent dictatorial attitude taken in the south Yorkshire coalfield, when some miners who had been promised, only a few months previously, that they would have five years' work at a colliery, were then told that production would cease on 6 April. They had no time to implement the colliery review procedure in the industry.

In those circumstances, the attitude that has entered the industry since Mr. MacGregor became chairman is something that we cannot afford either in terms of running the industry or in terms of the cost of overtime bans perpetrated and carried on by the person who should be trying to get people round the table, bring peace back to the industry, and to assure people that they will have jobs in the future so that their families can live well.

The sorry mess that has occurred since Mr. MacGregor became chairman was predicted months before he was appointed, and not by anyone from the miners' side. Sir Norman Siddall, who was chairman of the Coal Board in August of last year, said: I would say that to return the industry to profitability within three years is a fairly massive task. Mr. MacGregor was brought into the industry to do exactly that. His predecessor knew that it would be an impossible task without creating much upheaval in the industry, but in six months we have seen the upheaval that has been created and the cost to the British public.

Sir Norman Siddall also said, after warning Mr. MacGregor quietly that a softly, softly approach to pit closures was necessary, that he had done so himself. He said: I do not think he is the sort of man that would make a facile assumption that he can import his strategy from BSC to coal mining. The situation of the two industries is entirely different. Sir Norman Siddall recognised the problem. He was not the president of the NUM but a man who had worked his way up from the bottom in the coal industry and who knew all about it. He knew that if the BSC measures were introduced into coal mining they would create chaos. They have created chaos, and £30 million of the money that we are discussing tonight will be used to continue the chaos created because the Government gave Mr. MacGregor a licence to continue the overtime ban for as long as he thinks necessary.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer should consider withdrawing what he said on 28 March 1983, when he was Secretary of State for Energy, about Mr. MacGregor's appointment: I am confident that securing the services of Mr. MacGregor as chairman of the National Coal Board will prove excellent value for money for the taxpayer, the industry and the nation."—[Official Report, 28 March 1983; Vol. 40, c. 20.] The Chancellor should sit down and read that statement that he made nearly twelve months ago, and perhaps when he has thought about it he will withdraw it.

Mr. Tony Faye11 (Stockport)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the coal industry was making vast losses long before Mr. MacGregor was appointed? Thank goodness he has been appointed, because he might bring some sense to the industry.

Mr. Barron

If the hon. Gentleman believes that it is sensible to add another £240 million to the already terrible economic consequences of trying to get the industry back on its feet, he is welcome to do so. I do not believe that it is sensible. Ian MacGregor has played as big a part in the overtime ban and in the dictatorial attitude of the NCB than has any person who works in the industry.

We need a new plan for coal. We need the Government—

Mr. Neil Hamilton (Tatton)

We need to implement the previous one.

Mr. Barron

Yes, but we need the Government, the unions and the National Coal Board, to sit down together again and to consider a strategy that will give people in the industry confidence that they will still have a job in six or twelve months' or even in 10 years'. Areas in which there is disagreement should be considered with a more conciliatory attitude than is shown at present. If that does not happen soon, Mr. MacGregor should be sacked as the chairman of the National Coal Board. He will be leaving the industry in one or two years' time, and he can be of no benefit to the long-term needs of British miners or the British people in their quest for coal. The Government should consider removing Ian MacGregor and replacing him with someone who will sit down with the miners and ensure that we have a mining industry on which Britain will once again rely when we get out of the recession.

Finally, I wish to ask the Minister a question which was not asked in the Select Committee. It relates to where these deficit grants are going, and specifically to compensation for industrial deafness in the British coal mining industry. I am sure that the Minister knows that at the present time the National Coal Board has paid out about £350,000 in out-of-court settlements to people suffering from industrial deafness—about 750 miners in all. One estimate is that there could be in the region of 37,000 miners out of the total of 200,000 claiming industrial deafness compensation at the present time. This could mean an immediate payment of £60 million for that compensation, and in the next 10 years perhaps another £50 million. I therefore ask the Minister to tell us, when he is winding up the debate on these Supplementary Estimates tonight, if he knows of any provision within the deficit grant that is being put forward for compensation for industrial deafness.

8.21 pm
Mr. Peter Rost (Erewash)

The Committee has examined a huge overrun in the budget of the coal industry. The enormous support budgeted for has not proved adequate. Moreover, we are told that for the current financial year another £200 million at least of additional subsidy is likely to be required. Nobody in the House can regard that as satisfactory. The total amount of taxpayers' funds going into the coal industry in the current year, therefore, is likely to exceed £1,100 million, and that does not include capital investment. With that, it is likely to be £1.6 billion.

We have heard about the subsidies and we know that much of the money is going to pay for redundancies and pit closures. I do not think that the Committee can be satisfied and I hope that hon. Members will not be satisfied, because what this investigation shows, surely, is that the huge cost of maintaining the coal industry has not resulted in that industry's putting its house in order. We have a right to demand, in the taxpayer's interest, in the national interest, that a greater effort is now made to do just that.

The whole nation—with one or two exceptions among NUM leaders—realises that coal can no longer be immune from the facts of life as we have had to accept them in this country in recent years. The industry must now come forward urgently with a medium-term corporate strategy, as we have recommended in our report—a tight timetable, a tough timetable, which will start to take the burden off the taxpayer and put the industry's house in order.

Secondly, it is time that the Government played a firmer role in ensuring that the timetable is achieved. Let us end the drift and the political cowardice of all Governments in recent decades, who have been afraid to face up to the coal industry. It will be painful, but other industries in both the private and the public sector have had to face this. The essential adjustment is necessary if coal and coal miners are to have any secure future. Coal has to compete in the energy market and it is time everybody realised it. Of course there is a price to pay for the strategic importance of the coal industry, the advantages of self-sufficiency in energy. Of course we need coal and shall need it even more in the future. But we do not need coal at any price. We must consider what the economy can stand, what the taxpayer can afford, the effect of high coal prices on industry and its competitiveness and on the price of electricity and the hardship that this causes to consumers as a whole.

Coal has a prosperous future, but only if the industry accepts the realities of modernisation. There is tremendous potential in the immediate term in converting from oil to coal. There is huge potential in starting to meet the problems of fuel poverty in this country. Millions of people suffer from inadequate heating because we have not developed more efficient combined heat and power schemes in district heating, which would of course provide a market for coal. There is an export potential if we can only get the costs of the industry right, as we know can be done with the new investment balanced by closing down the old high-cost coalfields.

Mr. Jack Thompson (Wansbeck)


Mr. Rost

I am trying to be brief so that other hon. Members can come in, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not give way.

Unless the industry accepts that there must be a limit to what the taxpayer can be expected to provide, that the coal industry must now make an effort to put its house in order, and unless the Government take a grip and ensure that this is done, there will not be a long-term future for the coal industry. I believe that this necessity is now accepted by the Government, and I hope that my hon. Friend will confirm that the Government are not best pleased with these huge overruns and will in future monitor the progress of the coal industry more effectively than in the past.

The Government are right to give support to the modernisation programme, redundancies and closures. They are right to finance the new investment. But the two must go hand in hand. I believe that management in the coal industry needs a good shake-up too and I am pleased that the new chairman is to try to achieve that. Too often in my area in the east midlands, Derbyshire, I am told by miners that there are too many chiefs and not enough Indians. I get complaints about the ineffectiveness of the bonus scheme—it is not sharp enough and does not benefit sufficiently those who are doing the productive work. Rather, it benefits those who are not. That is a management problem that must be tackled.

I also believe that the Government have a responsibility to sharpen up the industry and make it more efficient by ensuring that there is more competition from outside. Let us see some privatisation at the edges; let us encourage licensed opencast operators instead of trying to clobber them; let us encourage more private deep mine operations. Why should companies like BP have to mine abroad and be prohibited from doing so in this country when we could get genuine private sector investment in partnership with the nationalised industry to develop the new fields and supplement the capital that taxpayers are having to put in, which the Coal Board has failed to provide because it has not had any positive cash flow?

Most miners understand this. They know the facts of life, especially in the area of the east midlands. Unfortunately, some of the militant NUM leaders who are leading the industry to destruction refuse to accept this. Instead of co-operating to try to make the industry more competitive, improve sales and secure the future, Arthur Scargill and one or two others are trying to wreck the industry. The huge sums that are being invested could be providing more new jobs and a future for the coal industry—but only if the hopeless, loss-making, old, dangerous and dirty pits are now closed down more speedily and the subsidies reallocated to provide a more economic industry by building on the new low-cost coalfields.

If the president of the NUM was really concerned about defending miners' interests, instead of trying to ruin their future, he would encourage miners to leave those dirty, dangerous old pits and encourage the industry to modernise. If Arthur Scargill was really concerned he would not be trying to frog-march miners over the precipice to their own destruction, as he is doing. This will surely lead to more closures, more lost markets for coal and less investment in new mines. Nobody can benefit from the overtime ban, and certainly nobody will benefit from any strike.

The president of the NUM, like all Marxists, is scared of democracy. That is unacceptable and shameful. He does not have the guts to call a ballot, which his members in the east midlands, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire demand. Why? Because he lost the last three ballots that he called. He prefers deliberately to cheat on the NUM rules, abuse his position and use the miners as sacrificial pawns to pursue his personal political ambitions. If he really believes that miners want to ruin their own future, why is he afraid to put his disastrous confrontation policies to the test in a proper secret ballot? He should overcome his prejudices and cowardice, call off this headlong push over the precipice and call an immediate ballot. Indeed, he is so out of touch with the aspirations of the majority of his members, who know that the industry has a future if he will only allow it, that it is time that he put his own job on the line and sought a new vote of confidence by standing for re-election.

The disastrous leadership in the NUM has led to the present aggravation of the problems. The Government should support the new management to put the industry in order. The Government have a role to play, but we must ensure that we get better value for the money that taxpayers are putting in—a medium-term strategy and a tough timetable that the Government must see is met.

I hope that we shall hear that message from the Government Front Bench tonight. The Government are right to back the industry, but only provided that we now get results. I hope, too, that the NUM leadership will realise that there is a limit to taxpayers' generosity and that politically motivated adversarial militancy will wreck the jobs in the industry, instead of securing a promising future for coal and making a contribution to that vital part of our economy. That would be a real disaster for which all miners would pay a heavy price.

8.32 pm
Mr. Alexander Eadie (Midlothian)

It is rich for the hon. Member for Erewash (Mr. Rost) to talk about democracy in the mining industry, when the chairman of the Conservative party is appointed, not elected.

In answer to the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Lloyd), who opened the debate, I take no exception to the fact that he brought in the new scheme on redundancy pay. He would expect me to say that I am glad when—in mining language — anyone who is shoved down the road is treated generously when it comes to redundancy pay. Let me point out that the average age in the mining industry is 36.7. So we are not talking about 50-year-olds—possibly they will be 30-year-olds—who will be sent down the road. Hon. Members should recognise that. May I say, in passing, that if money is to be made available, we should use it on an early retirement scheme in the mining industry. Such a scheme is long overdue, as I am sure the Minister will agree.

I have just returned from Sheffield. We are debating this report against the background of a serious situation in the coal industry. As hon. Members may have heard in the news, Yorkshire and Scotland will be on official strike, commencing next week. I was at the meeting. I would not call myself a prophet, but I predict that many other areas will be on strike before next week is out. It has been said that there has been a violation of the rules, but it has all been done according to the rule. It was done according to rule 41. Areas are autonomous, and we have democracy in the NUM. It is for areas to decide. Under rule 41, the NUM, which is a confederation of area unions, will decide what policy to operate.

Let no hon. Member say that the miners will be on their own in the strike that is developing. They will not. If the strike develops, the triple alliance will be triggered. Let us not imagine that we shall be able to go about our business as if nothing was happening. The situation is serious, although I do not like to have to say that. All my life I have stood for conciliation—indeed, I have been criticised for it — not confrontation. We debate this Select Committee report against the background of that serious situation.

Mr. Favell


Mr. Eadie

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman, but I shall not give way.

We are talking about the industry contracting. I am sure that the Chairman of the Select Committee and the Minister who will be winding up our debate will agree that this year the industry has been contracting. We have had pit closures. Twenty-three pits have closed this year, and about 21,000 men have been made redundant as a result. Hon. Gentlemen say that the industry should contract and that all dying pits should go out of existence, but I can tell them that it is happening already. The House should know what has happened this year. The House should know that 21,000 men have gone down the road. So no one should say that nothing is happening in the mining industry. The industry has, of course, been contracting.

The report dealing with the closure programme talks of the need for the industry to contract. I hope the House will accept now that the industry has been contracting. We are in a debating chamber and we are entitled to debate the issues. If we are to talk about personalities, it is not Arthur Scargill who is on the rack, according to the Select Committee, but Mr. MacGregor. We warned the Government. If our advice had been taken, Mr. MacGregor would never have been made the chairman of the National Coal Board. Mr. MacGregor has no credibility in the report, and he has no credibility among the miners or the people of this country. It was a disastrous appointment.

I want to develop what I said at the start of my remarks about the serious situation that faces us. Mr. MacGregor must bear a big responsibility for that situation. The style of management that he has perpetuated in the mining industry has been responsible for the overtime ban. I draw a distinction between managers and people in Hobart house, such as Mr. MacGregor, who know nothing about mining engineering. We have some of the finest engineers in the world. I object to the fact that our mining engineers are not being allowed to manage our industry because of people like MacGregor being appointed to carry out the board's policies.

When the Secretary of State gave evidence to the Committee, there was talk, as the hon. Member for Erewash will agree, about how the industry should be developed and how investment could be made in terms of the contraction of the industry. When the Secretary of State gave evidence, I noticed that there was a lot of talk about the Vale of Belvoir. One of the reasons for bringing in the Vale of Belvoir was that money and costs were being discussed. If the Committee had examined the whole issue of the Vale of Belvoir, it would have realised that the Vale of Belvoir, even before it started, was a millstone round the neck of the NCB. Rather than one pit, it should have been three pits. Since we are discussing money, millions of pounds were spent on a feasibility study of the Vale of Belvoir. If the House, in considering the report of the Committee of Public Accounts, is worried about how money is being spent, it is as well to know that, in the case of the Vale of Belvoir, instead of one pit there should have been three.

I am bound to say—and I have said this in many other debates on the coal industry — that the Government's record in relation to new investments and new pits is not good. The Government have not sunk one new pit since 1979. They talk about sinking a pit at the Vale of Belvoir. The Secretary of State has sometimes said in the House that he was associated with Selby. He was indeed associated with Selby, yet it was a Labour Government who acted and were responsible for the Selby sinking. It is as well for the House of Commons to know these facts.

Some comment has been made about the need to get rid of old capacity. I used always to put it another way. I said that one should talk not about closures, but about a replacement policy. The House should not be deceived into thinking that the MacGregor policy—the policy of the NCB—is to get rid of old Victorian relics.

In Scotland, I have called for a public inquiry into the administration and management of the NCB. I have done that because there are two pits that are not Victorian relics. The first is Bogside mine. I have documentary evidence—I will give this to the Minister—that proves that the National Coal Board deliberately let the mine be flooded in order that it could be closed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) has Polmaise colliery in his constituency. That is not a Victorian relic; it is a comparatively new mine. A sum of £15 million was spent on going for reserves. The colliery was not producing any coal. Under an edict from MacGregor and the area director of the NCB, based on a geological report, it was decided to close Polmaise. I can give the Minister the geological report showing that it is untrue. The £15 million spent on Polmaise is an indictment of the National Coal Board and of the Government if they allow the taxpayers' money to go down the drain, with the result that hundreds of miners in the area are out of work. To some extent, that embarrasses the local authority as well, because it sterilised the ground in the area for the development to go ahead. I know that the Minister is aware of these facts.

I should like to say much more in the debate. In these mining debates, some of us do still have the coal dust in our lungs—

Mr. Richard Hickmet (Glanford and Scunthorpe)

Rubbish. Why does the hon. Gentleman not tell us about the effect of high coal costs on the steel industry?

Mr. Eadie

I worked for years in the industry, and I am taking no snubs from any hon. Gentleman who can make such a remark.

I do not like having to make some of the remarks that I have made, because I believe in the greatness of our industry and of the people who work in it. Those who work in the industry are among the best people in British industry. I wonder whether we have reached the situation—I have never before seen such a volatile situation not only in Scotland, but throughout the coalfields—where conciliation has gone out of the window. Will any hon. Gentleman stand up for conciliation and consultation before the country is plunged into a national strike that will not only do the miners a great deal of harm, but injure the nation?

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Paul Dean)

Order. The winding-up speeches are expected to begin at 9.30 pm. Many hon. Members still wish to speak in the debate.

8.45 pm
Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark)

The need for the Supplementary Estimate is a symbol of the problem that faces the coal industry and those in it, the problem of uncertainty. The sum under discussion is, of course, a considerable one. It is a sum that would transform the prospects for kidney patients in the country and for hospital building, so it is an earnest of the commitment that the Government have to the coal industry. Like marriage, it is a commitment that ought to be entered into not lightly or inadvisedly but with full awareness of what is being done. The Estimate will uprate the redundancy support that we are giving to the coal industry, support that has been operating for some time. It complements the already high investment that has been made in the industry by successive Governments, not least the Conservative Government since 1979. Since 1974, over £7,000 million of investment has been made in the coal industry. When we hear the comments from some Opposition Members about the Conservative attitude towards the coal industry, I think that statistic could well be borne in mine. Since 1979, £2 million a day has been invested in the coal industry, so our commitment is there for all to see.

However, it is the future that is worrying for the tax-payer and for those who work in the industry, for those who use it and for the many young men who have committed their future lives to working in the industry. It is for them that we as a Government ought to spell out our commitment to the industry and how we see the future. It is for them that I believe that "Plan for Coal 1974" ought to be bought up to date. "Plan for Coal 1974" cannot be strictly relevant in 1984. The Committee of Public Accounts asks for a medium-term strategy. I would rather see it called Plan for Coal 1984. This would spell out not only the commitment of the NCB and the Government to the industry, but also the structure of pits, the commitment of manpower and the levels of involvement by the Government to be forecast over the next 10 years.

Miners are generally very reasonable people. If one tells them the truth, where their future will lie in the industry, I believe that they will respond. The Supplementary Estimates give the Minister the opportunity to state that commitment. There is obviously a natural anxiety about our future — politicians, opticians, solicitors and coal miners are all concerned: "Will I survive, what will my future be?" It is quite natural to ask this question.

The very proper contraction of the coal mining industry that has taken place over the years, of which the Supplementary Estimate is a natural part, feeds this anxiety.

The antics of Arthur Scargill stir anxiety further. If that gentleman would talk less about pits and jobs and a little more about the mining industry as a whole, we might get the more constructive dialogue for which Labour Members have been calling. People are asking the Government and the NCB to spell out for them where they stand.

I believe that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State does see a thriving, viable future for Britain's coal industry. He should continue to spell that out and tell us what the plan for coal is over the next 10 years. Tell the industry that our pits must be profitable if they are to remain open. If they are not profitable, cheaper energy will come in and jobs will continue to be at risk.

An article in The Mail on Sunday on 12 February said, to my astonishment and regret, that that decision may already have been taken. It said that the CEGB had decided to run down all its coal-fired power stations, to do no more maintenance on them, and that, in the words of one CEGB official, Britain's coal industry had had it. I invite my hon. Friend to repudiate those words when he replies. I invite him to repudiate the conclusion reached by the author of the article, Mr. John Rawlings, when he says The … progressive run down of the National Coal Board now seems inevitable". No Conservative Member is asking that we continue to subsidise unprofitable pits. No one is asking that we should not have competitive prices. No one is asking that we should not have alternative sources of fuel in Britain. But many Conservative Members as well as Labour Members are asking for a continuing commitment to an important natural resource in Britain and an indication of the likely proportion over the years of future energy from coal, from nuclear power, and from abroad.

The threat of industrial action is incompatible with confidence in the industry. But no one wants to have foreign control over our power supplies. That would be unacceptable too. If the industry shows, not least at this time where there is anxiety in the industry and in the country, that it is willing to produce coal at a profit which people are willing to buy at home and abroad, which can be sold at home and abroad, it deserves our support. It deserves this Supplementary Estimate and I am confident that my right hon. and hon. Friends will support it.

8.53 pm
Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)

The hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander) expressed concern about the coal industry, as I think have all hon. Members since the debate began. It is obviously right that there should be concern because of the large sums of money about which the House is talking—they seem likely to increase as a result of the large figures that have been talked about today—but it is a concern about the industry which does not seem to have been taken deeply enough.

People are blaming Mr. Scargill, or others in the mining unions. Some feel that Mr. MacGregor might have played an important part, but the basic problem is that the modern mining industry in Britain is geared to meet a large part of the energy needs of Britain when it is in a healthy and economic condition. But Britain is not in a healthy and economic condition and because of that the energy industries are in difficulty. It is no good blaming the miners or their leaders for the fact that the industrial devastation which has taken place in Britain in the past three or four years has had an enormous effect upon the coal industry. My constituency has seen the most successful steel plant in the world brought to short-time working and the amount of electricity used in our special steels industry, which used to consume as much as half a dozen cities when it was working properly, has been brought down to a low level of activity.

Mr. Hickmet


Mr. Hardy

No, I shall not give way. Let the hon. Gentleman go and look after his hotels.

Mr. Hickmet


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. It is clear that the hon. Member is not giving way.

Mr. Hardy

I shall not give way. The hon. Gentleman came in in a very excited state three quarters of the way through the debate, yet he expects me to restrict my remarks when I have very little time to speak about matters of enormous importance in my constituency. I shall have to curtail my remarks now because I promised to speak for less than 10 minutes.

I have in my house a plan of what we call the Fitzwilliam pits in the western half of my constituency. They have all closed. Most of them closed 100 years ago and the last one closed in December. The 100 or so men from that pit, Elsecar, which had been carefully supported and sustained by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay), who once worked there, were advised that they could transfer to Cortonwood, and they did so between October 1983 and January 1984. They were told by the area director on 1 March that Cortonwood, which produces the finest quality coal in south Yorkshire—a pit with an enormously high reputation for stability, common sense and superb industrial relations — that he expected it to cease production on 6 April. That is no way to run an industry. That is no way to reward men who have demonstrated the stability, common sense, and co-operation at all levels at the colliery that we have seen year in and year out. I know the colliery well.

A few miles away is the Manvers colliery where my father worked and which I represented on my local authority. We are told that it must start doing well by June. Three miles away, Kilnhurst colliery has been told that it must show a marked recovery within a short time. Is it any wonder when those demands are made at a time of industrial fragility, at a time of dispute, concern and anxiety, that the situation is explosive? The situation in south Yorkshire is serious. The Minister will understand why I am going to refer to the Secretary of State. In south Yorkshire we have a particular difficulty. In 1973 the Secretary of State was one of those who called on Britain to be geared to produce over 30 million tonnes of steel. The coal industry in south Yorkshire invested heavily to ensure that it could meet the coal market for 30 million tonnes of steel production and more. Now industrial demand for metallurgical quality coal has diminished.

The overheads on south Yorkshire pits are still very large. They cannot make a profit while they bear that burden. Now we are told that the south Yorkshire pits must cut production by half a million tonnes in the next 12 months. That merely means that the burden will be borne by a smaller volume of coal. That is the economics of madmen. Moreover it is imposed on a fragile human situation. I propose to ask the Minister—and I hope that he will consider the request very carefully—not to allow the position to deteriorate. The Secretary of State himself must intervene in the coal industry. It is obvious that Mr. MacGregor cannot command the absolute confidence of the House. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have made this point already. The Secretary of State—

Mr. Favell

They do not all feel that way. What about Mr. Scargill? He does not have the confidence of Members on both sides. Should he resign?

Mr. Hardy

I wish the hon. Member would go back to his hotels, or to whichever benighted constituency has the misfortune to be his. I am making a point of real importance. I hope that I can make it without the hon. Member's infantile interventions.

I ask the Minister to convey to the Secretary of State the urgent need for him to bring both sides of the industry together to reduce the temperature which is now rising rapidly. I shall be addressing the men of Cortonwood tomorrow night. I have remarked already on their common sense and stability, but their mood will be one which is developing very widely in the industry and I do not believe that it is in the national interest for that mood to develop further.

I accept and the Minister knows that the Conservative party has few friends in south Yorkshire. However, it has a responsibility to the nation as a whole. It cannot simply serve the interests of those who may be pleased with the hon. Member for whatever constituency he represents. It must govern the country in the national interest. It must recognise that the coal industy cannot prosper unless the economy is healthy. It must recognise that constituencies such as mine can no longer face the prospect of 40 or 50 per cent. unemployment. I cannot face the thought of looking at my constituency as I now must and seeing that last year 85 per cent. of school leavers there were unable to find jobs and that next year the figure will rise to 90 per cent. and to 95 per cent. in the following year.

What sort of society does the Minister think we ought to put up with? The Government have a responsibility to the nation and it is about time that they exercised it.

9.1 pm

Mr. David Ashby (Leicestershire, North-West)

We seem in this debate to have been placing a great deal of blame on Mr. Ian MacGregor, a man who has only just taken up his post as chairman of the National Coal Board. he has scarcely had a chance to get into the job, yet we are blaming him already for estimates drawn up and actions taken years before. What we are seeing today is the outcome of decisions taken some considerable time ago.

I wonder whether some Opposition Members want a strong and viable coal industry. What do they really want out of it? If there is one person who is responsible for many of the problems besetting the coal industry today it is Mr. Scargill, the leader of the National Union of Mineworkers, who has made a god out of confrontation. For an industry to ask, as the coal industry is doing today, for an extra £289 million of grant when it is already receiving £624 million per annum in grants shows that there is something gravely wrong with that industry and proves how right we are to have appointed someone of the calibre of Mr. MacGregor. It also shows the size of the task facing him. Already £11 for every man, woman and child in this country is paid in grant to the industry. Now it wants an extra £5 for every man, woman and child, an increase of almost 50 per cent. That is not the end of it; there is more to come.

The industry asks for the money that has already been spent. It is shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. We are given no opportunity to suggest areas for savings. We as taxpayers are simply left with the bill and I and most other taxpayers resent that very much. If the Coal Board had any decent form of cost or management control, we would never be faced with this extra demand. The effects of the Coal Industry Act 1983, which lowered the eligibility age for redundancy from 55 to 50, could have been foreseen. The likely take-up of that redundancy scheme should not have been so underestimated. I could understand the estimate being out by 5 per cent., 10 per cent, or even 15 per cent. To be 100 per cent. out is ridiculous.

The redundancy scheme is good for the mining industry because it gives miners redundancy terms that are superior to those available to employees in any other industry. Many of my non-miner constituents, taxpayers for many years, would love those terms. Many of them, being closely associated with mining — delivery contractors and others involved in the industry on the periphery, not employed by the NCB—are losing their jobs because of the decline of the industry in Leicestershire. They would love the redundancy terms that the miners have. There appears to be one law for the new super-privileged in the nationalised industries and another for the poor underprivileged and over-taxed people who create the wealth.

Mr. Jack Thompson


Mr. Ashby

No, I will riot give way.

Having asked for such vast sums of money and having created super terms for the industry, they are not interested in having an industry that will be efficient and slimmed down. They are demanding that any measures designed to improve the industry should not be taken. As lemmings rush over the cliff edge, so they are going on strike when the industry is on its knees. They want to take it into the grave. We find that attitude coming from their leader. Mr. Scargill believes in confrontation time and again.

Mr. Kevin Barron


Mr. Ashby

I fear this sort of situation arising next year and the year after. Some of the NCB's capital proposals leave me in grave doubt about the future financial viability of the schemes. I urge the Minister to consider carefully the proposed investment in the Phurnacite plant on the Aberavon site. I understand that £30 million is to be invested there to produce a new smokeless fuel called Ancit. It is proposed that the site should produce 80,000 tonnes per annum. On capital expenditure alone, it will cost £96.50 per tonne. That same fuel can be bought in Germany for £99 per tonne.

Is it right that we should make that sort of investment on that plant when it can be bought in that way? One cannot buy it in this country at that price because of the muscle of the NCB, through its subsidiary, National Smokeless Fuels, which in a most improper way stopped a constituent of mine importing that type of coal. My constituent had already purchased for £99 per tonne, had chartered a vessel and was trying to load that vessel. National Smokeless Fuels sent its people to Germany arid stopped the loading. It told my constituent that it would buy at £102 per tonne and that he would have to buy it back from it at £105. In fact, he had intended to sell the coal to retailers for £105 per tonne. But no, National Smokeless Fuels says that he must sell it at £109.30 per tonne. That is why we have high fuel costs. Coal can be bought more cheaply on the continent but people are not permitted to purchase there because of the industrial muscle of a nationalised industry that is using taxpayers' and ratepayers' money to support it.

Mr. Hickmet

Is my hon. Friend aware that the chairman of the Central Electricity Generating Board, Stir Walter Marshall, stated only last week that if he were free to purchase coal from overseas it would reduce his coal costs by 25 per cent. and the cost of electricity by 15 per cent.? Is my hon. Friend aware of the tremendous effect that would have on my constituency, which is a major steel producer?

Mr. Ashby

Those figures are right. I have spoken to Sir Walter Marshall and I have heard those figures from his lips. I hope that Mr. MacGregor will be able, in due course, with his new management and improvements to the National Coal Board to produce coal at a price competitive with coal produced abroad. We must give him a chance.

Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone)


Mr. Ashby

I am not giving way.

Subsidence has been referred to in the report. The suggestion has been made that those seeking compensation for the effects of coal mining upon their property are doing something that is immoral or is certainly not in the public interest. Most people in mining and steel know that the Coal Board has detailed plans for years ahead for the areas it intends to mine. It is not difficult to superimpose those plans upon a ground plan to see what buildings the mining will affect. Where normal mining takes place under buildings, subsidence can be expected to follow. Surely that can be measured and gauged by the National Coal Board when it is working upon estimates for future years.

If the National Coal Board thinks, as seems to be suggested, that it can dig under somebody's home or factory and that the victim of the resultant damage should agree to the repairs without professional advice, it must be out of its mind. This is a sophisticated society where people can and should get proper advice before agreeing to something as important as major repairs to their homes. What also surprises me about the report is that the National Coal Board does not seem to have heard of the escalating cost of house repairs.

The report relates a sad tale and, as I have said, we are left with no choice. I end as I began, by repeating that we have a new chairman who has had a baptism of fire. The problems that he faces must be crystal-clear to him. The immensity of his task means that he merits the support of all hon. Members and of the miners, who must surely want a good and healthy industry.

9.14 pm
Mr. Jack Dormand (Easington)

The hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) does no service to himself or to the House by giving the impression that he intends to make a short speech, and then refusing three interventions from my hon. Friends, giving way to one of his hon. Friends, and speaking for 13 minutes. I hope that he will bear that in mind in the future. I had intended to go into detail on figures, but in view of the time I shall be brief.

If there was every any doubt in anyone's mind about the National Coal Board's policy on the coal industry, it must now be completely dispelled. The chairman's single-minded aim can be summed up in one word—profit. My hon. Friends and I are not opposed in principle to profit, but there was never a more inappropriate time to call for profit from a publicly owned industry.

I repeat what I and other hon. Members have said in this debate and previously: Mr. MacGregor's appointment was the Prime Minister's most provocative action since she came to power in 1979. Hon. Members have all directed their remarks to Mr. MacGregor. I hold no brief for the chairman of the National Coal Board. The initial mistake was made by the Prime Minister, who knew exactly what she was doing when the appointment was made. That act, more than any other, has brought the industry to what must be recognised as a crisis.

This week, the chairman of the NCB said that he must cut production by 4 million tonnes to balance supply and demand. It is not possible in present circumstances to be so precise in forecasting demand, especially in relation to energy requirements. By common consent, that is notoriously difficult to do. I presume that the upturn in the economy, which the Government tell us has now begun—if I remember rightly, it has now begun seven times—will have a substantial effect on the coal industry.

The Government's and Mr. MacGregor's policy of profit above everything else pays no heed to the devastation caused to the coal mining communities by pit closures. The chairman of the Coal Board said this week in his announcement that there will be 15,000 job losses; the president of the National Union of Mineworkers said there will be 25,000 job losses. Whatever the figure, it can be doubled, and perhaps even trebled, when applied to the tradesmen, business men, professional people and virtually everyone who lives and works in a mining community. The Government have consistently refused to recognise that fact, and publicly have never made any statement that that is the effect of pit closures.

The Government and the NCB point to redundancy payments. Miners deserve every penny they get, because of the nature of coal mining, and I believe that a Conservative Member was good enough to say that. We are worried about retaining jobs not only for today's miners but for future generations. Today the announcement had been made about extending the redundancy scheme by reducing to 21 the age at which redundancy payment is made and paying £1,000 for each year worked in the industry. That measure has been produced like a white rabbit out of a conjuror's hat. Because of that redundancy sum of £1,000 and the same amount which, a couple of weeks ago, was paid to GCHQ employees to forgo their basic human right to belong to a trade union, the Government will be known in history as the £1,000 Government.

It is not for me to say whether the NUM should accept that extension of the scheme. The policies of the Coal Board and the Government, which are profoundly mistaken, have given rise to these conditions. It is of the utmost significance that Mr. MacGregor is refusing to deny or confirm that there will be compulsory redundancies because of his announcement this week.

I direct two questions to the Under-Secretary of State which could be directed also to the Chairman of the Select Committee on Energy, whose report we are debating. They may wish to consider these points. Will the Under-Secretary of State confirm that the Government are still committed to their promises in 1980 at the Venice summit of OECD leaders? The Government were vociferous then in proclaiming that there would be massive investments in and extensions of the coal industry. The main reason for the conference was to free economies from excessive dependence on oil. I believe that the Under-Secretary of State and the House will agree that there is no dispute about our limited oil reserves, so it is economic lunacy to run down our coal industry. The Government often boast about their adherence to international agreements. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will give an unequivocal answer to my question.

What will the Government do to create a common coal policy on the lines of a common agricultural policy? The CAP was created in the name of the vital need of the EEC to be self-sufficient in food. If the principle of self-sufficiency in agriculture is here to stay — whatever criticisms we may have, we would agree that, and I see the Under-Secretary nodding his head—why should it not be extended to other, equally vital, commodities? Self-sufficiency in coal would not only be logical but would be a cast-iron insurance against the vagaries of the various energy supplies.

One commentator, in The Guardian, said of such a step that the effect on Britain's coal industry would be "revolutionary". What the Prime Minister and her Cabinet defend in the way of preference and the protection of farmers they condemn out of hand when it comes to the British coal industry. I shall not repeat the substantially greater subsidies measured by each tonne of coal produced in other EEC countries. However, they provide a strong case for a common coal policy. Such a policy would be good for Britain, good for Europe, and in the longer term good for all coal-producing countries.

In my constituency, 12,000 people are employed by the NCB and many more are directly or indirectly dependent on the Coal Board. It represents more than 30 per cent. of the district work force. Our rate of unemployment is already 16.2 per cent. and I shudder to think what would happen if there were further pit closures. Such circumstances as these are repeated over other coalfields throughout the country. If the board persists in its policies, it must take full responsibility for the consequences, as must the Government. I hope that even at this late stage there will be a realisation that the butchery of the industry cannot continue and that a new start can be made to bring bout a more civilised approach to the industry's many problems.

9.22 pm
Mr. Spencer Batiste (Elmet)

I share the concern of many of those who have spoken about this large Supplementary Estimate coming in so late in the year, and I, too, congratulate the Select Committee on an informative report, which has enabled us to have this debate in what might be one of the most critical weeks in the life of the coal mining industry. I should declare an interest at once as a director of a company that undertakes advanced technology research into industries, including mining, and I have a strong constituency interest in mining in that the area headquarters for the NCB in north Yorkshire is at Allerton Bywater in my constituency and many of my constituents work in the local pits.

Earlier this week, the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks) commented on the effect of the difference between ours and foreign coal prices on the profitability of other industries, especially those that are heavy energy users. This has been reflected by other speakers tonight. I remember similar comments being made in the 1960s and early 1970s about oil and how that illusion was shattered in the early 1970s when we discovered that what we thought was cheap and plentiful was not so. One thing that was left clear in my mind was the strong and overwhelming strategic necessity for this country to be independent, self-sufficient and diverse in energy.

I accept that such a policy will inevitably be expensive, but I should prefer to see Government money going towards investment rather than subsidy. I should prefer to see it going to structural reform of the industry so that it may be profitable rather than in supporting the high costs of maintaining uneconomic pits. I welcome the Government's good record in investment, a record that stands every comparison with that of other countries in Europe, such as Germany, France and Belgium and, despite what the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) said, it stands good comparison with the record of previous Labour Governments.

I support the Government's Estimates because they will be of great importance to the mining industry and to its modernisation. In my constituency, those who work in pits that are shortly to close can look to Selby for alternative employment, but in many other areas there are no such opportunities and we must recognise, in steel as in coal, that whole communities are tied up with those industries. The substantial redundancy payments made in those industries are the seed corn that enables the local communities to establish a new industrial base and create new employment for themselves.

There is, however, an overwhelming cause for concern arising from the £135 million cost of industrial action thus far. No bottomless purse is available. Money that is wasted on industrial action and confrontation cannot be available elsewhere.

In the past few months I and other hon. Members in the Chamber tonight have been sitting through the Committee stage of the Trade Union Bill. The NUM was put forward as one of the best examples of democracy at work within the trade union movement. Yet, this week we hear Mr. McGahey widely quoted as saying, "We shall not be constitutionalised out of action." That is not the language of the sort of industrial democracy mentioned in Committee, and will not encourage new customers to the coal industry or help to retain existing customers

Despite the comments made tonight by right hon. and hon. Members who clearly feel heat and passion about the subject, I hope that when they return to their constituencies and speak to their constituents they will do their best to calm the temperature in the interests of the industry as a whole so that an industry that is central to our future prosperity and is of strategic importance to the whole range of industries in this country can move forward, on the basis of confidence.

9.27 pm
Mr. Martin J. O'Neill (Clackmannan)

I have to be brief, and I cannot accept interventions, as I have only three minutes to try to save 700 jobs.

Polmaise colliery in my consitutuency in some ways has sparked off much of the industrial unrest, although NUM officials have played an exemplary role in keeping the men there from going on strike. The men saw the only way to defend their jobs as being to withdraw their labour and prove that they meant to hold on to them. The colliery is the life of the village. If it closes, the village will die with it. The miners realise that that cannot be exchanged for whatever redundancy money has been put on the table so far. The new offer issued today may prove overwhelmingly attractive to some of them, but only time will tell.

There is much dispute about whether the Coal Board has a case for closing the Polmaise mine. My hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) referred to the gulf between the views of the board and those of the NUM about the extent of geological faulting. It is believed that if a further £1.3 million was spent on top of the £15 million already spent out of the programme's provision of £23 million, the miners and the board would know for sure whether the coincidence of two faults results in such bad faulting behind as to sterilise the supplies of coal that are known to exist. The board accepts that that is only a hunch.

I ask the Minister to take the points that I have already made to Mr. MacGregor, Mr. Whelan and his colleagues and to the Secretary of State for Scotland. There is an overwhelming case for giving the Coal Board powers, permission, encouragement and whatever is necessary to spend that £1.3 million to prove the hunch. The NUM has said that it will accept the consequences if the road is driven through and the miners go through the fault to see what is behind it.

I plead with the Minister at this point in the debate, because our mood is one of pessimism, gloom, frustration and bitterness. We look to the board for some willingness to conciliate and a prospect that it is prepared to talk about the future of the industry, not simply to offer the miners money to walk away from it. The men in my constituency want to continue working at Polmaise. It is a development mine in the process of creating 450 more jobs with a massive impact on an area of high unemployment. It would have employed 700 people within 18 months, but it will become a graveyard—as will the village of Fallin—if urgent action is not taken.

I ask the Minister to take up the NUM offer and to spend the money required. It will take only five or six weeks to test the matters on which geologists and mining engineers cannot agree, and the men will accept the result. They may not be happy to accept the judgment if it is negative, but they will know that they have done everything possible to save their colliery. At the moment they feel that it has been stolen from them by a board acting on instructions from a Government who have neither the interests of the industry nor the interests of the country at heart.

9.30 pm
Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)

First, I thank the Select Committee for its report. The invaluable evidence and information forming the background to the debate has justified the nature and character of the Select Committee at work.

Some of the severe strictures in the report have received little attention because the broader, more serious, situation facing the industry has inevitably loomed large. Nevertheless, the report contains severe strictures on the presentation and timing of the Estimates, and so on. I hope that the Government will take those strictures to heart and that the Minister will tell us how he intends to avoid putting the House in a similar position in the future.

It was not until the Committee really got down to work that we appreciated the extraordinary developments in relation to subsidence in Mansfield and elsewhere. The rising number and cost of claims has led to a severe financial problem which could damage the prospects of a number of pits. I shall not dwell on this, as I understand that the Government have promised an urgent review of the situation. Both the Secretary of State and the chairman of the NCB have said that they will review the matter in the light of the overwhelming new evidence.

Two major issues are reflected in the Estimates and are central to the present arguments in the coalfields—first, the cost of the overtime ban and, secondly, pit closures and redundancies. Again, it is to the credit of the Select Committee that for the first time the House and the country appreciate the cost of the overtime ban in this financial year. It certainly did not emerge from any of the remarks of Mr. MacGregor as NCB chairman. The cost of the overtime ban for this financial year will be £135 million. Unless something dramatic happens, the cost in the next financial year will also be very large—perhaps another £100 million.

Whatever our stance in the current arguments, perhaps we can agree about the presentation of the NCB's case. Mr. MacGregor has gone around the country and has regularly given the press selective steers which could not have led anyone to suppose that the NCB estimated that the cost of the ban would be of such magnitude. An important case has to be answered. The NCB chairman utterly misjudged the financial consequences and implications of an extended overtime ban. Whatever our attitude to the ban, it is clear from the report that the chairman seriously miscalculated its financial implications. Interestingly enough, when the hon. Member for Erewash (Mr. Rost) put the question to Mr. MacGregor, he did not answer but passed it on to the marketing director, Mr. Edwards. After weeks of travelling round the country and constantly telling the press that the ban was of marginal consequence in financial terms, he must now admit that that is far from the case—unless he regards £135 million in one financial year as marginal.

I share the fundamental criticisms made by my hon. Friends about Mr. MacGregor's handling of the situation during the past three or four months. The reason for that mishandling is deep and fundamental. Mr. MacGregor completely misjudged the character and the mood of the miners and the mining communities. He did not fully appreciate the character and nature of those communities and miners. The impasse that the industry finds itself in is, to a significant extent, the result of Mr. MacGregor's misjudgment of those important factors.

I say with a measure of regret that, at a time when the Government have published a new redundancy payments scheme offering new redundancy payments to miners between the ages of 21 and 50, Mr. MacGregor—who is 71 years old—should consider his position. I say that, too, in the light of the report.

Secondly, there is the issue of pit closures and redundancies. One of the major reasons why the supplementary estimate had to be made is that the number of redundancies has increased. The estimate was of 10,000 redundancies, but there have been 20,000. Not only have there been 20,000 redundancies, but, in the past 12 months or more, 20,000 jobs have been lost in the industry. When Government Members criticise what they call the Luddite attitudes of the miners clinging to their jobs and their mines, they should remember that 20,000 jobs is equivalent to the closure of four Ravenscraigs. The Minister of State would do well to remember that. If the closure of four Ravenscraigs had been announced in the past year, there would have been uproar in the House and in the country and we would have heard the Secretary of State for Scotland promising to resign.

It is little wonder that, when Mr. MacGregor told the NUM this week that the equivalent of four more Ravenscraigs would have to go in the next 12 months, there was an explosion of frustration and resentment. Another 20,000 jobs are to be lost in the British coalfields if the MacGregor plan as proposed to the NUM goes ahead unaltered.

On top of that, there is the new redundancy scheme. We will be able to debate this scheme in more detail later on, but it must be considered, too, in the context of this debate. Paragraph 16 of the report of the Energy Committee states: We were surprised that the Chairman of the NCB was unable, or unwilling, to give even a broad indication of the number of redundancies likely to be budgeted for in 1984–85". Now we know why. We did not know then that a completely new redundancy scheme was to be put forward, proposing that miners between the ages of 21 and 50 could collect £1,000 for every year of their service. What sort of industry are we trying to develop when we offer a 26-year-old miner with training and skill—who, with experience, could be at the peak of his productive capacity—£10,000 to walk away from the industry? Do we want an industry that is staffed by young, experienced, skilled miners? If so, does this scheme represent the right answer to the problems of redundancies and of the industry?

My hon. Friends were right to express their suspicion that the scheme has been devised as a substitute for compulsory redundancies. The industry was facing such redundancies and the scheme is an attempt to hide the fact that there would now be a compulsory redundancy programme. My hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) spoke about Polmaise. There is an expression of frustration in the coalfields because there is a growing feeling that the take-it-or-leave-it type of management is no longer personified only by the chairman but at area level by managers who pay only lip service to the concepts of colliery review procedures. That experience has been growing, although the Secretary of State, when giving evidence to the Energy Select Committee, and the Minister, speaking in our debates, have said that the colliery review procedures are sacrosanct. We are increasingly witnessing only the bare letter of that procedure being observed. The experiences that my hon. Friends have described reflect that. That is why a combination of factors — frustration, fear and resentment—has led us into present circumstances.

Conservative Members sometimes put about the notion that Opposition Members think that there is some joy or glory in being on strike. No Opposition Member thinks that. I certainly do not. I represent a mining constituency and, in 1972 and 1974, I saw the difficulties and hardship that face families when people go on strike. No one finds glory or joy in a strike. People go on strike only as a last resort when their patience is ended and their frustration has reached a peak. We are worried that the events of the past few days and what might happen in the next few days might mean that the conflict and the frustration grow.

I hope that we can avert the extension of confrontation. That process must begin with the chairman and top management. The take-it-or-leave-it management that the chairman has promoted has proved costly and inappropriate for the industry of which he is chairman. I therefore ask the Secretary of State to consider what he might be able to do during the weekend. I am not suggesting that he makes a highly publicised and dramatic move. There are ways in which to start conciliation. We plead with the Secretary of State to examine the ways and means by which he can bring people back to the negotiating table.

Statement after statement on radio and television today from Yorkshire and Sheffield show that the NUM wants to go back to the negotiating table to have genuine negotiations. If there cannot be such negotiations with the chairman the Secretary of State should play whatever role he thinks fit in an effort to assist. The report shows that he has a role to play. He has a function as he must pick up the tab for misjudgment and miscalculation. We plead with the Secretary of State to play an important role to ensure that rather than heading towards confrontation we head towards conciliation, thus ensuring that the industry and the men in it make the greatest possible contribution to the nation's wealth.

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

I have to respond to this debate in three phases. I must respond first to the Select Committee's report. I join others who have congratulated the Committee on the speedy way in which it has taken evidence and produced a report on this extremely important matter. Secondly, I must respond to as many of the points that have been raised as I can. Thirdly, I must respond to the comments about the immediate circumstances that the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) made in his winding-up speech.

The Secretary of State for Energy drew attention to the supplementary provision with which the Estimate and report are concerned in a written answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman) on 8 February, the day on which the Supplementary Estimates were made available to the Select Committee. He explained briefly the reasons which had led to the need for a substantial additional provision, and added that there were significant areas of uncertainty which could further increase the board's deficit. The Government might, therefore, need to consider seeking parliamentary approval for a further payment of deficit grant since, as the House is aware, the National Coal Board now has no reserves on its balance sheet. The Government took prompt action to bring Supplementary Estimates, and the reason for it, to the attention of the House by virtue of that answer. I am a little surprised that the Select Committee's report did not mention that.

The board's deficit grant limit for 1983–84 was set in the autumn of 1982 at £409 million. That figure was derived from the board's own projections of its expected financial performance, which were examined carefully by the Goverment in setting both the board's external financial limit for 1983–84 and the upper limit to deficit grant payments. The Government, having set the hoard's financial objectives for the year, proceeded to monitor them carefully.

My Department receives monthly reports from the board on its performance which arrive about five weeks after the end of the period to which the report relates. The discussion of the reports with the board, which is also undertaken every month, provides an opportunity for the board to give early warning of trends since the report was prepared.

My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris) was especially critical of the speed with which the Department monitors these trends. The Select Committee recommended that efforts be made to ensure that the Department's information on the board's financial performance is more up to date. We shall certainly look into that, although it may not prove possible for the board to let the Department have reports more quickly than at present. It is no simple matter to bring together detailed information about a large organisation such as the NCB. I can, however, confirm that the board habitually gives the Department warning of significant new trends as they emerge during the regular discussions that we have with it, in advance of receiving the formal reports.

In March 1983, the NCB was forecasting an outturn deficit for 1983–84 of £606 million. During the first several months of the year the forecast came down steadily, and by August the forecast deficit stood at £520 million. The evidence which the NCB gave to the Select Committee shows that, without the adverse factors which emerged during the autumn, the outturn deficit for the year would have been less than £500 million. In other words, it would have been closer to the deficit grant limit of £409 million than to the figure of £606 million which the NCB had forecast at the beginning of the year. That trend gave rise to the view, from the examination of the monitoring results, that the problem was not of the gravity that ultimately emerged.

Why is the board's deficit for the year now expected to be higher than the £409 million originally provided? The main factors are that output has been significantly lower, by 6.6 million tonnes, which has reduced the board's net proceeds by more than £100 million. Secondly, prices in major markets have also been lower, and that has cut the board's revenue by over £150 million. Interest payments will be higher than £51 million. There were certain other provisions and the provision for subsidence, to which the Committee paid special attention in its report.

About £60 million of that is reflected in the Estimate now before the House. Since the Estimates were laid in February, it has become clear that the board will have to provide a further £68 million on that one score alone. Other measures, also agreed to by the Government, have contributed to the board's deficit. These are measures to help the foundry coke market, import compensation paid to CEGB, and measures to promote coal stocking. The total costs of these is a further £31 million.

Finally, the overtime ban had an adverse effect on the board's revenue accounts. About £30 million came from this and is reflected in the Supplementary Estimate. Since then, as the chairman said in evidence to the Committee, the cost of the overtime ban to the end of the financial year will be about £135 million. On the other side, there have been substantial reductions in operating costs net of social grants.

The Select Committee felt strongly about discipline, but the discipline of the deficit grant system was not given much prominence in its report. It is a yardstick against which the Government can measure the board's performance, and against which we expect the board to plan. I am sure that the House will agree that it would be wrong for the Government to relax financial disciplines on the NCB, and my hon. Friends have said eloquently that they should be increased. It would have been wrong to seek further Estimates provision before it was clear that there was no hope of the board being able to stay within the deficit grant limit. That was not a decision to be taken lightly or as a snap judgment on the basis of one-monthly returns. The deficit grant is not demand-led in any sense.

The first several months' returns from the NCB showed a fall in estimate. On 1 November we received the September return, and it appeared that the trend might have changed. The Select Committee report refers to the August return instead of the September return, which must be a mistake. In mid-November the Department received the first informal warning from the Board of the need for higher provision for subsidence damage, and only in January was the full scale of that problem apparent. Until the beginning of November it was unclear whether an overtime ban in the industry would take place, or for how long it might last. Of course, we are still uncertain as to how long the ban will continue. Considering those uncertainties, and the Government's proper reluctance to relax financial discipline on a nationalised industry, it is readily apparent that the Government were not in a position to seek a winter Supplementary Estimate to increase the deficit grant payable to the board. That was the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, South.

I note what the Committee said about the possibility of a late winter Estimate. That would have been an unusual procedure for Supplementary Estimates. Moreover, I do not know whether the House would have regarded it as satisfactory if a large additional Supplementary Estimate had been made. Nevertheless, the Government lost no time in informing the House that the board's losses after deficit and social grants might be about £200 million. My right hon. Friend made that clear when he opened the Second Reading debate on the Coal Industry Bill on 15 November.

Those matters relate to the Committee's report, but if my hon. Friend the Member for Havant wishes to have a further and fuller written comment on his report, that will follow.

The right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) mentioned subsidence. Much additional provision has now been made, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State told the Select Committee that we are alarmed by the increase. The Select Committee questioned the chairman of the NCB on the reasons for it, and he explained that the number of claims and the size of claims had been much higher than expected. The board is investigating the circumstances, and my right hon. Friend told the Select Committee that he has asked for special inquiries to be made by my Department to examine those figures closely. The Government will ask the board for a full report. An interim report has been received, and my Department will investigate fully the reasons for this large increase in the board's call on Exchequer support, and will keep the House and the Select Committee informed of its results.

I stress, in case there has been some confusion on this point, that the increase is in the provision for claims that will be made in the board's accounts this year. Only a small part of the provision will be spent in cash in this year. The rest will fall in future years as claims are made, examined and settled.

Mr. Heddle

Could the reason for the increased claims be that the form of compensation is not the same as the form of compensation in any other respect? It is not on all fours with the Land Compensation Act 1973 but is an entirely voluntary code of compensation. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Waddilove report, which is about two months overdue, should he debated by the House so that hon. Members can consider whether the basis of compensation for coal mining subsidence can be put on a more fair and equitable footing?

Mr. Shaw

I understand my hon. Friend's interest in these matters and I can assure him that the Waddilove committee was set up because of the Government's concern that there should be fairness in the compensation system and the legislation under which it was taken through. There are two sides to this question and both will be fully considered as and when the Waddilove report comes before the House.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) raised a question about whether or not the White Paper included absolute provision for subsidence. I can confirm to him that the White Paper, Cmnd. 9143, shows the National Coal Board's expected financing needs as £1.409 billion, and the NCB's estimate of the outturn at the time the PWP went to press is included in that figure. That, of course, he will recognise is after the publication of this Supplementary Estimate. So in broad terms the answer is that it has been provided for.

Mr. Higgins

I should, of course, have referred to the external financing limits and not to a deficit. The point I was making is that the White Paper suggests that the EFLs will decline from £2.5 billion in the present year to only £90 million at the end of the planning period. What I wished to know was whether the point about subsidence but also all these other matters, including the new redundancy scheme, were included in those figures or if account has not been taken of them.

Mr. Shaw

My right hon. Friend would not expect me to be able to say how that £90 million would be distributed among the various nationalised industries which are involved, but he has my assurance that the provision that will be made for the forthcoming redundancy payments scheme will be featured and will be accepted within the White Paper estimates as they come to be laid before the House.

The right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) referred particularly to the problems of Mansfield and his offer to invite the Committee to Mansfield to examine them. I hope that my hon. Friend the chairman of the Select Committee will look at that very closely, because that would be an extremely useful thing to do.

My hon. Friends the Members for Erewash (Mr. Rost) and for Newark (Mr. Alexander) asked about medium-term plans for the board. Until we get some sense of stability within the industry it will be difficult to produce a corporate plan which will be meaningful in the full sense of the word. They will remember that the planning procedure does include consultation and that Mr. MacGregor was able to consult the unions by laying before them on Tuesday of this week the full propositions for the following financial year.

With reference to the points made about Mr. MacGregregor, the chairman of the National Coal Board. There has been very clearly a consistent suggestion by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen and perhaps one or two of my hon. Friends that the chairman of the National Coal Board is in some way the architect of the misfortunes which at present prevail within the industry. The chairman of the National Coal Board is committing himself to ensuring that there is a viable and prosperous future for the coal industry. He believes in the coal industry and he believes that it can return to financial viability. No industry can in the long run offer secure jobs and good wages to its employees if it is dependent upon substantial support from the taxpayer. The strategy which Mr. MacGregor has applied and which the Government accept is that it is a matter for the Coal Board to ensure that this industry returns to viability. Mr. MacGregor has told them that the board is determined to create and maintain a high-volume, low-cost industry one that will have an exporting future and a production future. It is really nonsense for hon. Gentlemen to talk about the butchering of an industry when he is prepared to commit £800 million, or £2 million a day, to the industry. Nobody could say that that was the work of somebody who was about to destroy the industry.

If the House really expects the Government to stand by and allow the coal industry to die, to kill itself or to put itself away, that is an absurdity. We are committed to ensuring that this industry is provided with substantial financial resources. For 1984–85 we envisage grants totalling £680 million. We envisage the deficit grant next year at £522 million. This will mean that on present terms, in the current year, the National Coal Board's loss before deficit will be the equivalent of £62 per week for every man employed in the industry. The Supplementary Estimates will provide deficit and social grants of £57 a week for every man employed in the industry. The investment this year accounts for £60 a week for every man employed in the industry. The Government have come before the House with these Supplementary Estimates as an indication of our commitment to ensure that the coal industry can have the financial resources to enable it to be viable. No Government in recent times have ever made such an important commitment.

I put it to the House, and to my hon. Friends, who are rightly critical of public expenditure, that the prize of securing viability in the coal industry, of removing uneconomic pits to enable the price of coal to be competitive, is a prize which every hon. Member of this House should be committed to achieving. The work that Mr. MacGregor and his colleagues are doing in the National Coal Board is a commitment to achieving that objective — a viable coal industry with a long-term future, high employment and a high wage industry. [Interruption.] I repeat, a high-employment industry, because there will still be a 100-million tonne industry—

Mr. Michael Cocks (Bristol, South)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Minister has talked out his part of the business.

It being Ten o'clock, the Question was deferred, pursuant to paragraph (2)(c) of Standing Order No. 19 (Consideration of Estimates).

MR. SPEAKER then proceeded to put forthwith the deferred Questions necessary to dispose of the proceedings on Supplementary Estimates, 1983–84, Class XI, Vote I and Class IV, Vote 3.

Question, That a Supplementary sum not exceeding £1,000 he granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund to defray the charges which will come in course of payment during the year ending on 31st March 1984 for expenditure by the Department of Health and Social Security on the provision of services under the national health service in England, on other health and personal social services including certain services in relation to the United Kingdom, and on research, exports, services for the disabled and certain other services; including grants in aid and international subscriptions.

put and agreed to.

Question, That a Supplementary sum not exceeding £289,952,000 be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund to defray the charges which will come in course of payment during the year ending on 31st March 1984 for expenditure by the Department of Energy on assistance to the coal industry including grants to the National Coal Board and payments to redundant workers.

put and agreed to.