HC Deb 12 March 1984 vol 56 cc6-7
5. Sir William van Straubenzee

asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he will make a statement on the overtime ban currently imposed by the National Union of Mineworkers.

Mr. Peter Walker

The effect of the ban, which has now entered its 20th week, is most severe or, those imposing it: by 2 March miners had lost £69.3 million, the equivalent of more than two weeks' wages for every man in the industry.

Sir William van Straubenzee

Does my right hon. Friend understand that he has complete support on these Benches for his earlier answer in which he indicated that he would not interfere in management decisions —decisions which, in the present situation, are based on a circumstance in which, through the back door, the NUM leadership is trying to secure a national strike in respect of which it is not prepared to ballot its own membership?

Mr. Walker

I note my hon. Friend's views. The potential of this industry, modernised and without the burden of the uneconomic pits, is such that it will be an industry very much to the benefit of the miners.

Mr. Eadie

Has the right hon. Gentleman read the report of the Select Committee on Energy, which illustrates that, despite Mr. MacGregor's statements to the nation that everything is going well, under his chairmanship the NCB will probably lose about £204 million? Why is it that the only person who seems to support Mr. MacGregor is the Prime Minister? Will the Secretary of State come clean and admit that MacGregor is a disaster and has plunged the industry into conflict?

Mr. Walker

Contrary to being a disaster, Mr. MacGregor is of great benefit to the future of the mining industry in Britain—[Interruption.] What is disastrous is the pretence that it is the interests of the miners to keep uneconomic pits and not develop economic ones.

Mr. Yeo

Despite the remarks in the House last week by the newly-elected right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), does my right hon. Friend agree that there is one person in Britain from whom the British coal industry needs to be saved, that person being Mr. Arthur Scargill? Does he further agree that in that process of salvation we are more likely to have the support of members of the NUM than of members of the Opposition?

Mr. Walker

It is not for me to comment on the activities of any union leader, though one other person from whom the industry needs to be safeguarded is the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn).

Mr. Orme

When was the Secretary of State informed that the NCB had lost £135 million? As my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) made plain, the position was made clear in the Select Committee's report. Therefore, has not Mr. MacGregor got it wrong, and should not the Secretary of State take a fresh look at the situation and withdraw the MacGregor plan while he is doing that?

Mr. Walker

No, Sir. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman understands that the lost £135 million is, in reality, a loss of the stocks of coal at pitheads, which will not be as large as they would otherwise have been. As they are already on a massive scale, it is no great problem for the NCB. As the Select Committee report showed, the cash flow of the NCB has improved, not deteriorated.