HC Deb 16 December 1985 vol 89 cc11-3
17. Mrs. Currie

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what improvements there have been in the last year in productivity in the coal industry.

Mr. Peter Walker

Overall deep-mined revenue output reached an all-time record high of over 3 tonnes per man shift in the week ending 30 November. This was the fourth successive week in which the industry's overall productivity record had been broken.

Mrs. Currie

I congratulate my right hon. Friend and all the Front-Bench team on this astonishing record-breaking , activity in the coal industry. Is it not due substantially to the new incentive schemes and to much improved industrial relations in the industry, which gives the lie to everything that Arthur Scargill has been saying about the coal industry since he became president of the NUM?

Mr. Walker

Gratitude is certainly due to the men and management who have produced the coal. It is remarkable that in the last five years of the Labour Government the highest output figure was 2.28 tonnes per man shift. It is now 3 tonnes per man shift.

18. Mr. Lofthouse

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if, when he next meets the chairman of the National Coal Board, he will discuss industrial relations in the industry.

Mr. David Hunt

My right hon. Friend and I meet the chairman of the National Coal Board regularly to discuss all aspects of the coal industry.

Mr. Lofthouse

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that this increased production will not continue unless industrial relations are improved? Whatever the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) may have said, I do not recollect the industrial relations record being so low since nationalisation of the mining industry. Recently, the NCB chairman informed me that the position of sacked men differs from area to area, whether or not they have been made redundant. Men may have committed similar offences, but those who work in one area will get their jobs back, while those who work in another will not. Is that justice?

Mr. Hunt

I have been underground seven times in the past few months and been impressed by the way in which the men have come together after the strike. Continual talk of perpetuating divisions only damages a great industry that is shrugging off a disastrous political strike.

Mr. Dixon

Did the hon. Gentleman speak to the NCB chairman about the redundant mineworkers' payments scheme? I wrote to the Secretary of State on 23 August. The reply, on 11 September, said that the right hon. Gentleman was dealing urgently with the matter. Many miners in my constituency are worried about their future payments being jeopardised because of problems relating to national insurance contributions during the strike. When will the hon. Gentleman or the Secretary of State make a statement?

Mr. Hunt

The Government are carefully and urgently considering whether changes to the present legislation governing the redundant mineworkers' payments scheme would be appropriate given the failure of some mineworkers to make sufficient national insurance contributions during the strike to qualify for unemployment benefit during the benefit year 1986.

Mr. Eadie

The Minister has talked about the industry returning to normality in relation to consultation and conciliation. None of us would disagree about that. Does he think that it is helpful to return to consultation and conciliation when the chairman of the National Coal Board was responsible for holding up the new modified coal procedure closure agreement, as the NCB demanded that the unions should pay the full cost of any hearing relating to that procedure? Does the hon. Gentleman realise that that is a departure from the history of the industry and that it will not help to restore good industrial relations if the chairman of the NCB continues to conduct his business in that aggressive way?

Mr. Hunt

The hon. Gentleman should not put such a one-sided view. It is true that at a meeting on 10 December between the National Coal Board and the unions the costs of the final stage of the review procedure were allocated. The board will meet the cost of the secretariat and administrative services and pay half the cost of the fees payable to the members of the new body. That is a good result. I understand that it has been agreed that the new body will consider the proposed closure of Horden at its first inquiry in January, probably in the second week, with Bates' being considered in the next week.