HC Deb 16 December 1985 vol 89 cc1-3
1. Mr. Douglas

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on visits by Ministers in his Department to pits in the Scottish coalfield.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy (Mr. David Hunt)

I was extremely impressed during my recent visit to the Scottish coalfield to hear of the measures being taken to reduce costs and improve productivity.

Mr. Douglas

Does the Minister accept that to a large extent those measures are related to providing good industrial relations? Will he note that while some improvements have been made by reinstating some of the miners sacked during the strike, more that 130 men face this Christmas having been out of work for two years? Is he aware that there is increasing suspicion, indeed evidence, that some of those out of work are unemployed because of their trade union associations? Will the Minister take steps to approach the coal board again in Scotland to ensure that those men who have been unjustifiably treated receive fair treatment?

Mr. Hunt

The reinstatement of sacked Scottish miners is a matter for the Scottish area. Comparisons vary between different cases, and are neither useful nor valid. I understand that most of the dismissed miners in the Scottish area have been reinterviewed for reinstatement, and that more than 70 have been offered employment. Decisions following such reviews must be for area management, and those who have not been reinstated may take their case to an industrial tribunal.

Mr. Hannam

Will my hon. Friend confirm that investment in the Scottish fields has increased from £61 million during the five years before 1979 to £160 million in the five years since then? Does that not confirm that the Government may claim credit for the growth of the coal industry?

Mr. Hunt

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and it is a pleasure to respond to such a positive question. Investment in the Scottish coalfield has increased over the period my hon. Friend mentioned by 43 per cent. in real terms.

Mr. Home Robertson

Is the Minister aware that there is considerable public anxiety that so many victimised Scottish miners will face another new year out of work? When the Minister visited Monktonhall—I think he was beneath my constituency briefly—was his attention drawn to the fact that Monktonhall is the gateway to the Musselburgh bay coalfield, which is as big as any new coalfield which may be available in England or elsewhere? When will the Government make it possible to develop that new coalfield?

Mr. Hunt

Individual investment decisions are for local management. I wish that more Labour Members would pay tribute to what has been a remarkable turn round in the Scottish coalfield since the end of the sad political strike led by Mr. Scargill, which resulted in the number of producing faces in Scotland decreasing from 31 to 19. Last week output had returned to its pre-strike level of 95,000 tonnes a week. That is a creditable achievement.

Mr. Eadie

Is the Minister aware that no Labour Member will be reluctant to pay tribute to the activities of miners, whether in the Scottish or any other coalfield? Does he realise that he seems to move the goalposts every time he is asked a question about victimised miners? To start with it was said that none had to be reinstated. Is he aware that it is time for a public inquiry into the management and administration of the NCB? Many victimised miners have not been reinstated because of victimisation or another reason? Is the Minister further aware that when he went beneath Monktonhall, he issued a press release and said how cynical Labour Members were about the future of Monktonhall? I hope that he was properly briefed, because if the peacock seam had never been developed, Monktonhall would have been in jeopardy.

Mr. Hunt

The hon. Member will be aware that the new face on which so much hope is being placed is to be started at the beginning of January and is in the Stairhead seam. Much is hoped of that development. No Conservative Member has said that no dismissed miner should get his job back. That is a matter on which individual management should decide. However, we should pay more attention to the real victimised miners. Fortunately, there are few now left, but there are still outrageous examples of intimidation of those men who, by their courage and determination, so impressed the country at the time.

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