§ Mr. Speaker
We now move to the Opposition Day and the important debate on the coal mining dispute.
Some 43 right hon. and hon. Members have written to me asking whether they may take part in the debate. I propose to invoke the 10-minute limit on speeches between 6 o'clock and 10 minutes to 8, but I hope that all right hon. and hon. Members who speak in the debate will take that as an indication of the length of speeches to be expected today so that not too many right hon. and hon. Members are disappointed.
§ Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, East)
I beg to move,That this House condemns Her Majesty's Government for their public and private activities to impede progress towards negotiations in the mining dispute, despite the massive costs to the nation of prolonging the strike; welcomes the decision of the National Union of Mineworkers to seek an immediate resumption of negotiations with the National Coal Board without preconditions; and demands that the Government takes a positive approach by urging the National Coal Board to settle this long and damaging dispute forthwith.
§ Mr. Orme
It is evident that the Government do not want an acceptable settlement negotiated between the National Union of Mineworkers and the National Coal Board but that they want victory over the NUM and especially over Mr. Arthur Scargill. The Government engineered the situation hoping that today there would be a massive return to work—[HON. MEMBERS: "There has been."] The NCB said that there had been a massive return to work today, but there has not been, and I remind the House that there are still more than 130,000 miners on strike. Despite the Government's engineering, they have not succeeded and they will not succeed. The only answer to end the dispute is a negotiated settlement between the NUM and the NCB.
The role of the Prime Minister in the dispute is evident for all to see. One has only to read her statements in recent days. She now leads the campaign against the NUM. It is a campaign that goes back to 1981. At that time the Prime Minister accepted "Plan for Coal". However, she started then to plan for the present dispute.
We should remind ourselves of why the dispute began. On 6 March 1984, the NCB announced that it intended to cut capacity in the coal mining industry by 4 million tonnes. On 7 March, The Guardian reported that announcement asThe daunting prospect of a loss of at least 21,000 jobs in the next year".That was the announcement which precipitated this long and damaging dispute. That was the announcement which breached prior agreements with the trade unions and which undermined established and effective procedures, including "Plan for Coal".
§ Mr. Orme
No. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will allow me to develop the case a little. This is an important debate. I want to make my case, and I am sure that all right hon. and hon. Members want to listen to the debate.
The NCB's announcement was a unilateral action which provoked the strike. The NUM had no demands on the table. It was the action of the NCB nearly one year ago that has led to the present circumstances. It is clear why the announcement resulted in the vast majority of miners taking industrial action. They are worried about their immediate jobs and about the threat to entire mining communities which are in socially and economically deprived parts of the United Kingdom. They are worried about their jobs now, about jobs in the future and about mining communities throughout the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Orme
We now have an independent analysis which shows that, if the NCB's policy was carried through, 70,000 jobs and 70 pits would go in less than five years. That represents nearly 50 per cent. of the work force.
The levels of unemployment are already incredibly high in the coalfields. Such areas already suffer the despair and deprivation that comes from the loss of jobs and incomes. I refer to south Yorkshire, Scotland, south Wales and the north-east, where unemployment continues to rise. In each of those areas, two people out of five have been out of work for more than one year. In the face of that, miners and their families have used their only weapon to resist the destruction of their collieries and communities and to save the coal mining industry.
§ Mr. Orme
Offering decent redundancy payments can never be a substitute for guaranteeing employment now or in the future. We hear a lot from the Government about their generous schemes for paying compensation to those who give up jobs in coal, steel, shipbuilding, the motor industry and in the docks, but when will the Government announce that an industry needs an extra 20,000 workers? Where are the new jobs in Merthyr, Barnsley and Fife to come from?
After 11 months of the Government waging a war of attrition, after 11 months of the Government using every weapon in their possession against the miners, the strike has not collapsed. After 11 months, the Government think that the defeat of the NUM is in sight. This is a dangerous and short-sighted attitude, but whatever happens the Government are the losers. Their inflexible attitude has created bitterness among the work force upon whom the nation's energy prospects depend. A bitter, defeated work force is not productive. The Government's desire to humiliate the leaders of that work force will result in rancour and ill feeling towards the management of the industry. However, in my opinion, the Government will not bring about that defeat by the policies that they are pursuing.
§ Mr. Orme
I shall answer that central point during my speech. In the last few weeks, the Government have dismissed the prospect of talks with contempt, as a waste of time. A campaign has been mounted and led from Downing street by the Prime Minister's press officer, Mr. Bernard Ingham, that is aimed at personalising the dispute. This campaign has been followed up by Mr. David Hart, who has acted covertly, shuttling between No. 10 and the National Coal Board, attempting to prevent a settlement. However, he has gone public now. An article appeared under Mr. Hart's name in The Times on 26 January 1985. If Mr. Hart has got nothing to do with this dispute, it is interesting that an article appeared in the The Times that has behind it the authority and backing that we know it has.
Mr. Hart said:Any true negotiation now would represent defeat for the Coal Board and the nation … The time for negotiated settlements is past".Is that the policy of the Government? Is that the policy of the Prime Minister? [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] Is that what the Prime Minister wants — victory? Is this the Falklands factor coming into play? Is that what the Prime Minister wants? The Prime Minister will not answer. This type of action is in direct contrast with the actions of the Opposition. [Laughter.] Hon. Members can laugh, but the Opposition have argued consistently that this dispute can be ended only by negotiations that produce an honourable settlement that is acceptable both to the National Union of Mineworkers and to the National Coal Board.
§ Mr. Orme
I can tell the hon. Member why they failed. The hon. Gentleman's Government made sure that they failed. I am confident that, if negotiations had started with the full executive of the NUM, without preconditions, a settlement would have been arrived at.
But we know the reasons why this has been prevented. The Government and the NCB have taken the extraordinary and unprecedented step of demanding written assurances from the NUM before negotiations can take place. No trade union will go into negotiations having first signed away its right to take action against management decisions with which it disagrees. No trade union will sign a document allowing for carte blanche cuts and job losses. No trade union will sign away its birthright in that way.
I have looked at the precedents. The last time that happened in Britain was in 1922, when the engineering employers locked out the engineering unions for nine months. They were then forced back to work on the terms that the Government are asking for at present. No trade union will make such a concession before negotiations have even started.
§ Mr. Orme
When one looks at statements made during the dispute by the chairman of the NCB, it is even more extraordinary that the NUM's proposals for the resumption of negotiations without preconditions have been rejected. I remember Mr. MacGregor saying to me on one occasion 616 that he was ready for negotiations without preconditions, and the Secretary of State said the same. He is on record as saying the same. Now that is apparently no longer acceptable. Why?
I think that we have the answer if we turn to what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said on 30 October 1984:The House should be in no doubt whatever but that the Government are prepared to pay the cost of resisting this strike, however long it lasts".—[Official Report, 30 October 1984; Vol. 65, c. 1184.]That is the British taxpayer underwriting the cost of the fight that the Government are putting up against the NUM.
That sums up the Government's attitude throughout—they are prepared to pay the cost. The direct cash cost to the Government of this action is now about £2.4 billion. It is estimated to be running at £80 million a week. That is mostly made up of extra costs to the CEGB of burning oil, losses to the NCB, lost taxation and losses incurred by British Steel, and the costs of policing and social security. The Government are indeed willing to pay any price to break the strike. That is evident from their present attitude.
§ Mr. Orme
Will the Secretary of State confirm those figures? If not, will he give the Government's figures of the present cost to the nation? It is the taxpayer who will have to bear the cost. Already the dispute, created and prolonged by the Government, has played a major part in the removal of a surplus on the balance of payments as expensive oil is burned instead of coal. There is also a direct link with the collapse of the pound and the rise in interest rates. It is obvious that foreign speculators have seen the continuation of the mining dispute as a major factor in the confidence in sterling. That was confirmed the week before last by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) during the debate on unemployment.
We all know and recognise that the Government's attitude to the dispute has little to do with energy policy—if the Government have one. The strike has exposed the fact that they are without any strategy or consistency in their approach to the nation's energy resources or needs. Commentators have become increasingly aware of the lack of any planning or foresight. One has claimed that he went looking for Britain's energy policy and found that there was not one. That he described as the Secretary of State's "pipeline to nowhere". That is the Government's approach during the whole of the 11 months' dispute.
If the Government had an energy policy, they would be eager to find a settlement to the dispute. Indeed, if they had an energy policy that recognised Britain's long-term needs, there would have been no demand for the cuts in capacity that the NCB outlined last March.
§ Mr. Orme
I have given way once, but I want to spell out our case and I know that many hon. Members wish to take part in this important debate. Therefore, I shall give way only to Ministers.
The House of Lords Select Committee has judged that, by the year 2000, coal demand in the European Community will have risen to more than 400 million tonnes and that reserves of coal in the United Kingdom will last for 260 years. A report from the Policy Studies Institute and the Royal Institute of International Affairs 617 forecasts that Britain could be importing up to 40 per cent. of its energy needs by 2000 unless our coal production expands. All that coal — yet we face the prospect of importing nearly half our energy resources. Surely even the Secretary of State can see that it makes sense for us to have a thriving coal industry.
The Secretary of State is more likely to be interested in today's balance sheet than in the survival of our resources for the future. However, even his approach to the balance sheet is short-sighted and faulty. We have argued that there is no case for closing pits on the narrow, short-term criteria used by the Government and the NCB. Even those narrow criteria are being challenged by leading academics.
The Financial Times world accounting report said:The profit and loss accounts of the UK's coal pits are too arbitrary for the National Coal Board to be able to know from them which are its 'uneconomic' mines. This is a startling conclusion since plans to close 'uneconomic' pits are at the centre of a dispute between the NCB and the National Union of Mineworkers".The report continues:Assuming the … analysis is generally correct then either the NCB's accounting information has been used to identify the pits to be closed and thus the decisions are based on inaccurate information, or alternatively the closure decisions have been made on grounds which have not been made public and the accounting information has simply been used to publicly legitimise the closure decisions.The NCB has loudly criticised that article but has failed to answer any of the points in it.
The argument about whether a colliery can be deemed economic has raged on, but there has been a notable absence of informed public debate. My hon. Friends know that in this argument, investment—particularly in old pits — oil prices, the exchange rate and many other factors have to be taken into account.
Let us look at the National Association of Colliery Overmen, Deputies and Shotfirers agreement. The Prime Minister said:Unless the NUM is prepared to discuss the closure of uneconomic pits in accordance with the NACODS agreement, the next round of talks will founder as well." — [Official Report, 31 January 1985; Vol. 72, c. 436.]First, there is no reference in the NACODS agreement to uneconomic pits. As the Secretary of State knows, a large part of the agreement was about working conditions, the closed shop and many other factors. There were discussions about the 6 March proposals and the five pits, but it is important to note that the union reserved the right to oppose pit closures if the new advisory machinery failed to get an agreement between the unions and the NCB.
The Secretary of State will also be aware that the NACODS executive met last Friday afternoon and sent a deputation to the NCB to see Mr. Spanton this morning. It told Mr. Spanton, in effect, that if the NCB went ahead and demanded a written undertaking from the NUM about pit closures, the NACODS agreement would be valueless. That is what it said.
§ The Secretary of State for Energy (Mr. Peter Walker)
Is the right hon. Gentleman willing to recommend that the NUM should accept the NACODS agreement?
§ Mr. Orme
This morning, Mr. Spanton was asked a question — [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."] This morning, Mr. Spanton was asked a question by the general secretary and the president of NACODS. They 618 were not speaking on behalf of the NUM, but he was asked whether the Coal Board would still demand a written undertaking on uneconomic pits if the NUM said that it would accept the NACODS agreement as a basis for talks. Mr. Spanton refused to answer that quesion, and that is the answer to the Secretary of State.
§ Mr. Peter Walker
Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether or not he is willing to make that recommendation?
§ Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)
My right hon. Friend has touched on an important point. Will he invite the Secretary of State to say in his speech whether he can answer the question that Mr. Spanton failed to answer when he was asked it this morning by the NACODS leaders? Does not the Secretary of State recognise that No. 10's insistence on the conditions now being applied to the NUM can be interpreted only as a breach of the agreement reached with NACODS?
§ Mr. Orme
I hope that the Secretary of State will answer that point, as it is central to this issue. At the moment, the NACODS agreement is in jeopardy. This morning NACODS told me that because of the lack of assurances from the NCB, it now felt that its agreement would not be acceptable within the industry. NACODS has raised this point, and until we receive some clarification we will not answer the Secretary of State's question. It has nothing to do with the matter. You are the Government, you are the Secretary of State——
§ Mr. Orme
I am sorry, Mr. Speaker. The Secretary of State is responsible, and he must answer that point.
The NUM has been asked to sign a statement before negotiations begin that will allow the NCB to close pits that it classes as uneconomic. Furthermore, NACODS has evidence that the NCB and the Government are trying to rewrite the NACODS agreement. What price then the value of such an agreement? On that basis, I shall not underline or underwrite an agreement until the Secretary of State answers that question.
I come to the second round of talks on the agenda. The original talks between Mr. Heathfield and Mr. Ned Smith led to an agenda that was acceptable to both sides and could have led to direct negotiations. It was an agenda and not preconditions for talks or a written undertaking. They both took that agenda back to their respective bodies. Indeed, I have seen the agenda. [Interruption.] I have seen the agenda of the talks between Mr. Heathfield and Mr. Ned Smith. Can the Secretary of State tell the House what happened between those talks and the further talks between Mr. Heathfield and Mr. Spanton? Why did the coal board suddenly change tack? Why did it not go for negotiations?
The centre of the issue is the changing role played by the coal board — in my opinion carrying out the Government's policy—in recent days. Direct negotiations could have been started last week. If the Government believed that the NUM was not genuine, they and the 619 whole nation could have tested whether it was. However, the Government refused to allow the negotiations to go ahead.
As the Financial Times explained this morning, the Government are preventing talks on the basis of the coal board having a written undertaking that it is free to close pits, irrespective of negotiation and in contradiction of the NACODS agreement. The NUM is prepared to go to talks without preconditions. That means that any aspect and any subject can be discussed, including uneconomic pits. The NUM has a valid point. It also wants to discuss social factors. It wants to discuss investment, employment and all the central issues. Why should it not be able to discuss those issues? Why should it be faced with a counter-productive ultimatum?
We believe that if talks and direct negotiations were started a settlement could be arrived at. The union's decision to talk about the issues that I have mentioned on an open agenda is positive. The full executive would be present. Mr. MacGregor has said to me that he wants to talk to the full executive. This is his opportunity. Genuine negotiations could take place and we could achieve a settlement of this tragic dispute.
The miners have been out for 11 months. Families have suffered in the interests of what they believe to be the preservation of their communities and their industry. They have fought gallantly and they will not be forced back on their knees. They will not accept that.
If the Government would allow direct negotiations, the matter could be settled. The Secretary of State used a different emphasis at Question Time the other day. He said that he wanted a negotiated settlement. Every sensible person knows that a negotiated settlement is the only way out of the dispute. If the union were to ask its members to go back after 11 months on the basis of non-co-operation there would be chaos and anarchy in the industry.
This is an industry which the nation needs. Its people have served the nation over a long time. We need the wealth from the mines, now and in the future. We need the jobs in the mines, now and in the future. We need the miners with their skill and dedication, now and in the future. That is the reason for the Opposition motion today.
§ 4.4 pm
§ The Secretary of State for Energy (Mr. Peter Walker)
I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:deeply regrets the damage done to the coal industry, miners, miners' families and the mining communities by the unnecessary industrial action of some sections of the National Union of Mineworkers; recognises that this action is totally unjustified since this Government have provided more capital investment for the industry than any previous Government, far in excess of that provided by the last Labour Government, and substantially exceeding the scale of investment envisaged in 'Plan for Coal'; recognises it is also unjustified in the light of the National Coal Board's extremely generous offer on pay, early retirement and voluntary redundancy terms, and on the creation of a scheme designed to bring new enterprises and job opportunities to mining communities; notes the acceptance of the Board's offer by the industry's other two unions, and the refusal to strike by those sections of the National Union of Mineworkers which in that union's normal tradition decided to hold a ballot; deplores the Opposition's failure to persuade the National Union of Mineworkers both to arrange a national ballot and to use methods of picketing complying with National Union of Mineworkers and Trades Union Congress guidelines on picketing; regrets the National Union of Mineworkers leadership's intransigence, displayed in seven rounds of negotiations, including with the 620 Advisory, Concilliation and Arbitration Service whose compromise proposal was accepted by the Board but rejected by the National Union of Mineworkers; and expresses the hope that this intransigence will now cease so that a realistic settlement can quickly be achieved which recognises that the cost of production is an important factor in securing a good and prosperous future for the industry.I am sure that the right hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme) is sincere when he says that he wants a negotiated settlement. Like most right hon. and hon. Members he very much regrets the appalling 10 to 11 months of misery that the industry has suffered. However, the impression that he tries to create, that this is a dispute that the the Government required or relished, is totally contradicted by all the facts.
The tragedy is that 11 months ago there could have been a settlement without any form of industrial action. Let me remind the House of the proposals made by the National Coal Board at the beginning of March. The proposals that it sought to have discussed first at a regional level were open to further negotiations and discussions and they included proposals for higher investment and new marketing initiatives. But the National Union of Mineworkers decided to manipulate a national strike, not by a ballot and not—as we know, now that the facts of the meeting have come out—with the approval of the majority of the executive.
The right hon. Member for Salford, East knows that, had the NUM acted in accordance with the normal tradition of that union, had it acted as the Leader of the Opposition suggested privately and quietly that it should, the need for mass picketing, for mob violence and for any of the ghastly impact of the dispute would not have arisen.
Let us also recall that when Mr. Scargill decided to handle his executive in such a way that there would be no ballot, one third of Britain's coalfields decided in the normal tradition of the union to vote. Let the right hon. Gentleman never forget that the 68,000 miners who decided to vote last March voted overwhelmingly against strike action. However, they never had any support from the Labour party for the way in which they voted. In areas such as Nottingham, where the majority voted not to strike without a ballot, the deputy leader of the Opposition said that he would go against the majority of the voters and support the strikers.
What has been the basis of the strike? It has certainly not been a strike over pay. As the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) knows, this Government paid miners rather better than he did when he was Secretary of State. It was certainly not a dispute over investment, because, as the whole country knows, in our first five years this Government invested not only much more than the Labour Government but much more than was envisaged in "Plan for Coal." In the negotiations last March the miners knew that another £3 billion of investment was to go into the industry. It was certainly not a strike about the guarantee that there would be not one compulsory redundancy in the industry.
The reason for the strike—and the only reason given by Mr. Scargill—was his demand that there should be no pit closures on economic grounds. That has been the basis of the strike from beginning to end. Mr. Scargill made that the reason because he knew that no Government and that no coal board could ever accept that proposal. We have known throughout, from the remarks of previous general secretaries of the NUM, that in the past no leader of the mineworkers' union has ever made such a demand.
621 We know from "Plan for Coal" that it was clearly envisaged that there would be closures of pits on economic grounds.
If one wants to be absolutely certain of the position of the last Labour Government, one cannot do better than look at their Coal Industry Act 1977, the sponsor of which was the right hon. Member for Chesterfield. One of the main operative clauses of that measure reads:The Secretary of State"—at the time the right hon. Member for Chesterfield—with the approval of the Treasury may, out of money provided by Parliament, make to the Board such grants as in the opinion of the Secretary of State will further assist in the re-deployment of the manpower resources of the Board and the elimination of uneconomic colliery capacity.[Interruption.] Those words appeared in the one major Act on the coal industry of the last Labour Government.
To bring ourselves up to date, we have the words of the Leader of the Opposition last week, when he said:As always, you must include commercial considerations in deciding on pit closures.Not once during this dispute has Mr. Scargill said, "You must take commercial considerations into account when considering whether to close a pit."
§ Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)
I am sure that the debate, if not the right hon. Gentleman's case, will be assisted if he quotes me in full. I said:I want an honourable settlement; and I want one which will ensure that foolish decisions about colliery closures are not taken. That they're taken on the proper grounds of exhaustion and safety, yes, including commercial considerations, has always been the fact before under the colliery review procedure; always will be in the future. But it's got to be an honourable settlement, because a blank cheque enabling people to close down whole communities on the basis of one or two years' accountants' figures, simply isn't a proper way to regard Britain's basic energy industry.If only the Secretary of State would apply the colliery review procedure—if only he would value coal properly—this question would simply not arise and we would continue, as Mr. McNestry said last week, as we always have, successfully.
§ Mr. Walker
That is the most total contradiction of the Scargill case that we have ever heard. [Interruption.] At last during this phase, when clearly the majority of miners are going against the strike, we welcome the conversion of the Leader of the Opposition, although it is rather belated.
When the history of this matter is written, the lack of leadership by the right hon. Gentleman throughout the dispute—[Interruption.]—will be remembered. It will be remembered how he agreed to the change in the voting procedures on having a ballot, and then did not say a word when Mr. Scargill failed to have a ballot. His humiliating appearance at Stoke will long be remembered, when throughout he listened to the demands of Mr. Scargill saying, "We will never agree to a pit closure on economic grounds," and that remains the position of Mr. Scargill today.
Rather than any reluctance to have talks, there have already been seven rounds of talks, all with no preconditions. There were talks at ACAS, with an ACAS compromise proposal. Then there were the negotiations with NACODS, and the House will have witnessed the manner in which the right hon. Member for Salford, East 622 failed totally, as the Labour party has always failed, to say that they considered that the NACODS agreement should be acceptable to the miners.
§ Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)
The Secretary of State said that the Leader of the Opposition was sticking to the Scargill line. It seems that the Minister, and many of his supporters, are not aware of what the NUM is saying at this time. It may assist if I quote from a letter that was received on Friday by the coal board:The Union's proposal takes account of the Board's own suggestions when we met with ACAS. This would provide for all matters relating to the future of Collieries/Units to be dealt with in accordance with the procedures operating prior to 6th March 1984.It went on to say that the NUM accepted in principle the third party review. How can the Secretary of State stand at the Dispatch Box and mislead the House on this issue?
§ Mr. Walker
In all the wordings that have been used and in all the negotiations on an agenda that have taken place, the NUM has totally refused under any circumstances to consider the closure of uneconomic pits. [Interruption.] That is absolutely true. Had the NUM wished, it could have agreed to an agenda which would have dealt with the issue last week, and it could have done so in negotiations.
§ Mr. Hardy
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I am associated with NACODS. Will he clear up the point that I raised in an intervention when my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme) was speaking? NACODS does not see how the agreement which the Secretary of State has accepted, and which he referred to this afternoon, can hold water, given the demands now being placed on the NUM. Will he now answer the question that Mr. Spanton did not answer this morning?
§ Mr. Walker
NACODS was told clearly this morning by Mr. Spanton that the agreement with NACODS applied totally and completely, and Mr. Spanton made it clear at the same meeting that if the NUM wished to accept it, it could have a settlement today or tomorrow — [Interruption.]—and, therefore, there is no question of the NACODS agreement being other than available to NACODS and being available to the NUM. The whole House knows that when the NACODS negotiation was completed, it was the perfect basis for the NUM to come to a settlement, but throughout it has resisted doing that, and that remains the position today.
§ Mr. Walker
I am saying that during the course of last week — [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."]—the NUM was offered an agenda as a result of which that could have been discussed, but it refused it. It was offered that agenda without a written agreement, but it refused to have it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] That is the answer to the right hon. Gentleman's question.
§ Mr. Walker
I am answering the right hon. Gentleman. My answer is that not only this morning, but before this morning, the NUM was offered an agenda, through the TUC, which it refused to accept.
§ Mr. Walker
The more that the NUM refuses to accept any such reasonable proposal, the more one can suspect that when it comes to a negotiation—[Interruption.]—in the same way that it always has, it will stick to its present position.
§ Mr. Walker
I repeat, in relation to NACODS, that that agreement is available and has always been available to the NUM, but the Labour party has always failed to give it any support. Had it done so, there might have been a settlement long ago.
§ Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton)
If that is so, will the Secretary of State confirm that negotiations can take place without any written affirmations beforehand? Will he give that assurance?
§ Mr. Walker
I give the assurance that what is required is an agreed agenda for such discussions. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman consults the TUC about its unsuccessful attempt to get an agreed agenda.
It is important to understand the history of this dispute, which has done so much damage to miners and mining communities in the past 10 months. First, it was a dispute without a ballot, and those who were balloted were against it. Secondly, the speech of the right hon. Member for Salford, East today contained not one word of criticism of Mr. Scargill or the way in which he has conducted the dispute. One of the reasons why the dispute has gone on so long is this second failure of the Labour party. At no stage did the Labour party ever condemn the manner in which the mob was used to try to put an end to the dispute.
The use of the mob has been an important factor in the dispute. When one third of Britain's coalfields balloted to continue to work, the mob was organised to close those pits, but it failed. It was then mobilised to try to close the steel industry—first at Llanwern, then at Ravenscraig—but again it failed. Then, at Orgreave, a massive mob tried for 11 days to close one cokeworks to show that the mob could succeed, but once again it failed.
§ Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)
The Secretary of State seems keen to talk about failure and the way in which history will view the dispute. How will history reflect on a Government who said last year that they intended to save £275 million in so-called losses by the NCB and have spent £5.5 billion in 11 months trying to achieve that? Does he agree that it will be clear in the history books that the aim was to destroy the NUM, not to save money?
§ Mr. Walker
It is a remarkable way to try to destroy the NUM by offering a £ billion investment programme, a massive pay increase, a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies and the best early retirement provisions of any industry in the country. The person who has done most damage to the coal industry is the leader of the NUM. He has conducted a campaign that has divided mining communities and the union from top to bottom, with an 624 £8,000 loss of wages for every miner, and destroyed markets for the industry. History will show that no one has done more damage to the miners than Mr. Scargill. The tragedy is that throughout the dispute the Labour party has apparently given him every support.
§ Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone)
Will the Secretary of State return to the crucial issue of the debate rather than rehashing his old speeches? Does he admit that the agendas to which he referred required a written agreement? If not, is he now saying that negotiations can take place without a written agreement and that everything can be discussed without preconditions?
§ Mr. Walker
Last week the TUC approached the NCB to try to get negotiations started. In the first instance, the NCB said that if the TUC could persuade the NUM to come forward with the wording for an agenda that would include discussions on the crucial issue of the dispute it would carefully consider those proposals. The TUC, however, had to come back and say that it could not get any such proposal for an agenda in writing from the NUM. The NCB then put into writing its suggestion for the item on the agenda to deal with that problem. The NCB has heard nothing from the TUC since, but so far as we know the NUM has not agreed that that should be the No. 1 item on the agenda. That is why no talks took place last week.
§ Mr. Alexander Eadie (Midlothian)
I am sure that the Secretary of State does not wish to deceive the House. I was present at the meeting with the TUC. The right hon. Gentleman's resumé is quite different from what actually happened. The question at issue was that of economic pits. The NUM said that it would meet without preconditions and it has set an agenda, with which I shall deal in winding up the debate.
§ Mr. Walker
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for confirming that there was an opportunity to have the crucial issue of the dispute on the agenda but that the NUM refused. He has confirmed exactly what I said. That shows that the Opposition's attitude is utterly bogus. Throughout last week, the NCB and the TUC patiently tried to get talks started again but the NUM refused, as it has done since last March, to move an inch on the fundamental issue of the strike. Until it does so, there can be no settlement.
§ Mr. Kinnock
A week ago last Thursday, when the NUM national executive committee was meeting, the NCB issued a press statement saying that it required undertakings in writing. That changed the whole course of events the week before last, as everyone clearly recalls. Is the Secretary of State now saying that during the discussions between the NCB and the TUC last week the NCB at any time conveyed to the TUC that it was withdrawing the request, requirement or demand for a written undertaking about uneconomic pits or anything else? If that is so, the news was certainly not received by the TUC or anyone else.
§ Mr. Walker
It was certainly received by the TUC because the TUC received an item which, if the NUM agreed to it as the No. 1 item on the agenda — [Interruption.] Hon. Members cannot dodge this. Last week the NCB made an offer that something should be the No. 1 item on the agenda. The NUM, as always, said no and will probably continue to say no. If the NUM continues to say no on that issue, there can be no 625 agreement because, as the whole House knows and as the Leader of the Opposition belatedly admitted last week, the reality is that pits always have been closed for economic reasons.
The whole purpose of this battle has been to have an issue upon which there could be no settlement. That is the issue that Mr. Scargill has kept to the fore throughout the dispute. The reality is that as a result the mining industry has lost considerable markets. Pit faces have been lost at pits that had a good future, and £700 million of investment that could have gone into the industry last year has not been able to go into the industry due to the dispute. What is now on offer is a programme for the coal industry that is better than anything that has been offered since nationalisation.
I should like to say a word, too, about the alternative of keeping a pit open when it is very uneconomic, in order to keep to the Scargill demand that the pit remains open until the last tonne of coal is extracted, a demand that he has repeated at rally after rally and meeting after meeting. If anybody believes that that provides a good future for mining communities, every miner knows that he is wrong. That is why, during 11 years of Labour Government, 330 pits were closed by Labour Governments. If we closed pits at the rate the Labour Government closed them, there would be no pits left in five years. In reality, during the whole of the strike there has been on offer an investment programme and, for the first time, a positive programme for communities that have to face pit closure.
In its amendment, the alliance suggests that more money should be put into the enterprise company to assist mining communities that face pit closure. That is the first time that the coal board has created such an instrument. When it originally financed it, it found that the number of potential inquiries was encouraging and felt that it would quickly get through its initial capital. The capital was then doubled to £10 million. At the time of making that announcement, the NCB made it clear that when further resources were required, they would become available. The company has now appointed a chairman and a chief executive and is dealing with many inquiries already. I assure the leader of the Social Democratic party, the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), that there will be no lack of financial and management support for the enterprise company to see that a much better, more positive approach to the problem is made as opposed to the absurd approach of saying that every uneconomic pit should not close.
Therefore, I wish to say to the House that throughout the past 10 months we have had a miners' leader who, in seven negotiations, has made only one boast—that he has not moved an inch. He has rejected a decent proposal put forward by ACAS. He has rejected, and will not accept, the proposal negotiated by NACODS. As a result of his action, miners' families, mining communities and the future of the industry have been put in jeopardy, and the tragedy of the dispute is that the Labour party leadership has never had the guts to say so. We saw the way in which its party conference was dominated by Mr. Scargill. We have seen the way in which the Leader of the Opposition has always refused to demand that a ballot take place. We have seen the actions of the spokesman for energy—the right hon. Member for Salford, East—and the only reason why he could never be successful in any 626 of his talks was that he could never budge Arthur Scargill an inch. The sooner there is a negotiated settlement on the best terms since nationalisation, the better for the industry and the better for miners.
§ Mr. Roy Mason (Barnsley, Central)
The Secretary of State for Energy completely misled the House during his speech. I have before me a copy of the letter from the National Union of Mineworkers, signed by Peter Heathfield, the general secretary, and sent to Mr. Spanton on Friday morning last week. Proposals were put forward for negotiations as required by the board. The second proposal was about the future of collieries and units. The letter states:The Union's proposal takes account of the Board's own suggestions when we met with ACAS. This would provide for all matters relating to the future of Collieries/Units to be dealt with".In the concluding paragraphs of the letter, Mr. Heathfield stated:I find your refusal to resume negotiations without preconditions extremely disappointing. Should the Board change its mind, however, and decide that it does want to see a settlement of this dispute, I reiterate that the Union's National Executive Committee is available for talks at any time.That is the present situation. The Secretary of State misled the House about the negotiations.
I believe that the strike is a Government-inspired, political strike, and since the start has been the subject of intensive Government political activity. The House will remember that in October 1983 the NUM decided on an overtime ban, when one third of its men were to be adversely affected by reduced earnings. The overtime ban had major objectives — to save the pits, pay decent wages and employ more people by cutting out overtime. After 17 weeks, the NCB had lost 6.5 million tonnes of production — a loss of sales equivalent, at only £30 a tonne, to nearly £200 million. Therefore, the overtime ban was biting. The industry was still working, and not many miners were suffering, and that was galling to the NCB.
That was when MacGregor decided to announce a cutback of 4 million tonnes of coal output in March 1984, threatening the life of 20 pits and 20,000 jobs. At the time there were 50 million tonnes of coal in stock. With those massive bastions of reserves behind them, the Government decided to take on the miners. If that was not the reasoning, why did not MacGregor cut back on coal imports and opencast coal mining? He could easily have brought supply into line with demand by those means. We import 5 million tonnes of coal, and opencast production is 15 million tonnes. There was no need for a confrontation, but the NCB and the Government wished and willed it.
The board and the Government, especially the Department of Energy, would have been in cahoots from the start. Moves of this kind and magnitude are not made without officials being involved and Ministers being informed. Therefore, I believe that there was political involvement from the start. MacGregor could have avoided the strike, but did he really want to? The Government were fully aware of what was happening. If they wanted to take on the miners, to wreak revenge for 1974 and to blunt the spearhead of the most progressive united industrial union in Britain, now was the time. By so doing, they could tame the whole trade union movement in Britain.
627 That is the Government's political goal. With a massive majority in Parliament and noting that they had secured an increased white collar union vote in 1983, the Government thought that they had better strike while the going was good. It had not gone unnoticed that it took MacGregor 13 weeks to bring the steel workers to heel. He always regarded the steel unions with contempt. He saw them as a disparate multiplicity of steel unions lacking the pronounced progressive leadership of the NUM. Therefore, the Government recognised that the battle against the miners, the strongest, most coherent union in the country, might take more time. Well, it has. It has taken longer than anticipated and has been much more costly than the Government thought it would be.
The Government and the NCB chose the time, with ample parliamentary Sessions left in which to do the job. But they never realised what a political and diplomatic disaster MacGregor would be, and that their whole strategy would face ruin because of the ultimate in public relations stupidity by their appointee. After the faltering and stammering television appearances by the NCB's new spokesman, and seeing the NCB's industrial relations department collapsing in ruins with so many men steeped in industrial relations experience sacked or opting for premature retirement, the Government then decided to take over the reins completely. There is now no doubt about the dominating role of the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Energy in this dispute.
They have made it clear that this is a fight to the death, irrespective of cost. The Prime Minister's reputation was at stake, and as my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme) said, this is her national Falklands crisis. All the Cabinet has come to heel — anti-miners to a man. While there are wets, renegers and rebellions on Third world aid, students' grants, abolition of the GLC or monetarism versus unemployment, there are no splits on this issue. This is a Government-decreed highly politically motivated strike.
At no time in the last 11 months has a miner received unemployment benefit, but because of the politics of this dispute and the Government's determination to win at all costs, neither have many hundreds of workers who have been laid off as a consequence of the strike. I am referring to all outside contractors, canteen workers, apprentices and redundant coal miners. Contractors from AMCO, Thyssen, Cementation Mining, Mathew Hall and various other firms have been denied unemployment benefit, but their case for disqualification is non-existent, although they have suffered all this time. I believe that their benefit has been denied in an attempt to influence the dispute.
If the 700 contractors in Yorkshire — and there are 238 AMCO workers in the Barnsley area alone — returned to work through being denied benefit and starved back to work, that would inflate the return-to-work figures. I suspect that there has been some collusion between the Department of Employment, the DHSS and the NCB.
This is also an unnecessary extension of poverty, social distress and unhappiness among their families. These people are not coal miners and are not involved in the dispute. They work in supportive industries. They have been caught up in the strike and affected by it, yet have been no part of the cause. As long ago as 1926, it was decided that outside contractors to the mining industry were at a separate place of employment, even though they worked at the same pits as the miners. They were paid 628 unemployment benefit during strikes by miners. This umpire's decision was reaffirmed in 1964 in commissioner's case R(U)23/64 which also gave authority for payment. Two other cases relating to the present dispute were reaffirmed in a commissioner's decision from Wales. Therefore, there is overwhelming authority for the view that outside contractors should be paid unemployment benefit. There seems to be no reason other than bias against everyone even only remotely involved in the dispute.
None of the outside contractors, canteen workers and apprentices has yet been paid in Yorkshire. It could take up to two years and much waste of administrative time, unnecessary cost and widespread social distress before every case is dealt with. That is indefensible and is absolutely unnecessary. Only a political decision can rectify it.
The same applies to redundant, now unemployed, coal miners. These men were actually declared redundant before 6 March 1984. They have played no part in the strike. They are on the dole, and were before the strike began. They are not involved in the dispute in any way, yet for 11 months they have been cruelly deprived of unemployment benefit. Again, this is an unnecessary extension of social distress and misery in the mining communities. It gives an impression to everyone in every pit village in Britain that the Government are purposely depriving these men of their benefit and are forcing the NUM in every coalfield to contest every case before tribunals. It adds credence to the overall view that the Government have told the officers of those tribunals to bend the interpretation of the law against those who are pleading for justice.
The denial of unemployment benefit to redundant miners has been grossly unfair from the start. That benefit should now be paid. These men have been callously denied their rights, as a result of which much poverty has been needlessly caused. This is another cruel example of the Government's policy of determining the level of social misery in the strike-torn areas.
Over the last 11 months, a number of men have been arrested for being involved in picket-line incidents. Scores of them, having been charged by the police, have eventually been acquitted. In the meantime, they have been photographed and fingerprinted, and those stains on their character have been kept on police files. The Home Secretary knows that on 10 December last year, I presented the case to him. On 28 December he sent me an interim reply stating that he would ask the chief constable of Nottinghamshire for a report. Last Thursday I again asked the right hon. and learned Gentleman for an assurance that everyone acquitted of offences — the Attorney-General has said that today there are 1,169— would have their records cleansed, including the erasure of all fingerprints and photographs from their records.
I asked for that assurance last Thursday on the Floor of the House, but it was not given. Is that not political? Is it not political that wives and families should be tormented and that the men themselves should be besmirched with guilt for all that time, even though they have been declared innocent? It is up to the Home Secretary to request chief constables to send for the men concerned so that they can witness the erasure of photographs and fingerprints from their records.
629 In addition, these men must not have their jobs put at risk or their future impaired when the strike is over. If there is to be an amnesty, and there will have to be, they must be considered.
At the beginning of my speech I referred to the talks. Last Friday, on 1 February, the secretary of the NUM, Mr. Peter Heathfield, said of the future of collieries and units:The Union's proposal takes account of the Board's own suggestions when we met with ACAS. This would provide for all matters relating to the future of Collieries/Units to be dealt with".One cannot get a wider interpretation of that to deal with the future of pits, irrespective of what they are or how they are defined. The letter continued:I find your refusal to resume negotiations without preconditions extremely disappointing".The Times of the following day stated:For the first time since talks began last spring the Board yesterday admitted that it had broken off the discussions and it laid down terms for any resumption of negotiations".The phrase, "the board yesterday admitted for the first time" is another clear sign that since last November, when MacGregor got lost in his plastic bag, the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Energy have now taken over. They are determining the words which come from the NCB and the conditions on which negotiations will take place.
To meet with no preconditions seems fair and reasonable to all fair-thinking people, but not to the Government and the NCB. They now want a surrender document before talks can begin. This is political interference at the highest level. The Government are now refusing to talk, and, irrespective of the cost to the nation or the misery to thousands of miners and their families, they want to see the men, frustrated and bitter, starved back to work. That is the Government's political goal. What of industrial relations thereafter? The Government could not care a damn. That is another reason why the dispute is political, and has been for the Government since it began. Even Peter McNestry, the general secretary of NACODS, while representing middle management of the mining industry, declared on 26 January 1985:It has become a political strike. It is clear now that she is involved in running the Coal Board's business. She countermanded an arrangement between senior Director Ned Smith and the NUM. She has total involvement and she's out to destroy the NUM.They too believe, without a shadow of doubt, that it is a Government-motivated political strike.
What about the cost of the strike? Last week the Prime Minister refused to answer my question about the cost to Government Departments and nationalised industries, and fobbed it on to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who referred to a reply that was four months out of date. It is now revealed that the stoppage is estimated to have cost £5.2 billion. The cost to the coal industry so far is estimated at £952 million. The bill for the electricity industry is £719 million. It is calculated that about £271 million has been lost in income tax payments and that a further £47 million has been lost in social security costs. The cost of extra policing is estimated at £189 million, and the loss to the British Steel Corporation at approximately £190 million. The cost of the balance of payments, which has risen to £347 million a month, hurts the Government most. The cumulative cost is running at about £2.5 billion. That is because of the additional imports of oil and coal.
630 The Government and the country are paying an extremely heavy price for this war of attrition. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer made his famous remark that the costs of the strike were a worthwhile investment for the nation — another fine example of the Government's intentions—the stoppage was only five months old. It has now dragged on for more than 11 months. Privately, officials and civil servants are conceding that the Government's borrowing in 1984–85 is likely to burst through their set target. That has already dented the Chancellor's strategy, which means that it has eroded a considerable chunk of the cash that he was banking on for tax cuts in the Budget. That was the reason for his hesitancy in his speech last week during the debate on the economy. The falling pound, in which the strike is a major factor, has also put the Government's inflation objective increasingly at risk, not to mention the unquantifiable effects on business confidence, investment plans and expansion in businesses, most of which will never be recouped.
Never before has so much been lost and so much placed at risk in industry and commerce to stifle and eventually to cripple the strength of the miners and trade unionism in Britain. The union has offered to talk with no preconditions. Throughout the nation that will be seen to be fair and just. It is only because the Government and their puppet MacGregor have decreed that this is a political fight to slay trade unionism and trade union rights that the strike has not been settled. The Government have sown bitterness in the land, and in reaping it there will be more militancy.
Most of my people do not want to see that, but the politics of the Government is forcing them to rethink their industrial and political postures, which will be to the severe detriment of all our industrial relations and democratic procedures. Democracy will count for naught, and dictatorship versus anarchy will start to prevail. That may be the price we have to pay for the Government's political strike.
§ Mr. Andy Stewart (Sherwood)
Since I was elected to the House, I have learned that one cannot repeat anything too often. During previous debates in November 1983 and June 1984, I said that it was an honour to be the Member of Parliament for Britain's largest mining constituency—Sherwood. Today I feel humble but full of pride to be the hon. Member whose constituents have been to hell and back a hundred times, indeed a thousand times, because they believe in democracy, in the form of holding a ballot.
What Lord Stockton said about miners during his maiden speech in another place described Nottinghamshire men to a tee. They are honourable, working men who put their jobs, families and country before anyone's political dogma. They are lackeys of no one, and are working today because they considered that the National Coal Board's offer was a fair and reasonable package.
The House is aware of the catalogue of cowardly, brutish attacks on working miners, but the scum also attack their wives and children when those miners are underground. Many from outside Nottinghamshire have had to seek refuge, and they have settled happily in our mining villages of Sherwood. Their protection and ours 631 has been made possible only by the positive actions taken by the chief constable of Nottinghamshire and his men, who stopped the thuggery in its tracks.
Nottinghamshire holds no truck with the allegations against its police. We do not need a committee set up by the National Council for Civil Liberties—the Huckfields of the European Parliament—or a call for an inquiry from our mangled-minded, Left-wing colleagues in this House. We live there and see the dawn unfold every day for ourselves.
Scargill, after lying through his teeth for 11 months about winning the strike, is now bragging that he has cost the country £5,000 million. He should read his history books and pay heed to the fate of his predecessors who also tried to hold the country to ransom. The only difference between Scargill's stormtroopers and his Nazi counter-parts is that his wear steel over their toes by courtesy of the board, instead of on their heads—all the better for putting the boot in.
During the past months, inquiring people have asked how such a great union, known for its democracy, solidarity and fraternity, could be hijacked by those whose only interest was certainly not that of their members. Mining is physically exhausting work, and men who have completed their shift underground are only too ready to go home. But those who were part of a programmed conspiracy to run the union were like rugby players who fall foul of the referee—they have an early bath so that they are ready to go into a conclave to plan their next move of destruction. That position no longer exists in Nottinghamshire, because once the sheep's clothing was removed from their former leaders, the working miners could see whose interests were being served, and when democratic elections were held, the wolves were, without exception, shown the door.
§ Mr. Nellist
The hon. Gentleman has referred several times to the hijacking of the NUM. Will he comment on the direct role played by Mr. David Hart, a close adviser to the Prime Minister, who on four occasions in August met miners in Nottinghamshire to set up the NUM's so-called national working miners' committee? If the hon. Gentleman is interested in a hijacking of the union, it has been a Conservative hijacking of the miners in Nottinghamshire.
§ Mr. Stewart
That intervention is not worthy of comment, because I would not be allowed to use the words necessary to describe it in the House.
The new leaders are now responding to their members' wishes, and covet favours from no one, except to be allowed to participate in running the industry for the well-being of their members and the country. Whatever the settlement, the success of the coal industry will not be found in Hobart house, or from those who shout loudest in the House. It rests with the board's 10 area directors and 180 pit managers, who must be allowed to manage with the full confidence and co-operation of their work force.
Yesterday's thinking on how to resolve industrial strife has gone for good in Nottinghamshire, and what I have outlined is already taking place. There is no going back. If our model were adopted by the other coalfields, there would be no need for the intervention of third parties, whose only role would be to fudge management decisions. Talk of forming a breakaway union is utter rubbish, and has been noised abroad only by the undemocratic national 632 union to try once more to discredit those who would not toe the party line. The loyalty of the Nottinghamshire NUM members to their national affiliated union is total. I speak of loyalty. Does the House know what loyalty means in cash terms to every Nottinghamshire miner? It means the loss of £20 a week so that production bonuses from their efforts can be given to their colleagues in loss-making coalfields. That has continued for many years, and it represents real loyalty.
Perhaps, after working continually for 11 months, the north Nottinghamshire miners might be recognised by a visit from the chairman of the coal board. With Scargill's threat of expulsion they have prepared for the worst, and find contemptible his cry that the area executive should hold a ballot before leaving the union. A ballot, indeed — after he has denied one to his members for 11 months. Expulsion has now been postponed because, at long last, Scargill accepts that he is dealing with real men in Nottinghamshire who will not break.
§ Mr. Terry Patchett (Barnsley, East)
The hon. Gentleman refers to bonuses and the loss of earnings. Is he aware that those bonuses were established after the Nottinghamshire miners went against the results of a national ballot?
§ Mr. Stewart
What of this man Scargill — [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] — who has brought misery to thousands of people, condoned violence, wrecked his union and driven 23,000 Nottinghamshire miners to withdraw their political levies from the Labour party? Will he do the honourable thing and take a fourth trip to Moscow and stay there, or will he ask his members for a vote of confidence through a ballot? The answer to both questions is no, because, in the Prime Minister's word, he is frit.
Let us forget Scargill. Let us remember only the working miners of Nottinghamshire and elsewhere. With such men, the coal industry's future is secure. We shall see coal production as we have never seen it before; a return from investment such as we have never seen before; and, therefore, wages paid such as we have never seen before. With that will come hope for the unemployed as industry takes advantage of competitive energy costs. That is no dream. It is a practical reality, and the working miners of Nottinghamshire have shown the way.
§ 5.3 pm
§ Mr. Michael McGuire (Makerfield)
What the debate has shown so far is that the Government's hands are not clean. That is the principal reason why, after a dispute that has lasted for 11 months and impoverished many areas of the country, they have not thought fit to debate the matter.
As many hon. Members wish to speak in the debate, I shall not repeat the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, East——
§ Mr. McGuire
I apologise to my right hon. Friend. Since the general election there have not been many points on which to fix. We used to remember the names of constituencies. My right hon. Friend mentioned the catalogue of interference by the Government, including their overturning of long-established rights to social security benefits to put pressure on miners and to persuade them that it was their fault that their families did not receive those benefits.
633 Before I come to the central issue, I should say why I believe the Government's hands are not clean and why I believe that they have plotted the dispute for a long time. We warned the Government what might happen when they were contemplating appointing Mr. MacGregor as chairman of the NCB. It is odd that they appointed a man in his mid-70s when the age profile in the industry is that there are hardly any miners aged more than 58 and most top managers leave when they are 60. As my right hon. Friend said, Mr. MacGregor was appointed to help to take on the National Union of Mineworkers. He has been a disaster. Do hon. Members recall disputes in any of our great industries, nationalised or not, when the chairman of that industry did not defend his own arguments? To use a common expression, he has made such a cock-up of it that the coal board has had to use men of much inferior rank—men who are not even on the main board—to defend the NCB's case.
Time and again the Government have condemned Mr. Scargill for his obstinacy in saying that he would discuss anything except pit closures. Ministers and media spokesmen have said that Mr. Scargill's obstinacy stopped them getting round the table and settling the dispute. But that has changed. Nothing could be more fair than a trade union, which has been involved in a bitter dispute for 11 months, saying, "We will get round the table but only if there are no preconditions." The Government have seized the chance to say that they want something which no union would permit; the drawing up of an agenda before getting round the table. The Secretary of State was twisting and wriggling on this point. The NUM has said that it will talk without preconditions. It is the Government who say that there must be preconditions—something against which they railed during the past few months.
The Government have dirty hands. They want the strike to continue for the simple reason that if there are no talks, the drift back to work will continue. However, I should warn the Government that, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, Central and others have said, NACODS is deeply worried about the Government's position and will soon seek an assurance from the coal board on this matter. It will not be made a tool of the Government. If NACODS had gone on strike in October, the dispute would have taken a different turn—better for the miners and worse for the Government. The Government must not push their luck too far. Fair-minded people believe that they are trying to screw the NUM to the floor. They are trying to destroy the union.
§ Mr. McGuire
That is being done at the expense of people who have endured much for many months. Advantage will be taken of them by starvation and other methods in the hope that they will give up the struggle and go back to work.
The Government have repeatedly said that it is up to the coal board and the NUM to get together, so let them get together. Let us have an end to this strike. If they get round the table, the strike will be settled on fair and honourable terms.
Before any hon. Member starts chirping about the history of pit closures, I shall agree that they have happened. I want to tell some of the young Turks on the 634 Conservative Benches something. In 1957, when I was a pit secretary, we closed pits, but there were then men in the industry who were over 80. We brought in a scheme so that they could retire at 70, and then so that they could retire at 65. We then got a reasonable redundancy payment scheme. However, in those days we were trying to find the statistics to prove that unemployment had gone above the magical 500,000 total figure. In other words, unemployment was at a piffling level. There may have been areas with 3 or 6 per cent. unemployment, but the average unemployment level in the country was 2.5 per cent. Today, there is a vastly different proposition, and in some areas the unemployment level is 40 or 50 per cent.
Pits may be closed because accountants say that they should be but, with the movement of the dollar and oil prices, they may become profitable again. I remember my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, Central saying that at one stage three pits in his area had been on the margin, and the coal board wanted to close them, but they became profitable because of the movement in oil prices. As a result, they were kept open, and communities were kept going. With that background in mind, one can understand the reluctance of miners to say that pits can be closed if accountants think that they are worth closing.
There is now an understanding on this matter, and I urge the Government to take advantage of it. If they do not, and if, as it seems, they want to humiliate the NUM, they will be making a big mistake. They will find out that the public will not stand for it. More importantly, the union most concerned—NACODS—will not stand for it. Such behaviour will rally other trade unions as well as the public to the support of the NUM, and this dispute will become even more bitter. I urge the Government to take this chance. They should get their hands off the matter and let the NUM and NCB get round the table. If they do, I believe that we can have an honourable settlement.
§ Mr. David Lightbown (Staffordshire, South-East)
It may be helpful if I begin by setting out my credentials in the mining industry. I was first associated with this industry in the mid-1950s. In those days, there were 650,000 people employed in the industry and hand-cutting and loading were still taking place in most areas. Ponies were still hauling tubs. In those days, I was part of a mine mechanisation organisation, which introduced modern cutting, winding, decking and handling equipment, and this job took me to all the major coalfields in the United Kingdom.
The changes that have taken place over the past 30 years in the industry have resulted in improved productivity, safety and working conditions and earning levels for those still employed. Many hundreds of millions of pounds have been invested in the industry, but many pits have been closed, and the work force is now down to about 200,000. Although this radical change in the industry has occasionally caused local problems, they have generally been resolved by common sense and consultation until now.
The effects of this lunatic strike on the industry, the community and the individual have been disastrous—and for what? It has been to support the politically motivated leadership of the NUM, which has little regard for the industry and none for its membership. This dispute 635 should never have started. Indeed, it would not have started had union procedures been followed and a ballot allowed.
The dispute could have been settled on a perfectly honourable basis five months ago, with the acceptance of the NACODS agreement, but it still goes on. This is mainly due to the impossible demands of the NUM leader and a few of his Marxist friends, and some Labour Members. The temptation to prolong Mr. Scargill's torment is almost irresistible, as a price that he should pay for the violence and damage that he has encouraged rent-a-mob to wreak on the individuals, communities and industry that he purports to represent.
The dispute still needs to be resolved in the interests of the industry and the vast majority of decent, honest miners — miners such as those living in my county and constituency, who have continued to work throughout the dispute despite the intimidation, and those miners who continue to stay out because of intimidation. It is more desirable that we have a negotiated settlement, but if that is not to be, then we must ask the NCB to hold out to the bitter end. There can be no concessions on the issue of who manages the industry, and we must maintain the historic consultation and closure procedures that have always existed in the industry, so that pits can be closed on grounds of economy as well as safety and exhaustion.
There can be no concessions to those who have been found guilty of sabotage, and of violence towards the individual, who have already been dismissed from the industry. However, the odd mistake may have occurred and an independent body such as ACAS may be helpful to both sides in solving this aspect of the dispute.
The coal board should increase its funding for the new enterprise company, which will provide finance, advice and accommodation for new businesses in any mining community adversely affected by closure. This was done by the British Steel Corporation when its closure programme went through. Although some said that that programme would desecrate whole communities, it has not. One has only to look at the progress made in towns such as Corby to realise that.
The NACODS offer is still on the table. If an offer based on that plus the additional suggestions that I have made proves still to be unacceptable to the leadership of the NUM, the dispute can be resolved only by the men in the industry. They will need to settle it by returning to work and purging their Marxist leadership. It is also important that the more sensible Labour Members, who have made genuine efforts to help rather than hinder the resolution of this appalling strike, should come off the fence and tell the divided work force that loyalty and solidarity are acceptable only if its leadership is right and its cause just.
I remind the House that this dispute has damaged and affected industries and individuals in the mining supply and equipment companies. Over the past 10 months, they have endured short-time working, lay-offs and redundancies. There have been no guaranteed jobs, no large lump sum payments for employees and no Govenment subsidies for their companies, some of which are now near to collapse.
This unnecessary and unconstitutional strike has damaged the economy, damaged allied industries, damaged communities and divided families. Above all, it has done permanent damage to the industry itself. The lasting geological and mechanical failures now occurring 636 on a day-to-day basis will ensure that some coal faces and even whole pits are never worked again. The events at the Frances and Seafield collieries, announced today, are but two examples. If there is not an early return to work there will be no jobs available in the industry.
I pay tribute to and thank those people associated with ensuring the safety and the rights of my constituents and those of a like mind. Their actions have enabled them to get to their places of work when the picket violence has been at its worst. I commend especially the men of the Staffordshire police force and those policemen brought into the county on secondment to assist in this unpleasant and arduous duty.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)
I wish to return immediately, and I hope briefly, to the central issue of today's debate, which has already been pressed so effectively by my right hon. Friends the Members for Salford, East (Mr. Orme) and for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Mason); how are we to get a settlement of the dispute?
It may be that we are quite near the possibility of a settlement. A week ago, there were unofficial discussions between representatives of the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers. The discussions pointed the way ahead, and both sides came away from them thinking that there was some hope. By the end of the week that hope has been dashed and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, Central reminded us, the NCB representatives were saying that they themselves had broken off negotiations for the first time in the dispute. Many of us might question that latter claim, because we believe that they broke off negotiations on previous occasions.
What happened during the week? A document was issued, which said that the president, the general secretary and the executive of the NUM had to sign an undertaking before they came to the negotiations. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East said, that was an intolerable demand, and it was that demand which broke the discussions. However the Secretary of State may wriggle, that is the fact.
The Government claim that that document was originally issued by the NCB and that they only supported it on television and in the other ways that they did in the last few days of last week. Whichever way it happened, it does not alter the fact that it was the issue of that ultimatum to the NUM which broke the negotiations. It is impossible for the Government to deny that.
I have a question for the NCB and the Secretary of State for Energy. Before they decided to issue that document which wrecked the possibility of negotiations, did they consult anyone? Did they consult ACAS, for example? ACAS knows more about negotiations of this kind than the whole Cabinet rolled into one—and that is not a very big compliment. But did they consult ACAS? If they did, let them tell the country what ACAS said about the possibility of such a document being issued in such a negotiation at such a time. My guarantee is that if they had gone to ACAS and asked for advice, unofficially or in any other way, ACAS would have told them that such a demand was intolerable, especially at such a sensitive moment in the industrial dispute, and it would have told them that it would wreck the negotiations.
Let us have a clear answer. Did the Secretary of State and the NCB consult ACAS about whether that was an 637 advisable course? If they did not, they were acting in a way that was not in accord with their duties as a Minister and a board pretending to try to settle the dispute. Did they ask ACAS whether such a document should be issued? More particularly, did the NCB ask ACAS before issuing it? Let us have a clear answer to that, if we cannot have clear answers to other questions.
It may be that the board consulted the spokesmen of NACODS on the matter. That would have been a sensible course. The board has an agreement with one union in the industry, which it claims throughout the country is a very good agreement. If the board was really trying to make an agreement with another union and it wondered how the two might affect each other, surely it would have been sensible to ask NACODS, even unofficially, what would be the effect of issuing such a document? If the board had done that, we know what the answer would have been. If it had gone to NACODS, with which the board had signed an agreement, NACODS would have told the board immediately not to do anything so foolish because it would wreck the negotiations.
The truth is that the Government and the NCB together wrecked the negotiations last week, and the Opposition say that today's debate can re-open negotiations by the simple method of getting the Government to withdraw the document. We demand to know why the Government will not do it. Ministers may say that one of the difficulties comes from the NCB, and there are difficulties from the board, especially when it is conducted by its present chairman.
On Sunday there was a report in The Observer of what was being said not only by people in the NUM and not only by Members of Parliament representing mining constituencies but by members of the board. One of the features of this industrial dispute has been the near chaos prevailing in the NCB itself. Its members have never had a clear idea, partly because of the way Mr. MacGregor conducts the board. He does not consult people properly—even members of his own board.
On Sunday, The Observer discussed what was wrecking the negotiations, and it mentioned the possibility of their being re-opened. Having stated the position, The Observer report ended:Many senior managers in the Coal Board continue to advise a conciliatory attitude in talks, fearing that a disorganised end to the strike would have serious long-term consequences for the industry.All of us who know the industry, as we in South Wales do, for example, could give the names of the people in the NCB who are associated with the management and who take that view. The Observer concluded:Their advice is receiving little response from Mr. Ian Macgregor, the board Chairman.So there are those in the NCB who say, "Let us have a conciliatory attitude" — which, of course, would mean withdrawing the ultimatum. Apparently, they are saying it in vain. Some of us are not surprised about that.
It appears that Mr. MacGregor has been taking advice from some very strange people. Who employs Mr. David Hart, for example? Is he paid by the NCB? Is he paid by Conservative Central Office? Possibly he is paid by The Times. The Opposition would like to know who pays him, because apparently he has been advising all three to call 638 off any negotiations and to wreck any negotiations which may start, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East underlined.
We want to know from the Government whether they will now override Mr. MacGregor if he again insists on the document which is the obstacle to negotiations.
We could go back over the past discussion of the strike. It is a very different story from the one given by the Secretary of State. There is a very different account of what happened at the beginning at Cortonwood and at the time of the earlier closures, especially in the light of the way that the Prime Minister goes up and down the country parroting the suggestion that the sole cause of the dispute is an insistence by the NUM that there shall be no closures on economic grounds. That is not the case. The Minister shakes his head. He has discovered his head, if not his voice, when dealing with my questions. The NUM made a statement in the middle of last week which was examined by the labour editor of The Times, who is not always favourable to the NUM. The article said:Mr. Scargill was adamant that his 'peace plan' was the basis for negotiations to end the strike. His letter two days ago proposed: A review of the Plan for Coal 1974. The board has offered that.The second proposal was the issue on which talks partly broke down before the Government and the NCB issued the document. It was, according to The Times:Reversion to the pre-March 6, 1984, colliery review procedure.That is what the NUM insisted on. By doing that, it was merely upholding what had prevailed before. The article continued:The board says that cannot be accepted because it does not contain any reference to the economics of the collieries.The NCB is refusing to accept proposals by the NUM for the maintenance of the pre-6 March position. Going deeper into the dispute, one discovers that it is what happened on 6 March that changed everything. How many times have we had to listen to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Energy going through all their rigmarole about how many pits were closed under the previous procedures? These are the previous procedures—which the Government tore up.
The tale was rather different in the early days of the dispute. The Government were not intervening then, were they? How many months did we have to listen to the tale of combined fraud and deceit from Ministers that they were not intervening? If they had intervened, the dispute could have been stopped before it started. Many of us have claimed that if the Department of Employment had not been shut down by the Prime Minister, it would have known before 6 March that such proposals would cause a strike. For months the Government said that they were not intervening. They said that they were leaving it all to the Coal Board. Are they intervening now or are they not? Which is it this week? Perhaps they are doing a bit of both — not intervening on Monday and Tuesday but intervening on Friday and Saturday. That is what it looks like from how, last week, the Prime Minister's claque was sent in to destroy any chance of a decent, honourable agreement.
The House is telling the Government that it demands that decent and honourable negotiations be started. That means the withdrawal of the document which was issued last week. Negotiations can then start. The House and the country need people not to stand up to Arthur Scargill, as 639 Conservative Members so often shriek, but to stand up to the Prime Minister and tell her that we shall not have matters settled by her dictation.
§ Mr. Jim Lester (Broxtowe)
I agree with part of the final statement made by the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot). There should be honourable and decent negotiations on an agenda that deals with the causes of the dispute and the reasons behind our having 11 months of misery.
As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has said, there are no winners in the dispute. Those who talk about victory and defeat do not understand the serious consequences of events during the past 11 months. I have tried hard to enable sensible people to meet to settle the dispute and I utterly reject the caricature of a Machiavellian plot by the Government to destroy the NUM and the mining industry, as suggested by the right hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Mason). If there were such a planned attack, the leader of the NUM would have had no hesitation in calling a ballot on 8 March. If such a plot had been so obvious, the leader of the NUM would have secured a majority. If the plot was so obvious, why did the Nottingham area, which was ballotted, reject that interpretation by a majority of 75 per cent.? Moreover, there were two national ballots on pit closures.
Today's debate was not intended to raise the political temperature or to continue negotiations by the media, which have bedevilled the dispute. The last thing that we required was a word-by-word and nuance-by-nuance examination by the media. We have an industrial problem in traditional industries, especially extracting industries.
Mr. Eric S. Heller (Liverpool, Walton)
With regard to the Government's long-standing policy, has the hon. Gentleman not heard of the Ridley report of 1978, which was leaked to The Economist? It revealed the strategy that the Government later adopted against the miners. The whole thing was laid out in that report. It is clear that even before the Conservatives got into office they were preparing plans to attack the NUM.
§ Mr. Lester
It all depends on how the Ridley report is interpreted. I interpret it as a means of preventing might from being right in an industrial dispute. Mr. Scargill perfected that strategy at the Saltley cokeworks, to which he often refers, where he used mass picketing to force the Government to give way through pressure and blackmail. He chose not to argue a reasoned case.
The level of production has varied from a peak of 270 million tonnes in 1914 to levels set under "Plan for Coal", because production must relate to the market and what we can use. Moreover, most Opposition Members who have worked down the pits know that when a pit is sunk, its life can be calculated to within five or six years.
§ Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)
I am a geologist and have been involved in the mining industry. I assure the hon. Gentleman that it is not possible to predict the life of any colliery as he has suggested. Its life can depend on circumstances that change from day to day, such as strange geological conditions. The NUM has never resisted colliery closures when the winning of coal is difficult or likely to cause danger to its members.
§ Mr. Lester
I entirely accept that geological conditions can change. However, the hon. Gentleman must accept 640 that before anyone makes a massive investment, as we did in Nottinghamshire at Cotgrave, there is a great deal of drilling and the extent of the coal reserves are assessed. Cotgrave pit is expected to last about 65 years.
We must consider the end of the life of older pits. There are plenty in Nottinghamshire and we have been through that procedure enough times. In the last years of a pit there are high production costs, unacceptably difficult conditions for miners and a real risk of additional subsidence and associated costs.
We have already been through this procedure. When we last looked at the future of one of the uneconomic pits in my area, the cost of working the two faces proved to be unacceptable in terms of working conditions for the men and subsidence problems for the community. The bill has increased. The losses made at that pit mean that other pits in the area have had to carry it. It has been producing coal that is not required. There is a logic to the closure of uneconomic pits over and above geology and exhaustion.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
Can the hon. Member comment upon allocated expenditure, in particular the allocated expenditure referred to in the article that appeared in the January edition of Accountancy? It showed in relation to Cortonwood that the equivalent of £11 per tonne would have to be transferred elsewhere if Cortonwood were closed and that if it were kept open the cost to the coal board would be £5 per tonne less than closure. Are not questions relating to allocated costs and economic pits relevant to this argument?
§ Mr. Lester
Yes, indeed, and we have already agreed a formula for looking at that kind of argument In my hearing the Government have offered to reopen Cortonwood and to put it through those procedures. There is also the problem of producing specialist coal that cannot be used because there is no market for it. Certain types of coal are produced that cannot be used in power stations. We have to import specialist coal for certain purposes because we do not produce that type of coal. The Government's record in terms of obtaining high production at low cost is good. There has been investment in new collieries and in new coal faces. No other Government have ever invested so heavily in the future of high production and coal faces.
§ Mr. Lester
The hon. Gentleman is not correct. The Government have approved the opening of pits in the Vale of Belvoir, and in Nottinghamshire the Government have provided most of the new investment. Only when we produce coal at less than the current national average price shall we be able to attack those markets to which the Opposition refer. The fact is that before the strike began we were exporting double the coal production that we needed to import. Many Conservative Members who have spoken in coal debates during the last 10 years have pointed to the value of the European market and how essential it is for Britain to get into it. We can get into that market only if we produce coal at an economic price.
How do we deal with the problem of high-cost production that is in excess of our needs? This strike was totally unnecessary to deal with that problem. During the miners' strike the agreement with NACODS has been reached. It has provided an opportunity for a third party 641 to assess the kind of problems to which the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) referred, the social consequences. I can think of no other industry in which management is prepared to accept a third party assessment of the facts before it reaches a final decision. Not even the Church of England is prepared to accept that kind of third party assessment before it decides to close a church in one of its parishes.
I am second to none in wanting to ensure that no community suffers because its sole employer has had to close down business. The new enterprise company is in existence to meet the needs of the few but very important communities that need help.
It is clear from the NUM proposals and from the actions of the Government that the system of redundancies and retirement could be refined to deal with the excess manpower in a perfectly reasonable way when men genuinely want to leave the industry on a voluntary basis. Having done a 31 to 35 year stint in the industry, who would deny that to those men? This could be worked out between sensible and reasonable men. However, what is so sad to Conservative Members who support the industry is the overwhelming evidence that this industrial problem has been turned into a major political dispute by the deliberate misuse of the NUM rule book.
The Nottinghamshire miners are not Tories. They will not support the Conservative party. The Nottinghamshire miners have not supported the Tory party against their national executive. They have supported their own deep instincts for democracy, for the rule book and for their union. They are very conscious of the effect that this damaging dispute has had upon their own lives, upon their own industry and upon their own union and also upon the long-term energy needs of this country.
If one looks back to what happened during the discussions on 6, 7 and 8 March, my understanding is that on 6 March the meeting with the coal board did not end in controversy. It ended with both sides agreeing to go to the Government to find out what additional investment was available to deal with this problem. However, between 6 and 8 March a variety of events occurred. By 8 March—we read it in the Sunday Telegraph and there is no reason to believe that the man who wrote the article——
§ Mr. Lester
Whether he was paid or not does not alter the fact that he recorded what happened at that meeting. What happened at that meeting was a total abuse of rule 41 and what it was drafted for. The ballot that would have legitimised the strike was not held. If a ballot had been held no Conservative Member could have argued against the strike. No Nottinghamshire miner would have balloted individually if a national ballot had been held and the call for a strike had been won. They would have come out on strike, as they have honoured totally the overtime ban that was legitimately and democratically arrived at.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse (Pontefract and Castleford)
I am interested to hear that if there had been a ballot Conservative Members would not have argued against the strike. Does the hon. Member recall that in 1974 the Secretary of State was going up and down the country condemning the miners, even though there had been a ballot?
§ Mr. Lester
We should not have argued against the result of a legitimate ballot, held nationally, and neither would the miners. What also happened on 8 March was that the executors of the funds of the NUM were changed from the original executors to Mr. McGahey and Mr. Peter Heathfield. On that day the NUM funds were moved. It is very difficult to convince any reasonable person that the NUM—or, indeed the board of GEC—could plot at that meeting the movement of those funds so successfully. Those funds moved to the Isle of Man and then to Dublin and to New York. They came back as bearer bonds to Jersey where they were put into a private aeroplane and flown to Luxembourg. Which hon. Member is going to tell me that that was done spontaneously?
§ Mr. Gerald Howarth (Cannock and Burntwood)
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is something of an irony that the NUM has been able to move its funds freely around the world out of the reach of the courts of this land as a result of the abolition of exchange control by this Government, which the Opposition are asking to be reintroduced?
§ Mr. Lester
I do not expect the NUM would claim that that casts credit upon it. My point is that there was a plan to promote a political strike without using the NUM rule book. The plan was to move NUM funds because it was recognised that they might be at risk. Nobody is going to tell me that that was not well thought out long before 6 March. Nottinghamshire has continued to behave totally democratically and within the rule book. Nottinghamshire has held elections for branch official. Far from the sinister use of Mr. David Hart, whoever he might be——
§ Mr. Lester
I have heard of him and I can tell the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) that the Nottinghamshire miners I have spoken to have no connection with him, or any time for him. However, when one looks for sinister things under stones one neglects the truth. The truth is that the Nottinghamshire working miners group came into existence when Colin Clark, an elected official, went one Friday afternoon to the solicitor who had handled his house purchase and conveyance, put on his desk the NUM rule book and said, "I need some help because I am sure that what is happening is wrong." It was from that moment that the Nottinghamshire miners formed their own group and elected branch officials. The president of the NUM now acknowledges that everything the Nottinghamshire miners have done is legal and legitimate.
That was not the case when he tried to bring in rule 51 and said that no Nottinghamshire miner would ever work again. But he has since found that what was done was legal and legitimate and that is great credit to them. Far from support from secret Tory party funds or whatever, over 6,000 individual contributions were made to the working miners' committee. That does not rank with any secret fund. They are all published and all available.
§ Mr. Barron
I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's point that the working miners' committee in Nottinghamshire has no political connections and that it was just composed of people who felt that the NUM rule book was not being operated correctly. Is the hon.
643 Gentleman aware that the Nottinghamshire-based working miners' committee held meetings in the Yorkshire coalfield with a Conservative Member?
§ Mr. Lester
I have news for the hon. Gentleman. Only last week a contingent of Yorkshire working miners, the vice-president, the secretary and representatives of several pits, had a meeting with me. I was pleased to meet them. I am pleased to meet anybody who applies to see me to talk about the future of an industry for which I have a great concern. But any suggestion that any Conservative Member has promoted anything or worked with or been consulted by anybody other than when they have been requested so to do is utterly wrong and completely without foundation.
When history comes to be written my version will be closer to the truth than some of what we have heard from Opposition Members. We need a negotiated settlement on the key issue of how to deal with surplus production in a reasonable, civilised and proper way, with a real respect for the people in the industry who have lived and worked in it, and those communities which have supported it.
The legacy with which we are currently involved is one of deep distrust at every level of the industry. The only way in which we shall start to deal with that deep distrust is if we have a clean and honourable end to the strike so that people can get back to refashioning a vital industry in the modern way that it deserves.
§ Mr. Ian Wrigglesworth (Stockton, South)
The hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) has pointed out some home truths to the House about this debate and for that reason we should welcome the opportunity that it gives us to do just that. We regret the fact that although the dispute has been going on for almost a year now the House has had only two opportunities to debate it, despite its importance and the impact that it is having on the country. Time in the House is allocated by the Government and the Labour party and they have not chosen to debate this vital topic and to provide what should be the national forum for such debates with an opportunity to discuss the matter properly.
There is no doubt that the dispute is a tragedy for Britain. It is a personal tragedy for those who are directly involved and whose families are suffering the hardship of not having an income and who are without the means to keep body and soul together for so long. It is a tragedy for the nation because Britain's economy has been adversely affected by the dispute and therefore industry and our personal lives have suffered. Thirdly, it is a tragedy for the coal industry because a potentially great industry, which could have been of enormous service to Britain over the past year, has been substantially damaged by the dispute, and it will take many years for the industry and all its ancillary parts to recover.
I was pleased to hear what the Secretary of State said this afternoon about the recent boost to NCB Enterprises Ltd, both by the appointment of staff and additional resources. We on these Benches welcome what he said. We noted with satisfaction the right hon. Gentleman's undertaking that more funds would be forthcoming for NCB Enterprises Ltd. if they were needed.
However, it has taken the Government a great deal of time to recognise the need for the establishment of NCB Enterprises Ltd. My right hon. Friend the leader of the Social Democratic party proposed the establishment of 644 that body back in March. It took the Government until August to establish it and it took them until now to start taking it seriously and to provide the resources for it to do the job properly. The Government must bear responsibility not just for that but for providing a background against which Mr. Scargill and his friends in the NUM could thrive and bring the dispute to the point that they have.
The Government have not handled the situation well. Against a background of 4 million people unemployed, the rundown of industry and some mishandling of negotiations during the dispute, they have played into Mr. Scargill's hands by providing him with fertile ground on which to plough his furrow and obtain the support of Britain's mineworkers. The Government must bear some of the responsibility for the state of affairs during the past nine months and for the present difficulties.
But that does not excuse what the NUM and its leadership have been doing during the dispute, and, indeed, the way in which it was brought about. There was no ballot at the start of the dispute as there should have been if the traditions and rules of the NUM had been properly followed. What the hon. Member for Broxtowe said about balloting is right. The country and the mineworkers would have felt that the dispute had been legitimised if there had been a ballot in favour of the dispute. The lack of a ballot undermined the dispute's credibility from the start. It is a great sadness that no Labour Member has been prepared to come out and be forthright in saying that since the dispute began.
There is no doubt that that happened because the leadership of the NUM had political objectives in starting the dispute and in pursuing it as vigorously as it has during the past nine months. Sadly, that still applies today because the NUM's leadership has used its membership as the infantry in its political battle, which is unjustified and unforgiveable.
What does "without preconditions" mean when the NUM's president said on the radio this morning that the NUM would not be party to an agreement that accepted pit closures on economic grounds? It is nonsense for that camouflage to be draped across our screens and to be given to the press when the NUM's president today and in correspondence makes it clear that he is still not prepared seriously to discuss economic pit closures.
§ Mr. Wrigglesworth
I shall not give way because I must finish quickly to allow other hon. Members to speak.
It is right that negotiations should not start again while the NUM is not prepared to accept that the central issue in the dispute is not on the table for serious discussion.
§ Mr. Wrigglesworth
I want to be brief.
I hope that the miners will see what is happening to their industry and what is happening in the leadership of their union, and I hope that they will understand that it is not in their interests to continue the dispute on the present terms and under the present circumstances — [Interruption.] The industry has a great future but the miners — [Interruption.] — will understand that their interests are not being served by continuing the strike. Therefore, it is hoped that they will return to work in increasing numbers so that the great future that the industry has can be realised.
§ Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)
Stop waffling. What advice does the hon. Gentleman give to the miners in Fife?
§ Mr. Wrigglesworth
If the hon. Gentleman wishes to intervene, he will have an opportunity to do so later.
§ Mr. Gerald Howarth
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) to make so much noise that I cannot hear what the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Wrigglesworth) is saying?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)
Many hon. Members are anxious to catch my eye. Interruptions only prevent people from speaking.
§ Mr. Wrigglesworth
I am anxious that other hon. Members, such as those who have been bawling at me from the Labour Benches, should have an opportunity to speak.
§ Mr. Wrigglesworth
If the hon. Gentleman would resume his seat and behave in the way that one expects an hon. Member to behave, we could proceed with the debate.
It is in the interests of the miners that they should return to work to ensure that the great future that the industry could have is realised. We very much hope that——
§ Mr. Wrigglesworth
We hope that pressure will build up on the leadership of the NUM so that they are prepared——
§ Mr. Wrigglesworth
So that they are prepared to accept that the closure of uneconomic pits can be put on the agenda. When 80 per cent. of the losses of the NCB come from 10 per cent. of the pits, we do not need to study the facts for long to realise that something must be done.
§ Mr. Bob Clay (Sunderland, North)
So the hon. Gentleman favours closing the pits in Durham? Why does he not say that in Durham?
§ Mr. Wrigglesworth
A lot of people from Durham will be listening to this and they will see what good sense there is in it.
Many people in the mining industry have fears about their jobs. We recognise that, but it is not in the interests of miners who have worries about the future to continue the dispute. They have been given guarantees that jobs will be on offer to them despite any closures that take place. In those circumstances, it is in their interests to go back to work and to allow discussions to take place on the closure of uneconomic pits so that the dispute can be brought to an end and the potential great future of the industry can be realised.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I remind hon. Members that the 10-minute limit now comes into operation. No injury time is added for interventions.
§ 6.1 pm
§ Mr. Martin M. Brandon-Bravo (Nottingham, South)
My hon. Friends have demonstrated beyond 646 question their respect for the mining industry and miners and, in particular, their respect for Nottinghamshire miners.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) said, we did not assume that the Nottinghamshire miners supported Government policies. They have been seeking to protect the integrity of their union. That has been their prime motivation and I am sure that, when the strike is over, they will be the first to want to put their union back together again, in the hope that they will find leadership that will represent their interests and not use them as political cannon fodder.
It is surely not in dispute that the strike has been a political strike. The prime aim of the miners' leader has been spelt out time and again. He said in February 1983:Capitalism is an obscence system which deserves to be overthrown.
§ Mr. Brandon-Bravo
I am grateful for that response by Labour Members. It illustrates more clearly than anything else what the strike is about.
Mr. Scargill continued:It must be overthrown before it disintegrates into a Fascist dictatorship.What a nerve. Can there ever have been, since the dark days of pre-1939, a more odious example of the Fascist approach—and spelt out in advance, just as in "Mein Kampf"? But that is what Scargillism has become in these last months.
Demands have been formulated in terms that could not be fulfilled, but that was no accident. It was not a corner into which circumstances forced an unwilling NUM leadership. That is the Trotskyist style of negotiation: to ensure the maximum damage and frustration among the gullible, en route to insurrection.
Mr. Jimmy Reid is not exactly a friend of the Conservative party. [HON. MEMBERS: "He is no friend of ours either."] Apparently, he is no longer a friend of the Labour party. He said on television:I recoil in horror at the scenes of a miner's home daubed `Scab' and into my mind flood visions of Jewish homes defaced in Hitler's Germany.All the more reason why I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) is not here and all the more reason why I felt a sense of sadness that he who, of all people, should have known better, has acquiesced in these acts of violence and accusations against the police.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you use your position to ask the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) to withdraw a statement which is patently untrue and a misrepresentation of the truth?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) is responsible for his own speech. He must decide, in the light of what is said, whether to withdraw any statement.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
The hon. Gentleman made a personal attack on my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman).
§ Mr. Brandon-Bravo
I cannot withdraw those remarks, because I have felt a sense of personal shame, as a co-religionist of the right hon. Member for Gorton, at his attitude over the past months. That is why I feel that I can stand up and say what I have said.
I have made those comments because back in April, when we discussed the strike for the first time—though we were primarily concerned with the actions of the police —the right hon. Member for Gorton put a large red folder on the Opposition Dispatch Box.
§ Mr. Brandon-Bravo
You are a silly woman.
That heavy folder contained nothing but hearsay comments about problems on the picket lines. I know that to be a fact. The only reason why it was placed on the Dispatch Box was to give some spurious evidence of cases that had been laid before the right hon. Gentleman. I know that not one of those cases was laid before the chief constable of Nottingham, because every one was pure hearsay.
In all the row that has taken place, the right to work and the case for coal have been obscured by the outrageous conduct that has occurred. The right to work is a just principle, but it is not an argument for a particular job in a particular place for a miner and his children, regardless of whether the rest of the community wants or needs the product of that labour.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe implied, society must accept the social consequences, but that is a different solution from continuing to make unwanted goods or mining unwanted coal at too high a cost.
"Alice Through the Looking Glass" logic is offered as democracy by the miners' leaders. When the Nottinghamshire miners balloted on whether to strike, 27 per cent. voted for a strike and 73 per cent. voted to work. Our area went to work and fewer than 1,000 of the 31,000 miners there are still on strike.
However, striking miners now say that the majority have no right to vote their colleagues out of work. That now seems to be their argument. Of course, that is why the miners' leaders do not need a ballot any more. If they hold a ballot and obtain the majority they seek, they will be happy, but if they do not obtain that majority, they will argue that the majority has no right to put the minority's views in jeopardy.
This is a political showdown — [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah!"]—but not between this Government and miners, or working people in general. The showdown is between evil men, who now lead working people, and parliamentary democracy. It is a showdown in which both sides of the House should ensure that Parliament succeeds.
§ 6.9 pm
§ Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)
Having heard the Secretary of State and the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo), I can understand why the Government did not want a debate. It is now quite clear that, far from believing in the prerogative of management and in not intervening, the Secretary of State has masterminded the strike from the beginning. The 648 preparations were made long ago, as the Ridley report proves. The police were equipped and trained to work on picket lines. The whole strike was organised to break the NUM.
If any Conservative Member wonders why Arthur Scargill is so highly respected, he should realise that for five years—and long before he was president of the NUM — Arthur Scargill went to countless miners' meetings saying, "Mind my words, the Government have a hit list of pits." Ministers and coal board officials denied that, but miners have followed Arthur Scargill because he has stayed loyal to them. No Conservative Member or Minister has taken that factor into account. Since no other hon. Member has done so, I should like to place on record my tribute to the 130,000 miners and their families who have endured appalling hardship in the past, almost, 12 months in order to defend the industry, their jobs, and their communities. I feel great pride for them.
It is a great tragedy that, because of many secondary issues, the real question has never been allowed to be properly discussed. That question involves the link between this country's economy and coal. I am very proud to have signed the 1977 "Plan For Coal". I negotiated it with the NUM. The basis of it was that there would be a joint agreement on the industry's future. Much has been made of pit closures under the Labour Government. I am not saying that all of them were right — [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah!"] Of course I am not saying that, but when, as Secretary of State, I offered a veto to the NUM on pit closures, it represented a recognition that one cannot run the mining industry without the goodwill of the British miners. Any Government who try to convert the "enemy within" to the "enemy underground" by driving men back to work through hardship will destroy the industry and its prospects.
The NUM has never objected to pit closures when there is genuine exhaustion. I am not talking about being down to the last tonne of coal. Anyone who has had anything to do with the industry knows that generally the argument is whether a bit more investment would reveal more coal faces. The argument is not about the last tonne of coal, and to say that the NUM has said that is a blatant lie designed to deceive those who do not know the truth. If there are geological faults or dangerous conditions, the NUM insists on pit closures. It will not put its members at risk. The argument is whether the Government now have a case for closure on what are called harsh economic grounds. The plain truth is that they do not.
If a pit is denied investment, it can be turned into what is called an "uneconomic" pit, just as, if the roof of a home or a burst pipe is not mended, or if broken windows are not replaced, that home will be turned into a slum. The charge that the NUM rightly makes is that the Government have deliberately starved pits that have great reserves of coal in order to feed money into the so-called high productivity pits with the intention of selling them off when the Government get the chance. Conservative Members should not shake their heads as if to suggest privatisation was a wicked smear against the Government. This Government would sell off the royal family if they could make a quick profit.
The second argument concerns the relative costs of nuclear power and coal. As the House knows, not a single penny of equity capital has ever been put into nuclear power anywhere in the world. Not a single penny has been put into it in the United States. The United States has 649 cancelled 90 nuclear power stations, and has not ordered one since 1977. Nuclear power is financed for defence reasons. Therefore the argument that nuclear power is cheaper than coal is quite false.
We sell our oil from the North sea to the CEGB at three times the cost of production, because OPEC fixes the price. There is no case for saying that coal is uneconomic compared with nuclear power or oil. The social cost to the Exchequer of closure where there is no other work is twice that of keeping the pit open. SDP Members with their fake statistics come along and try to pretend that they are presenting mathematical realities that others have to face, but in doing so they are just proving that they are on the Right wing of the Tory party. I think that that is clear
Then, of course, it is said that there is no market for coal. But as coal is cheaper than nuclear power or oil, we should be converting from nuclear power and oil to coal, and providing free fuel to pensioners, who now die in their hundreds from hypothermia during the winter. Those old people cannot afford to keep warm in winter. But the miners who dig that coal could keep their jobs, save the country money and save the lives of the old.
Also, with the pound at half the value of two or three years ago, British coal is exported at half the price and British imports of energy——
§ Mr. Benn
I shall not give way. If the hon. Gentleman had wanted a debate, he could have demanded a debate in Government time. He should listen to the arguments being put forward.
Energy imports now cost twice the price. Not for the first time in our history the NUM is defending the national interest—[Interruption.] Yes it is. When the oil runs out—and it is being depleted at a disgraceful rate—and when gas runs out, Britain will again depend on coal.
The Government have tried to bribe and starve the miners into giving up. They have put thousands of policemen on the picket lines who are trained in techniques perfected in Northern Ireland. The magistrates have abused bail conditions by taking away civil liberties without trial. The judges have sequestrated funds that the miners donated with the very aim of defending their jobs if the union was under attack. The mass media gathered up there in the Press Gallery have been pouring out propaganda against the miners. For example, when BBC television covered the Orgreave picket, it showed stones being thrown, and then cavalry charges being made by the police. I know from BBC editors who took part in that bulletin that there were three cavalry charges by the police before a single stone was thrown. But the BBC, pretending to be impartial, put out a bulletin designed to mislead the British people about the sources of violence.
Time is short, so I must be brief. There are 130,000 miners on strike. There have been some casualties—those who have gone back to work because they could not survive. But I tell the House that 90 per cent. of the miners who have ever been on strike are still on strike. As one third of miners never went on strike, it means that, even if the 51 per cent. mark was achieved, all that money and propaganda and all the police would have shifted only 16 per cent. of miners from their original view.
650 The cost of the strike has been enormous, but the miners have received massive support. They have received support from their communities, from women's action groups and from people and communities all over the country and the world. The public now know that what my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme) said is true—we are witnessing an attack on the jobs, living conditions, trade union rights and civil liberties of working people in Britain. The Government rely on cold and hunger to try to drive the miners back, but I do not believe that they will succeed. The other way to end the strike quickly is to follow the lead of the National Union of Railwaymen, the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen and the National Union of Seamen and provide industrial support and further political action.
Ministers should study their history. After the 1926 general strike, the Tory Government were swept from office in the following general election. In 1974, when the present Secretary of State was making the same speeches, even though there had been a ballot, he was swept from office. The British people will never, never, never allow the Tory party to destroy the miners, their families and their communities, because, given the choice of the ballot box, they prefer the quality, decency, dedication and loyalty of the miners to the get-rich-quick people who support the Tory party and have contributed to the creation of this strike.
§ Mr. Peter Rost (Erewash)
The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) conveniently forgot to tell the House that in Derbyshire the majority of miners are working, having had a ballot locally against the strike. The people of Derbyshire and the miners there cannot understand what the dispute is about and why it was started by the NUM leadership. Derbyshire miners have always accepted that the closure of pits near the end of their economic life is a necessary and normal part of the business.
Many of my constituents are disgusted at the Labour party's nauseating display of licking Arthur Scargill's jackboots. They are particularly disgusted at Labour Members representing Derbyshire constituencies, including the right hon. Member for Chesterfield, who never speak up on behalf of the majority of miners who are working. The Labour party stands condemned tonight out of its own mouth.
Time and again the Labour party has failed to condemn the picketing, the violence and the intimidation. It has failed to speak up for the working miners. It has failed to support the democratic vote and failed to support union rule books. It has failed to condemn a senseless dispute. The Labour party's only cry has been to ask the National Coal Board to surrender to Mr. Arthur Scargill's impossible demands.
The Labour party has used its influence, not to protect the miners, not to protect the union and not to protect the coal industry, but to aid and abet a disastrous conflict which is damaging the economy, preventing the modernisation of the coal industry and preventing lower energy prices.
Members of the Labour party are the guilty men. We have heard them again tonight. They have encouraged an 651 irresponsible NUM leadership which has cheated its own members out of earnings, cheated them out of jobs and cheated them out of a future for their industry.
Of course pits must continue to close. The Labour Government closed hundreds of them. The Labour Government even provided, under the Coal Industry Act 1977, for the closure of uneconomic pits. We must consider the cost to the nation of maintaining subsidies in the marginal, hopelessly uneconomic pits. We must reallocate resources and invest in the new pits for tomorrow to secure the energy and the jobs that we need. We must provide for more economic energy prices.
Goodness knows how many jobs have been lost over the last few years because of high energy prices. We lost whole industries because our coal was too expensive. There is a huge market for coal — it is bigger than today's—if we concentrated on producing it in the new fields where it can be mined more economically.
Coal could recapture markets that it has lost over the years if only we had a sensible expansion of the industry in the economic areas. That is what the NUM leadership is preventing, and that is what the Labour party is supporting.
If the NUM is really prepared to negotiate on economic pits, why does it not just say so? All that it has to admit is that uneconomic pits have to close. Let us get round the table and discuss how best to do it. The industry must have a right to manage. Every other industry has that right. If the industry had exercised that right in the past we should not be having a dispute now because more of the uneconomic production would have been phased out long ago and new investment would have gone ahead faster instead of being used to subsidise the loss-making pits. If that had happened, we should now have lower cost coal and secure jobs. Instead of wasting subsidies on maintaining loss-making pits, we should reallocate more of the resources into the new mines. Management must be given the right to manage.
In every other industry—private and state—workers and management have to face the facts of life to survive. It may be painful but it is accepted. Uneconomic steel plants, older power stations and remote railway lines which are uneconomic in today's circumstances have been closed. In private industry the realities of economic life have been even more harsh.
If Mr. Scargill were the leader of the engineering union, we should still be producing thousands of steam engines. If Mr. Scargill were leader of the transport union, we should probably still be running stage coaches on mud tracks. If we accepted Scargillism here, Britain would have no modern new technological industries such as aerospace and nuclear electronics and our living standards would be about as high as they are in Bulgaria.
I want to say a word about the future of the industry. When all this is over and the majority of miners have finally voted with their feet, we shall have to start to put the pieces together. There must be some fundamental changes and I hope that the Government Front Bench will take account of them. There must be genuine competition in the coal industry. There must be privatisation and better management.
We have a private sector coal industry. Why have we stifled it? We have private coal mines and mining expertise in the private sector. Why do we not encourage it? Why should the coal industry be retained as a state monopoly? There is plenty of scope for providing efficient 652 competition in the private sector. It is nonsense that companies such as BP should have to mine coal in Australia and elsewhere and are prohibited from using their expertise to mine coal in Britain. It is nonsense that our profitable, opencast mining industry should be deliberately stifled by the National Coal Board. Instead of encouraging more licensing, the NCB is abusing its monopoly to hold back that profitable private sector.
Why should not new reserves of coal, like oil and gas be licensed to encourage private investment for the benefit of the economy as a whole? Why should not miners have a better deal in the private sector, as every other privatised industry provides? There is plenty of scope for introducing genuine competition to the NCB. We could sell off some of the profitable pits, so that the coal board could concentrate on putting right the unprofitable pits.
Let us get on with what we have done in the other industries for the benefit of the economy, the consumer and, above all, the employees in that industry.
The nation should note the way in which the Labour party encouraged the miners to believe that they were supporting an honourable dispute, when it knew that the miners had been tricked, bullied and intimidated into supporting a lost cause. It is time that the country realised that Labour's attitude has been to wreck a once great union, and now it has the nerve to demand that the coal board surrender to impossible terms.
Even today, when the disastrous NUM leadership has been discredited and exposed for its shameful deception of its members, and when the suicidal policies of Arthur Scargill are rejected by more and more disillusioned miners, who remains to support Scargillism and all that it represents? Not the miners, not the TUC and not even any other union—just the Labour party and Her Majesty's official Opposition. Long may they remain the Opposition.
§ Mr. Martin Redmond (Don Valley)
It gives me no pleasure to speak in this debate about a dispute that should not have taken place.
The Secretary of State must take full responsibility. He should have got off his backside and involved himself more openly in trying to resolve the dispute. His failure to do so shows either that he agrees with the Prime Minister's policy or that he does not have the guts to stand up for what is right.
I said recently that the Secretary of State knew nothing about industrial relations. It is now apparent that he knows even less about the coal industry. In view of the duration of the strike and the right hon. Gentleman's failure to do anything, he should do the honourable thing and resign.
The various plans for coal are not worth the paper on which they are written if there is no overall energy policy, and there can be no such policy while the Government allow short-term market forces to dictate the size of the industry. An overall energy policy based on coal must be implemented for the long-term good of the nation.
The Government and the NCB have shown that their pea-sized brains are incapable of understanding and discharging their duties. The Government, who have allowed the dispute to cost £5.5 billion, should be charged with treason, for it is obvious that they do not comprehend the figures. If not charged with treason, they should be 653 committed to Rampton hospital. Having worked in the industry and served on various committees, I would not trust the coal board to run a children's tea party.
As for the Cortonwood issue, when Yorkshire took the decision to strike — because the NCB refused to implement the then policies on pit closures — the Government sat on their backsides, did nothing and allowed the strike to start the following Monday.
Hickleton pit was made uneconomic some years ago, as the result of bad investment and bad management. Bentley pit, under the old ABC hit list, was to close, but as a result of the Doncaster NUM panel threatening total strike action, the then area director caused investment to be made in that pit. Meanwhile, the rest of the pits in the Doncaster area were being asked to produce the same excellent profits for the industry. That shows that, when good investment takes place, a pit—even one on the hit list—can produce a profit for the good of the industry and the local community.
I could go on at length giving examples of stupid decisions made by the coal board, but time does not permit me to deal with that aspect in depth. One can only hope that if these points are made often enough, they will penetrate even the minds of Tory Members, who may then feel able to question whether the Government are pursuing policies that are good for the nation.
It is strange that in other countries the private sector is investing in their coal industries—anticipating the future demand for coal—while the British Government would sooner import coal and see our miners on the dole, with all the consequences of deprivation and so on. It is economics gone crazy.
Comparisons have been made between Labour and Conservative Administrations closing pits. The main difference is that, under previous Labour Governments, there were alternative jobs for the miners. There is clear evidence to support the aims and objectives of the NUM.
A number of reports have been made on the method of accountancy employed by the coal board, reference has been made to the Government's stance throughout the dispute and much has been said about the social cost of it all to the mining communities. Lord Kaldor has argued a simple and overwhelming case against the Government's and the coal board's policy. Andrew Glyn has argued that the NCB's policy is wrong. Barnsley council in south Yorkshire has produced a booklet entitled, "Coal Mining and Barnsley". It is a study of employment prospects in the area, especially if the Government have their way. If the Secretary of State cannot afford to buy a copy of that booklet, I will purchase one for him.
The University of Manchester Institute of Science of Technology has argued against the misleading method of accountancy employed by the NCB, yet the Secretary of State buries his head in the sand like an ostrich. He should spend more time reading suggestions and reports which conflict with the methods employed by the NCB, especially in the light of the financial jargon that emanates from the board.
Not once have the Government argued their case on logic and truth. In reality, there is no logic or reason in their policy. If there had been, Government time would have been provided for us to debate the problems facing the mining industry. If the Government were correct in their policy—and they are not—they would argue their 654 case for pit closures before an independent body, which would have the final say on whether a pit should close. The Government will not do that, because they are like frightened children. They do not have the guts to argue their case before an independent panel. Their policy is a total disaster for the nation.
I have seen all the correspondence that has passed between the union and the coal board, and I can say with confidence that the NCB and the Government are pathetic in their lack of understanding of industrial relations. The letter listing five negotiating points sent by the NUM to Mr. Spanton last Friday was most reasonable. For the coal board to have refused to act in accordance with that—either on its own or at the direction of the Government—makes one question the sanity of those involved.
A bold, imaginative policy of investment in the mining industry by men with the vision to think of the future needs of the industry would receive the grateful thanks of future generations, but the present Government will stand condemned. The propaganda that has appeared in the media would no doubt warm the cockles of Goebbels' heart, because the media have distorted the truth. I hope that this debate will give the public some of the knowledge that has not yet appeared in the media.
§ Mr. Gerald Howarth (Cannock and Burntwood)
The media cannot have distorted Mr. Scargill's position sufficiently, as he made it absolutely plain on radio this morning that he has not budged an inch. On a day when a record 2,237 men have gone back to work for the first time, I warmly welcome this debate. I have the privilege of representing many miners—
§ Mr. Howarth
No, I have only just started.
I reject the description of the dispute as "the miners' strike" because my constituents care about their jobs. To their great credit, the vast majority of miners in Staffordshire are at work today. Many of my constituents work at Littleton colliery in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack). That colliery is not just working virtually as normal but is back in profit. That is a great achievement.
§ Mr. Howarth
I doubt whether the Leader of the Opposition welcomes this debate, as it has taken him eight months to find time for it. Despite the appearance of unanimity, this issue divides the Labour party from top to bottom. The miners have never had a better deal — significantly better than they had under the stewardship of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), who was booted out at the last election. Picket line violence is losing support for the Labour party like a haemorrhage. That support is now coming to the Conservative party, certainly in my constituency.
The Leader of the Opposition knows that the real purpose of the strike is an assault on the democratic system of this country. Above all, he knows that economics must play a part in pit closures, as he said himself today and on radio last Friday morning. He had to stage this debate because he knows that the Labour party is now controlled by men who wish to introduce the tactics of the picket line into this very Chamber. If leadership is woefully lacking 655 among the Opposition, no such deficiency exists on the Conservative side. The leadership of the NUM has sought to challenge democracy.
§ Mr. Howarth
The Opposition's belief in freedom of expression is skin deep. The NUM leadership has sought to challenge democracy, to turn out the lights of Britain, to deny heat to the elderly and infirm and to paralyse the economy. The people of Britain expect the Government to be robust and to give all necesary support to the NCB in its attempt to manage the industry. I believe that the people of Britain have not been disappointed by the resolution of my right hon. and hon. Friends in supporting management's right to manage. Management was always undermined when the nation had the misfortune to be ruled by a Labour Government. Under the Conservative Government, management has been given the authority to manage, and I congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends on their achievement in this difficult and damaging strike.
§ Mr. Howarth
I know that the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) is a fair man. I am sorry that I cannot give way now. Perhaps I shall have time later. I wish to make three brief points.
First, pit closures are nothing new in my constituency. In a very small geographical area, 12 pits have been closed since 1947 with the loss of 9,650 jobs, but not one day was lost in strike action as a result.
§ Mr. Howarth
Yes, those closures were by agreement, but they took place on economic grounds as well as on grounds of exhaustion.
Secondly, intimidation has been the worst since the war and has been a major feature in the campaign to stop men going back to work. Constituents are still coming to me, saying that they have been hounded out of the business by the extent of picketing, sometimes on the insistence of their wives, who could not stand it any longer. Those men have lost their jobs and have no new jobs to go to. There has been a conspiracy to organise mass picketing up and down the country. How else could there have been 6,000 men at Orgreave on one day?
§ Mr. Howarth
The hon. Gentleman seems uncertain where we stand on liberty. The police are there in support of liberty, although I do not expect him to appreciate that. Only yesterday, the president of the NUM called for further mass picketing. I submit that, under section 7 of the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act 1875, such acts constitute a conspiracy to organise illegal picketing throughout the country. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has said that he wishes to encourage chief constables to do all in their power to find evidence of conspiracy. In that, he is supported by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General. The people of Britain believe that there must be evidence of conspiracy. Without organisation, how can 6,000 men gather at the same place?
§ Mr. Howarth
I believe that the strike will soon be over. When it is over, there should be an inquiry into the way in which picketing is organised so that, if necessary, provision can be made to ensure that in the future mass intimidation of this kind is not inflicted on the working men and women of Britain.
Thirdly, my area contains one of the largest opencast pits in the country, producing about 1 million tonnes per annum. Coal has been mined at that pit for the past year, but between the end of March and the end of September there was no movement from the pit because the railwaymen and signalmen refused to move it. The strikers' friends and the destroyers of the British economy are on the Opposition Benches. That coal is now in a volatile condition and has to be moved, so it is being moved by road—with consequent effects on the road system of Staffordshire and surrounding counties.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will say something today about the role of the railwaymen in the dispute. I know that there are drivers willing to move coal. It is outrageous that an industry bleating for more public investment for electrification and so on is shooting itself in the head by refusing to move coal and thus losing at least £50 million per year. What kind of economics or job protection is that? If railwaymen refuse to move coal by rail, there is one remedy left to British Rail—to dismiss them for failing to fulfil their contracts of employment.
I believe that the Government have done extremely well in a difficult and damaging dispute. I believe that the people of Britain are grateful to have a Government who have resolution and who are prepared to stand up to the thugs because—let us make no mistake about it—Mr. Scargill and his formation brick-throwers have been spoiling for this fight for years. The Saltley coke depot business in 1972 was but the forerunner of it.
I believe that there should be no further concessions and that my right hon. and hon. Friends are absolutely right in supporting the coal board, and in standing firm until the NUM agrees to talk about the closure of uneconomic pits that are costing the taxpayer dearly.
§ Mr. Jack Dormand (Easington)
I am sorry that the Secretary of State is not present—but I understand why not. The most memorable episode in the debate will be his wriggling at the Dispatch Box while attempting to answer the many probing questions asked by the Opposition not only about the content of last week's agenda for peace talks in the dispute but about the interpretation of it. Normally —I stress the word "normally" —I find the Secretary of State a forthright debater, someone who gives straight answers. I did not find that today. Therefore, I can deduce only that he was rather less than honest in answering a question which, frankly, could have been answered with a straight yes or no. We did not get that today.
Some people genuinely believed that the Government's policy towards the coal industry was to rid the industry of uneconomic capacity, so pit closures were inevitable. There can be little doubt that the Government wanted and still want a coal industry in which economics plays the most important part, regardless of the consequences. Those who took that view were both naive and misguided. I do not say that there were not other objectives, but the major aim was to destroy the power of the NUM and, having done that, to pave the way for similar policies 657 against the whole trade union movement. The planning of the operation was as precise and deliberate as that of a military campaign. It is worth while taking a few sentences to say what constituted that operation and why I believe it to be so.
When the miners made the Prime Minister climb down over wages in 1981, several things happened. Coal production was stepped up until a total of 53 million tonnes was stocked, but—this is important—the Government ensured that 26 million tonnes of that stock were placed at the power stations. That was the crucial part of the operation. Incidentally, that amount was more than twice as much as had ever been stocked at the power stations in the history of the industry.
While that was happening, the Government were, in the House, changing the social security laws and regulations to the detriment of strikers. We now see the most infamous operating, in that miners on strike are deemed to be receiving strike pay—a sum of £16, which they never receive. That directly affects their social security entitlement and is part of the reason for the hardship among miners' families.
The Government were more explicit with other legislation. Their three trade union and employment Acts constitute a direct attack on the unions and form an important part of the whole structure of the offensive not only on the miners but on the whole of the organised labour movement. The most flagrant attack on the miners was yet to come. Anyone who had any doubts at the time about the Government's intentions had them dispelled with the appointment of Ian MacGregor as chairman of the NCB. His record in the United States and this country was an ideal qualification, in the eyes of the most callous of Prime Ministers, for the rundown of the industry, regardless of the social costs, and, as some of us would argue, regardless of the economic costs to the country. Some of my hon. Friends demonstrated that today.
Had that been the end of the story, it would have been bad enough, but there was more to come. MacGregor chose when and how to launch his attack with considerable ease. He provoked the strike at the beginning of spring so that some six months of fine weather could be expected. In the event, that fine weather materialised. He also announced the closure of five pits without carrying out the normal consultations or procedures that were in operation at the time. That is one of the most disgraceful acts that has taken place in the dispute.
I have not said anything new in describing those events, but they constitute the most devious operations against organised labour in this century and are reminiscent of the action taken by employers in the 18th and 19th centuries, when trade unions were beginning to make themselves heard. I have to say that the Government and the NCB have had some success, but I say to the Secretary of State that it is a short-term success, and the Government had better not forget it.
The original purpose of the Government's and the NCB's policy was to remove 4 million tonnes of capacity from production and to reduce the number of jobs by 20,000. There are various estimates of how much has been taken out of the industry, but it is reasonable to assume, on the basis of past production figures, that 80 million tonnes will have been taken out because of the strike. There will be no trouble for the Government with regard 658 to manpower because they will get rid of the 20,000 workers with no problem when the strike comes to a conclusion.
As that is the situation, why on earth are the board and the Government being so stubborn, obstinate and, above all, so vindictive about it? The answer is plain for everyone to see. They are revelling unashamedly in a political strike of their own making.
However, I warn the Government. I said a few moments ago that they were having some short-term success. In the longer term, people who do not hold any particular brief for the miners will say — indeed, they are saying it now — "Enough is enough." They are appalled by the hardship among miners' families, they are frightened by the alienation of the police and the new uses to which police forces have been put, and they are bewildered by the divisions in the mining communities and the conflict between some mining and non-mining areas. They fear, with justification, that the fabric of our society, torn as it has been by almost a year of strife, will not be the same for a generation; that the changes will affect every man, woman and child for a generation.
The Government may believe that their war is won. We have seen evidence of that in the speeches today. Thinking that would be foolish in the extreme. Thousands of miners—many in my constituency—are determined to stay out in the absence of an honourable settlement, and that will exacerbate the present difficulties in the dispute, regardless of whether more than 50 per cent. go back to work. The Government have not persuaded miners to return to work by the force of their arguments; that has been done by the hardship brought upon the miners by the sheer political spite of the Prime Minister and her senior colleagues.
The Government have left and continue to leave unanswered several important questions. Let me put them quickly. I have already mentioned one, about why the Government do not recognise the loss of production and manpower. Several of my hon. Friends have raised my second point. Why do the Government not have the grace and humility to consider that their concept of the "profitability" of a pit is now under serious question? There are at least four studies — indeed, about half a dozen have been mentioned in the debate—which are objective and have no connection with the NUM or the NCB, and which dispute the accountancy methods of the board and the Government. After all, this is at the centre of the dispute, and it is arrogance in the extreme for the Government to believe that they hold a monopoly of wisdom on such a crucial issue in the face of such contrary evidence.
I remind the Government that the miners see this as a dispute about jobs and the destruction of the mining communities. The belated offer of £5 million towards a company to provide new jobs is a disgrace to a mining community which has such a great tradition. Indeed, the Government themselves were shamefaced, because that figure has now been increased to £10 million. When I asked the Secretary of State about this last week, he said, "Well, of course, we can consider a higher figure if necessary." That reveals the weakness of the Government's case.
If the Government are really serious about helping to create alternative employment, they will have to think much more seriously than they have done so far. If I had time, I could draw a parallel with Consett in my own area.
659 The case for coal is overwhelming. If we had a Government who believed in an expanding economy, we would never have coal stocks of more than 50 million tonnes. An increase in exports, the extension of the boiler conversion scheme and taking coal liquefaction seriously are only some of the things that could produce a successful and expanding coal industry.
§ 7.1 pm
§ Mr. John Hannam (Exeter)
It is appropriate that on this day, when a hesitant and reluctant Labour party leadership has been forced to use its Supply day for a coal debate, a record number of striking miners have returned to work. By lunchtime alone, 2,237 miners had turned their backs on Mr. Scargill and the dinosaurian NUM, including 870 in the north-east in Northumbria and Durham and 552 in the Scargill home area of Yorkshire.
That clearly shows that the stream is now turning into a flood and that the NUM case is collapsing around its ears. Therefore, this debate is not about the war—the dispute — but about the peace. The war is effectively over. The soldiers are putting down their weapons and are on their way back. Therefore, I do not wish to go over the old ground but to concentrate on the present position.
Many hon. Members will speak as representatives of coal mining constituencies, and their evidence and advice is always valuable to the House. But as we know, our loyalties to our constituents to a great extent often influence our attitudes. That is only to be expected. My position is that of one who since the early 1970s has been involved in the energy sector. I do not represent a coal mining constituency but I can claim to have shown consistent support for the development of a successful coal industry.
Through Coal Bill after Coal Bill throughout the 1970s and under different Governments, I have seen financial provision for miners, their families and the industry increase substantially. I have seen Labour Governments close pits on uneconomic grounds, just as I have Conservative Governments—matched at the same time by stupendous amounts of investment in new fields. I must, however, say that the Conservative record on pit closures comes nowhere near the numbers closed under the Labour Governments of 1964 and 1974, when 295 pits were closed and 250,000 miners put out of work at derisory levels of compensation compared with those now offered by this Government.
Many uneconomic pits have closed under Labour. Provision for that was included in the Coal Industry Act 1977, when the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), then Secretary of State for Energy, took the powers necessary to assist financially with the Coal Board'selimination of uneconomic colliery capacity".The clearest evidence of the political nature of this dispute is the fact that the NUM sat down and took passively the Labour Government's massive closure programme without strike action, while a small and relatively well-cushioned closure of about 20 pits has produced this crippling and self-destructive unballoted strike.
§ Mr. Hannam
I am sorry, but time does not allow me to give way to interventions.
The Labour leadership has known the NUM case to be flimsy from the very beginning. It has also known that the actions of the strikers have been undemocratic. That is 660 why the Opposition have been so equivocal about debating this issue or about standing up to be counted on the real reason for the dispute, which is obviously a naked attempt to overthrow an elected Government by violent methods.
Once again, the country can see the hypocrisy of the Labour party, which says one thing in government and another in opposition. It is like Dr. Doolittle's "push-me-pull-you", which faced both ways at the same time. Throughout this dispute, the Opposition have argued that the Government should intervene. There has now been a reversal, and the Opposition are saying that the Government must take no action, even when the most sensible statements are made by the Prime Minister or by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy. The coal board requirement that any further talks must include the closure of uneconomic pits is surely common sense. That is the very nub of the dispute. After seven previous negotiations and a rejected ACAS arbitration, any final set of talks must evolve around an agreed system for such closures.
§ Mr. Hannam
Because that is the very nub of the dispute.
To try to make political capital through accusations of revenge and malice on the part of the coal board and the Government is just stuff and nonsense, and totally irresponsible at that. The Labour party should be persuading the beleaguered NUM executive that it must agree to uneconomic pits being top of the agenda because, as I have said, that is the crux of the whole dispute.
Mr. Scargill's desire to fight on does not necessarily mean the loss of his job, his car or his pension, but it means that, day by day, the union is facing disruption and loss of integrity and the miners are facing the loss of coal faces and coal markets. I do not think that Mr. Scargill is too bothered about the effect on the Labour party. If that collapsed, I am sure that along with some of his friends he would be happy to pick up the pieces and remould it into a shape that he would like.
In my work in the energy sector, I meet many industy representatives who at various times present their views on energy matters which affect their firms. In recent weeks and months, the one message that has come through strong and clear is that, if we could put the coal industry on to a competitive, productive footing, industry which uses large amounts of energy would invest large amounts of capital in new coal firing plant and processes.
Only last week I met the leaders of the British Paper and Board Industries Federation, who use large amounts of energy for their continuous process mills. They informed us that, just before the beginning of the coal dispute last March, that industry had decided in principle to convert to coal. This was based on its evaluation of Mr. MacGregor's plans for an expanding, competitive coal industry, including the phasing out of heavily uneconomic pits and the development of new low-cost fields. The investment programmes of those industries ran into millions of pounds per plant, with resultant large orders and jobs as well as new customers for the coal industry. All those plans were shelved when the dispute began.
Labour Members must realise that these major investments in coal-burning plant will not take place if coal does not become more competitive. In other words, 661 if for one political reason or another a final deal is fudged and uneconomic pit closures do not take place, we shall lose the opportunity for these major advances in the installation of coal-burning plant.
That was confirmed at a CBI meeting last week, when I was informed that the wholesale price of coal had to come down from about £55 a tonne to about £35 a tonne. That is why this is a crucial and fundamental issue, and why I fully support the coal board's determination to achieve that aim. It represents the future of the British coal industry. With a competitive price, coal production could rise to between 130 million and 140 million tonnes a year, as Mr. MacGregor stated before the strike began. Without a successful outcome, the continuation of high-cost fuel and coal production will cause the industry to wither away and production to decline to between 70 million and 80 million tonnes.
I want to see the targets for exports of British coal achieved, an increase in the numbers of firms converting to the use of coal, and a modern industry emerging. I want that industry to be highly paid, highly skilled and highly successful. That is why the NCB is absolutely right to insist on this fundamental issue being top of the agenda.
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)
I shall deal with the central issue of the dispute and the debate—the definition of the word "economic". In a letter to The Guardian in the autumn Lord Kaldor said:Uneconomic pits, though they cause financial losses, bring a net benefit in the form of an additional supply of exhaustible resources which otherwise would not be retrievable.That simple text shows that we cannot talk about coal and fossil fuels as if they were manufactured goods which could be produced at a development agency advance factory.
Since I have been a Member of the House, the Conservative party has not produced any arguments about uneconomic farming. We have not heard arguments about the economics of food production, yet the same arguments apply to the extractive industry of coal production as to the extractive industry of agriculture. I should like Ministers and Tory supporters who talk about economic pits to address their remarks to agriculture.
We hear that individual pits are uneconomic, yet the Trident missile programme at £11 billion, the fortress Falklands policy at £5 billion—an uneconomic pit if ever there was one — and the advanced gas-cooled reactor nuclear programme are within the Government's definition of "economic". Only the coal industry is not economic. The only way to explain that is by understanding the economics of the coal industry in terms of the Government's overall approach to public expenditure, and especially to those who work in the coal industry and the National Union of Mineworkers.
Recently we heard a further analysis of the Government's assessment of uneconomic pits. I refer to the work done by two economists at the university of Wales — Tony Cutler and Karel Williams. They examined the basis of the NCB's calculations that were presented to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission in 1981. Their analysis shows clearly that the 70 pits identified by the NCB as big loss-makers and highly uneconomic, many of which are in the south Wales 662 coalfield, are not high-cost pits, but pits that are marginal to the board's investment strategy. There is an important difference between those two points.
An uneconomic pit is not one that is losing large sums, but a pit that is marginal to the NCB's investment strategy. It is noticeable that the real link between the 70 pits is not a lack of profitability but a lack of investment. They are located in the geographically peripheral coalfields in Wales, Scotland and Durham. The comparative figures in cash and percentage totals for mining investment by NCB area between 1979–80 and 1983–84 show that Scotland received 4.5 per cent. of the total investment, and south Wales 3.5 per cent. In cash terms the investment level in south Wales has declined from £52 million in 1979–80 to £24 million in 1983–84. The NCB's investment strategy creates uneconomic pits.
The Government argue, and the NCB confirms, that the free market determines the price of coal and the energy market, and therefore that the economics of the free market and the profitability of a product in the free market determine what is economic. That is wholly spurious economics. The shape of the energy market is determined by the Central Electricity Generating Board, which takes about 70 per cent. of the NCB's output. Therefore, there is no free market in coal. That notion is pure Thatcherite-Government propaganda. The price, profitability and investment prospects of coal are not dictated by a spurious free market but determined by negotiations between two Government-controlled monopolies—the CEGB and the NCB. The CEGB is encouraged to increase its selling prices, and the NCB is expected to cut its prices so that coal price rises are kept below the rate of inflation. A continued hidden subsidy is coming increasingly into the open—the hidden subsidy from the CEGB to the NCB, which makes the CEGB economic and the NCB uneconomic. Therefore, the shape of the energy market is determined by the Government.
The investment strategy of the NCB is also decided by the Government, and therefore it is an essentially political decision to invest heavily in the super-pits in Nottinghamshire and to starve the south Wales pits with their irreplaceable reserves of low sulphur-content coal. That strategy is a self-fulfilling prophecy. As the so-called uneconomic pits of south Wales are starved of resources, they become, in the Government's terms, more uneconomic.
In 1983 in south Wales, investment per head was £11,400, and incurred operating costs of £58.8 per tonne. The north Nottinghamshire coalfield received £21,900 per head and had an operating cost of £32 per tonne. There is a clear link between the level of investment and the productivity in so-called uneconomic pits. The profitability of pits has as much, if not more, to do with the amount of investment in them as with their geological condition, to which Conservative Members always refer when they talk about uneconomic pits.
The Government have not found funds for new investment, and the NCB has not placed its new investment in the peripheral areas. As a result it is a political decision to centralise production in the large capital-intensive and ultimately union-free areas. The central coalfields will no doubt be privatised. At the same time those areas which are economic in real terms—in terms of the energy needs of Britain—are starved of investment.
663 I have a nuclear power station in my constituency and I represent nuclear power workers. If we applied the same accounting practice to nuclear power stations, there would be a large number of uneconomic nuclear power stations, but the Government do not apply the same practices. While the Government face their sterling crisis, their argument about the relative costs of imported coal and home-produced coal is turned on its head. NCB profitability was calculated on an exchange rate of $1.70, but the rate has now declined. At the present rate, home-produced coal is as profitable in the Government's own free market terms as imported coal.
The Government will not heed what I have said because they are not interested in the economics of energy policy, to which many hon. Members have sought to refer during the debate. Their main interest is in the political outcome of the dispute. They are conducting a campaign on the basis, not of economic rationality, but of the Thatcherite philosophy of a free market, and especially on the restructuring of politics of Britain. Because the mining areas have continually produced Socialist leaders who have challenged the economics of the free market, the Government seek to destroy the mining communities. In south Wales we understand that the enemy within is not found in the pits of west Yorkshire or west Wales, but here in the Palace of Westminster.
§ Mr. T. H. H. Skeet (Bedfordshire, North)
I listened with great interest to the speech of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), who congratulated the people on strike on their forbearance during the tough winter. I remind him that the winter is almost over, and that stocks are high. I wish to pay tribute to the 70,000 miners—42 per cent. of the work force — who are working. The striking miners can end their plight by going back to work tomorrow if they so choose.
An interesting point about the debate is that so far Opposition Members have focused on the Government and have not mentioned Mr. Scargill. Let us examine what Mr. Scargill has done. There have been seven rounds of talks, and on each occasion he could have put many matters on the agenda. After each set of talks, he said, "What a good man I have been. I have not moved an inch." Mr. Scargill has disregarded the law. In the Financial Times of 3 October, Mr. Scargill is quoted as saying:Let me say this. The High Court decision, as far as we are concerned, will not be accepted. Our rules and constitution have been upheld, and the Derbyshire strike is official. The Yorkshire strike is official, and 86 per cent. of the members in an individual ballot voted for the decision … There is no High Court judge going to take away the democratic right of our union to deal with internal affairs. We are an independent democratic trade union.Here is a man who is prepared to defy the law to vindicate his actions. He says, "To hell with the law of the land." No one in the House, from the Conservative party and I dare say from the Opposition, would give credence to those remarks.
I have never heard Mr. Scargill say that he condones intimidation or that he is prepared to accept a picket of six or seven, as laid down by the CBI—[HON. MEMBERS: "The CBI?"] The CBI has accepted some discipline, as has the TUC. Mr. Scargill is prepared to cast aside TUC advice because he wishes to goad by intimidation. It is remarkable that the Opposition have exonerated him from all responsibility, but have fixed all the responsibility on a Government who provide investment in the industry. 664 The Government have said that none of the 20,000 workers involved will become unemployed. They will all be engaged elsewhere and there will be no mandatory redundancies. Those who wish to accept the redundancy terms—probably the best in British industry—can do so. Will they not accept those terms?
I wish that I could persuade the NUM to accept that coal cannot live in a market which is out of balance. In the 20 most profitable and successful pits, it costs £28 to produce a tonne of coal, whereas in the 20 worst pits, it costs about £90 a tonne. But it is precisely the latter pits which Mr. Scargill will not allow to be closed. That is ridiculous. Does not the NUM realise that the future of mining will be a small, efficient industry producing about 100 million tonnes a year, with production increasing gradually in response to market conditions?
This is the most ludicrous dispute in British history, and it is about the closure of 20 pits that were outlined by the chairman of the coal board. Since the dispute began almost a year ago, about 37 coal faces have collapsed because of fire or convergence. That destruction could have been avoided. Although the NUM is trying to safeguard 20 pits, other coal faces have been collapsing right, left and centre. The miners are destroying their own facilities. From where will the money come to recreate those facilities in new pits?
The hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Wrigglesworth) said that many pits could be made economic if we spent more money on them. We already spend £700 million a year on capital investment in the industry. Further, there are deficit and and other grants payable to the board. The coal industry is pre-empting too much of the nation's wealth. What about the rest of industry, including high technology industry, which requires money? It is being neglected.
The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Thomas) mentioned pit closures. I should like to go through all the points he made with him. I have also received documents from Gavyn Davies of Simon and Coates and from David Metcalf. It is not for us to argue during this short debate about what should happen now and what should be taken into account. When the coal board regains the confidence of the mining communities after the dispute, it is for the NCB to reach the right conclusions about the industry. I hope that when the strike is over, the board's finances will be reconstructed. The board is completely and technically insolvent, and much of its debt will have to be written off.
§ Mr. Skeet
The coal board exists only because the taxpayer is prepared to subsidise it enormously. It is subsidised much more than any other industry, and the public are becoming fed up with it. The coal board survives only because the public are prepared to pay higher prices for electricity than they need do. Everyone knows that that is true. The Government have been able to get through this winter successfully because more than 18 per cent. of our power is produced by nuclear and oil power stations, and we have obtained cheap, imported coal. I acknowledge that British coal is becoming more competitive as the pound falls against the dollar. However, we must remember that to keep British prices competitive for the consumer, we must have some imports.
665 During our debates on the Coal Industry Act 1980, the Government talked about their hopes for the profitability of the industry by 1983–84. When that time arrived, the coal board was no nearer profitability. We were then told that there could be a vast expansion in the mines and that we had many years of reserves. But, of course, that was not true. We have also been told that we should invest heavily in the industry because we have security of supply. We have had no such thing. We had trouble with the mining community in 1971–72, interruptions in coal supplies in 1973 and 1974, and serious disruption in supplies in 1984 and 1985.
Finally, may I say this to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and the Government: we must remember the Government's responsibility to the nation to ensure that we have enough stocks to see us through the winter, and to ensure that the prices charged for that fuel are reasonable.
§ Mr. Ray Ellis (Derbyshire, North-East)
This debate has been like nearly all other debates. At least the Government's track record is consistent. When they first took office in 1979, they started to blame everything on previous Governments, and five and half years later they are still doing it. I do not absolve from my strictures any Government, past, present or to come, who will sterilise vast tracts of the nation's precious coal wealth underground for the sake of temporary economic expedience.
I would prefer to consider the acquired wisdom of the ages. Let us start with Lord Stockton. He had recently been in the headlines for attacking the Government's monetary policies. I refer to the days when he was Britain's Prime Minister — "Supermac". He went to Washington to speak to the Government on Capitol Hill on behalf of Britain. He told the Yanks that they could not compare their economy to ours. They are fortunate and have the benefits of farmlands, forests and mineral wealth. In Britain, he pointed out, the only thing that we have is fish around our shores, the coal under our feet and the skills of our workpeople. His words to the Senate were:Our greatest asset is the quality of our workforce".Our skills in industry enable Britain to survive and compete. Of the three important things—fish, coal and skill—the Government have discarded all three.
Macmillan went to the United States to defend Britain—MacGregor has been brought from the United States to destroy Britain. The roots of the miners' strike must lie in the series of deliberate acts of provocation committed by MacGregor on behalf of the Government. They have sought a battle, provoked a battle and, by the spirits, they have got a battle. No doubt they will argue that they did not want to destroy the coal mining industry, but intended only to destroy the spirit of the workers. Events have shown that they cannot have one without the other. The day will never come when we have a quiescent work force in Britain that will accept the stupid diktats that come from the monetarist policy of the Prime Minister.
No one in the NCB, and certainly no one in the Government, would have believed that the great bulk of the miners would still be out when the strike approached its first anniversary. However, the miners are still out, and it is not because they have been hypnotised by Arthur 666 Scargill or anyone else. It is because they see that the continued existence of their pit is the only alternative to generations of abject poverty.
They are not on strike because they are masochists or because they are enamoured of being locked away from daylight underground, scrabbling for a living on their hands and knees and eating coal dust. Like the Prime Minister, they see no alternative. There is no other hope. Since 1979, they have seen the steelworks decimated, jobs lost in their communities, in the service industries for which they had hopes for their kids, in the Health Service and in education. They have seen whole factories packed up in crates to be sent off to be used by our competitors. They have seen the Government busily exporting whatever other alternative employment there has been.
It is indisputable that the logic of the Prime Minister's monetary policy taken to its conclusion decrees that there can be no reversal of the trend of constant grinding down until the living standards of ordinary British working people are driven below those of the peasants in Korea, Hong Kong and Hanoi. There are many on the Government Benches who know this to be true and some who applaud it.
I can give an enlightening example of the thinking behind the talk, of the philosophy of the chairman of the coal board and the Government who imported him. It can be found in Mr. MacGregor's choice of words—if they are his. Earlier in the strike, Mr. MacGregor manipulated words, and offered the word "beneficial" as the criterion for pit closures. The Prime Minister applauded it and repeated it here. However, she got that word from her study of Victorian values. In 1848, when giving evidence to a public inquiry, the agent for the Countess of Durham, who owned 23 coal mines, objected to the abolition of child labour underground on the grounds that it would not be "beneficial". If anybody has been in any doubt as to what this dispute has been about, they should know now.
The Government's policies are debasing Britain, and selling us short. There are some on the Government Benches who know that this is so and disagree with it. They should assert themselves to ensure that the trend is reversed. They should start now, tonight, by voting with us to ensure that the Prime Minister is compelled to tell MacGregor to get the coal board back to the negotiating table, in the interests not only of the miners but of the future of the nation.
§ Mr. David Ashby (Leicestershire, North-West)
As the House knows, a large number of coal mining constituencies are represented by Conservative Members, and that can only be because a large number of miners voted for this Government.
In this debate, we have heard what can only be described as a confidence trick deployed by the Labour party — a sleight of mouth if not of hand. No doubt, when the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) winds up, we shall hear not only about the sweat of the brow but about starving miners, one of the great confidence tricks perpetrated on the British people. We have heard of food being sent from Poland—food that would be better sent to Ethiopia. I have not seen any starving miners. They all seem to be as well-padded as I am.
§ Mr. Ashby
Of course I have — I have a mining constituency.
This confidence trick has been so well carried out that the Leader of the Opposition had to tell the Russians that the miners were not starving. That is a measure of the untruths that have been coming from Labour Members.
Another untruth is the use of the word "vindictive". The Government are said to be "vindictive". This is said to be a "vindictive" policy. It would be vindictive if the Government were to say that there was no more money for the industry and that they were going to stop supporting it. Instead, we are supporting it in a way that the Opposition never did, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State told the House today.
The other word that we have heard is "provocation". Apparently it was a provocation to appoint as chairman of the NCB one of the most knowledgeable men in the mining industry who, at the age of 73, has been in mining throughout almost all his life and who has more knowledge of the industry in his little finger than most Opposition Members have in their bodies. Apparently it is a provocation to refuse to give in to economic madness. If that is provocation, let us have a bit more of it.
My constituency includes two minefields—the south Leicester minefield and about 80 per cent. of the south Derbyshire minefield—[Interruption.] I apologise to the House. I meant, of course, coalfield.
§ Mr. Ashby
It may be one, I agree.
In south Leicestershire, only 30 out of 6,000 miners are on strike. The men there insisted that they would continue to work until there was a ballot. They demanded a ballot in Leicestershire. There was no ballot, so they continued to work. Because they have chosen to work, they are subjected to violence and intimidation. Villages in north-west Leicestershire have suffered at the hands of hordes of pickets from as far afield as Kent. They damage gardens. They urinate in gardens. They make life quite impossible for the people who live in those villages. Shops have been broken into. There has been a general aura of intimidation and violence in the area.
The resolve of my constituents who work in the industry has not been broken, and I should tell the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) that Mr. Scargill — [Interruption.] I call him "Mr. Scargill", although we keep hearing from Opposition Members about "MacGregor". There seems to be no politeness among the Opposition. What is more, it is surprising how, when a Government supporter who represents a mining constituency is on his feet, the noise begins to come from the Opposition. We are seeing exactly the intimidation in the House that we see outside.
When Mr. Scargill visited Rawdon colliery in my constituency, he stayed for only about five minutes. The miners bundled him into a car and made him leave.
§ Mr. Ashby
I ask why Mr. Scargill is loathed by Leicestershire and south Derbyshire miners to the extent that he is. It is because he has linked the NUM closely with unprecedented intimidation and blackmail. He has destroyed one of the finer unions. He has destroyed villages, pitting father against son and brother against 668 brother—all for a spurious claim about the supposed destruction of pits and jobs which is not sustained by the facts. In Leicestershire, it is known that the Government and the NCB have stood by their pledges. The board is going ahead at Asfordby, for example, and the Government are providing the capital.
§ Mr. Ashby
They also know that the NCB has negotiated seven times and failed seven times because the NUM would not discuss the very heart and core of the matters needing to be discussed. Seven meetings later, the NUM has the cheek to say that it has no preconditions. It says that, but it also says that it will not talk about the closure of pits on economic grounds. That seems to be the prime precondition that the NUM and Mr. Scargill are putting forward.
It is Mr. Scargill who has not given an inch in the last 11 months. He has perpetrated a confidence trick on the nation by saying that he has no preconditions. I say that that is a cruel and heartless confidence trick played on the many who pray for the end of this madness.
Mr. Scargill talks about the decimation of whole villages because they are dependent on mining. If they are, why not put NUM money, as National Coal Board Enterprises Ltd. has put its money, into profitable ventures which diversify industry in those areas, instead of putting it, as it has done, into Luxembourg banks? Why not unite with and inspire local authorities positively to improve their towns?
We have seen Corby recover from the loss of its steel industry, and it has recovered very well. Coal areas recover from pit closures, but that recovery needs a positive attitude and not a negative one.
Given a partnership between all, everyone can benefit. In my constituency, Coalville has lost one pit and is close to losing another. Vigorous efforts have been made with National Coal Board Enterprises Ltd and with the European Coal and Steel Community—and we could do with NUM money as well—to revitalise the area and to look for new industries and jobs to replace those being lost. Instead, we find that the NUM is so busy playing power politics that it forgets about the very people whom it purports to represent.
I also wonder about the resolve of some of these areas. Many of them have Labour councils. I wonder whether those areas have the resolve to provide the extra industry that is required.
Everyone should get together. We must see NUM money injected into these areas as well. Let us build for the future.
§ Mr. Michael Welsh (Doncaster, North)
At the outset, I want to put the record straight, because the Secretary of State made yet another announcement today to the effect that Arthur Scargill wanted every pit to stay open until the last tonne of coal had been brought out. That is quite wrong. No one who knows anything about mining would 669 make such a statement. When a mine ends production, a certain amount of coal must be left to support the roofs so that the chocks can be removed. Arthur Scargill, to my knowledge, has never said that, and I am interested to know from where the right hon. Gentleman picked up that assertion. If it is not the case and the right hon. Gentleman made it up, I hope that he will not repeat it, because it is a foolish statement and not worthy of any man, even of his character.
I want also to put the record straight about Arthur Scargill. It must be emphasised that he takes his orders from the national executive. As a member of that executive, I happen to know what goes on there. Arthur only carries out its wishes.
I should like to make another correction for the record. The Secretary of State said that Arthur Scargill was holding on to meet ACAS to delay negotiations. ACAS telephoned the national executive of the TUC at about 1.45 pm on Friday and asked to see Arthur, Mick McGahey and Peter Heathfield. The information came by telephone. ACAS asked to see Arthur, not the other way around. I attended the meeting when Arthur gave ACAS the reply "information?" I do not wish to make a point about that, just to set the record straight.
The dispute is about the right to work. The NUM believes that it should have that right and the Government do not. The NUM has written to the NCB asking for negotiations without preconditions many times and the board has refused. On 1 February the board asked the NUM to provide a basis for negotiations. The NUM therefore set down five issues. They were discussions on "Plan for Coal" — the board agrees on that — future collieries and units, the five collieries threatened with immediate closure, the 6 March 1984 proposals and an amnesty. The NUM sent that agenda only because it was asked to do so by the NCB but, as far as I know, the NCB has not replied.
The Government and the NCB want to close uneconomic areas. If so, the first area that should be closed is Nottingham. It has been working all year and is making losses of millions of pounds. I am sure that Conservative Members do not want Nottinghamshire to be closed because it is uneconomic.
§ Mr. Welsh
I am using NCB figures. To be fair to the NCB, all annual accounts in any industry are suspect because of how they are compiled. If units are closed on the basis of suspect accounts, nobody knows whether the units being closed are genuinely uneconomic. That is why there should be detailed negotiations between the NUM and the NCB to define an uneconomic unit.
It should not be forgotten that when a pit is closed, the one next to it is made uneconomic as a pit carries a lot of on-costs, which are thrown on the pit that remains open. Therefore, pits that are profitable according to their own accounts can be made unprofitable by closing the pits next to them. The result could be just one open pit because all of the others have been closed as a result of having to bear the on-costs of pits that were closed before them. Such a result would be daft and, as the NUM said, the issue should be discussed in more detail.
670 When pits are closed, shaft capacity is closed. Demand for coal will increase towards the end of the century but it cannot be met as is the case with a factory. It is possible to get out of a pit only what the shaft capacity allows. Moreover, the critical path of a pit takes 12 to 15 years to meet increased demand.
One of the great issues is the NCB's right to manage. The Government are not asking that it be allowed to manage, they are asking that MacGregor be allowed to dictate. That is a different kettle of fish. They are asking that he should be allowed to dictate just as the Prime Minister dictates to her Cabinet and Back Benchers. I should like to give an example of management.
In 1940, I was pony driving at Bullcroft colliery when the west side went up. Management knew that there had been an explosion, and we had to send six lads in. When they went in there was a second explosion. That often happens underground. We sent in another team, which could get in only so far, and it found the first two lads who were dead. When it came to sending in another team to get the other four who we thought were dead, and most probably were, management came to the union and said, "Please order us to seal it off." We said, "Why do not you take the decision—you are management?" They replied, "Oh, but it's your pit an all, why don't you?" The union had to decide to seal off the corridor. That was probably the right decision but those four kiddies are still down there. We cannot expect managers just to manage pits. They must manage and work with the union through consultation, and more consultation, but that is not what the Prime Minister wants.
There is no such thing as the right to manage in an extraction industry. It is not possible to have a young manager coming in and saying, "Do this, do that." At a coal face he would ask the men, "Which is the best way to do it?" As to the right to manage, it should be done correctly. There should not be dictatorship, which is what MacGregor wants.
§ Mr. Spencer Batiste (Elmet)
I am proud and privileged to represent a mining constituency in the Yorkshire coalfield. I hope that I share with the majority of right hon. and hon. Members the conviction and belief that coal should be at the centre of the provision of energy requirements for Britain long into the future.
However, that future can come only if the price charged by the industry is competitive and if the industry is profitable. An industry or company that is not profitable in the long term will never be able to protect or preserve the jobs of the people who work in it. That inevitably means that the coal industry must look to its future from investment rather than subsidy and that uneconomic pits must be closed, albeit within the framework of a proper consultation process.
Pit closures have always occurred and Opposition Members are right to say that circumstances are now different. The principal difference is that Arthur Scargill is president of the NUM. From the day of his election, he has been determined to have a strike. He has tried to do that through the democratic process and failed repeatedly.
As we have read in the newspapers during the weekend and this morning, the machinations of that man on the executive committee of the National Union of Mineworkers have led to the calling of this deeply undemocratic strike. He has not only denied to the rank 671 and file members of his union the benefit of the ballot to which they are entitled; he has even manoeuvred his own executive so that the strike was called without the majority support of the members of the executive. Because the miners are a deeply democratic group of people this strike has inevitably opened up the deepest rifts within the mining community. It can only be enforced by intimidation and violence by the leadership of the union.
There have been various references to me during the course of the debate. I should like to put on record certain circumstances that were erroneously reported in The Times a couple of weeks ago. I am proud to be the president of the Yorkshire area of the Conservative trade unionist organisation and in that capacity will accept —[Laughter.] The laughter on the Labour benches masks the fear that lurks within them. They know that millions of ordinary trade unionists now vote for the Conservative party because their aims and objectives have been betrayed by the Labour party. I have always accepted invitations to speak to groups of miners, but I have never encouraged anybody to break away from the National Union of Mineworkers. Quite the contrary. When people come to me and say that they are dissatisfied with their officials or with their leadership in the NUM I say to them, "You stay in the NUM and fight for what you believe in." If people drop out of the union it will be for ever condemned to the extremists. Those who come to meetings say, "We are not Tories, but it is only the Tories who will stand up for those who wish to preserve their democratic rights."
Despite all the noise that we hear tonight from the Labour Benches and despite all their intimidation I shall continue, as will all my hon. Friends, to fight for the rights of people to work in the mining industry free from the intimidation of Arthur Scargill and his colleagues. It is those people who are really fighting for the future of the British mining industry. It is their courage and commitment to democracy within the NUM that is an inspiration to this country. It is also a signpost to the way forward. As yet further negotiations founder on Arthur Scargill's intransigence, these men are showing how to fight for the future of their industry.
Arthur Scargill boasts that he has not moved an inch since the strike began. There is a belief among Conservative Members of Parliament and in the country that whenever the return to work builds up steam Arthur Scargill calls for another set of abortive negotiations to try to set it back. All Conservative Members of Parliament believe that the best way for this strike to end is by means of a negotiated settlement. However, there must be only one more set of negotiations. That must be the one to end the strike. And there is no way for the strike to be ended unless at the top of the agenda is the closure of uneconomic pits. That is what the strike has been about from the very beginning.
There are also other important matters that the Government must consider. This strike is nearing its end. As everybody recognises, it has been lost. Therefore we must look to the future of this industry. We must consider what the Government need to do to reassure the people who have been working so hard to preserve that future. The Government must continue to reaffirm and confirm their commitment to investment in the industry in order to ensure that large scale, profitable production will be continued for many years ahead. The Government must continue to guarantee unequivocally to the working miners their fullest protection against intimidation — not just 672 now during the strike, but against any victimisation in the years ahead after the strike is over. The Government must ensure that when the strike is over there is a general amnesty within the industry for those who have worked and for those who have not worked. Those coming back to work must be sure that they will be free from such pressures and that they will not lose either because they have worked or because they have not worked.
The Government must look again at the funding of National Coal Board Enterprises. This type of vehicle could be very successful in stimulating new jobs. The Government must also look at the work of the enterprise agencies which have been successful and try to pull them together by means of adequate funding. In areas such as mine all miners who wish to continue to work when their pits are closed will be offered jobs in other mines in the area. I believe that the NCB must look at the provision of a proper transport network so that people can remain in their communities while accepting jobs that are some distance away.
§ Mr. Batiste
No, I shall not give way to the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse). I have a limited time in which to speak and I shall finish what I have to say. No amount of yobbo yelling from the Left will make me change my mind. Not only must the NCB provide a system of transport so that the fabric of those communities can be preserved, but it is also obliged——
§ The Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Member for Elmet (Mr. Batiste) has said definitely that he is not giving way.
§ Mr. Batiste
If you will give me extra time, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall have no fear about giving way to the Opposition, but I have promised to be brief. Because so many people may in the future live some distance away from their work—[Interruption.] The Deputy Speaker: Order. I believe the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) has a point of order.
§ Mr. Allen McKay
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you please give a ruling upon whether the hon. Member for Elmet (Mr. Batiste) is either deliberately or unintentionally misleading the House?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
As far as I could hear, the hon. Member for Elmet (Mr. Batiste) made no definite allegation against any other hon. Member.
§ Mr. Batiste
Because the future pattern may be that miners will live at a greater distance from their pits than has been traditionally the case, I believe that the NCB must look at the provision that it makes for the holding of branch meetings, both as to the timing and the facilities offered for those meetings.
Having listened to the debate and to the noise on the Labour Benches, appreciating that the face of the rabble they are demonstrating here is the same sort of face that they are showing in the coalfields to the members of the NUM, I am ever more proud that I am a Conservative representative of a mining constituency and I am ever 673 more determined to fight against the abuses of democracy that, unfortunately, in this day are typified by the Labour party.
§ 8.6 pm
§ Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)
Already during the debate I have noticed that Conservative Members have accused my hon. Friends and me of noise and rowdiness. The charge is unjust. At the beginning of the debate my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme) was virtually shouted down. No Conservative Member has been shouted down by my hon. Friends and me, although from time to time we have been roused either to mockery or to irritation by some of the silly things that have been said.
I want to say a word or two about my constituency, which is where the strike began. During the past 12 months I have been horrified on numerous occasions by the deliberate attempts that have been made to provide disinformation, first by senior people in the coal board and then to a very real extent by the Secretary of State for Energy who said this afternoon that no decision had been taken to close Cortonwood colliery—that it had merely been suggested that its future should be reviewed. However, the Minister knows that all of the mining unions in the south Yorkshire area were brought together and told that Cortonwood would cease to produce coal in five weeks' time, that the men would be transferred and that the matter would then be put before the colliery review procedure — an absolute mockery of the supposed arrangement.
Conservative Members have said that nobody wants collieries to be closed. My hon. Friends and I accept that all collieries have a life and that collieries do close. The Minister is well aware that only a couple of miles away from Cortonwood is Elsecar colliery. That colliery ceased to produce coal towards the end of 1983. The miners in my constituency and in the constituencies of my hon. Friends recognised that Elsecar had to close. They were surprised when the National Coal Board guaranteed Cortonwood for five years and persuaded 100 men from the Elsecar colliery to transfer to Cortonwood. Some of those men had not even done a shift down Cortonwood before the decision was taken that it should cease to produce coal.
The hardship, sacrifice and bitterness that has developed during the past 12 months make this a very serious day for the House. We are entitled to demand that the Conservatives as well as my hon. Friends should treat this as a very serious matter.
I hope that when the Minister replies he will answer the point that I have just made and recognise that the Secretary of State may inadvertently have been indulging in the same disinformation as we have heard from the chairman and deputy chairman of the board and, in a letter in The Times, from the secretary to the board.
I was not surprised when the decision was taken. In a debate in December 1983 Labour Members were warning the Government that the situation in the mining industry was dreadful. We called on the Secretary of State to intervene to bring the parties together and to stop the crisis that we could see developing. He flatly refused to carry out what I thought then, and still think now, were his responsibilities. He was perhaps contributing to the 674 situation that we have described today in which we allege that the strike was largely engineered and manipulated by the Government; that it was "a good investment" for the Government, if I may quote the Chancellor. It is no good the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, North (Mr. Skeet) waving his hand. The Chancellor of the Exchequer described the strike as "a good investment".
I do not know how much the strike has cost. The fiscal burden may be £5 billion. It will be an enormous sum. I am concerned not so much about the money that it has cost but the damage which has been done to the social chemistry of our coal fields. The immeasurable consequences of the dispute which have already been described are such as should make any intelligent sensitive politician aware of the enormity of the events.
A situation has developed in areas such as my own which a year ago none of us, not even the most experienced in public life, could have anticipated. Problems have been created that some of us will have to try to resolve. It is about time that Her Majesty's Government contributed to the settlement that they pretend they seek.
I was hopeful after the talks that resumed recently that there would be movement. But the fact remains—here I think that I am quoting the general view of NACODS, the association with which I am involved, and it is a view widely shared in the mining communities generally—that a settlement was in sight until No. 10 intervened. Nothing has been said from the Conservative Benches which in any way removes such suspicions which some of my hon. Friends may regard as a certainty.
The strike has gone on long enough. The miners who are on strike know that it has gone on long enough. I spoke to miner after miner in Swinton, Silverwood, Cortonwood miners welfare and in a hostelry yesterday at Rawmarsh frequented by members of the Kilnhurst NUM. Every one of them agrees with me that it is time that the strike was over. But they want to walk back to their pits. They are not prepared to be subjected to abject humiliation. They are not prepared to be treated like Argentine conscripts in the Falklands war. Those men have put up with more than any Conservative Member can begin to imagine. They are in debt to their eyeballs. They have suffered hardship.
§ Mr. Hardy
Some of my hon. Friends have been sitting here all day hoping to speak in this debate. The hon. Lady comes in late and then expects to get the headlines. I am not giving way for one reason and that is that while I hope that I shall never behave churlishly in the House, if I were to give way to the hon. Lady, I would feel tempted, when she sat down, to use the same response that one of the Scottish Members offered her the other day.
I intervened in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme) and in the speech of the Secretary of State to try to clear up one important matter. It is important, and questions remain. The insistence of the Government or the board—I am not prepared to argue which is responsible — is that the NUM must write out in surrender terms that it accepts that 675 collieries will be closed. That is a contradiction to or a conflict with the agreement about which Ministers — I include the Prime Minister—have boasted since before Christmas.
If the NUM is to accept that collieries are to close without regard to the review procedures and the independent element which is firmly part of the NACODS agreement, the members of NACODS will definitely feel that their agreement is rendered worthless. They are increasingly angry because they are coming to believe that they have been led astray and used by a rather ruthless Administration.
If the Minister wants to see the situation degenerate further he will allow that uncertainty to continue. If he can relieve that uncertainty he will create a climate in which urgent negotiations can begin and a settlement achieved. That settlement is so urgently needed that the Minister should secure approval to clarify the matter before the debate ends.
We expect collieries to close. I have a number of collieries in my constituency and some of them have a short life. I do not know the score today, but the numbers returning to work in the collieries in my area are lower than the average in Yorkshire. When someone makes a critical analysis—a detailed history—of the dispute they will realise that the pits where few men have returned happen to be situated in areas of high unemployment.
I can understand the men in my area not being eager to return to work because they know that when their pit closes, as Cortonwood was supposed to close, a huge additional unemployment burden will be created in an area where one person in three is unemployed and where four out of five of our young people are idle.
Our people know that their pits will close but they should be closing in due time in a proper season after we have had some opportunity to create the alternative industry and employment that we need. For the Government to close collieries in areas where one in three is unemployed is foolish. It justifies one of the powerful arguments used in the industry that in some cases it may seem expensive to keep a colliery open but it can be far more costly to close it, particularly given the enormous social and other costs that are incurred.
The Minister must carry out a fine task. He must balance whether it is wise to close or keep open a pit. The NUM and my association recognise that the Government have not given adequate attention to that factor. We do not want to be merely remittance areas—areas where once there was a pride in work, a low level of unemployment and a real social stability. We do not want to get rid of that and become merely remittance areas to which the affluent parts of the country will offer a grudging dole.
There is a future for our area if we have a wise Administration. But a Government who have allowed the dispute to go on as long as it has, who have allowed such costs to be incurred as have been incurred, who have seen the bitterness and trouble we have had to bear in our areas, have so far not been very wise and it is about time that they were.
§ Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark)
This is a debate which the Opposition leaders clearly wish had not taken place. Traditional Labour voters have been appalled at the fence-sitting of Labour leaders over the miners' strike. They have failed to condemn the worst violence that we 676 have seen over the past 50 years in industrial history. They have failed to tell the nation that my constituents and others should have a right to a ballot before we had this appalling carnage in the mining industry. They have failed to protect the welfare of those who are still in striking areas who fear to go to work because of the vengeance of the mob on themselves and their families if they do so. They have failed to support the police in upholding the rule of law and people's right to work.
In their efforts to be all things to all men, the leaders of the Labour party have let down their traditional supporters, and they know it. Instead, they have used the strike for their own political ends, just as blatantly as the president of the NUM. They have tried to build up in miners' minds the feeling that it is not a strike against the NCB, but a strike against the Prime Minister and the Tory Government. They know that that is wrong, but they are making political capital at the expense of their supporters' jobs.
Every fair-minded thinking person knows that the generous pay and redundancy terms and the outstanding investment proposed in the industry prove that the Labour Members are wrong, yet Mr. Scargill and the Labour party continue to bluster. Mr. Scargill said recently:There is increased determination on the part of miners to stay on strike and win this dispute.That is not true. Mr. Scargill knows that it is not true and today's figures of thousands of miners going back to work prove that it is not true.
The days of bluster and rant by the leadership of the NUM are almost over and it should be the duty of the Labour party, whose conference last year was so much an Arthur Scargill benefit match, to tell the president of the NUM just that. The alternative is to let the industry bleed and to build fear and resentment in the miners who are still on strike, and to leave them with despair and anger.
On behalf of working miners in my constituency, who have a divided union as a result of what has happened, I express anger against the president of the NUM and the spineless Labour Opposition who have supported him. Miners in my area were and are proud of their union, but they see it dragged down, split from top to bottom, sacrificed——
§ Mr. Nellist
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understand that the rules of debate give you authority to rule that something is repetitious or that an argument has been presented for the second, third or fourth time in a debate. The hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander) is reading the same Tory brief that other Conservative Members have already read.
§ Mr. Alexander
It is perfectly proper to say that miners are being sacrificed on the altar of one man's crusade against the Prime Minister and the Government and that that man is being propped up by violent mobs of pickets.
The Labour party, by giving Mr. Scargill support, is part of the tragedy. As a loyal Opposition, Labour Members should have stood up for democracy and decency in one of their most traditional heartlands. They have let their own people down and they have let the country down. Their motion deserves to fail.
§ Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)
The House cannot negotiate an end to the dispute, but we can focus 677 attention on what has happened and the public can determine for themselves which party is anxious to get an honourable settlement of the dispute and which party is anxious to exacerbate the dispute to humiliate men and women who have been on strike for 11 months.
I speak only from a constituency point of view, but among the outstanding features of the dispute are the tenacity and loyalty expressed by the communities involved. The men on strike have been fortified by their womenfolk. In my humble opinion, the women have stood behind their men and sustained them. I speak for strike centres at Steelend, Oakley, Blairhall, High Valleyfield, Kincardine and Woodmill.
The leader of the Liberal party came to my constituency, but did not go to one strike centre or near one pit. Yet the Liberal party will be pronouncing on the strike tonight. The SDP Bench is empty. Where is the hon. Member for Stockport, South (Mr. Wrigglesworth) who told us what we should do and what we should tell our people? What is the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) doing talking about courage? My God, if we turned to him for courage we would be hard put to find it. We have seen courage in the mining areas against a management that has violated trust. I believe that Mr. MacGregor was put there to violate trust.
It is the anniversary of a pit closure in my constituency that was caused not by the strike, but because Mr. MacGregor in his American way, said, "I run a decentralised industry." He told the area directors that they must get their share of a 4-million tonnes cut in production and their share of a reduction in the labour force. We saw that in Dunfermline before the strike began. We saw it in the closure of Bogside. My hon. Friends know that I have probed the reasons for that.
Labour Members have asked for an inquiry into the operation of the coal industry in Scotland. The Government will cast some of the blame on the NUM, but will they give us an investigation into the management of the coal industry in Scotland? Will they let any investigation examine what cut in production Mr. Albert Wheeler had to obtain in Mr. MacGregor's decentralised management?
People who want a settlement of the dispute should look at what the miners had before 6 March. One young man in a strike centre said to me a few weeks ago, "We are on strike for something that we thought we had on 6 March in relation to the review procedure." Are the Government seeking to go back on that procedure? It was an agreement on how collieries would close. The NUM has fought to preserve that.
We could argue from now until doomsday about how to define an uneconomic pit. The situation will be settled only if the parties are willing to get round the table.
The Under-Secretary of State for Energy who is responsible for the coal industry nods his head, but the Secretary of State for Energy had the temerity earlier to ask my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme), in effect, to deliver the NUM, and its leader in particular, to the negotiating table. If the Secretary of State had done so much to try to get a settlement as my right hon. Friend has done, we would have had a settlement long ago. The Secretary of State has spent billions of pounds in fortifying the dispute, but could not spend 10p on a telephone call to bring the parties together.
678 It may be said that it is within my right hon. Friend's gift to suggest the terms and conditions upon which the NUM executive as a whole would go to the negotiating table, but what terms and conditions can the Minister obtain from Mr. MacGregor? Will the Minister say that he can get Mr. MacGregor to the negotiating table only if the NUM virtually capitulates? Is that what is in his mind? It is a long time since I have been involved in trade union negotiations, but I know that no union worth its salt would put itself in the position that the Minister suggests.
If the Minister wants a solution to the dispute, he and the Secretary of State for Employment should use their good offices to bring the parties together. We are entitled to ask what the Secretary of State's intentions are with regard to the dispute. I think that the Opposition recognise that the dispute has gone on for too long. In my constituency I have played a part in keeping my folk out. It is no good the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland tut-tutting. If he wants to intervene he should get up and speak. I will tell him why I have done that. That is the way to preserve dignity and peace in my community. It is also the way to preserve unity and self-respect. I shall certainly not advise those miners to crawl back. If Conservative Members were in the same position as me, they would, on analysis, give the same advice.
If the Secretary of State wants a solution instead of acrimony and if he does not want to humiliate people, particularly in Scotland, he will get the parties round the table. But if he wants bitterness and strife, they are also in his gift. I for one will not advise my folk to go back to work. They came out together, and they will go back together. That is the prescription for unity, understanding and self-respect in my area. The Under-Secretary of State keeps interrupting from a sedentary position, but he is not the Scottish Minister responsible for industry—because that Minister has not been present—and there are not many pits in Argyll.
We are arguing about the cohesion and dignity of our people. Against a background of colossal and rising unemployment in Dunfermline and Fife generally, my miners fear that if they lose their jobs there will be no other jobs to go to. Of course, we have had pit closures which have been negotiated. I was unhappy about some of them, but they were negotiated against a background of sustained employment in the area. However, if pits close now there is no alternative employment. Unemployment is high in those areas, and is growing under this Government.
I say to Conservative Members that the nation must judge who really wants an honourable and dignified solution to the dispute. I passionately want that, but I also want everyone to go back. I do not want people to be dismissed, potentially for life, because of the action that they took on picket lines. I want dignity and understanding, and I want my folk to realise that to preserve that, they must stay united and stay out until the Government bring the parties round the table and obtain a solution.
§ Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)
The hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) comes from a mining constituency and spoke with some of the passion that has been a hallmark of many of the speeches made so far. He referred to the bitterness and strife that have also regrettably been a hallmark of the dispute.
679 Perhaps not surprisingly, but nevertheless regrettably, that bitterness and strife have often been reflected in the debate.
Recrimination, or going over the history, is no way forward to the solution that all of us want. I do not believe for a moment that recriminations can do the future of the coal industry any good. The hon. Member for Dunfermline, West, referred to the difficulties of unemployment in Fife. That cannot have been helped by yesterday's announcement of the closure of Frances colliery, at a cost of about 500 jobs. But the recriminations have already started.
Albert Wheeler, the Scottish director of the coal board, has blamed the striking miners who, he has claimed, gave the board little or no assistance to control an underground fire. In response, a union official has said that the board did not approach the union until Thursday about undertaking work that could have saved the coal face, and that after the union had offered to start preparatory work, the NCB refused to meet it. I am in no position to judge whose version is closest to the truth, but I know that a failure to establish and build upon a community of interest — an interest that must be shared by both employees and management—has led to the loss of that pit and that recriminations will not repair the damage——
§ Mr. Wallace
I would normally give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I want to be brief so that other hon. Members can speak.
The continued dispute can only increase the likelihood of such damage being repeated elsewhere. Would that this House could help to foster that community of interest as much as it emphasises division. I believe that there must be a community of interest. Because of our resources of coal, it must play a major role in supplying our long-term energy needs. As a result of the dispute the industry faces dangers from the loss of coal faces and because the coal-firing scheme that was so successful in 1983 has—I am sure that the Minister will confirm this—been nowhere near as successful in 1984 for industrialists wishing to convert from oil to coal.
The dispute has also been an absolute gift to those who propose further expansion of the nuclear industry. Many of us who fear that further expansion and who are very cautious about it because of the understandable questions hanging over safety and the environment, feel that the continuation of the dispute serves only to strengthen the hand of those who would like greater dependence on nuclear energy. Recriminations cannot bring the dispute to an end. We must seek ways of finding that common ground.
There are two further unacceptable ways of ending the dispute. First, it would be unacceptable to pin everything on a gradual return to work. That could be only a very ragged way of proceeding. As has been said, it ultimately would not succeed, because significant pockets of miners throughout the country would not go back. Secondly, it would be wholly unacceptable to bring about an end to the dispute by crowing about victory wrought at the expense of rubbing the miners' noses in the dust. I regret that one or two Conservative Members have said that that might be acceptable to them. I hope that that is not generally true of them. Indeed, the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) said that talk of victory would not help the way 680 forward. The right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) has said that we must seek a decent and honourable settlement, and we should be considering how to achieve such a settlement.
The Labour party's motion welcomes the NUM's decision to seek immediate resumption of negotiations with the NCB without any preconditions. On the radio this morning, the president of the NUM said that he would not be party to an agreement that took economic considerations into account. That must be termed a precondition and makes any further meaningful negotiations a non-starter. It is not a radical departure to suggest that economic considerations should be brought into play. Reference has already been made to the Coal Industry Act 1977. The leader of the Labour party has said that commercial considerations must now be taken into account.
The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), when he was Secretary of State for Energy, said:I have never found the NUM in any way unreasonable where closures are necessary because of exhaustion or because pits are out of line in economic terms." — [Official Report, 4 December 1978; Vol. 959, c. 1015–6.]Economic conditions must be high on the agenda and there must be meaningful discussions on how to determine the future of pits which are said to be uneconomic.
The NACODS agreement did allow for some review. It is essential for any negotiations about pits which the coal board regards as uneconomic to include full consultation at local level. Each pit depends upon its local conditions, geology and social conditions. Management or diktat from the centre in London cannot guarantee the stability of the coal industry.
§ Mr. Wallace
If the hon. Gentleman waits, he will learn.
At one stage during exchanges between the two Front Benches, I thought that there was a meeting of minds but there was a problem of semantics. "Plan for Coal" says:Some pits will have to close as their useful economic reserves of coal are depleted.That item must be on the agenda. I should welcome it if the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) could assure the House that he and his right hon. Friends have brought influence to bear on the NUM to accept that.
Obviously, some pits with uneconomic capacity will be withdrawn from production, but there is a future for the coal industry. We must have new capacity through new investment. We welcome the assurance that more funds will be made available to National Coal Board Enterprises Ltd., but that is not all that is required.
It is said that the Labour movement closed about 300 pits, but that was when there was more employment. The fear in mining communities today is that the pit closures are taking place at a time of very high unemployment. The recession which brought about the fall in demand for coal also makes the miners afraid for their jobs and for their families. The failure of the Conservative Government to acknowledge that that is what is causing the fears in the mining areas means that we shall not be able to support them in the Lobby tonight.
§ Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)
We are left wondering exactly what the Liberal party's position is. It is certain that they are standing in the middle of the road again and will probably be run down.
The hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas), who spoke with such passion, said that the strike had gone on far too long. I agree with him. Anyone who has studied the mining communities and the miners will be in no doubt that they are among the finest people in the country. They are loyal and dedicated, and believe in what they are doing. The sad thing is that this time, as once before, to their regret, they are not speaking and acting with one voice. One must ask why.
I can accept that in some instances one can describe a few people as scabs. As an ex-trade unionist I understand the language. But to describe a substantial number as scabs in unrealistic. I was a member of the Transport and General Workers Union and proud to be so.
I feel sad about the whole business. We should be maximising our skills instead of fighting amongst ourselves. We should be asking why so many miners are unwilling to follow their leadership. That is the question which should be asked in the mining communities. If the miners' case is so good, and believed to be so good, why was the leadership unable to convince so many of its own active members? We are not talking about individuals who are inactive in the union, but about members who are active. What is wrong?
Opposition Members should be considering how the NUM executive has handled the affair. No one can get any pleasure out of watching one of our finest unions destroying itself. I get no pleasure from that —[Interruption.] Opposition Members can make as much noise as they like, but I get no pleasure from such an event. The country needs trade unions that are responsible and organised, in the same way as it needs responsible and organised management. We cannot run a modern democratic country without a balance.
What has brought about the present situation? On occasions during the dispute any reasonable person would have thought that there was a solution. In the past an answer would have been found.
The hon. Member for Dunfermline, West suggested an inquiry into the way in which the coal board has been run in Scotland. I am certain that within the NUM an inquiry will take place into the way in which the executive has handled the dispute. That will come about because the ordinary members who are dissatisfied with the outcome, the protracted nature of the strike and the awful suffering that it has caused will ask, "What went wrong? Why didn't we have some answers? Why, when we looked about to find a solution, didn't we find one?" The answer is that the NUM does not have the calibre of leadership that it enjoyed in the past. It does not have the quality of conciliation that it has enjoyed in the past. I go further, it does not have the people with the political nous to know that one does not make political speeches in the middle of a delicate strike if one is striking about matters with an industrial base.
The great mistake made by the NUM executive was to allow its spokesperson to decide who wears the cap and to misrepresent its case. Its case has been badly misrepresented. It has been presented to the country, the people and the Government as a battle against entrenched 682 Tory doctrines. — [Interruption.] Opposition Members will have their opportunity, inside and outside the House, to put their views. I am putting the view of people in a non-mining constituency. I have no knowledge of mining, but I understand that when involved in delicate and difficult negotiations one does not stand up and divert attention from the real issue.
I have a high regard for the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie). He represents all that is good in industrial relations. I mean that sincerely. Without people of integrity on both sides, there is lack of trust.
The problems really started when the overtime ban was introduced. The problems within the NUM began when the union could not throughout accept the productivity deal. The time when some NUM regions accepted the productivity deal and began to make more money was the opportunity for the high productivity areas to become high income-earning areas.—[Interruption.]
While I know nothing about mining, I have studied the problems of the union. I know something of what goes on inside unions, and it is sad that the leaders of the NUM, who are the real culprits, have led their troops into a disastrous situation. Yet those same people are still making speeches that leave no room for an honourable compromise. There cannot be an honourable compromise when one side is clearly stating that it will not budge an inch.
If Opposition Members genuinely believe, as I am sure they do, that pits with an economic future are being scheduled for closure, they have an alternative. Those pits need not close. They could be taken over as miners' co-operatives, perhaps with some public assistance. I would not argue with that. If it is right to do it in other spheres, why not do it in mining?
The nationalised industry could not make a go of Scott Lithgow and it was taken over. I am not stressing privatisation on this issue. I am simply suggesting that there should be a middle ground on which all concerned—the Government, the NCB and the NUM—can stand comfortably. That will be possible only if we look for realistic and viable avenues or escape routes.
In this ghastly dispute, many people have been sacked because they have broken the law. I judge that that will be a more difficult problem to resolve, in terms of reinstatement, than some of the other issues about which I have spoken. After all, some of the crimes have been hideous. I accept that the more trivial ones should be dealt with in a more trivial way, but the really nasty ones cannot be overlooked.
We cannot ignore the fact that many policemen have been severely injured. The public would never forgive us or the Government if we did not acknowledge that the police, in carrying out the duties that they were instructed to perform—in other words, to maintain law and order—had been injured. Whatever one's view, it must be accepted that the police were doing their job. Nor must we forget that those policemen have families. We in this House have a duty and responsibility to them, particularly those among them who were injured.
That, if we are not careful, will sour the final stages of negotiation. We must watch that problem carefully because I caution hon. Members to reflect that it is unlikely that the public would accept a situation in which men convicted of serious crimes were allowed to demand reinstatement.
683 I agree with the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West that the dispute has gone on for far too long. It is time that the leadership of the NUM adopted realistic trade union negotiating postures.
§ Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)
Almost a year ago the National Coal Board announced its intention to reduce deep mined coal capacity in Britain by 4 million tonnes. I must at the outset put that in context.
I asked the Library to tell me the year when Britain last deep mined 97 million tonnes of coal. The Library officials had to go into the basement of the building to discover the answer, for the date was 1864. In other words, 121 years of history and sacrifice by miners and their families were threatened to be wiped away by the coal board's announcement on that occasion.
No wonder we have had the bitterest and longest national dispute there has been in this country this century. About 9,000 people have been arrested, 600 sacked and almost 200 put in prison, including the four strike leaders from Keresley colliery, Coventry, last Wednesday. That has all occurred in defence of 70,000 jobs in their own industry and 85,000 jobs which were due to be affected outside the industry by the proposed closure programme. The miners took their action not just for themselves but for the children, the school leavers, of this generation for whom those jobs will disappear, even if the existing miners are able to get transfers to other collieries.
This strike was provoked, and it has been prolonged, by the Tory Cabinet. We have heard of the so-called Ridley plan, a scheme drawn up by the present Secretary of State for Transport in the mid-1970s. It was designed to provoke this strike because at that time he saw the NUM as the main political enemy of a future Tory Government.
We have heard of the preparations that were made for cutting the benefits of starving families, for increasing coal stocks before the strike was provoked, for increasing the oil burn, for increasing the importation of coal, for increasing the use of non-union scab drivers by haulage firms and the use of highly mobile police squads, invented to deal with the dispute. We know of all those developments.
In recent days, however, events have shown that during the dispute the Prime Minister sought politically to intervene in an effort to carry out the real reasons why the strike was provoked—namely, to split the NUM as an effective trade union. Mr. David Hart, a leading adviser of the Prime Minister, said in The Times a few days ago that the main aim of the strike was to gain victory over Arthur Scargill. What is perhaps less well known is Mr. Hart's involvement in setting up the scab organisation, the national working miners' committee, meetings of which he attended on 11, 19, 25 and 28 August.
He, while in the payment of the Prime Minister's office, placed advertisements in the Daily Express, the Daily Mail and The Sunday Times, advertisements which were designed in the offices of Saatchi and Saatchi by Mr. Tim Bell, another adviser to the Prime Minister, the money having been provided by Sir Hector Laing, whose company gave £43,000 to the Tory party last year.
The promotion of the drift back to work by some miners has, throughout the dispute, particularly in the early stages of the strike, represented a Tory propaganda coup designed within No. 10 Downing street. It is clear that the Government bear responsibility for trying to split the 684 NUM. However, that attempt to demoralise — to fracture, to use a word used by the Secretary of State—and to neuter the trade union movement is the real reason why the Chancellor of the Exchequer regards the cost of the strike as a worthwhile investment, paving the way for attacks on other trade unions.
From the Government's point of view, this dispute has nothing to do with economic or uneconomic pits, except perhaps in preparation for the privatisation of parts of the central Midlands coal field. Last year in this Chamber the Secretary of State said that the reason why the Government were trying to tackle the so-called uneconomic capacity of 12 per cent. of the coal fields was to save £275 million. In the last 11 months the Government have spent 20 times that, £5.5 billion, trying to defeat the strike.
Even if the dispute ended tomorrow on the terms set by the Government, everything else being equal, the Government would not be back in an economic position, until the year 2005. Where is the economics in that? Where are savings to be found from what has occurred? That £5.5 billion would have paid for a £25 a week increase in the dole packets of every registered person or for a £4 decrease in every taxpayer's contribution to the Revenue. To put it another way, £100 million—one week's Government spending — is enough to build a hospital, six large comprehensive schools and 1,000 council houses in a town the size of Coventry. The cost of this strike organised by the Government could have provided those much-needed public services for 55 towns the size of Coventry.
The Government and the NCB talk about economics and the need to get rid of uneconomic pits, but the coal board's accounts include the cost of subsidence, mainly in the Mansfield area of Nottinghamshire, the cost of early retirement for miners who have left the industry, interest charges and a rate of return back to the Government twice that of any other industry. If the Minister closed every pit in the country, he would still have to pay compensation for subsidence and early retirement, so those are not genuine costs on the present generation of miners. If those costs are removed from the accounts, instead of a loss of £6.20 per tonne, Cortonwood would show a profit of £5.50 per tonne. The Tories harp on uneconomic pits, but those are the true circumstances.
In the past 11 months I have been proud to be associated with miners and their families and with the other workers — the seamen, the power station workers, the railwaymen—who have supported them. I pay special tribute to the women of the coalfields. In the first week of the dispute Mr. MacGregor said that he would like to hear from the miners' wives. He never said that again. There are now 172 miners' wives support groups throughout the country. The Prime Minister has created—or re-created—a new generation of Socialist men and women in the coalfields. Those people have drawn lessons from the strike. They realise that there is a certain logic in the Government's argument. Since 1979, the Government have closed one factory in five in this country. They have increased unemployment to 3.3 million officially and 5 million in reality. They have reduced investment in manufacturing industry by 27 per cent. If there are fewer factories there is less need for steel and electricity, so there is less need for coal.
The real lesson of the past six years is this. If one thing has been utterly uneconomic for the working people of this country it is the capitalist system over which the Tory 685 Government preside. The system itself is uneconomic because it cannot afford jobs, homes, schools or hospitals. Under that system, for every £1 invested in Britain £2.50 goes to South Africa, Korea, Brazil and Argentina. For every £1 worth of machinery that wears out only 82p worth is replaced. The Tory solution is to cut the wages of working people, especially youth, so as to restore profits to their gaffers in manufacturing industry. That is why they want to destroy the trade union movement, beginning with the National Union of Mineworkers.
That strategy will not work. Mr. MacGregor was transferred from the British Steel Corporation to the National Coal Board on the personal recommendation of Lord Chapple to the then Secretary of State for Energy, now Chancellor of the Exchequer, but it will not destroy the NUM. One per cent. of the population has held the Government at bay for 11 months. Labour Members and working people are now asking themselves what would have happened if every member of trade unions affiliated to the TUC had given as much support to the miners as the wives and kids in the coalfields have. The Government would not have lasted four weeks. That is the lesson being absorbed by the Labour and trade union movement and it will rebound on the Tory Government in the months and years ahead.
§ Mr. Lofthouse
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I appreciate the difficulty of the Chair on these occasions, but it may have escaped your notice that there has been no voice from the west Yorkshire coalfield in this debate, and the same seems to have been the case in previous debates. Is it not time that consideration was given to discontinuing the privilege and patronage accorded to Privy Councillors in giving them priority in these debates?
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As more than 30 Opposition Members wished to speak, and in view of the content of the debate, would it be possible to arrange a further debate at very short notice?
§ Mr. Speaker
Fortunately, that is not a matter for me. I have done my best to balance the debate. Privy Councillors have a right to speak, but they have all acceded to my request for brevity. I call Mr. Eadie.
§ 9.4 pm
§ Mr. Alexander Eadie (Midlothian)
At the outset of my speech, I think that my right hon. and hon. Friends would like me to mention the role that my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme) has played in trying to get a negotiated settlement to the dispute. We in the Opposition want to put that on the record for this purpose. If the Secretary of State for Energy had put half the energy that my right hon. Friend has put in to try to resolve the dispute, we would not be debating this costly and damaging industrial dispute tonight.
We are in greater crisis since we last debated the matter in the House of Commons. The miners' funds have been sequestrated and put into the hands of the receiver. To put a trade union in the hands of a receiver is to break the law in a new way.
It is not good for trade unions that they should be brought into contact with the courts, and it is not good for the courts … 686 but where class issues are involved … it is impossible to pretend that the courts command the same degree of general confidence. On the contrary, they do not, and a very large number of our population have been led to the opinion that they are, unconsciously, no doubt, biassed."—[Official Report. 30 May 1911; Vol. 26, c. 1022.]If any Conservative Members objects to that, I must inform him that those are not my words, but the words of Sir Winston Churchill in May 1911, in a debate in the House of Commons. He was Home Secretary at that time. His words are evidence of how, since 1911, the clock has turned back and our industrial relations have been polluted in the year of 1985 because the Government's policy ordains that industrial relations be conducted on the streets and picket lines.
§ Mr. Eadie
In the last major debate that we had on the miners' strike, the Government defended their appointment of Mr. Ian MacGregor. I should like to ask the Secretary of State or the Under-Secretary whether the Government are still defending Mr. MacGregor after 11 months of one of the most costly industrial disputes in our industrial history. We said then and we are saying now that the appointment of Mr. MacGregor as chairman of the National Coal Board was a disaster. Not only was it provocative but it was a recipe for industrial conflict. It is even more bizarre now because since we last debated the dispute, Mr. MacGregor has chucked in his hand at trying to explain personally to the media what he is about and his current views, particularly on the miners' strike. Mr. Michael Eaton, the area director in Yorkshire, is the voice that we now hear on radio and the face that we now see on television as the NCB communicator because Mr. MacGregor cannot do it.
I can think of no other parallel in which the head of a nationalised industry is not only allowed to keep his job but has Government support and backing in such circumstances. When we last debated the matter, one of the Government's defences was that they were pursuing a policy of non-intervention in the dispute. We did not believe them; we still do not believe them. That guise and that deception cannot be trailered in today's debate. Not only are they interfering in this dispute, but they are preventing an honourable negotiated settlement. Mr. Geoffrey Kirk, a former public relations officer, who was sacked in November and then reinstated only to refuse his reinstatement, blew the gaff when he described how a consultant from Saatchi and Saatchi, Mr. Tim Bell, had been working with or for Mr. Ian MacGregor and how a Mr. David Hart, a freelance journalist, who apparently is not unknown in the portals of No. 10 Downing Street, has tripped in and out of NCB headquarters.
As an aside I should add that the House observed that, when one of my hon. Friends referred to the article in The Times and asked whether the Government agreed with Mr. Hart's remarks, the Prime Minister nodded yes and the 687 Secretary of State for Energy nodded no. That is an example of the confusion among the Government Front Bench.
That brings me to Mr. Gordon Reece, the Prime Minister's adviser, who according to Mr. Kirk turned up at a "News at Ten" interview in which the chairman of the NCB was supposed to appear. Is it any wonder that "the Government echo", this invisible man, Mr. Ian MacGregor, keeps his job and gets Government support? The Government can now more openly be identified with interfering in achieving a settlement. The voice of the Prime Minister—a voice which is a triumph of social engineering—and those of her Ministers are evidence of that.
The NUM has stated that it wants to get back to the negotiating table without preconditions.
§ Mr. Eadie
That would leave either side free to raise or discuss anything. It does not mean that one demands something before one starts. When playing chess, one does not forfeit one's queen the moment the game has started, but that is what the coal board is suggesting. There cannot be written preconditions if one asks for no preconditions before getting to the negotiating table.
§ Mr. Alexander
A few moments ago the hon. Gentleman referred to the press. Did he see the article in the Sunday Telegraph yesterday stating that of the 22 members of the NUM executive, 12 demanded a ballot before there should be a strike? The hon. Gentleman is a member of that executive. Did he support that call?
§ Mr. Eadie
I do not read the Daily Telegraph. However, if it has not dawned on the hon. Gentleman, I remind him that this dispute has continued for 11 months. To talk at this stage about a ballot, when we should be talking about a negotiated settlement, is completely irresponsible.
The House must be made aware of the origin of the phrase "no preconditions" as a basis for settling the dispute. It did not come from the NUM or the Labour party but from the NCB last year through the mouth of its chairman. Now that they have it, neither the NCB nor the Government want to know.
Another aspect of the dispute, the negotiating team, must be mentioned. The board called for changes in it. More than a fortnight ago the national executive of the NUM decided that the whole national executive would comprise the negotiating team. After both suggestions were carried out, derision was heaped from many quarters on the prospect of the entire national executive being involved, as if it was the first time that it had happened. However, it happened in 1972.
§ Mr. Eadie
The dispute could have been settled three times but for Government intervention, and the Secretary of State knows that. If all parties could get round the negotiating table, we could resolve the dispute within 24 hours. There is a good precedent for that. I was present in 1972, when the national executive spent most of the day at the Department of Employment with the then Secretary of State.
§ Mr. Eadie
The day culminated with all of us going to 10 Downing street where the dispute was settled. There 688 was no tea and sandwiches because it was too late, but we got what we do not have now. All parties were willing to resolve the dispute, but then that was before the Conservative party was hijacked by the Thatcherite militant tendency. That was before the day when a Conservative Prime Minister boasted that she wanted to be known as the Prime Minister who broke the consensus in British politics. Confrontation not conciliation is one of our images of the Government. All the evidence shows that the NCB, at the Government's diktat, scuppered attempts to start negotiations last week and at the beginning of this week.
I have full copies of the correspondence that took place last week when the forerunner meeting to the entire national executive negotiating team was in London. There was a meeting between Mr. Peter Heathfield and Ned Smith, who works in industrial relations at the NCB, which lasted nearly four hours. They agreed on the parameters that could lead to negotiations being resumed and the strike being settled. However, eventually Mr. Ned Smith was dropped from the negotiating team, despite his willingness to see the negotiations through to a conclusion. He had given notice to leave the employ of the NCB in January. The allegation is that the NCB, with Government connivance, ratted on the parameters agreed by Peter Heathfield and Ned Smith.
§ Mr. Eadie
I have evidence. The NUM was informed that the replacement was to be Mr. Merrik Spanton. He asked for an informal meeting on Tuesday 29 January. At that meeting all the ground that had already been covered with Ned Smith had to be gone over again. After three hours they had managed to draft an agenda, but then Mr. Spanton was called to the telephone, in the same room, and after his telephone conversation he changed his mind. The general secretary of the NUM had to take back the agenda that had been drafted.
Then we had what were described as talks about talks by post, despite the fact that all parties were in London to talk and reach an honourable negotiated settlement. It is absurd that Mr. Spanton should have written in a letter of 30 January that the National Coal Board had no way of recollecting the content of the agenda drawn up by him and Peter Heathfield, and asking that the agenda be forwarded again. His letter also stated that the talks had to include uneconomic capacity. There were four NCB representatives in that room, yet they claimed that they could not recall what was on the draft agenda. I refuse to believe that. They are not stupid men. I know some of them—[Laughter.] I know some of them, and may I say that Britain has the finest mining engineers. It is despicable that the Government should betray men in the way that I have described. I repeat that they are not stupid men, but they were forced to look stupid by superiors who want not a negotiated settlement, but nothing less than complete victory over the striking miners and the NUM.
However, the NUM was not to be deterred. On Friday 1 February, it submitted another agenda as a basis for resuming negotiations. The agenda had five points, the first of which related to "Plan for Coal". The agenda stated:This proposal is based upon previous submissions by the Board which have been accepted by the Union.There can be no argument about that. I speak with some authority, because I am a co-author of "Plan for Coal".
689 Incidentally, although "Plan for Coal" provides for the closure of pits, it also deals with new capacity and new pits. Not one pit has been sunk during the lifetime of this Government. Without new pits, the industry will inevitably contract.
The second point on the agenda dealt with the future of collieries units. The House should pay close attention to this agenda, because it could be the basis of negotiations. The NUM stated:The Union's proposal takes account of the Board's own suggestions when we met with ACAS. This would provide for all matters relating to the future of Collieries Units to be dealt with in accordance with procedures operating prior to 6 March 1984"—on television, Mr. Eaton gilded the lily on the next point—and of course the Union have previously accepted an amendment to the procedures to provide for an Independent Review Body, and we feel that the broad recognition given to this proposal during informal discussions could lead to agreement in negotiations.The third point on the agenda is about the five collieries, which have been mentioned in the debate. It says:The Union's proposal accepts that these five pits remain within the procedure on the understanding that undertakings given by the Board within the Procedure will be honoured. This new proposal also provides for any unforeseen major mining problems to be discussed in the normal way, and we feel this point is manifestly fair and sensible.The 6 March proposals have also been mentioned in the debate, and they are the fourth point on the agenda, which says:The Union's proposal is, of course, a statement on the present situation and has been publicly acknowledged by the Board's spokesman, Mr. Eaton, in an Independent Radio News interview on 31st January.From that there was the initiative about the 4 million-tonne capacity which is now out of date because it is doubtful that the industry could get back to 1 million tonnes once work begins. There is no argument about that.
There is then the problem of the amnesty. I understand that Mr. MacGregor has been running around the coal fields saying that only over his dead body will an amnesty be given. I listened carefully to what the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) said. He was not being so hard. He said that there were difficulties, as there are, but for the chairman of the NCB to say what he did is irresponsible.
§ Mr. Eadie
The union agenda says about the amnesty:It is inconceivable that in any discussions leading to a resolution of this dispute that the question of dealing with those men who have been dismissed in the course of the dispute cannot be a matter for discussion between the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers.That is what Peter Heathfield said, and that is why I said that there was dirty work at the crossroads involving Ned Smith. Mr. Heathfield continues:in my meeting with Mr. Smith on the 21st January, it was acknowledged that the Union would pursue this matter when negotiations resumed.690 We are not breaking new ground with this. The NUM proposals continue:It seems a matter of equity that the same principle applied in 1972 and 1974 be applied in the current situation.There are already established procedures.
§ Mr. Peter Walker
As the hon. Gentleman has just given the impression that Mr. Ned Smith implied some approval on the point about the amnesty, I shall read out the minutes of the meeting between Ned Smith and Mr. Heathfield. The words are as follows:The NUM representatives said that they thought that part of any settlement would have to be related to discussion on that amnesty. The Board's representatives said that this would not be acceptable to the Board.
§ Mr. Eadie
The right hon. Gentleman is gilding the lily a bit again. I have the minutes from Mr. Ned Smith. They say that there was disagreement but, nevertheless, negotiations without preconditions means that both the NUM and the NCB can put anything that they like on the agenda. If the right hon. Gentleman does not know the meaning of the words "no preconditions", I suggest that he consults a dictionary.
The Secretary of State was embarrassed today, and almost started arguing with himself. I hope that we shall get an answer from the Under-Secretary of State for Energy who is to wind up. He will have to answer categorically the question put to him: is the NACODS agreement now being scuppered? Is it now in tatters as a consequence of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East said? Mr. Spanton would not give an assurance to Mr. McNestry this afternoon. If the Under-Secretary can say that the NACODS agreement is sacrosanct, why does the NCB want the NUM to write a script saying that it agrees to economic closures? The hon. Gentleman is impaled on his own statement. It is not necessary to have it.
§ Mr. Peter Walker
Does the hon. Gentleman, as a member of the NUM executive, approve of the NACODS settlement?
§ Mr. Eadie
I am not personalising it, Mr. Speaker. I am treating the right hon. Gentleman as the Secretary of State for Energy, who is responsible for these matters. All I say to him is that he or his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary should say whether the NACODS agreement is sacrosanct. Mr. McNestry does not believe that it is. Over the weekend Mr. McNestry said that if the NCB insisted that the NUM must write a script on economic closures, the agreement that his union had entered into with the National Coal Board was in absolute tatters. I think that I have demonstrated that.
We talk about there being no preconditions. But what has come to light is that negotiations have been scuppered by the NCB, I suspect with Government connivance.
691 The NUM went to see ACAS, but I understand that a statement was issued by the NCB. This is how we conduct industrial relations nowadays: ACAS went to the NCB to see whether it could make a contribution towards resolving the strike, but before it got there, the board issued a statement saying:The Board stress that until the NUM firmly indicate in writing that they have changed their position on this main issue facing the industry, any talk of resuming negotiations would only be raising false hopes.I have trailered the negotiations to the House. If there is no response to the proposals that I have outlined fairly and accurately, it will become clear that the NCB strategy, with the support of the Prime Minister, is that it wants total victory against and humiliation for the NUM. It wants to starve the miners into submission, because it must be aware of the hunger and starvation already in the coalfields. Gas and electricity supplies are being cut off. Bairns are having difficulty in getting clothes and footwear. There are financial problems—[Laughter.]—when it comes to burying the dead. That is nothing to laugh at.
I can best illustrate the present course of events by reminding the House of the Vietnam war and President Johnson, who was not the worst President that the United States has had, in my view. He was a kindly man, and he was deeply wounded by the cry in parts of his country: "Hey, hey, LBJ. How many kids have you killed today?"
If the Government adopt a strategy of starvation and misery, the cries of the starving in mining areas will be, "Hey, hey, Maggie May. How many kids have you starved today?" Victory for the NCB and the Government is unacceptable. We believe that the British people want, and we demand from the Government, a principled, honourable and negotiated settlement of the dispute which has cost the nation and miners so dear.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy (Mr. David Hunt)
I hope that the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) is ashamed of what he said. I should have thought that all the years he has spent in negotiations and industrial relations — nobody has doubted his commitment to the great coal industry — would have led him not to make the quite provocative speech that he made today.
I have listened with interest and attention to all of those who have spoken. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander) said, this is the debate that was never supposed to take place, but it has. I can tell the Leader of the Opposition that the nightmare will shortly be over, because the debate, as he would know if he had attended it throughout, has shown that opinion in the House, like opinion throughout the country, is united in calling on the NUM leadership to change its stance and to come and talk realistically to the NCB. The House is also united in condemning the tactics that miners' leaders have condoned and encouraged in pursuit of the strike. The only dissenting voices in the country and among the miners and in the House have been the militant ones. They are a small and increasingly isolated minority. Their message holds no future for this great industry and they will not succeed.
As my hon. Friends the Members for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) and for Staffordshire, South-East (Mr. Lightbown) said, this is a strike that should never have happened. There would never have been a strike if there had been a 692 national ballot in accordance with the NUM's democratic traditions and that union's rule 43, which provides that a national strike shall be entered upon only as a result of a ballot vote of members. [Interruption.] Opposition Members might try to shout me down but the truth will out. Like everyone else, they know that there would have been no strike if there had been a ballot. That was amply demonstrated by NUM areas which held their own ballots. They voted overwhelmingly against strike action and in favour of continuing to work for the future of their industry.
§ Mr. Hunt
My hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart) and others are rightly proud of their constituents who have gone to work in the face of the most disgraceful scenes of mobs and intimidation.
This is the first time in our lifetime that the NUM has called a strike without a ballot. The Labour Front Bench know what a disgrace and a stain that is upon that union's great record. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) stressed that point.
But occasionally the Opposition have had the courage to say so. At the start of the dispute the Leader of the Opposition called for a ballot. So did the deputy Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). Indeed, many Opposition Members referred to the lack of a ballot. This theme has been evident throughout the debate. In April the Leader of the Opposition said that if he had been a member of the NUM executive he would have been favour of a national ballot. But it was a timid approach. It did not cut any ice with Arthur Scargill. Rather like an individual who has tried to interefere with the course of history, Arthur Scargill roared and the Leader of the Opposition quickly left the stage. Shakespeare had a stage direction for it: "Exit pursued by a bear". Appearing with Arthur Scargill at the Durham miners gala, the Leader of the Opposition said, "There is no alternative but to fight." The right hon. Gentleman decided that, as the NUM had taken no notice at all of his views he would drop them. What a shamefaced attitude for the Leader of the Opposition to adopt.
However, the right hon. Gentleman has come back on to the stage. Last Friday, he tentatively suggested on the "Today" programme that commercial considerations had a part to play. I shall turn to that point in a moment. If only the right hon. Gentleman had had the courage at the start of the strike to call for a ballot, the strike would not have happened. My hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe and many other hon. Members referred during the debate to Mr. Ottey's explanation of what happened at that first meeting.
§ Mr. Hunt
The hon. Member for Midlothian knows what happened at that meeting. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will intervene and correct me if I am wrong and if Mr. Ottey is wrong. Mr. Ottey quoted Mr. Morgan, the general secretary of the cokemen, as saying at that meeting, "If I had the confidence that a ballot would go the right way, I would vote for it." What a disgraceful comment. Mr. Wadsworth, one of the leaders of the NUM in Yorkshire, said recently on breakfast television, "The reason we did not have a ballot was because we knew we 693 would not win it." Talk about plotting, as the hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McGuire) talked about plotting at the start of the dispute! 'I hope the House will agree with Mr. Ottey who said that the meeting was "an outstanding betrayal of the miners' constitutional rights". Those are not my words, but the words of a man who spent 45 years in the mining industry and who for 18 years was a member of the national executive.
Miners know that this strike should never have happened and, denied a ballot, miners have voted with their feet. More than 81,000 members of the NUM — over 43 per cent. of its membership—are no longer on strike. Since the start of this year over 13,000 miners have left the strike. Today, communicating a message that, sadly, the Opposition do not seem ready to hear, over 2,300 members of the NUM—a record number—have voted with their feet. Over 30,000 miners have returned to work since the negotiations broke down. In that time the NUM has not changed its position. When will it ever learn?
It is time the strike was over. Of course we agree with the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy), but, as many hon. Members have said, we have had seven rounds of negotiations lasting over 175 hours and we have a right to ask: why have the negotiations failed? The answer is that the NUM has refused to acknowledge that the cost of production is an important factor in decisions about the industry.
I refer again to the Leader of the Opposition's words: "including commercial considerations". Arthur Scargill went on the same programme soon afterwards and was given the opportunity to say whether he agreed with the Leader of the Opposition. If he had said, "Yes, commercial considerations have always counted," the strike would now be over. Everybody knows that. But he did not. He said that the Leader of the Opposition must answer for what he said.
This has been a rather artificial debate in some ways. It has been acknowledged by almost every speaker that economic considerations have always played a part. That has been the underlying theme throughout the debate. I do not need to echo the words of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace). Everybody knows that economic considerations have always counted. It was the then right hon. Member for Newton who, when he was Labour Minister for Power in 1965, said:The industry has made great strides in mechanisation, efficiency and productivity. A substantial part of it has relatively low costs. It is, however, carrying the burden of a good deal of uneconomic production that can become—indeed, has become—a threat to the industry itself … this huge on-cost of uneconomic coal is one of the greatest threats to the prosperity of the whole industry.That was a Labour Minister. He continued:the coal industry is weighed down by a part of it that is uneconomic and because of this coal is in danger of losing markets".He asked the House this question:Why should the good pits be dragged down?"—[Official Report, 25 November 1965; Vol. 721, c. 780, 883–84.]The same question applies today. Why should the good pits be dragged down by those which are uneconomic?
§ Mr. Hardy
The Minister has just asked the House a question, but will he answer the question that I put to him? Will he categorically assure the House that the NUM will 694 not be expected to agree to the closure of collieries in advance of the colliery review procedure or in advance of the consideration which is pledged for independent construction?
§ Mr. Hunt
I shall give the hon. Gentleman that categoric assurance. I shall amplify that in a moment.
In 1966, the Minister for Power, the then right hon. Member for Greenwich, said something which is relevant to our debate tonight:the greatest threat to the future of the industry would be any attempt to average up the cost of economic low cost pits to subsidise pits which can only be a burden on the economy in general and the coal industry in particular."—[Official Report, 20 May 1966; Vol. 728, c. 1849.]Those statements were made by Labour Ministers. The industry faces the same problem today. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) knows about the 22 pits which were closed when he was responsible for the industry. The right hon. Gentleman is an expert on the closure of pits. I could reel off a long list. I could ask the right hon. Gentleman about Graig Merthyr, which had three or four years' resources left; I could ask him about Langwith, which had 1.5 million tonnes left. The right hon. Gentleman ignores the points that I make, but he ignores them at his peril.
§ Mr. David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)
Is not one of the difficulties about the superficial attraction of negotiations without preconditions the statement of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) on Tuesday:not a single pit in Britain is uneconomic".—[Official Report, 29 January 1985; Vol. 72, c. 154.]?
§ Mr. Hunt
I completely agree. I wish that the debate could have taken place against a background of renewed negotiations, leading quickly to a constructive, realistic, negotiated settlement. I am sure that I speak for many hon. Members when I say that. No one wishes to see a negotiated settlement more than the Government; I stress that fact to the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot).
Hon. Members have asked that there should be more give from the NCB. But the story of the dispute is that it has been all give by the NCB and all take by the NUM. In seven rounds of negotiations, lasting 175 hours, the NCB has given and the NUM has taken.
§ Mr. Hunt
We ask ourselves where the true debate is taking place. If only Opposition leaders were to engage in discussions with the president of the NUM and explain to him the economic facts of life, the dispute would be over.
The hon. Member for Midlothian quoted many documents, but the problem in the dispute has been that, although the NUM has sent documents in writing and has said things on television and face to face, every time the president has said anything about the dispute he has said that uneconomic pits must stay open. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Of course he has. The hon. Member for Doncaster, North (Mr. Welsh) said that Mr. Scargill carries out the wishes of the NUM executive. Mr. Scargill said on the "Today" programme this morning: 695What we are saying is that we are not being parties to an agreement that accepts the closure of pits on economic grounds." He shut the door on any possibility of negotiations.
§ Mr. Hunt
Just a moment.
Later in the interview, Mr. Scargill said:We haven't got any demands on the negotiating table.Yet he had just made the demand that stopped negotiations from the start.
We have had discussions at ACAS and we have had a just and honourable settlement with NACODS. We have seen these discussions take place. The hon. Member for Wentworth asked me to deal with that point. Let me make it quite clear that the NACODS agreement, which provided, inter alia, for the enhancement and improvement of the industry's established colliery review procedure, stands in full. It was there on the table for the NUM to accept last October and the union rejected it. It is still there today.
If the NUM moves its position and is willing to withdraw the unreasonable demand that there should be no closure of uneconomic pits, there can be a negotiated settlement. All that the leadership of the NUM has to agree is that the closure of uneconomic pits should be included in the first item on the agenda for negotiations. That was conspicuously absent from the agenda that the hon. Member for Midlothian read out. So far, they have refused to agree.
§ Mr. Hunt
I shall not give way, as this is an important point.
If the Leader of the Opposition or the TUC can persuade the president of the NUM to accept an agenda that deals with the issue that Mr. Scargill has made the main issue of the dispute and can accept the reality of the situation, the dispute will end, just as it could have done last October, last July and, indeed, last March, before it had even started. I hope that I have made that absolutely clear.
§ Mr. Hunt
The Leader of the Opposition shouted to me about the NACODS agreement, and I should make it clear that, if the NACODS agreement is accepted, there will of course be no need for any written undertakings. It is a written agreement and can be accepted by the NUM. It has always been on the table.
§ Mr. Douglas
What the Under-Secretary of State is saying is very important. Are we to take it that the suggestion put forward from the Dispatch Box is deliverable by him through the NCB, and that there will be no request to the NUM to give a written undertaking to the NCB in that regard?
§ Mr. Hunt
I can only say that it seems clear that the Opposition Front Bench does not want a settlement. The approach of the Government and of the NCB towards the coal industry has been enormously positive. It is curious 696 that no hon. Member has said in the debate that the NCB's offer is not sufficiently generous. No one has questioned the generosity of the offer secured for the NCB by this Prime Minister, this Secretary of State and this Government underwriting the most generous offer to miners since nationalisation.
Let those in communication with the leader of the NUM get straight on the telephone to him to try to talk some sense into the NUM so that we can obtain an end to the dispute. Today we have heard of a record number of miners voting with their feet. They have been denied a ballot. They had no other course open to them and they have now voted with their feet. When will the president of the NUM listen? Seven rounds of negotiations have foundered on the refusal of the NUM's leadership to recognise the crucial reality that was implicit in almost every speech today. I have just one message for those who care—as we all do—for this great coal industry. The Government will not let down the miners. Miners who have worked and who are returning to work every day have shown their loyalty to the industry. They have kept faith with the coal industry and we intend to keep faith with them.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe said, there are, of course, no winners in the dispute. Yet the tragedy is still being played out. Mr. Scargill seems set to fight to the bitter end, but has not the bitter end come? Can he ignore any longer the relentless tread of his members returning to work? Today's record number of returns once again highlights the growing dissatisfaction with his leadership. When will he listen to the rising tide of opinion? [Interruption.] When will he settle on the reasonable terms available to him so that this tragic, pointless and damaging dispute, for which there was never any industrial justification, can be brought to an end? The message is that moderation——
§ Mr. Michael Cocks (Bristol, South)
rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
§ Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.
§ Question put accordingly, That the original words stand part of the Question:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 200, Noes 378.700
|Division No. 87]||[10 pm|
|Abse, Leo||Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N)|
|Adams, Allen (Paisley N)||Brown, Ron (E'burgh Leith)|
|Anderson, Donald||Buchan, Norman|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Caborn, Richard|
|Ashley, Rt Hon Jack||Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)|
|Ashton, Joe||Campbell, Ian|
|Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)||Campbell-Savours, Dale|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Canavan, Dennis|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Carter-Jones, Lewis|
|Barnett, Guy||Clark, Dr David (S Shields)|
|Barron, Kevin||Clarke, Thomas|
|Beckett, Mrs Margaret||Clay, Robert|
|Bell, Stuart||Clwyd, Mrs Ann|
|Benn, Tony||Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)|
|Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)||Cohen, Harry|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Coleman, Donald|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.|
|Blair, Anthony||Conlan, Bernard|
|Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Cook, Frank (Stockton North)|
|Boyes, Roland||Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Corbyn, Jeremy|
|Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)||Cowans, Harry|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Cox, Thomas (Tooting)|
|Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)||Craigen, J. M.|
|Crowther, Stan||McTaggart, Robert|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||McWilliam, John|
|Cunningham, Dr John||Madden, Max|
|Dalyell, Tam||Marek, Dr John|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)||Marshall, David (Shettleston)|
|Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)||Mason, Rt Hon Roy|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)||Maxton, John|
|Deakins, Eric||Maynard, Miss Joan|
|Dewar, Donald||Meacher, Michael|
|Dixon, Donald||Michie, William|
|Dobson, Frank||Mikardo, Ian|
|Dormand, Jack||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce|
|Douglas, Dick||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)|
|Dubs, Alfred||Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)|
|Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)|
|Eadie, Alex||Nellist, David|
|Eastham, Ken||Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon|
|Edwards, Bob (W'h'mpt'n SE)||O'Brien, William|
|Ellis, Raymond||O'Neill, Martin|
|Evans, John (St. Helens N)||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Ewing, Harry||Park, George|
|Fatchett, Derek||Parry, Robert|
|Faulds, Andrew||Patchett, Terry|
|Field, Frank (Birkenhead)||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)||Pendry, Tom|
|Fisher, Mark||Pike, Peter|
|Flannery, Martin||Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Prescott, John|
|Forrester, John||Radice, Giles|
|Foster, Derek||Randall, Stuart|
|Foulkes, George||Redmond, M.|
|Fraser, J. (Norwood)||Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)|
|Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald||Richardson, Ms Jo|
|Garrett, W. E.||Roberts, Allan (Bootle)|
|George, Bruce||Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)|
|Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John||Robertson, George|
|Godman, Dr Norman||Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)|
|Golding, John||Rogers, Allan|
|Gould, Bryan||Rooker, J. W.|
|Gourley, Harry||Rowlands, Ted|
|Hamilton, James (M'well N)||Ryman, John|
|Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Hardy, Peter||Sheerman, Barry|
|Harman, Ms Harriet||Sheldon, Rt Hon R.|
|Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith||Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)|
|Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Short, Mrs R. (W'hampt'n NE)|
|Healey, Rt Hon Denis||Silkin, Rt Hon J.|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Skinner, Dennis|
|Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)||Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'bury)|
|Home Robertson, John||Snape, Peter|
|Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)||Soley, Clive|
|Hoyle, Douglas||Spearing, Nigel|
|Hughes, Dr. Mark (Durham)||Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Stott, Roger|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport East)||Strang, Gavin|
|Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)||Straw, Jack|
|Janner, Hon Greville||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|John, Brynmor||Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)|
|Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)||Thorne, Stan (Preston)|
|Kilroy-Silk, Robert||Tinn, James|
|Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil||Torney, Tom|
|Lambie, David||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|Lamond, James||Wareing, Robert|
|Leadbitter, Ted||Weetch, Ken|
|Leighton, Ronald||Welsh, Michael|
|Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||White, James|
|Lewis, Terence (Worsley)||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Litherland, Robert||Williams, Rt Hon A.|
|Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)||Wilson, Gordon|
|Lofthouse, Geoffrey||Winnick, David|
|Loyden, Edward||Woodall, Alec|
|McCartney, Hugh||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|McKelvey, William||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Mackenzie, Rt Hon Gregor||Mr. Frank Haynes and|
|McNamara, Kevin||Mr. Allen McKay.|
|Adley, Robert||Dorrell, Stephen|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.|
|Alexander, Richard||Dover, Den|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||du Cann, Rt Hon Sir Edward|
|Alton, David||Dunn, Robert|
|Amery, Rt Hon Julian||Durant, Tony|
|Amess, David||Dykes, Hugh|
|Ancram, Michael||Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)|
|Arnold, Tom||Eggar, Tim|
|Ashby, David||Emery, Sir Peter|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Evennett, David|
|Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H.||Eyre, Sir Reginald|
|Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)||Fairbairn, Nicholas|
|Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)||Fallon, Michael|
|Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y)||Farr, Sir John|
|Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)||Fenner, Mrs Peggy|
|Baldry, Tony||Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey|
|Banks, Robert (Harrogate)||Fletcher, Alexander|
|Batiste, Spencer||Fookes, Miss Janet|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Forman, Nigel|
|Beith, A. J.||Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)|
|Bellingham, Henry||Forth, Eric|
|Bendall, Vivian||Fowler, Rt Hon Norman|
|Bennett, Rt Hon Sir Frederic||Fox, Marcus|
|Benyon, William||Franks, Cecil|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Fraser, Peter (Angus East)|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Freeman, Roger|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||Freud, Clement|
|Blackburn, John||Fry, Peter|
|Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Gale, Roger|
|Body, Richard||Galley, Roy|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Gardiner, George (Reigate)|
|Bottomley, Peter||Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)|
|Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n)||Garel-Jones, Tristan|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes||Glyn, Dr Alan|
|Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard||Goodhart, Sir Philip|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Goodlad, Alastair|
|Bright, Graham||Gorst, John|
|Brinton, Tim||Gow, Ian|
|Brittan, Rt Hon Leon||Gower, Sir Raymond|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Grant, Sir Anthony|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)||Greenway, Harry|
|Browne, John||Gregory, Conal|
|Bruce, Malcolm||Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)|
|Bruinvels, Peter||Grist, Ian|
|Bryan, Sir Paul||Ground, Patrick|
|Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A.||Grylls, Michael|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Gummer, John Selwyn|
|Budgen, Nick||Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)|
|Bulmer, Esmond||Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)|
|Burt, Alistair||Hampson, Dr Keith|
|Butcher, John||Hancock, Mr. Michael|
|Butler, Hon Adam||Hanley, Jeremy|
|Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)||Hannam, John|
|Carlisle, John (N Luton)||Hargreaves, Kenneth|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Harris, David|
|Carttiss, Michael||Harvey, Robert|
|Cartwright, John||Haselhurst, Alan|
|Cash, William||Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael|
|Chalker, Mrs Lynda||Hawkins, C. (High Peak)|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Hawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk)|
|Chapman, Sydney||Hayes, J.|
|Chope, Christopher||Hayhoe, Barney|
|Churchill, W. S.||Hayward, Robert|
|Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n)||Heathcoat-Amory, David|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)||Heddle, John|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)||Henderson, Barry|
|Cockeram, Eric||Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael|
|Colvin, Michael||Hickmet, Richard|
|Coombs, Simon||Hicks, Robert|
|Cope, John||Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.|
|Cormack, Patrick||Hill, James|
|Carrie, John||Hind, Kenneth|
|Couchman, James||Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)|
|Critchley, Julian||Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)|
|Crouch, David||Holt, Richard|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Howard, Michael|
|Dicks, Terry||Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)|
|Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)||Mudd, David|
|Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford)||Murphy, Christopher|
|Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)||Neale, Gerrard|
|Hubbard-Miles, Peter||Nelson, Anthony|
|Hunt, David (Wirral)||Neubert, Michael|
|Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Newton, Tony|
|Hunter, Andrew||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Irving, Charles||Normanton, Tom|
|Jackson, Robert||Norris, Steven|
|Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick||Onslow, Cranley|
|Jessel, Toby||Oppenheim, Phillip|
|Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey||Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.|
|Johnston, Russell||Osborn, Sir John|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Ottaway, Richard|
|Jones, Robert (W Herts)||Owen, Rt Hon Dr David|
|Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith||Page, Sir John (Harrow W)|
|Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine||Page, Richard (Herts SW)|
|Kennedy, Charles||Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil|
|Kershaw, Sir Anthony||Parris, Matthew|
|Key, Robert||Patten, Christopher (Bath)|
|King, Roger (B'ham N'field)||Patten, John (Oxford)|
|King, Rt Hon Tom||Pattie, Geoffrey|
|Knight, Gregory (Derby N)||Pawsey, James|
|Knight, Mrs Jill (Edgbaston)||Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth|
|Knowles, Michael||Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian|
|Knox, David||Pollock, Alexander|
|Lamont, Norman||Porter, Barry|
|Lang, Ian||Portillo, Michael|
|Latham, Michael||Powell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down)|
|Lawler, Geoffrey||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Powley, John|
|Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg|
|Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)||Price, Sir David|
|Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|Lester, Jim||Pym, Rt Hon Francis|
|Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)||Raffan, Keith|
|Lightbown, David||Raison, Rt Hon Timothy|
|Lilley, Peter||Rathbone, Tim|
|Lloyd, Ian (Havant)||Rees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover)|
|Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)||Renton, Tim|
|Lord, Michael||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Lyell, Nicholas||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|McCrindle, Robert||Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas|
|McCurley, Mrs Anna||Ridsdale, Sir Julian|
|Macfarlane, Neil||Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey|
|MacGregor, John||Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)|
|MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)||Robinson, Mark (N'port W)|
|MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Maclean, David John||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Maclennan, Robert||Rossi, Sir Hugh|
|McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)||Rost, Peter|
|Madel, David||Rowe, Andrew|
|Major, John||Rumbold, Mrs Angela|
|Malins, Humfrey||Ryder, Richard|
|Malone, Gerald||Sackville, Hon Thomas|
|Maples, John||Sainsbury, Hon Timothy|
|Marland, Paul||St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.|
|Marlow, Antony||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Scott, Nicholas|
|Mates, Michael||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|Mawhinney, Dr Brian||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Mayhew, Sir Patrick||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Meadowcroft, Michael||Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)|
|Mellor, David||Shersby, Michael|
|Merchant, Piers||Silvester, Fred|
|Meyer, Sir Anthony||Sims, Roger|
|Miller, Hal (B'grove)||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Mills, Iain (Meriden)||Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)|
|Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Miscampbell, Norman||Soames, Hon Nicholas|
|Moate, Roger||Speed, Keith|
|Molyneaux, Rt Hon James||Speller, Tony|
|Monro, Sir Hector||Spence, John|
|Montgomery, Sir Fergus||Spencer, Derek|
|Moore, John||Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)|
|Morris, M. (N'hampton, S)||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)||Squire, Robin|
|Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Moynihan, Hon C.||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Steen, Anthony||Wainwright, R.|
|Stern, Michael||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)||Waldegrave, Hon William|
|Stevens, Martin (Fulham)||Walden, George|
|Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)||Walker, Bill (T'side N)|
|Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)||Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)|
|Stewart, Ian (N Hertf'dshire)||Wallace, James|
|Stokes, John||Waller, Gary|
|Stradling Thomas, J.||Walters, Dennis|
|Sumberg, David||Ward, John|
|Tapsell, Sir Peter||Wardle, C. (Bexhill)|
|Taylor, John (Solihull)||Warren, Kenneth|
|Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)||Watson, John|
|Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman||Watts, John|
|Temple-Morris, Peter||Wells, Bowen (Hertford)|
|Terlezki, Stefan||Wells, Sir John (Maidstone)|
|Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.||Wheeler, John|
|Thomas, Rt Hon Peter||Whitfield, John|
|Thompson, Donald (Calder V)||Whitney, Raymond|
|Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Thornton, Malcolm||Wilkinson, John|
|Thurnham, Peter||Wolfson, Mark|
|Townend, John (Bridlington)||Wood, Timothy|
|Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)||Woodcock, Michael|
|Tracey, Richard||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Trippier, David||Yeo, Tim|
|Trotter, Neville||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Twinn, Dr Ian||Younger, Rt Hon George|
|van Straubenzee, Sir W.|
|Vaughan, Sir Gerard||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Viggers, Peter||Mr. Carol Mather and|
|Waddington, David||Mr. Robert Boscawen.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 33 (Questions on amendments):—
§ The House divided: Ayes 360, Noes 200.704
|Division No. 88]||[10.15 pm|
|Adley, Robert||Brinton, Tim|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Brittan, Rt Hon Leon|
|Alexander, Richard||Brooke, Hon Peter|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)|
|Amery, Rt Hon Julian||Browne, John|
|Amess, David||Bruinvels, Peter|
|Ancram, Michael||Bryan, Sir Paul|
|Arnold, Tom||Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A.|
|Ashby, David||Buck, Sir Antony|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Budgen, Nick|
|Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H.||Bulmer, Esmond|
|Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)||Burt, Alistair|
|Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)||Butcher, John|
|Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y)||Butler, Hon Adam|
|Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)||Carlisle, John (N Luton)|
|Baldry, Tony||Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)|
|Banks, Robert (Harrogate)||Carttiss, Michael|
|Batiste, Spencer||Cash, William|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Chalker, Mrs Lynda|
|Bellingham, Henry||Channon, Rt Hon Paul|
|Bendall, Vivian||Chapman, Sydney|
|Bennett, Rt Hon Sir Frederic||Chope, Christopher|
|Benyon, William||Churchill, W. S.|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n)|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)|
|Blackburn, John||Cockeram, Eric|
|Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Colvin, Michael|
|Body, Richard||Coombs, Simon|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Cope, John|
|Bottomley, Peter||Cormack, Patrick|
|Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n)||Corrie, John|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Couchman, James|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes||Critchley, Julian|
|Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard||Crouch, David|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Currie, Mrs Edwina|
|Bright, Graham||Dicks, Terry|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Hubbard-Miles, Peter|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.||Hunt, David (Wirral)|
|Dover, Den||Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)|
|du Cann, Rt Hon Sir Edward||Hunter, Andrew|
|Dunn, Robert||Irving, Charles|
|Durant, Tony||Jackson, Robert|
|Dykes, Hugh||Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick|
|Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)||Jessel, Toby|
|Eggar, Tim||Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey|
|Emery, Sir Peter||Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)|
|Evennett, David||Jones, Robert (W Herts)|
|Eyre, Sir Reginald||Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith|
|Fairbairn, Nicholas||Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine|
|Fallon, Michael||Kershaw, Sir Anthony|
|Farr, Sir John||Key, Robert|
|Fenner, Mrs Peggy||King, Roger (B'ham N'field)|
|Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey||King, Rt Hon Tom|
|Fletcher, Alexander||Knight, Gregory (Derby N)|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Knight, Mrs Jill (Edgbaston)|
|Forman, Nigel||Knowles, Michael|
|Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)||Knox, David|
|Forth, Eric||Lamont, Norman|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Norman||Lang, Ian|
|Fox, Marcus||Latham, Michael|
|Franks, Cecil||Lawler, Geoffrey|
|Fraser, Peter (Angus East)||Lawrence, Ivan|
|Freeman, Roger||Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel|
|Fry, Peter||Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)|
|Gale, Roger||Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark|
|Galley, Roy||Lester, Jim|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)|
|Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)||Lightbown, David|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Lilley, Peter|
|Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian||Lloyd, Ian (Havant)|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)|
|Goodhart, Sir Philip||Lord, Michael|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Lyell, Nicholas|
|Gorst, John||McCrindle, Robert|
|Gow, Ian||McCurley, Mrs Anna|
|Gower, Sir Raymond||Macfarlane, Neil|
|Grant, Sir Anthony||MacGregor, John|
|Greenway, Harry||MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)|
|Gregory, Conal||MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)||Maclean, David John|
|Grist, Ian||McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)|
|Ground, Patrick||Madel, David|
|Grylls, Michael||Major, John|
|Gummer, John Selwyn||Malins, Humfrey|
|Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)||Malone, Gerald|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Maples, John|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Marland, Paul|
|Hanley, Jeremy||Marlow, Antony|
|Hannam, John||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)|
|Hargreaves, Kenneth||Mates, Michael|
|Harris, David||Mawhinney, Dr Brian|
|Harvey, Robert||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Haselhurst, Alan||Mayhew, Sir Patrick|
|Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael||Mellor, David|
|Hawkins, C. (High Peak)||Merchant, Piers|
|Hawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk)||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Hayes, J.||Miller, Hal (B'grove)|
|Hayhoe, Barney||Mills, Iain (Meriden)|
|Hayward, Robert||Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)|
|Heathcoat-Amory, David||Miscampbell, Norman|
|Heddle, John||Moate, Roger|
|Henderson, Barry||Molyneaux, Rt Hon James|
|Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael||Monro, Sir Hector|
|Hickmet, Richard||Montgomery, Sir Fergus|
|Hicks, Robert||Moore, John|
|Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.||Morris, M. (N'hampton, S)|
|Hill, James||Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)|
|Hind, Kenneth||Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)|
|Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)||Moynihan, Hon C.|
|Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)||Mudd, David|
|Holt, Richard||Murphy, Christopher|
|Howard, Michael||Neale, Gerrard|
|Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)||Nelson, Anthony|
|Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)||Neubert, Michael|
|Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford)||Newton, Tony|
|Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Normanton, Tom||Spencer, Derek|
|Norris, Steven||Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)|
|Onslow, Cranley||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Oppenheim, Phillip||Squire, Robin|
|Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Osborn, Sir John||Steen, Anthony|
|Ottaway, Richard||Stern, Michael|
|Page, Sir John (Harrow W)||Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)|
|Page, Richard (Herts SW)||Stevens, Martin (Fulham)|
|Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil||Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)|
|Parris, Matthew||Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)|
|Patten, Christopher (Bath)||Stewart, Ian (N Hertf'dshire)|
|Patten, John (Oxford)||Stokes, John|
|Pattie, Geoffrey||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Pawsey, James||Sumberg, David|
|Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth||Tapsell, Sir Peter|
|Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian||Taylor, John (Solihull)|
|Pollock, Alexander||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Porter, Barry||Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman|
|Portillo, Michael||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Powell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down)||Terlezki, Stefan|
|Powell, William (Corby)||Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.|
|Powley, John||Thomas, Rt Hon Peter|
|Prentice, Rt Hon Reg||Thompson, Donald (Calder V)|
|Price, Sir David||Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)|
|Proctor, K. Harvey||Thornton, Malcolm|
|Pym, Rt Hon Francis||Thurnham, Peter|
|Raffan, Keith||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Raison, Rt Hon Timothy||Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)|
|Rathbone, Tim||Tracey, Richard|
|Rees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover)||Trippier, David|
|Renton, Tim||Trotter, Neville|
|Rhodes James, Robert||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon||van Straubenzee, Sir W.|
|Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Ridsdale, Sir Julian||Viggers, Peter|
|Ribbon, Rt Hon Geoffrey||Waddington, David|
|Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Robinson, Mark (N'port W)||Waldegrave, Hon William|
|Roe, Mrs Marion||Walden, George|
|Rossi, Sir Hugh||Walker, Bill (T'side N)|
|Rost, Peter||Waller, Gary|
|Rowe, Andrew||Walters, Dennis|
|Rumbold, Mrs Angela||Ward, John|
|Ryder, Richard||Wardle, C. (Bexhill)|
|Sackville, Hon Thomas||Warren, Kenneth|
|Sainsbury, Hon Timothy||Watson, John|
|St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.||Watts, John|
|Sayeed, Jonathan||Wells, Bowen (Hertford)|
|Scott, Nicholas||Wells, Sir John (Maidstone)|
|Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)||Wheeler, John|
|Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')||Whitfield, John|
|Shelton, William (Streatham)||Whitney, Raymond|
|Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)||Wilkinson, John|
|Shersby, Michael||Wolfson, Mark|
|Silvester, Fred||Wood, Timothy|
|Sims, Roger||Woodcock, Michael|
|Skeet, T. H. H.||Yeo, Tim|
|Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)||Younger, Rt Hon George|
|Soames, Hon Nicholas|
|Speed, Keith||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Speller, Tony||Mr. Carol Mather and|
|Spence, John||Mr. Robert Boscawen.|
|Abse, Leo||Benn, Tony|
|Adams, Allen (Paisley N)||Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)|
|Anderson, Donald||Bermingham, Gerald|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Bidwell, Sydney|
|Ashley, Rt Hon Jack||Blair, Anthony|
|Ashton, Joe||Boothroyd, Miss Betty|
|Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)||Boyes, Roland|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Bray, Dr Jeremy|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)|
|Barnett, Guy||Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)|
|Barron, Kevin||Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)|
|Beckett, Mrs Margaret||Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N)|
|Bell, Stuart||Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)|
|Buchan, Norman||Hamilton, James (M'well N)|
|Caborn, Richard||Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)|
|Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)||Hardy, Peter|
|Campbell, Ian||Harman, Ms Harriet|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Harrison, Rt Hon Walter|
|Canavan, Dennis||Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith|
|Carter-Jones. Lewis||Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy|
|Clark, Dr David (S Shields)||Healey, Rt Hon Denis|
|Clarke, Thomas||Heffer, Eric S.|
|Clay, Robert||Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||Home Robertson, John|
|Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)||Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)|
|Cohen, Harry||Hoyle, Douglas|
|Coleman, Donald||Hughes, Dr. Mark (Durham)|
|Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)|
|Conlan, Bernard||Hughes, Roy (Newport East)|
|Cook, Frank (Stockton North)||Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)|
|Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)||Janner, Hon Greville|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||John, Brynmor|
|Cowans, Harry||Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Kilroy-Silk, Robert|
|Craigen, J. M.||Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil|
|Crowther, Stan||Lambie, David|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Lamond, James|
|Cunningham. Dr John||Leadbitter, Ted|
|Dalyell, Tam||Leighton, Ronald|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)|
|Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)||Lewis, Terence (Worsley)|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'I)||Litherland, Robert|
|Deakins, Eric||Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)|
|Dewar, Donald||Lofthouse, Geoffrey|
|Dixon, Donald||Loyden, Edward|
|Dobson, Frank||McCartney, Hugh|
|Dormand, Jack||McGuire, Michael|
|Douglas, Dick||McKelvey, William|
|Dubs, Alfred||Mackenzie, Rt Hon Gregor|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||McNamara, Kevin|
|Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.||McTaggart, Robert|
|Eadie, Alex||McWilliam, John|
|Eastham, Ken||Madden, Max|
|Edwards, Bob (W'h'mpt'n SE)||Marek, Dr John|
|Ellis, Raymond||Marshall, David (Shettleston)|
|Evans, John (St. Helens N)||Mason, Rt Hon Roy|
|Ewing, Harry||Maxton, John|
|Fatchett, Derek||Maynard, Miss Joan|
|Faulds, Andrew||Meacher, Michael|
|Field, Frank (Birkenhead)||Michie, William|
|Fields T. (L'pool Broad Gn)||Mikardo, Ian|
|Fisher, Mark||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce|
|Flannery, Martin||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)|
|Forrester, John||Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)|
|Foster, Derek||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)|
|Foulkes, George||Nellist, David|
|Fraser, J. (Norwood)||Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon|
|Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald||O'Brien, William|
|Garrett, W. E.||O'Neill, Martin|
|George, Bruce||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John||Park, George|
|Godman, Dr Norman||Parry, Robert|
|Golding, John||Patchett, Terry|
|Gould, Bryan||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Gourlay, Harry||Pendry, Tom|
|Pike, Peter||Soley, Clive|
|Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)||Spearing, Nigel|
|Prescott, John||Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)|
|Radice, Giles||Stott, Roger|
|Randall, Stuart||Strang, Gavin|
|Redmond, M.||Straw, Jack|
|Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|Richardson, Ms Jo||Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)|
|Roberts, Allan (Bootle)||Thorne, Stan (Preston)|
|Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)||Tinn, James|
|Robertson, George||Torney, Tom|
|Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|Rogers, Allan||Wareing, Robert|
|Rooker, J. W.||Weetch, Ken|
|Rowlands, Ted||Welsh, Michael|
|Ryman, John||White, James|
|Sedgemore, Brian||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Sheerman, Barry||Williams, Rt Hon A.|
|Sheldon, Rt Hon R.||Wilson, Gordon|
|Shore, Rt Hon Peter||Winnick, David|
|Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)||Woodall, Alec|
|Short, Mrs R. (W'hampt'n NE)||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|Silkin, Rt Hon J.|
|Skinner, Dennis||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'bury)||Mr. Frank Haynes and|
|Snape, Peter||Mr. Allen McKay.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ MR. SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.
That this House deeply regrets the damage done to the coal industry, miners, miners' families and mining communities by the unnecessary industrial action of some sections of the National Union of Mineworkers; recognises that this action Ls totally unjustified since this Government have provided more capital investment for the industry than any previous Government, far in excess of that provided by the last Labour Government, and substantially exceeding the scale of investment envisaged in `Plan for Coal'; recognises it is also unjustified in the light of the National Coal Board's extremely generous offer on pay, early retirement and voluntary redundancy terms, and on the creation of a scheme designed to bring new enterprises and job opportunities to mining communities; notes the acceptance of the Board's offer by the industry's other two unions, and the refusal to strike by those sections of the National Union of Mineworkers which in that union's normal tradition decided to hold a ballot; deplores the Opposition's failure to persuade the National Union of Mineworkers both to arrange a national ballot and to use methods of picketing complying with the National Union of Mineworkers and Trades Union Congress guidelines on picketing; regrets the National Union of Mineworkers leadership's intransigence, displayed in seven rounds of negotiations, including with the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service whose compromise proposal was accepted by the Board but rejected by the National Union of Mineworkers; and expresses the hope that this intransigence will now cease so that a realistic settlement can quickly be achieved which recognises that the cost of production is an important factor in securing a good and prosperous future for the industry.