HC Deb 21 January 1985 vol 71 cc716-8
4. Mr. Raffan

asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he will estimate the damage to the Welsh economy caused by the miners' strike.

11. Mr. D. E. Thomas

asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement on the effect of the mining dispute on the economy in Wales; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

While the economy in general is coping well, there is an increasing impact on those sectors which serve the coal industry and on small businesses in mining areas.

Mr. Raffan

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, because the latest CSO statistics show that the miners' strike is depressing economic growth by 1.5 per cent., and because every aspect of economic policy should be directed towards the reduction of unemployment, as the shadow Chancellor said last week, it is extremely damaging, totally illogical and contemptibly hypocritical for the Labour party to support a strike that prevents the creation of desperately needed new jobs in Wales?

Mr. Edwards

I agree with my hon. Friend. I suppose that one could say that it is self-indulgent for Opposition Members who take that view to put forward their own luxurious opinions, attitudes and activities before considering the real impact of their actions.

Mr. D. E. Thomas

When the Secretary of State meets the Church leaders later this week, will he bear in mind what we prayed for together at the beginning of this sitting? Will he then listen with a contrite heart and take account of the attempts by Church leaders to put forward the objective will of the Welsh people for a consensus and a Welsh solution to this dispute?

Mr. Edwards

I shall listen carefully to the leaders of the Welsh Church and ascertain whether they have any proposals which are likely to forward the negotiations. At the moment I do not see how another general review of the future of the mining industry — on top of the three reviews that we have had in comparatively recent times—will help. I hope I shall hear that the Welsh Church leaders will press for a ballot and for the leadership of the NUM to negotiate and consider the industry's future. As always, I shall listen carefully to the Church leaders.

Mr. Harvey

Will my right hon. Friend guarantee that no further concessions will be made on the already generous terms on offer to the miners?

Mr. Edwards

It is certainly true that the NCB has moved a considerable way. It is difficult to understand how the NCB can go beyond the point that it reached in its agreement with NACODS. If we are to have a settlement, we need a willingness by Mr. Scargill and the leadership of the NUM to face the reality of discussing economic and uneconomic pits.

Mr. Coleman

Will the right hon. Gentleman dismiss from his mind what his hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Harvey) has just said? Giving him the benefit of the doubt on his earlier answer about his concern for the economy of Wales, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, with his responsibilities for Wales, it is time that he put pressure on the Prime Minister to ensure that negotiations take place?

Mr. Edwards

What is needed is pressure from the hon. Gentleman, and all others who may have contact with or influence on the NUM, to ensure that negotiations can take place on a basis that includes consideration whether uneconomic pits should close and acceptance of the fact that there should be a ballot of the members.

Mr. Grist

Would my right hon. Friend care to estimate how ready the British Steel Corporation will be to resume its former level of orders from the South Wales coal board when the strike is over?

Mr. Edwards

That will be a matter for the industry, but there is no doubt that the strike will have damaged markets. It will almost certainly also have changed the transport pattern for coal in the area, to the long-term disadvantage of British Rail and its employees.

Mr. Allen McKay

Has not the mineworkers' leader already said that he is willing and waiting for negotiations to start without any set agenda whatever or anything being fixed beforehand? In view of that, and the fact that the national executive as a whole would take part in the negotiations, have we not reached the stage in this disastrous strike when the Government should put pressure on the National Coal Board to get negotiations under way?

Mr. Edwards

I welcome the fact that Mr. Scargill has apparently said that he is willing to negotiate. However, I note that he has said nothing at all about being willing to negotiate on the question of uneconomic pits. Without willingness to talk about that, there is no hope of progress.

Mr. Terlezki

We are suffering from a self-inflicted political strike brought about by Mr. Scargill and his storm-troopers. Will the order from France before the strike began for over 600,000 tonnes of Welsh coal now be lost, or could we recapture the market and keep the economy going in south Wales?

Mr. Edwards

Markets will certainly be damaged, but we must all hope that the NCB will be able to regain those markets. With a quick return to work I hope that — depending, of course, on exchange rates and our competitiveness—we will regain a good share of world markets. However, our chance of that grows fainter with every day of the dispute.

Mr. Barry Jones

The Welsh miners know that since 1979 unemployment in Wales has increased by 125 per cent. and that it is set to increase further. Is it not true that pit closures in mining valleys have major social consequences? What are the Government doing to speed up negotiations that could lead to the end of this damaging dispute?

Mr. Edwards

I understand the concern of the miners. Pits have been closing in large numbers for many years, under Governments of both parties. Indeed, fewer pits have been closed in south Wales under the present Government than under our predecessors.

The essential facts are that Mr. Scargill decided to take his men out on strike without a ballot, and through seven rounds of negotiations he has refused to move. Without some willingness on Mr. Scargill's part to consider the realities of the coal industry, it is difficult to see how we can reach a settlement. However, I hope that the clear desire for negotiations by many people, which is evident this week, reinforced by the fact that the miners themselves are voting by going back to work, will take us to the point where there can be a settlement.

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