HC Deb 15 July 1985 vol 83 cc5-7
4. Mr. Orme

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he last met the chairman of the National Coal Board to discuss future prospects for the industry.

8. Mr. Dormand

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on the current prospects for the coal industry.

Mr. Peter Walker

I regularly discuss future prospects with the chairman, and I am confident that there is a healthy future ahead for the coal industry if it can bring operating costs into line with market opportunities.

Mr. Orme

Is it true that the basis of the new "Plan for Coal" has been agreed without any negotiations with the appropriate trade unions, and that the plan will lead to the closure of at least 50 pits and the loss of 50,000 jobs in the mining industry?

Mr. Walker

No, Sir.

Mr. Dormand

In spite of what the right hon. Gentleman has just said, is he aware that the relationship between the NCB and the miners is as bad today as it was when the strike ended? As we all want a quick return to good industrial relations in the mining industry, will the right hon. Gentleman instruct the NCB chairman to take the pressure off the area directors? Are we to have a continuing dictatorship of the mining industry by MacGregor, or are we to return to local management, which has had such a good record?

Mr. Walker

The hon. Gentleman's analysis is surprising, because the NCB chairman believes that the maximum power should go to the areas. Mr. Scargill's view, that all the power should go to the centre, is in stark contrast to that. There has not been a single word of criticism by the Labour party of the monstrous change of rules that Mr. Scargill is putting forward.

Mr. Andy Stewart

When my right hon. Friend next meets the chairman of the Coal Board, will he discuss the confrontation last Thursday night between the leader of the Nottinghamshire democratic union and Arthur Scargill, which showed the nation why Nottinghamshire is having to fight for trade union democracy?

Mr. Walker

It is surprising that the leader of the Labour party, when calling for the unity of the NUM—a perfectly good measure for which to call—does not recognise that all the disunity has been caused by the president of the NUM.

Mr. Mason

Is the Secretary aware that the major obstacle impeding further progress in the coal mining industry is the sad and sorry state of industrial relations? Will the right hon. Gentleman impress upon the NCB chairman that, once more, local trade union officials should be allowed to work on regular day shifts and that NUM branch secretaries should have two days on the surface to enable them to deal with trade union affairs? Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that MacGregor and some of his area directors have been harsh and vindictive since the strike ended? Finally, is he aware that, unless this vindictiveness ends soon, there will be no stable industrial peace in the coalfield?

Mr. Walker

Most of the vindictiveness since the dispute ended has been shown by the intimidation of miners who worked. It would be nice to hear the Opposition condemn that. The constant utterances that the only way to achieve anything is by industrial action and taking powers from the regions and from the ballot, which are going on in the NUM at present, are constantly losing customers for the coal industry.

Mr. Eggar

Are the Government encouraging the NCB to negotiate and recognise the new union? Are they encouraging the NCB to attach particular importance to productivity bargaining?

Mr. Walker

It is for the NCB to decide whether to recognise any union. I am sure that it will take that decision in a responsible way. It is vital to the future of that industry and of any other to improve and encourage productivity.

Mr. Foot

Does the right hon. Gentleman understand that his responsibility is directly in dealing with the chairman of the NCB? Instead of making wild charges against everyone else in the industry, why does he not deal with that problem? Is he trying to tell us that there has been no interference by Mr. MacGregor in the way in which south Wales miners and the south Wales organisation run their affairs?

Mr. Walker

I should make it clear that Mr. MacGregor wishes power to go to the areas and negotiations to be taken on a regional basis. He believes that that is the correct way in which to run the NCB. I wish that the same applied to the NUM.

Mr. Skeet

Bearing in mind the coal industry's future, will my right hon. Friend consider strictly limiting the subsidies payable to coal? Will he consider the fact that imports should be related to the price of coal on the world market?

Mr. Walker

There is no doubt that a mass of good investment could and should take place in the coal industry. That could have good results for the industry and all who work in it. I hope that the unions will concentrate on ensuring that that is done and will encourage it to take place. On imports, this is a matter about which there is no total control at present. There is no doubt that Britain can produce coal to supply our industries and the electricity boards with a sensible basis on which to compete in the world.

Mr. Meadowcroft

The Secretary of State has told the House about Mr. MacGregor's intentions, but is he satisfied that those intentions are working in practice? Is it not the case that in the past closures have been carried out area by area and that one of the genuine problems of the recent strike was that they were carried out nationally? What guarantee do we have that that will not pertain in future?

Mr. Walker

The hon. Gentleman should study the position. The recent strike took place because Mr. MacGregor suggested that proposals should be made and examined regionally. If the hon. Gentleman had studied the details of the strike, he would know that what he said was wrong.

Mr. Benn

Will the Secretary of State cast his mind back to March 1980, when the Cabinet, of which he was a member, gave instructions to Lord Soames that a pardon was to be given to every person in Rhodesia after 15 years of rebellion against the Crown and the most horrendous civil war, and that the best way forward in Zimbabwe was through reconciliation? Will he now look back at that pardon ordinance and ensure that similar act of reconciliation is launched in the British mining industry?

Mr. Walker

I look forward to the right hon. Gentleman seeking reconciliation for the many miners who balloted to work and worked during the strike.

Mr. Sackville

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the industry's prospects would be improved if the Labour party made clear its view on the recent changes to the NUM rule book?

Mr. Walker

In fairness, the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) has made his view clear. It is only the leader of the Opposition who has not.

Mr. Strang

Why has the board's policy of victimisation been pursued with such vengeance, especially in Scotland? Is the Secretary of State aware that petitions circulating in the collieries show virtually unanimous support for the men's reinstatement, and that for Church leaders and leading lawyers the matter has become a human rights issue? How much longer must we put up with this injustice in Scotland and elsewhere?

Mr. Walker

The Opposition are divided on the matter. Some, including those who are sitting near to the hon. Gentleman now, are in favour of reinstating all miners, no matter how guilty of violence they are, and, indeed, of taking miners out of prison. I am glad that at least the Leader of the Opposition condemned that.

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