HC Deb 17 July 1985 vol 83 cc298-301
2. Mr. Ron Brown

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if, when he next meets the Scottish Trades Union Congress he will discuss the implications for Government policy on employment in Scotland of the recent miners' strike.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. George Younger)

I am always willing to discuss with the STUC the implications for Government policy of important events. The most damaging effects of the recent miners' strike have been on employment in the industry itself.

Mr. Brown

As Ian MacGregor represents man's inhumanity to man—not forgetting wives and bairns—will the Secretary of State intervene to ensure that victimised miners are returned to work? Or is the highly placed, highly salaried chairman of the NCB doing the dirty work for the Government? When I met Mr. MacGregor at Edinburgh airport on Thursday, he was not interested in fair play. Indeed, when I mentioned conciliation, he thought that that was a brand of rye whisky. Will the Secretary of State intervene and do something to resolve this almighty problem, which affects a large section of the community in Scotland?

Mr. Younger

Dismissed miners who have complaints can go to industrial tribunals. They have a perfectly good course under the normal law.

As for the other effects of the strike, I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman said about Mr. MacGregor. The severe responsibility for the effects of the strike lies firmly on the NUM, which has not only done lasting damage to the Scottish coal industry, but has destroyed a large number of jobs.

Mrs. McCurley

When my right hon. Friend meets the STUC, will he emphasise to the congress that the steel industry in Scotland would be in a much safer position and that the BSC would be in profit if it had not been for the destructive effects of the coal strike? The example which the STUC set in wanting the steelworkers to come out was highly destructive for other jobs.

Mr. Younger

I agree with my hon. Friend. There is no doubt that the splendid efforts of the steelworkers in Scotland were made considerably more difficult by the efforts of the NUM, which tried and failed to close Ravenscraig.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I appeal for brief supplementary questions.

Mr. Strang

Why is the NCB pursuing its policy of victimisation with such vengeance, particularly in Scotland? Surely the Secretary of State must recognise that innocent men and their families are being sacrificed and that this is a human rights issue. When will the right hon. Gentleman face up to that fact?

Mr. Younger

The truly innocent men, and their families, are the working miners who have been victimised shamefully. If striking miners have a case against them in law, they should come before the courts in the proper way. If they have complaints about their treatment by the NCB, they have recourse to an industrial tribunal, which is a perfectly fair process.

Mr. Henderson

Will my right hon. Friend stress to the STUC that the disastrous consequences of the strike for the potentially profitable coal faces at Frances and Seafield collieries have resulted in a considerable loss of jobs and opportunities for the Fife economy? Does that not show that strikes rarely do anyone any good, and frequently do many people a great deal of harm?

Mr. Younger

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Those coal faces and jobs in Fife were lost by the deliberate actions of the NUM in calling a strike. I am extremely apprehensive that for many years to come there will be many effects from this disastrous strike.

Mr. Douglas

Will the Secretary of State reflect on his answers? We have moved from the strike and are anxious that the union should be allowed to represent its members on an individual basis. Will the right hon. Gentleman lend his good offices to ensure, with the STUC and the NUM, that the NCB considers each of the more than 200 cases individually? Will he further lend his good offices to ensure that good industrial relations are reinstated in the Scottish coalfield, in the interests of the coalfield, of the Scottish economy and of re-establishing a good coal industry in Scotland?

Mr. Younger

The question of relations between the NCB and its employees is one which must be pursued with the NCB. If the unions wish to do so, they can represent members who appear before industrial tribunals. The NUM has caused the real damage. It would be much better if it put its weight behind recovery in the industry.

Mr. Hirst

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the cost of an inefficient mining industry is unnecessarily high coal prices, and that that is potentially far more damaging to the many industries in Scotland which depend on energy? Does he further agree that if the NCB does not have the resources available to invest in uneconomic pits, they should be offered to private buyers? Will he say that when he next meets the STUC?

Mr. Younger

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his suggestions. A few weeks ago I had a long discussion with the STUC about the effects of the miners' strike. My hon. Friend is right to point out that if coal prices are made higher by industrial action, that must reduce the potential market for coal and jobs arising from the mining of coal. That comes back to the point that the NUM's actions have done a great deal of damage to the Scottish coalfield.

Mr. O'Neill

Will the Secretary of State cast his mind back to his meeting with the officials of the Polmaise colliery, Stirling district council and the central region, before the miners' strike started, about the potential closure of that colliery—the reason why the strike was started in the first place? Will he assure the House, as he did my constituents and local government colleagues, that he will do everything in his power to support that colliery and enable it to produce the coal that is so desperately needed in the central region? Will he assure us that the Scottish Office will back the colliery against Mr. MacGregor's wishes for closure?

Mr. Younger

The hon. Gentleman's reference to that meeting makes me feel extremely sad, as it took place shortly before the strike, and I offered to do all that I could to help. I shall always try to do anything that I can to help employment in Scotland, wherever it is. However, since then the same people whom I met and to whom I offered help were solidly on strike for almost a year and did immense damage both to their pit and to the entire industry. They cannot wipe the slate clean. The blame for the disastrous effects on the Scottish coal industry lies with Mr. Scargill and the entire NUM.

Mr. Dewar

Can the Minister confirm that, as has been stated recently by the Secretaries of State for Energy and for Employment, an individual review is being conducted by the board? If so, does he agree that the rules of natural justice should be observed and that the men concerned should have the right to a hearing and to representation? Without that, we shall never escape from the conclusion that any review is merely tokenism and a gesture to get the board out of a difficult position over a wide spectrum of Scottish opinion.

Mr. Younger

I think the hon. Gentleman knows that the Secretary of State for Energy wrote me a letter, which was publicised, in which he said that he had made it clear that the National Coal Board would be examining the cases which had been in dispute, but that that did not alter the fact that the proper course is to go before the industrial tribunals. There is a right to representation before the tribunals and the men concerned have recourse to proper procedure in that way.