HC Deb 11 March 1985 vol 75 cc7-9
4. Mr. Wareing

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what is his latest estimate of the expected loss on deep-mined operations by the National Coal Board in the current financial year.

Mr. David Hunt

I am not able to estimate the loss on the NCB's deep-mined operations this year until the board has had time to assess fully the damage which the strike has inflicted on the coal industry.

Mr. Wareing

In view of that answer, the Minister no doubt recognises that the loss must be considerable. Can he tell us anything about the difference in the cost of producing a tonne of coal as between the beginning of March 1984 and the beginning of March 1985? What was the level of import substitution?

To ensure that there is a return to proper working in the industry now that the strike is over, after the intransigence of the Government and the immoral acts against the mining communities, should not the Government's first act be to get rid of MacGregor so that he can return to the United States?

Mr. Hunt

The strike has inflicted substantial damage on the industry, and let no one in the House underestimate the extent of that damage. The president of the National Union of Mineworkers talks of the fight continuing, but it must be the view in all parts of the House that the only fight that now matters is to rebuild the industry, which has been shattered by Scargill's strike.

Mr. Rost

When planning the reconstruction of the industry, will the Government consider that miners should have the same advantages as are enjoyed by employees who have been liberated from state ownership in other industries, in companies such as National Freight, Jaguar, British Telecom and British Aerospace? In those companies many of the employees own shares and participate in the profitability and better industrial relations in their companies.

Mr. Hunt

My hon. Friend raises a very important point, which I shall take up with the chairman. But let the House understand that there are no plans for privatisation. What matters for this industry is now a period of consolidation to recover from this damaging dispute.

Mr. Allan Rogers

Will the Minister consider the industry's projected loss over the past year and hope that it will improve? Will he look at specific instances such as a miner from my constituency who was convicted for having in his possession a plastic bag full of coal worth £l.32—far less than most people in the city of London take home by way of pens, blotting paper and so on? In that instance, the miner lost all his seniority and his privileges. Further, so that there will be some harmony in the coal industry, will the hon. Gentleman start wiping the blood off the teeth of his neo-Fascist friends behind him?

Mr. Hunt

I hope the House fully recognises that it has been said repeatedly from the Conservative Benches that there must be no talk of victory or defeat. All that matters is the success of this very great industry.

Mr. Hanley

Since Mr. Arthur Scargill has repeatedly asserted that we in Britain enjoy the cheapest deep-mined coal in the world, will my hon. Friend either confirm or deny that statistic, as it seems to be both a vital plank of NUM policy and a test of Mr. Scargill's own veracity?

Mr. Hunt

The statement is, of course, incorrect. It is one further example of the festering falsehoods used by the president of the NUM to perpetuate this pointless political strike.

Mr. Redmond

Does the Minister agree that when the NCB breaks the law—that is, the Mines and Quarries Act 1954—on the appointment by the NUM of section 123 inspectors, he will prosecute and sack the officials responsible, or does he have dual standards?

Mr. Hunt

That is not so. It is up to the hon. Gentleman to give further details of that particular instance if he believes that there are grounds for action. I should have thought that it was for everyone in the House to recover the ground that has been lost as a result of the dispute. I would have hoped that the Opposition would start condemning the irresponsible talk of guerrilla action in the pits, which can only destroy the industry.

Mr. Franks

Does the Minister accept that the real issue over the past 12 months has not been about pit closures, union rules or amnesties, but about the right way and the wrong way to run a modern industry, and about the right of management to manage? Does my hon. Friend further accept that the only way to run a successful industry, whatever it may be, is to expose it to the full blast of competition? Does he accept that at the end of the day it is the consumer who keeps the industry in business, and not a Government ladling out money ad nauseam? Finally, does my hon. Friend accept that the only way to run a modern mining industry is to privatise it?

Mr. Hunt

No, but I agree with my hon. Friend that if the coal industry can bring its costs under control and become financially viable once again, it has a very bright future, capable of offering secure and well-paid jobs to those who work in it.

Mr. Meadowcroft

How far does the "bright future" of the industry depend on concentrating on those pits where coal can be produced most cheaply? Given the effect of the changes in exchange rates, does the hon. Gentleman foresee the possibility of selling more coal and creating more jobs in the industry?

Mr. Hunt

If the heavy burden of uneconomic coal can be lifted from the industry's back, the future should be very bright indeed.

Mr. Orme

Is the Minister aware that getting rid of the so-called "guerrilla activity" in the pits means getting a negotiated agreement? This morning I met representatives of both NACODS and the NUM, and NACODS gave me a copy of its letter of 6 March to Mr. Spanton asking for a meeting on the modified colliery review procedure and calling for all parties to attend. Does the Minister agree that that meeting should go ahead?

Mr. Hunt

The Government have always wanted a negotiated settlement. It was a great tragedy for the future of the industry that the right hon. Gentleman did not support the TUC initiative in presenting the document that it obtained from the NCB as the best possible offer. That offer is still open to the NUM.

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