§ 11.4 pm
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy (Mr. David Hunt)
I beg to move,
That the draft Redundant Mineworkers and Concessionary Coal (Payments Schemes) Order 1986, which was laid before this House on 10 March, be approved.I understand that it might be in order to take both orders together.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
With the agreement of the House, we shall take both orders together.
§ Mr. Roy Mason (Barnsley, Central)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If we are taking both orders together, are we restricted to only 90 minutes' debate?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
That is so. The House has decided to take the two orders together which means a debate of 1½ hours on both orders, not three hours.
§ Mr. Hunt
When on 28 March 1985 I commended to the House the Redundant Mineworkers and Concessionary Coal (Payments Schemes) Amendment Order 1985 I warned that, although the long and damaging strike which the industry had suffered was over, its consequences would be with us for some considerable time. One important consequence was that many miners failed to pay sufficient national insurance contributions during the tax year 1984–85 to qualify for full contributions-based social security benefits on claims falling within the 1986 benefit year. The purpose of the present Redundant Mineworkers and Concessionary Coal (Payments Schemes) Order is both to provide for the continued operation of the schemes and to amend the existing terms to take account of this consequence.
The provisions of the scheme now being introduced were announced in outline by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy on 19 December 1985. They follow closely for full-time employees those of the present schemes which expire on 29 March, providing for essentially the same range of lump sum and weekly benefits; but they provide important additional protection for those older men whose redundancy date falls within the 1986 social security benefit year and who, for the reasons I have already mentioned, fail to qualify for full state unemployment benefit or sickness benefit.
As right hon. and hon. Members who take an interest in the operation of the redundancy scheme will know, to be entitled to weekly benefits under the present rules a man must, with certain limited exceptions, either satisfy the conditions for receipt of unemployment benefit, sickness benefit or invalidity pension or, with regard to unemployment benefit, satisfy those conditions but for entitlement to that benefit being exhausted. This rule, which has been part of the scheme since it was first introduced, was designed to ensure a proper integration of continuing weekly payments under the scheme with social security benefits.
In the present circumstances, however, it has an unfortunate consequence since it means that an older man whose redundancy falls within the 1986 social security benefit year and who lacks sufficient national insurance contributions to qualify for unemployment benefit or sickness benefit stands to lose the benefits for which he 740 failed to make adequate contributions and his weekly benefits under the redundant mineworkers payments scheme.
The present order seeks to overcome this difficulty in articles 9 and 10. Article 10 provides that where such a man is unemployed or unavailable for work through sickness, provided he has an entitlement to credits on national insurance contributions he is not precluded from weekly benefits under the scheme even if he fails to satisfy the contribution conditions for entitlement to unemployment benefit or sickness benefit. That is, provided he meets essentially the same general requirement as before, other than the contribution requirement, he may receive weekly payments under the redundant mineworkers payments scheme. Article 9 then allows the Secretary of State to pay such a man additional scheme benefits as well, together with any unemployment benefit, sickness benefit, invalidity pension or severe disablement allowance to which he is entitled, equal the total amount of those benefits to which he would have been entitled but for the failure to satisfy the contribution conditions. In short, he may receive make-up payments under the redundant mineworkers payment scheme to make good his loss of social security benefits.
Clearly it would be inequitable if men who had failed to pay full national insurance contributions in 1984–85 and received these make-up payments were in consequence better off overall than those who did pay and would therefore satisfy the existing rules. For this reason, the order also provides, in article 18, for a reduction in the lump sum payable to men who receive topped-up weekly payments. It is not practicable for the amount of that reduction to equal for each man the precise figure which he might have paid in national insurance contributions had he continued working. That figure is anyway ultimately a matter of conjecture. The article provides, therefore, for a uniform deduction from lump sum entitlement of £600 where the man has no entitlement to unemployment benefit, or £550 if he has some entitlement but at less than the full rate. These figures represent a reasonable reduction taking account of the average national insurance contributions paid by those falling into the two categories and those typically paid by men who worked throughout the period of the strike.
There is one further provision in the draft order which I should mention. This concerns the treatment of former part-time workers who were employed for fewer than 30 hours per week. The benefits available under the redundant mineworkers payments scheme have been improved substantially under the present Government, notably in 1983, 1984 and under the present order. It is a generous scheme primarily designed fully to recompense those full-time employees who help the industry through its present period of necessary restructuring by taking voluntary redundancy. However, I suggest there can be no justification for providing those who take redundancy with higher weekly earnings than when they worked, nor for paying lump sums on the scale now provided under the scheme to former part-time employees who may have been employed for as little as 16 hours per week. The new order provides, therefore, that to be entitled to full scheme benefits a former employee must have been employed for 30 or more hours per week in the relevant tax year.
Before discussing the second of the two draft orders before us tonight, I think it would be right for me to say something about the future of the coal industry and the 741 RMPS. In the past 12 months, the industry has made giant strides towards economic viability. Productivity has increased by one quarter and much uneconomic capacity has gone. This has been achieved without a single compulsory redundancy. All those who wished to remain in the industry have been able to do so. In the nature of things, an extractive industry can offer no guarantee that there will never be redundancies; and the future size and prosperity of the coal industry must depend on the success of men and management in making it competitive. There is no doubt that the recent fall in the price of oil increases the severity of the competition which the coal industry faces, and will make it necessary for the industry to strengthen still further the efforts it is making to eliminate losses.
Nevertheless, the Government's view is that the time is approaching when the NCB can, like the great majority of employers, take more responsibility for deciding and financing the redundancy terms which it offers. The new order will operate to the end of the National Coal Board's 1986–87 financial year, when the power to make schemes under the Coal Industry Act 1977 expires. It is right for me now to make it clear that it is not the Government's intention to introduce new legislation extending the power to make schemes beyond that date.
To enable payments to be made under the new schemes, it is necessary also to provide financial headroom. Section 4(3) of the Coal Industry Act 1983 increased the limit on aggregate cumulative expenditure on Redundant Mineworkers and Concessionary Coal Payments Schemes under the 1977 Act to £1,200 million. Section 3(3) of the Coal Industry Act 1985 gave the Secretary of State power to increase that limit by order made with the approval of the Treasury up to £1,800 million. The Coal Industry (Limit on Payments in Respect of Redundant Mineworkers) Order 1986 increases the limit to that figure.
When the 1985 Coal Industry Bill was presented to Parliament, it was impossible to know how many men would leave the industry under the redundant mineworkers and concessionary coal payments schemes then operating, nor what, if any, scheme would follow expiry of that scheme in March 1986. We were therefore faced with the choice of increasing the existing limit on expenditure to a figure so large that it could accommodate any conceivable circumstance, or providing for the power to increase the existing figure by order as and when circumstances required. As hon. and right hon. Members know, we adopted the latter course. The present order exercises the power then provided and provides the financial headroom to enable payments to be made under the new redundancy order. I should emphasise that the increase of £600 million in the limit of expenditure is not based upon an estimate of numbers who might leave in the coming year; it is simply the maximum envisaged in the 1985 Act and therefore compatible with the widest possible range of outcomes.
To conclude, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the Government have demonstrated by their financial support to the NCB over the past few years that they are committed to the creation of an efficient, competitive and viable coal industry; an industry capable of contributing to the national economy rather than one which must continually come cap in hand for further support; an industry with a proud future to match its proud past, capable of providing 742 long-term, secure jobs with good earnings for those who work in it. The Government have further demonstrated by the redundancy terms they have made available and by their support for the National Coal Board's enterprise subsidiary, their equal commitment to ensuring that those who leave the industry as part of the present restructuring and their communities are as far as possible compensated and protected.
There are signs that the industry is now coming right. Productivity, which for so many years grew at a rate which was the despair of all those who cared and could only spell long-term disaster, improves month by month. Costs of production are falling.
The industry is not yet at a point at which we can say that all the difficulties are over, but the portents are good. The industry is leaner and fitter than it has been for many years. We can all see that with further efforts, and just a little good fortune, the industry may enter a new and prosperous era. The Government are committed to that goal and to providing the support necessary to make it possible. As part of that process I hope that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House will welcome the orders.
§ Mr. Alexander Eadie (Midlothian)
We are asked to approve an increase from £1,200 million to £1,800 million because the Redundant Mineworkers and Concessionary Coal (Payments Schemes) Order 1984 expires at the end of the month. The revised orders extend the scheme until 28 March 1987 with some principal changes, which allow us to consider what has prompted them and to look at the coal industry today.
A new definition has been added to cover "coal industry employment". There have also been some technical alterations to the definitions of "days of employment", "industrial accident" and "industrial disease". I hope that the Minister will comment further on those when he replies. A definition has also been included to cover "severe disablement allowance". The definition of "subsidiary" has been amended to bring it up to date from the Companies Act 1948 to the Companies Act 1985.
The Minister tried to explain that under the present scheme part-time workers are not discriminated against. However, the new order introduces a pro rata reduction in benefits, and that is contained in article 5(1)(a) by reference to 30 hours and the pro rata extension of the weekly benefit table down from £35 to £10. There is also a consequential amendment to article 7 relating to the adjustment of basic benefit whereby a reference to employment on average for not less than 30 hours a week is introduced. Those amendments are clearly designed to reduce benefits in future to part-time employees in the industry.
As a result of the 1984–85 strike, a number of members, as the Minister indicated, have insufficient national insurance contributions to qualify for unemployment benefit in the benefit year commencing January 1986. That, in turn, means that men aged 50 and over who would normally have qualified for weekly benefit would be barred by virtue of failing to establish a right to unemployment benefit. To overcome that problem, the new order makes provision for an additional weekly benefit by switching the second order of unemployment benefit equivalent to be applied to the first year of scheme entitlement for unemployment benefit which will be 743 payable in the second year. For example, under the new arrangements a person who is made redundant from the beginning of the tax year 1986–87, by registering as unemployed, will be given a credit towards the national insurance which will bring him hack into entitlement to unemployment benefit in 1987 for 52 weeks. The Minister referred to the statement made by the Secretary of State on 19 December.
The Minister may want to correct me, but my information is that there will be a reduction in redundancy pay as a consequence of that arrangement. I hope that the Minister will confirm that when he replies.
The only other principal change is the revision of the weekly benefits tables in appendix 4 to select the increases in the level of unemployment benefit introduced with effect from November 1985. Apart from that, we are dealing only with the tables changing in relation to lump sum payments.
Tonight we are asked to approve the due process of law and legal enactment by discussing these orders affecting the coal industry. It is a strange irony that although such processes apply to Parliament, which we would defend, they do not apply to the working and administration of the National Coal Board. I will discuss three aspects of the board's conduct which could be related to the legality of the orders which we are being asked to approve this evening.
First, I shall deal with the new modified colliery review procedure. The old procedure gave the NCB the power to act as judge, jury and executioner. The new procedure, upon which many high hopes were pinned, has been dashed by the NCB's attitude, for example, to the Bates colliery closure and its decision to ignore the recommendations of the independent arbiter that the colliery should remain open.
The NCB has clearly interpreted the new procedure as allowing it to be the judge, jury and executioner on colliery closures. The NCB has done enormous damage by its action and destroyed any faith that people working in the industry may have had in the new procedure. There will be a further test tomorrow when the Kingsley Drift colliery in Yorkshire is considered under this new procedure.
The NCB continues to flout any form of judicial process and natural justice, and this is highlighted by its attitude to miners who were victims of the strike which ended over a year ago.
Industrial tribunals have given verdicts of unfair dismissals and recommended that miners should be reinstated. Union leaders have attempted to regain normality in those areas in the spirit of consultation and conciliation. However, in all but a few instances these attempts and recommendations have met a stony-faced reaction by the NCB.
The NCB has been given a legal opinion by no less an authority than the Attorney-General that it is in breach of the law if it tampers with the miners' pension fund and uses striking miners, in a dispute over a year old, as an excuse to delay the wage increases of members of the National Union of Mineworkers, unless that increase is tied to amending the miners' pension fund. Despite the legal advice that the NCB would be in breach of the law, it intends to spend money, which is not its own, on what could be an expensive legal action.
We need changes in the NCB, and a start should be made by the Government. They should ask the present chairman of the NCB, Mr. Ian MacGregor, to go now 744 rather than in September. The industry and the country have had to put up with this expensive liability for too long.
The backcloth to the orders signals a further contraction of manpower in the mining industry. There will be more pit closures and more redundancies. The figures released for the past year show that 30,000 jobs have been lost. That is depressing. If the Minister is not concerned, the House certainly is concerned about the continued contraction of manpower in the industry.
The House is aware of the problems of energy provision as a consequence of the massive drop in oil price, referred to by the Minister. We were reminded of that when we debated the EEC document on state aids to the coal industry. It has not gone unobserved by some of us that, like baying wolves, the leaders of the Central Electricity Generating Board are going for the British coal industry in this energy price war which is confronting many nations in the world. The CEGB wants to import more foreign coal. It does not care whether it is Polish or South African coal, as long as the price is right. I hope that the Minister will tell us that the Central Electricity Generating Board has been told that it is not in the business of creating unemployment in the British coal industry by its quest for more imports of foreign coal.
I endorse what the Minister said about the performance of the industry and the way that the miners are responding to the needs and to the call of the nation to produce more coal. We do not oppose these orders, but the Minister must reply to some of the issues that I have raised, because they are of great importance not only to people working in the industry but to my right hon. and hon. Friends.
§ Mr. Phillip Oppenheim (Amber Valley)
I recently had the honour to be invited to a meeting in my constituency organised by the local National Farmers Union. I was slightly surprised when one old farmer told me that farmers did far better under Labour Governments and coal miners did better under Conservative Governments. That is probably just as well, because I have only about 100 farmers but more than 2,000 coal miners and a large number of retired miners in my constituency. On pondering this, I have to admit that there is some truth in the words of the old farmer. I do not want to go into the problems of agriculture, but history seems to bear out his view that coal miners have done substantially better under Conservative Governments.
It was under the Macmillan Government that coal pools were first arranged to provide fuel for miners over the age of 60. The Heath Government centralised those pools and backdated the concessionary coal allowances to miners aged over 55 on retirement and also backdated it to 1969. In 1983, this Government further reduced to 50 the age for concessionary coal and took over funding for the scheme from the coal pools. In doing that, the Government left out large numbers of miners who were under 60 when they were made redundant because of the massive pit closures of the Wilson Government in the 1960s. During that period, nearly half as many miners were made redundant in my constituency alone as were proposed by the National Coal Board in 1983 and 1984 for the whole country. Some 10,000 miners in my area were made redundant during the 1960s compared with only 20,000 proposed redundancies for the whole country in 1983 and 1984. Those proposed redundancies led to the Scargill strike.
745 Many of the miners who were made compulsorily redundant under the Wilson Government in the 1960s have had a raw deal. Some worked in the pits from the age of 14 for as many as 30 years in conditions that were far worse than conditions pertaining in the pits today. In the mid-1960s many of them received letters from the chairman of the NCB telling them that the coal industry was set to expand and that their jobs were totally secure. Nonetheless, they were made redundant or at best offered jobs many miles away. When they were made compulsorily redundant under the Wilson Government they were given a pittance in redundancy money, far less in real terms than miners receive today. Furthermore, if they were under the age of 60 when they were made redundant, as many of them were, they received no concessionary coal, even though many of them had contributed to coal pools for miners aged over 60 in the reasonable expectation that they themselves would benefit from those pools. These are the forgotten miners. Their votes were taken for granted by their representatives for too long, and as a result, they got a raw deal.
It is true that most of the advances in the coal industry have come about during the periods of Conservative Governments—better redundancy terms, higher wages and far better concessionary coal allowances. Therefore, there is a precedent for the Government to make further improvements, and to allow retired miners the retrospective benefit, as happened in 1973. I accept that cost has to be a key factor, and I understand that recent estimates by the NCB put the cost of retrospectively extending concessionary coal to miners made redundant in the 1960s at some £3 million. This sounds a very large sum, but it represents only 10 per cent. of the total cost of the concessionary coal scheme that the Government already fund. Furthermore, it represents only 0.15 per cent. of the total cost of the coal industry to the taxpayer.
Concern and support for this is shown by the large number of Members who recently signed an early-day motion on this subject. Therefore, I strongly urge my hon. Friend the Minister to consider extending retrospectively the concessionary coal allowances to those miners made redundant at the age of 60 in the 1960s. If he will not consider that, will he at least consider some one-off payment, or some benefit to these miners, who have had a raw deal?
§ Dr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
The hon. Member for Amber Valley (Mr. Oppenheim) has referred to a matter that some of my hon. Friends will recall has been mentioned almost every time that these redundancies and concessionary coal orders have been debated. I find it rather strange that this Johnny-come-lately can join with those of us like my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McGuire) in calling for concessionary coal for those who did not get a square deal under the Tory Government.
§ Mr. Skinner
No, we have not got time. If the hon. Gentleman had been present at some of the coal debates over the past two or three years since he became a Member of Parliament, he would know all about the concern that has consistently been shown by my hon. Friends on this 746 matter, because they represent almost every coalfield in Britain. That is why they signed my early-day motion on the matter.
I have news for the hon. Gentleman, which the Minister will confirm. When I wrote to the Secretary of State for Energy at the back end of last year about this matter for the umpteenth time—the Minister knows that I have raised it with him several times—the Secretary of State replied to the effect that, notwithstanding the new-found concern on the Tory Benches, he would not consider giving the concessionary coal to the pre-1968 people who did not get a square deal under any Government.
§ Mr. Skinner
No, I shall not give way. We do not have time, as many of my Friends want to speak on this and many other subjects.
If the hon. Gentleman only knew, he would appreciate that this matter has been raised consistently because some of the miners have done more than 40 years in the pits, and not many of them are left now, because many died. There are widows who should get the coal. It is true that it will cost only about £3 million, and that is why we argue that it should be implemented without any further delay. If the Government can find £2 billion for the farmers in 1984–85, which works out at a massive sum for every farmer in Britain, they could find the money for retired miners' and miner's widows, so that they can have the coal.
I remind the hon. Member for Amber Valley that some of the pits that shut in and around his constituency were not closed under a Labour Government—I happened to be a north Derbyshire miner. Almost without exception, the pits there were closed by the Macmillan Government, about which he spoke.
I want concessionary coal for the people in Blackwell. South Normanton, Pinxton, Tibshelf and all of the other villages in which the pits shut under the pre- 1968 agreement. We are dealing with, perhaps, the first Secretary of State who has no influence with the chairman of the National Coal Board. We do not expect the Secretary of State to run the day-to-day administration of the NCB, but the present one is just a lame duck. He cannot get anywhere with the chairman. When the miners group met him recently, he was unable to challenge MacGregor on any of these issues. The Minister has to reply to these questions. Why does he and the Secretary of State not use their muscle? Why do they not use what influence they have with the chairman in his last few months? Why do they not send him packing?
It is remarkable that in Kent we have 47 miners, I believe, who have not been given their jobs back. A considerable proportion of them are branch officials. It is almost as if the NCB wanted to pick new officials for the Kent industry. If Ministers have any influence, they should use it to get some reinstatements in Kent, Yorkshire and Scotland. The BBC's "Open Space" programme tonight told of a branch secretary who went to a tribunal, which found that he should get his job back but, because MacGregor is in the driving seat and says that someone must pay for insubordination, he has still not been given his job back, like many others in Scotland.
In Derbyshire recently a man was supposedly given his job back. He and his mate were then sent along for a medical and he did not pass the hearing test. That is another form of victimisation.
747 The Secretary of State and the Minister have hardly any influence. That was shown graphically in the case of Bates colliery. The colliery review procedure was sabotaged by the NCB, and the Minister sits there, unable to use any influence despite the fact that, over and over again, the Prime Minister, when she was not dealing in shares in a mining company in Australia, said from the Dispatch Box that that procedure was sacrosanct. My hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) who represents NACODS, knows all about sacrosanct procedures and the promises that were made from the Dispatch Box.
The Minister has a chance. My hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) mentioned Kinsley drift. It has not been open long.
§ Mr. Skinner
My hon. Friend says six years. Millions of pounds have been invested in the pit. There is a colliery review tomorrow. There is a picket at Hobart house, starting at 9.30 am. I had better get the advert in. If what happened to Bates happens to Kinsley drift, will the Minister use his influence to ensure that the pit gets a fair crack of the whip? I doubt it. During the strike and since, the Secretary of State and the Minister have not been able to do anything with respect to the chairman of the NCB. The Minister now has a chance to put things right, to show that he has some muscle and to give some hope to those who have been victimised. Some 500 miners are still without a job. It has been agreed in courts and tribunals that many of them have not done anything wrong. Perhaps 200 of them could be given their jobs back in the next few weeks. We would, perhaps, understand that, for the first time, the Minister and his right hon. Friend are beginning to use what power they have. Previous Secretaries of State have used that power and influence. We have seen nothing of it during the course of this Government's reign.
The price of oil has fallen again today. If market forces are left to operate, it could result in a massive further rundown in the mining industry. There could be closures on the same scale as in the 1950s and 1960s when Governments—whatever their political hue—decided that oil was cheap, that it could be obtained from the middle east and elsewhere for ever and that they would supplant the miners by using it. The massive drop in the oil price could mean that a Government who were hellbent on allowing market forces to operate would allow cheap oil once again to supplant the 300 years' supply of coal which lies beneath the ground of Britain. That would be foolish, because no one can predict that there will not be a quadrupling of oil prices, as happened in 1972 and 1973.
I hope that the Under-Secretary will not listen to the siren voices of the Central Electricity Generating Board, which suggests in code language that it would not be a bad idea to move over to oil because it is cheap. Such a move would mean that more people will be thrown out of work. More miners would have to receive redundancy payments. More miners would be thrown on to the scrap heap and would have to go on the dole, resulting in a loss of tax revenue to the Government, and so on. I want the Under-Secretary of State to declare that the Government will not let market forces operate freely, that they will use coal and will ensure that the mining industry remains intact.
§ Mr. David Ashby (Leicestershire, North-West)
The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) was warbling a somewhat false note—a note that he and all hon. Members know to be false. One should note what the hon. Member for Bolsover said during those years when the Wilson Government were closing so many pits, giving no coal concessions and making no allowances. One would have thought that the hon. Gentleman would sing a song crying out for help for the miners, but there was silence from him. He began to sing that song only when the Conservative party came to office, and, even then, he was not singing it too loudly. Last year, there was an hour and a half debate on this subject; this year, it is a three hour debate. Apart from when the hon. Gentleman tried to interrupt other hon. Members, we heard nothing from him on this subject.
§ Mr. Ashby
Yes, he was here, but we heard little on this subject until my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Mr. Oppenheim) and I tabled an early-day motion on concessionary coal for miners. Three or four days later, the hon. Member for Bolsover came rushing in saying, "I had forgotten about that. Let us get on with it." He then tabled his early-day motion. He is always second best. He does not really care about the miners for whom he says he cares so much.
Productivity has increased and the costs of production have fallen in the coal industry. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State said, we now have a leaner, fitter and more prosperous industry. The coal orders are almost the swan song of the Government's involvement in the industry. It is nice to realise that the coal industry is about to be able to stand on its own two feet? It will be able to produce its own redundancy schemes. It is becoming a good profitable business. No group can be prouder than the miners of being party to this development. They do not want an industry that is supported up to the neck by the taxpayers. They want a sleek, prosperous industry of which they can be proud.
We have a new mine coming on line in south Leicestershire. Asfordby, a new superpit, will be part of the leaner and more profitable industry. I asked for, and indeed have had, undertakings from the chairman that the people of south Leicestershire will be considered first for jobs in the new pit. They have worked throughout and suffered redundancies, and they will look to the Asfordby pit for the future of their industry. I am grateful that they can look to it for future jobs.
My hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Mr. Oppenheim) referred to the early-day motion which I have had the pleasure of signing. When did most of the major redundancies take place, and when were most of the pits closed? We have to look to the years of the Wilson Government, when many pits were closed and redundancy terms were bad. Under the Conservative Government there have been substantial redundancy payments, and coal. allowances have increasingly been given to younger people, and men have been able to leave the pits with dignity, having worked there for many years. It is a far cry from the early years.
There is just one anomaly, and it will not cost much to remedy. I hope that a caring Government and the National Coal Board will take action. I refer to the granting of a 749 concessionary coal allowance to all those who would have been entitled to it if they were retiring now. It is not much to ask. The amounts and the numbers are not very large. Advertisements have appeared in my constituency asking those who would be entitled to a coal allowance to contact me so that the numbers can be ascertained. I have received many letters from retired miners, all speaking of the hardship that they have suffered and all asking that the concessionary coal allowance be extended to them. I shall quote from just one of them:
I am writing on behalf of my husband … who is now 74 years old. He is one of the miners you refer to in the local papers. He was made redundant in the late 60s under the Wilson government having been made redundant with a miserly £600 and no coal at the age of 59 years. When he came home and told me what was going to happen I felt very sad as he had several working years left and couldn't get another job and was thrown on the scrapheap. The business of not having the coal allowance hit us very hard … for 16 years and had to buy every cobble which does not seem right when a man has worked in the pits for 43 years on the face producing the coal … My husband is a Burton man. He trained the Bevin boys and dedicated his life to the miners. We think what was done with the Wilson Government was indeed a very shabby trick, and we vowed we would never vote Labour again, which we haven't.That is the view of so many of the miners who were made redundant in the 1960s. They feel that they were let down by the Wilson Government—and indeed they were. We, on the other hand, have not let them down. We have supported and looked after them. We should try to make some restitution for the shabby trick that was played upon the coal miners under the Wilson Government. I am asking the Government to adopt a magnanimous approach and to put right the wrong for which the Opposition know they were responsible.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
The hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) doth protest too much, not in raising the issue—a cause to which he is welcome among the many hon. Members who have sought to deal with the long-standing problem that affects those people who do not benefit from the concessionary coal scheme—but in his zeal in directing his attack specifically at the activities of the Wilson Government, for which there is a reasonable justification. However, his zeal suggested a diversionary tactic away from some of the problems that have arisen during the period of this Government. He slightly lost his sense of perspective about some of the problems that have arisen during the last two years under the current chairman of the National Coal Board. But let us not complain. Instead let us all join in pressing the Minister to take this step, as the alliance has done over a considerable period.
These orders concern the number of people who retire early or who become redundant by accepting voluntary redundancy as a result of the great changes that are taking place in the coal industry. Those changes are very apparent in the Northumberland coalfield. Many people come into these categories, and many of them come into my constituency to work. They accept employment by transfer to two of the only three remaining collieries in the Northumberland coalfield. Two of those collieries are in my constituency. A considerable question mark hangs over the only remaining colliery that lies outside my constituency. Questions have recently been raised about one of the two collieries in my constituency.
750 One problem, above all others, has caused anger and great anxiety in the Northumberland coalfield and elsewhere in the coal industry in recent weeks—the attitude of the NCB to the colliery review procedure relating to Bates colliery. For the NCB so markedly to have failed the test of this new procedure by its complete refusal to take any notice of it has removed from the Government any credit that was attached to them for placing emphasis on that procedure during the long months of the dispute. If there is to be any respect at all for the procedure, it has to be respected by the NCB. There may come a time when it will be reasonable for the NCB to take issue in detail with a recommendation of the independent review procedure.
I do not think anybody ever claimed that the colliery review procedure had an absolute right always to override the judgment of the NCB, but for the NCB to take no notice of it whatsoever and to dismiss out of hand the recommendations of the review procedure on Bates colliery has completely destroyed any confidence that could be placed in that procedure and has done considerable damage at a time when attempts were being made on all sides to bring about reconciliation and introduce a new atmosphere into the coalfields. The Government must recognise the seriousness of the NCB's actions in this instance.
Another issue that has caused anxiety in the Northumberland coalfield is the future of Whittle colliery. On several occasions the NCB has stated that that colliery is part of its strategy for the area and that it attaches considerable importance to it. Its coal finds a ready sale. It produces the highest quality household coal. When supply difficulties arise at Whittle I am bombarded with complaints from constituents and coal merchants about their inability to get coal from that colliery and about their dissatisfaction with the substitute that they are offered instead. It produces a great deal of constituency correspondence.
There have been geological difficulties at Whittle, as is well known, which have prevented it recently from achieving the very significant improvements in production targets of recent years. The question has been raised by NACODS in recent weeks as to whether a wholly unrealistic target was being set by the NCB for the preparation of a new face at Whittle to enable it to continue profitably in production. I raised this issue with the area director and I have received further assurances about the future of that pit, but I must emphasise to the Minister that anxieties remain. In a letter which I received yesterday the area director said:It is precisely because Whittle was part of my Area strategy that I have initiated a special development programme to prepare a replacement coal face. The programme is certainly very demanding, but the organisation and resources are being provided to meet it.I hope that that means that the work will continue even if whatever initial timetable has been set for it cannot be met.
I do not think that anyone denies the urgency of the work. Certainly nobody who works at the pit wants, in any way, to delay bringing the new face into production. Their future as well as their current earnings depend on it. If Whittle colliery's future were not to be safeguarded the effects on the area of Northumberland around Alnwick and Amble and on many people now coming in from much 751 further afield in the Ashington and Blyth areas would be disastrous. Whittle is already absorbing men from Bates colliery, as is Ellington.
It is Ellington which remains the prize of the coal industry in the north-east of England and we all depend on its future. The pit has notable achievements to its credit and is now absorbing labour from all parts of the Northumberland coalfield.
§ Mr. Jack Thompson (Wansbeck)
The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) is a neighbour of mine. I think he will recognise that the problems of Whittle colliery and the problem of non-profitability that will arise—I accept the point he has raised—will be covered by the profitability at Ellington and Ashington collieries. That is the way that the National Coal Board ought to organise things. If it is not organising things, each colliery will stand on its own merits. Therefore we may face the problem that Whittle colliery, which employs some people from my constituency, may go under because it has to stand on its own, and not be supported by a neighbouring colliery which is very profitable.
§ Mr. Beith
It is my belief that in due course Whittle colliery will be able to stand on its own feet and be a profitable colliery. The question is whether it will be carried sufficiently over the period in which the essential work needs to be done. The danger of taking what the hon. Gentleman said to its logical conclusion is that we have had a history in the coal industry of pits being pulled down by the number of other pits they were having to carry. I think that the hon. Gentleman is right to stress that there may be a period, we are going through it now, in which Whittle has to be sustained by the industry to be brought back to profitability, which I am sure can be achieved.
Hanging over all the arguments about profitability is a point mentioned earlier about oil prices. Clearly, that is leading the NCB to pose fresh questions about the profitability of a number of pits. Those of us who are concerned, not just about the coal industry but about the future energy provision of our nation, are bound to record the extraordinary variations wich have occurred in the oil price over the years and the political factors which tend to determine that price. There can be no mistaking the political forces which are at work in the current reductions in the price of oil. We cannot place total reliance on a future of low oil prices.
One of the great advantages this country enjoys is the freedom that its coal supplies give it to have a wide range of energy sources, without firm dependence on any one of them, and not to be impelled to rush into the development of nuclear power at a time when there are so many unanswered questions in that area. Our coalfields give us a considerable advantage and we should not throw that advantage away, least of all on the assumption that the present oil prices will continue to drop and to stay down indefinitely.
§ Mr. Andy Stewart (Sherwood)
I was not intending to say anything at all. However, looking across at the Opposition Benches I do not see any Labour members from Nottinghamshire here to listen and take part in this important debate on the coal industry. This is not the first time that the Benches have been empty of those hon. Members. However, I shall be charitable and say that the 752 right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr.Concannon) has been suffering from a car injury which he sustained on his way back from the labour party conference last year.
I was listening closely to my hon. Friend the Minister when he was talking about the future prospects and prosperity of the coal industry. I know that he speaks from fact. He visited Nottinghamshire last week and heard for himself about the record production which is taking place daily. Records are being broken in every pit in that county, not for the first time, but weekly. Thorsby colliery is turning out almost 10 tonnes per man shift. The area director has informed me that next year we shall be producing 18.5 million tonnes of coal from the Nottinghamshire coalfield, at a cost which competes with oil at $15 per barrel. That is the future for coal.
My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary talked about the redundancy terms that will come to an end on 31 March next year. I know that he hopes that all those who want to participate in the scheme will be able to do so. When my hon. Friend sees the chairman of the NCB, I hope that he will insist that a proper early retirement scheme is in place when the terms come to an end. In my maiden speech in the House I said that 55 would be the right age for miners to retire. That is also the aim of, and has been endorsed by, the Union of Democratic Mineworkers. Therefore, when my hon. Friend sees the chairman, I hope that he will say that when the scheme finishes, a suitable retirement age for miners in the industry should be put in its place.
I remind my hon. Friend that during that unnecessary strike, caused by we all know who, miners in working areas were not able to participate in the scheme because of the need to produce coal. Will those who have not been able to take part be allowed an extension if the NCB finds that time is not on their side?
With those few remarks, I leave it to my hon. Friend to answer my questions when he replies to the debate.
§ 12.1 am
§ Mr. Michael McGuire (Makerfield)
The hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) must not go round deluding himself that it was the Wilson Government, as he kept reminding us, who gave the miners a raw deal. I was a pit secretary as long ago as 1957, when Jimmy Bowman was chairman of the National Coal Board, putting down massive stocks of coal. We started the market forces argument then. Nearly every pit in the constituency that I represent was closed before I came to the House. The miners got sweet nothing. I think £200 was the agreement, and that was under the great Government that the hon. Gentleman was praising.
We can say that we did not do as well for the retired miners as we should, but we shall not listen and take lessons from Conservative Members, telling us what great Conservative Governments did. Real closures took place when I was a pit secretary. The Wigan coalfield closed almost entirely, and we had the job of receiving the miners at our pit.
Hon. Members have referred to the contrast between what men get now and what they got then. There are Members of Parliament here who were working in the mines when I was a pit secretary. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) will remember that there was no pension for men who retired before 1952. and who had worked a lifetime in the pit. That was during the great Conservative Government of Macmillan, to which 753 the hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West referred. Those who retired before 1952 did not get a brass farthing in pension, after a lifetime in the industry.
We decided that all working miners should contribute 4d a week for a pension for those who had done a lifetime in the industry. I remember one of the sad, yet joyful, occasions when old men came into the office—the union cabin, as we called it—the tears were blinding them, because they had got a 10 bob pension. But it had to be taken off what was known as the national assistance. Those men took pride in getting that 10 bob, which we paid for. So we have moved on a long way.
I hope that the hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West will take a friendly rebuke. He should not tell us the nonsense that the miners got glory when the Tories were in and a rough deal when we were in. They have had a better deal over the years. We could have done more for them.
Tory Members are wrong to rebuke my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover, not that he cannot deal with rebukes from Tories. He can deal with them equally well when he gets them from our side. I have been on these Benches with him many times when together, in debates such as this, we have raised the matter of concessionary coal, and the gap in that concession. I am glad that the Tories are joining in, although it is cold comfort. I hope that they can persuade the Minister, because he is the lad, with the Secretary of State, who can put things right. A Tory has threatened to resign if the Government put a nuclear disposal unit in his constituency. That passion must not go unrewarded. Tories can also say that if concessionary coal is not given, they will resign. That would convince me.
I want to convince the Secretary of State that this scandal has lasted long enough. We are talking about a 10-year qualification when men have worked a lifetime in the industry. That is a scandal. The money involved is little, but the reward to the widows and the few men who are still alive would be great.
All hon. Members, Tory, Labour and Liberal—I must not forget the Liberals—know that to give a widow or an old miner concessionary coal is one of the most rewarding of experiences. Some of these people have been forgotten and left by the wayside.
§ Mr. McGuire
No. I have to sit down soon because colleagues wish to speak.
Some miners are still being sacked. The NCB has been vindictive beyond measure. There is a patchwork across the country. In some areas men who have been convicted of minor offences have had their jobs back, but other men have experienced the heavy hand of vindictiveness and malicious spite and have not got their jobs back.
Anybody understanding my views on the strike will know that I sometimes disputed with my colleagues the efficacy of the strike. But that has gone. I believe that men are being discriminated against, sometimes because they are local union leaders. That is a shame. It is a bigger shame that the Secretary of State and his colleagues have not used their influence. We are not saying that every sacked miner should be given back his job. None of us is foolish enough to say that. But there should be an examination of men who were unfairly, vindictively, 754 sacked and who remain sacked. Until their cases are examined and a sense of fair play prevails, the sore in the mining industry will fester.
The pendulum has swung. The miners' union is almost impotent. It is divided. I shall not go into the reasons. The pendulum will swing back. The miners will not forget the treatment that they received—and they will be right not to forget.
Let us see some movement. This is our strong view. I hope that the Minister will lean on the chap on whom he can lean. Those of us who read the football reports know what happens when the manager is not quite doing his stuff and there is a threat to bring someone else in. In this case that chap is already in on a free transfer from the steel industry. When that happens, it is a question of "On your bike, mate." He should not have got the job, but now he is second in command and another will take over in a couple of months. The Secretary of State and his colleagues should get together with him and say "We want this put right." We are not saying that every sacked miner should regain his job, but we want to see fair play.
During the debate on the colliery review procedure on 5 February 1985, we were told that the miners had no need to fear any question—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman is going rather wide of the debate. I am sure that he can relate his remarks to the order.
§ Mr. McGuire
I am not sure whether you were judicially deaf during an earlier part of the debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, when the issue of the review was touched upon. I wish to speak only briefly about it in taking up the remarks of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). I believe that the House was misled on 5 February 1985 because of the inference that was to be drawn from what the NCB was publicising at that stage. It was said that no colliery would close merely because the board wanted to close it and that any proposed closure would be the subject of an impartial and independent review. If the board is saying, "If the review leads to a contrary decision to that which we have taken, we shall still go ahead and close the pit," the debate on 5 February 1985 was a farce and the House was misled. We must ensure that there is a proper review procedure and an independent adjudication, and we should abide by the decision of the adjudicating body. I hope that the Minister will get that across to the coal board.
§ Mr. Roy Mason (Barnsley, Central)
Raising the ceiling for redundancy payments in the pits enables us to air our views on job losses, and I shall confine my remarks to that issue. Pits are closing at a faster rate than anyone imagined and redundancies are taking place on a scale which might eventually endanger the industry. This has nothing to do with a pre-arranged hit list.
One major area of concern is the National Coal Board's new accounting procedures, allied with the recommendations of the Waddilove committee's report. Instead of national, or even area, accounting procedures whereby some profitable pits might help keep some marginally unprofitable pits open, two stringent tests apply to each pit. The first test comes from the interest charges on the capital investment at each pit being attributable to that pit. The second test is that the costs of subsidence damage 755 caused by mining from a pit shall also be added to the pit's costs. That means that a pit that is near a built-up area is penalised to a greater extent on the second test than one in the country.
Redundancies that affect my constituents are being declared at Redbrook colliery near Barnsley. There were 1,189 men working at that pit in April 1985 and only 865 in February 1986, and the work force is to be further reduced to 500. With massive capital investment, both underground and on the surface, high interest charges have to be paid by the pit. As the pit is on the edge of Barnsley, as it were, high subsidence compensation payments have to be paid as well. The alternative is not to work the coal. To avoid subsidence compensation payments, faces have been cut back and redundancies have been declared. In the end, the pit will be lucky to survive.
I have no doubt that it could be proved that what I have described is the result of bad planning on the board's part, that it was a bad investment that led to the loss of millions of pounds and that the accounting procedures are making it difficult for the pit to survive.
Some of my constituents work at Kinsley drift, which is not far from Barnsley. The pit is only six years old. Again, there has been vast investment. I understand that it amounted to £30 million. Kinsley drift became a wonder pit and now it is on the eve of closure. The final appeal goes before the Coal Board tomorrow. Can anyone doubt that another mistake on the part of the Coal Board was made at this pit?
Members of the women's campaign against pit closures came to see me this past weekend. The campaign is based in Barnsley and its members have been demonstrating and campaigning against the closure of Kinsley drift and the effects that that will have on coalfield communities, and rightly so. As I have said, £30 million has been spent and yet the pit is to close after only six years. Who is to blame? What a waste! I have no doubt that there are many similar examples.
The Department of Energy should set up an an independent inquiry team and give it status and power to investigate the past plans and investment schemes at Redbrook, Kinsley drift and other pits in the British coalfields. All that must necessitate a vigorous and detailed examination. The NCB has made major investment mistakes, there have been many unneccessary redundancies and the British taxpayers, the House and the National Union of Mineworkers have a right to know who are the guilty men.
There are now only 135 pits in the country and a labour force of 139,000. In only 11 months—from 30 March 1985 to 1 March 1986–31,637 men have left the industry nearly all of them through redundancies. What is most disturbing is that during that time the NCB imported 12,600,000 tonnes of coal. That tonnage meant 12,000 job losses in the industry. Contracts were no doubt stepped up during the miners' strike, but we do not know for how long they must carry on.
The vast coal imports plus the present fall in oil prices have caused a serious turn of events in the aftermath of the coal strike. Many more redundancies could result and no doubt the CEGB is exploiting the cheap oil and oil-fired power stations are being prepared to come on stream. With cheap coal imports and cheap oil the CEGB has the National Coal Board over a barrel when it comes to negotiations over the annual coal contracts.
756 The coal industry could be seriously undermined if that situation continues for long. More pits are bound to close under present management policies and through Government indifference. The Secretary of State should step in and, if necessary, use his directive powers to cut coal imports and check the CEGB from switching to oil burning. The rundown of the coal industry has already gone far enough. If it is run down much further, if there is a high rise in oil prices and if shipping freight prices also rise, and then there is a fresh upsurge in the demand for coal, we shall rue the fact that the Minister did not act before it was too late.
The Minister should elaborate on the points that I have raised when he replies to the debate. Will the Minister tell us how many miners have taken voluntary redundancy since the end of the strike? How much has been paid out in lump sums? What is the current annual payment for redundant miners' pensions? Why is there no appeal procedure over redundancy payments? Hon. Members who represent mining constituencies are often approached when there is a difference between a miner and the NCB regarding his payments. Why has no appeal board been established? In view of the numbers involved now, and doubtless that number will rise, why has that board not been established? Finally, the NCB and the Minister have been able to say that all the redundancies have been voluntary and that there have been no compulsory retirements. Will the Minister assure the House and the mineworker's union that that will continue to be the case?
§ Mr. Spencer Batiste (Elmet)
I will intervene only briefly in the debate, as other hon. Members wish to speak, but several points have arisen on which I would like to comment.
My first point relates to the question of concessionary coal, but I do not want to go over all the points that have been argued so eloquently on the Floor of the House on that issue already this evening. However, I believe that if the Government could find the relatively small sums of money involved it would do a great deal to put right an injustice that has existed for a long time and would earn much good will for the Government.
I should like to link my first point with a request to my hon. Friend the Minister to consider what further progress has yet to be made in relation to the miners who took redundancy after the strike began and who have lost out on the full benefits to which they reasonably thought they were entitled.
During the debate reference has been made to various industrial tribunal cases and to the NCB's attitude in not taking back miners as a result of the decisions of those tribunals. If the NCB took back miners whom it has dismissed and who it reasonably believed had been guilty of violence and intimidation during the strike, that would make a mockery of the courage of the working miners who stood by the NCB during the strike and would go against the principles for which the Government have fought and for which the country has paid so dearly. The NCB must be satisfied that it has the full support of the House or at least of Conservative Members in making sure that there is no place in the mining industry for the wreckers, the violent and the intimidators.
Finally, let me make a general comment on the future of the coal industry, on which there has already been much comment. Clearly the industry's future and survival must 757 depend on its being profitable and my hon. Friend's announcement showed that the industry is now close to being able to stand on its own feet, which must be good news and reassuring to all who work in the industry.
Obviously, however, a cloud has been cast by the drop in oil prices and that must reflect upon the targets and profitability of the mining industry. But will my hon. Friend recall that oil prices can go shooting up just as fast as they have come down and all it needs is for the oil sheikhs to meet together and agree on production cuts for oil prices to start rising again. If we have learnt one lesson from the 1970s, it must be that we need an energy policy that ensures not just the profitability of the industries that produce energy, but also certainty of supply, and there can be no better certainty of supply than from coal that is mined in Britain.
For our strategy and our future we need a diverse energy market. We need diverse energy resources, but within that diversity coal must have an important part to play.
§ Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)
I notice that the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin) is in the Chamber, and he is a singular reminder of the vagaries of oil prices and markets. Those of us who have a bit of a memory will acknowledge that his stricture during the energy crisis in 1973 was that we should brush our teeth in the dark. We should remember that oil prices have a way not only of going down but of going up fairly rapidly. However, I do not want to discuss energy policy this evening because time does not permit.
The hon. Member for Elmet (Mr. Batiste) said that the NCB had to face the results of industrial tribunals. I want to put on record the course taken by my constituent, Mr. Robert Young. The Under-Secretary will know that we met him on that matter on 5 March. I am informed that my constituent has had an offer of reinstatement by the NCB. The vagaries of the procedures involved show the degree of vindictiveness and the extent to which the NCB was willing to go—even to offering perjured evidence at a tribunal—in order to deny Mr. Young his democratic rights.
I have reported the matter to the Minister. We know that Mr. Young was charged and fined £75 for a breach of the peace. He was interviewed on 19 August by the colliery manager. He went to an industrial tribunal on 13 January and there the NCB said that it was not contesting unfair dismissal, but was not willing to re-engage Mr. Young because of his behaviour during the interview at Comrie colliery.
As I have told the House previously, my constituent had the presence of mind to tape proceedings. Had he not done so he would have been damned to perpetual unemployment in so far as any chance of being re-engaged or reinstated by the NCB is concerned. I use this example to demonstrate that we in Scotland had 206 victimised, not dismissed, miners. At present, we still have 127 victimised miners. Ten of my constituents are similarly placed as are many more who are not my constituents but who are employed in pits in my area.
The NCB was willing to spend public money defending a case that was indefensible. I want that put on records an illustration of the NCB's mind in Scotland. If the Minister wants to enhance his reputation and that of the coal 758 industry in Scotland, he should take urgent steps to wipe the slate clean. My constituent fears that there is the danger that, having got the offer of reinstatement, he will return to the colliery, Comrie, and find that it is under threat of closure. Those who have knowledge of the mining industry know that if there is no redevelopment, the colliery is almost certain to be scheduled for closure.
The Minister ought to take urgent steps to put the record straight with regard to victimised miners. He ought to give an assurance to the Scottish mining industry that there will be adequate capital development and security of employment for miners in my area and throughout Scotland.
§ Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly)
I wish to raise a constituency problem which is related to the orders that we are discussing tonight. It concerns a group of employees who were formerly employed by the National Coal Board but who are now employed by an engineering company which is a subsidiary of the NCB — the Tredomen Engineering Works at Ystrad Mynach.
I have been chasing the Minister, his predecessor the Secretary of State, the NCB, the area director and the chairman of the NCB to get some satisfaction for hundreds of miners who have been made redundant due to the decline of the coal industry, and many of whom have been denied payment from the redundant mineworkers payments scheme even though they are entitled to payment from the mineworkers pension scheme. In 1983 I asked the Minister's predecessor whether he would consider making provision for the payment of the RMPS to employees of Tredomen. In reply, he said that Tredomen, though a wholly-owned subsidiary of the National Coal Board, was a limited company engaged in the manufacture of specialised mining equipment not only for the board but for other organisations, and that it was not the kind of establishment providing services ancillary to collieries for which the RMPS was designed. The Minister said that the answer was no for three reasons: first, that the company was a wholly-owned subsidiary of the NCB and it was a limited company; secondly, that the company did not manufacture exclusively for the board and, thirdly, that it was not the type of establishment for which the RMPS was designed. Yet on page 14 of these orders it is made clear that the orders apply to people employed not only directly by the board but by its subsidiaries.
I have confirmation from Mr. Ian MacGregor, the chairman of the NCB, that for the past eight years the Tredomen Engineering Company did between 95 and 98 per cent. of its work directly for the NCB. If that is not working exclusively for the NCB, I do not know what is.
Payments can be made from the RMPS to people who are employed in estate and house maintenance depots, in headquarters and regional offices and establishments, civil engineering depots and workshops. They are covered by appendix 1 on page 45 of the order. In 1973 the Tredomen employees, employed directly by the NCB, were told in a letter that their conditions of employment would be protected on the transfer of their employment from the NCB. If all the other categories of people can receive payment from the RMPS, the workers facing redundancy from Tredomen should be entitled to receive it. I ask the Minister to consider this matter. I am awaiting a detailed reply on these specific points.
§ Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone)
I support what my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Mason) said about Redbrook. Investment in collieries ought to be examined. There is such a long lead-in time that it is totally unfair to load the cost on one colliery. The investment period in Redbrook started about 15 years ago when plants in the Barnsley area were designated for alteration and rejuvenation. It is entirely wrong to load on to the 450 men in one colliery the capital costs of what would be sustained by at least 1,500 men.
I should like to ask about people who do not receive unemployment benefit. People who go in for the business scheme are normally allowed up to £40 per week from the Department of Employment to help them with ideas for creating a small business. The £40 depends upon the receipt of unemployment pay. My workers are not in receipt of unemployment benefit and when they apply to be considered under the small business scheme they are turned down. I have written to the Under-Secretary in the Department of Employment, and perhaps the Minister will take up the matter on an interdepartmental basis to see whether he can get rid of what is clearly an anomaly.
§ Mr. David Hunt
I say to my hon. Friends the Members for Amber Valley (Mr. Oppenheim), Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby), Sherwood (Mr.Stewart) and Elmet (Mr. Batiste), and to the hon. Members for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie), Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), and Makerfield (Mr. McGuire), the right hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Mason), and the hon. Members for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas), Caerphilly (Mr. Davies), Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) that I do not have sufficient time tonight to deal adequately with the points they raised, but I shall write to them, just as I shall respond to those hon. Members who have not caught your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, about any points they raise with me in correspondence.
My hon. Friends the Members for Elmet, Sherwood and Leicestershire, North-West spoke about the announcement I made of the ending of the scheme. When the scheme was introduced the then Minister for Power, Mr. Richard Marsh, made it clear that it was a temporary scheme to provide a breathing space. On 5 December 1967, Mr. Marsh said:Therefore, the purpose of the Bill is to give the industry a breathing space to help it to get the level of productivity to enable it to compete with other industries."—[Official Report, 5 December 1967; Vol. 755, c. 1269.]We have seen a marvellous breakthrough in productivity. There is a new pride in the industry. I found that last week when I went underground at Bilsthorpe with my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood. As he constantly reminds the House, as do my other hon. Friends, the industry must never forget the debt it owes to the courage and determination of working miners. I am sure I shall find the same pride when I go underground with my hon. Friend the Member for Leicestershire, North-West at Donisthorpe this week as I found at Point of Ayr, Monkton Hall, Ellington, Wearmouth, Wistow, Lady Windsor Abercynon, and other collieries I have visited since the end of the strike.
Productivity records have been broken week after week as miners fight to achieve the viable competitive industry 760 that is the only sure way to secure their jobs in the long term. I say to my hon. Friends who raised with me the matter of concessionary coal that I fully understand the strength of feeling that exists on this issue and the disappointment felt by mineworkers who, when they were working contributed to coal pools, but under the rules of the schemes to which they have contributed have no entitlement following redundancy. I listened carefully to my hon. Friends in the debate and also to what they said to me prior to this debate, but I fear that against the background of the industry and the decision of successive Governments, I will be able only to reach the conclusion of previous reviews: that further extensions to existing arrangements would not be justified—
§ It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted business).
§ Question put and agreed to.
That the draft Redundant Mineworkers and Concessionary Coal (Payments Schemes) Order 1986, which was laid before this House on 10th March, be approved.
That the draft Coal Industry (Limit on Payments in respect of Redundant Mineworkers) Order 1986, which was laid before this House on 10th March, be approved.—[Mr. David Hunt.]