HC Deb 02 November 1987 vol 121 cc635-6
3. Mr. Hardy

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he last met the chairman of British Coal; and what subjects were discussed.

Mr. Parkinson

I meet the chairman of British Coal at regular intervals to discuss all aspects of the coal industry.

Mr. Hardy

When the last meeting took place, was the Secretary of State advised of the enormous concern within the British mining industry that, despite the enormous increase in productivity, the need to maintain security of energy supply and the importance of the home industry as a base for our mining equipment and engineering industries, there is a great eagerness among his colleagues to see British coal replaced by imports that may be dumped to secure our currency or which may be mined by people who work at unnecessarily severe risk? Is the right hon. Gentleman among the short-sighted and greedy of his colleagues, or does he take the wiser view that prevails among Opposition Members?

Mr. Parkinson

The Government committed themselves in their manifesto to maintaining and working towards a secure coal industry. We believe that Britain's coal reserves are a massive national asset and that, properly developed, the industry has a big future. That is why we have supported a substantial investment programme amounting to £2 million a day. The chairman and I meet to discuss the future of the coal industry because we both want to ensure that it has a good future.

Mr. Andy Stewart

When my right hon. Friend met the chairman of British Coal, did they discuss the mineworkers' pension scheme, which pays a meagre pension to its members from its £5 billion fund? The independent Nottinghamshire-administered pension scheme run by the Union of Democratic Mineworkers has just increased its payout by no less than 30 per cent.

Mr. Parkinson

I read the report to which my hon. Friend refers, and I hope that Opposition Members will draw their own conclusions. However, I did not discuss it with the chairman of British Coal when I last met him.

Mr. Eadie

When the Secretary of State has the opportunity, will he discuss with the chairman of British Coal the present bad state of industrial relations in the industry? I ask him to consider, first, that the board was found to be deceiving the public by saying that the code of conduct was based on the ACAS formula when it was not. Secondly, does the Secretary of State consider that it is bad industrial relations for the board to say that the industrial action which resulted was not very effective and then to say that NUM members cannot have a 4.8 per cent. pay increase because of that industrial action? Is that not ridiculous?

Mr. Parkinson

I am sorry to have to say that I consider the overtime ban the most ridiculous aspect of British Coal's present industrial relations. It is unnecessary, and it is damaging to the interests both of the miners and of the industry. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will use his influence to bring this wasteful dispute to an end.

As for the code of conduct, British Coal made it very clear that it was prepared to discuss the details. It was the NUM which, for a long time, refused to hold a meeting to discuss it.

The only question now outstanding is whether pit umpires or industrial tribunals are the best way of solving disputes. It may interest the hon. Gentleman to know that over and over again miners have shown that they prefer industrial tribunals. The UDM refuses to use the pit umpire rule because there is no chance of appeal, and the courts cannot be used for that purpose. I urge the hon. Gentleman to ask his NUM colleagues to think again about their mindless and damaging action.