HC Deb 25 January 1988 vol 126 cc10-2
10. Mr. Hannam

To ask the Secretary of State for Energy when he next plans to meet the president of the National Union of Mineworkers to discuss the future of the coal industry.

Mr. Parkinson

I have no plans at present.

Mr. Hannam

If and when my right hon. Friend meets a chastened Mr. Scargill, will he remind him that the main reason for his substantial loss of support in the election was his aggressive and militant opposition to the modernisation of the coal industry? Will my right hon. Friend also point out that the one way of losing more jobs in the mining industry is continued industrial unrest and strikes?

Mr. Parkinson

My hon. Friend is right. When Mr. Scargill was elected president he promised members of the National Union of Mineworkers that he would preserve jobs and stop closures. Mr. Scargill was elected by 70 per cent. of an electorate of 200,000 on that promise. Yesterday he was re-elected by 54 per cent. of an electorate of 80,000. That is the measure of the damage that Mr. Scargill has managed to do and the failure of his previous promises.

Mr. Haynes

Is the Secretary of State aware that this question appears to have come from Conservative Central Office as a plant? —[Interruption.] I shall be gentle with the right hon. Gentleman. However, when he meets the president of the National Union of Mineworkers, will he congratulate him on his prophecy that the present Administration would have a massive pit closure programme? They have brought that programme into operation, and the end result has been that youngsters of 30 have been taking redundancy, never to work again. Moreover, what about the youngsters leaving school in my constituency, who cannot obtain a job at the pit, although they would like to?

Mr. Parkinson

Conservative Members would say, as would many people in the industry, that militancy, a refusal to negotiate and a determination to resort to strikes and other forms of industrial action have produced the accelerated closure programme—and, by the way, will do so again if that policy is continued.

Mr. Ashby

If my right hon. Friend meets Mr. Scargill, will he remind him that in Leicestershire only 100 miners voted for him? Will my right hon. Friend also remind Mr. Scargill that Mr. Jack Jones, the leader of the south Leicestershire miners, said that all that Mr. Scargill was trying to do was to continue class warfare—whatever, he said, class warfare could possibly mean in 1988?

Mr. Parkinson

I heard Mr. Jones this morning, and I thought that he talked a lot of good sense. I remind the House that, if Mr. Scargill's policies had not driven 26,000 people out of his union and into a rival union, he would have been defeated soundly. He now speaks for a minority of mineworkers, because those 26,000 are 20,000 more than his majority.

Mr. Patchett

May I congratulate Mr. Scargill on his victory, despite the interference of British Coal, the media and members of Her Majesty's Government in the trade union election campaign?

Mr. Parkinson

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's final point. The Government have no vote in the election, and kept out of it. The mineworkers made up their own minds and, as I said earlier, instead of having the support of 70 per cent. of 200,000 electors, Mr. Scargill now has that of 54 per cent. of 80,000.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

The future of the coal industry is, in some ways, very much the reverse side of the coin that we discussed on question 3 concerning redundancy. Does my right hon. Friend not feel that the re-election of Mr. Scargill is likely to increase those pressures of redundancy, rather than decrease them, because, as he puts it, British Coal is the enemy?

Mr. Parkinson

Many people believe that Mr. Scargill is as interested in using the union to promote his political views as he is in promoting the welfare of his members. Until he puts the politics second and the industry first, the industry will continue to decline.

Mr. Skinner

The right hon. Gentleman got his job back.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) must not keep interrupting. 1 called him on an earlier Question, and he was out of order then.

Mr. Eadie

The Secretary of State cannot bandy figures and percentages across the House in this fashion. He knows perfectly well that many Members of the House would settle for 53 per cent. of the vote at an election, bearing in mind that the Government whom he represents did not even get 50 per cent. at the last election. Why does the Minister not put his money where his mouth is, meet the president of the National Union of Mineworkers, and put on the agenda conciliation and not confrontation?

Mr. Parkinson

I understand that in four and a half years my predecessor met Mr. Scargill once. That was not because he did not want to meet him, but because Mr. Scargill did not want a meeting. Mr. Scargill should do his talking to the chairman of British Coal. Coal is an industry, and management and labour should get together to promote the welfare of the industry. It is not a political battleground. The hon. Gentleman is trying to make it one.