HL Deb 09 February 1972 vol 327 cc1157-63

3.45 p.m.


My Lords, I think it might be for the convenience of the House if I were now to present a Message on the State of Emergency, and thereafter to repeat a Statement on the State of Emergency which is being made by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in another place.

I have the honour to present a message from the Counsellors of State on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen, signed by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and Her Royal Highness Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon. The Message is as follows:

"The Emergency Powers Act 1920, as amended by the Emergency Powers Act 1964, having enacted that if it appears to Her Majesty that there have occurred, or are about to occur, events of such a nature as to be calculated by interfering with the supply and distribution of food, water, fuel or light or with the means of locomotion, to deprive the community, or any substantial part of the community, of the essentials of life, Her Majesty may by Proclamation declare that a State of Emergency exists.

"We, Counsellors of State to whom have been delegated certain Royal functions as specified in Letters Patent dated the 4th day of February, 1972, being of the opinion that the present industrial dispute affecting persons employed in the coal mines and the production and distribution of fuel constitutes a State of Emergency within the meaning of the said Act of 1920, as so amended, have in pursuance thereof made on Her Majesty's hehalf a Proclamation dated the 9th day of February, 1972, declaring that a State of Emergency exists."

My Lords, that concludes the Message.

May I now, with the permission of the House, repeat a Statement which is being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary? The Statement is as follows:

"Faced with the disruption of coal and electricity supplies caused by industrial action in the coal industry, the Government must take steps to discharge their responsibility to maintain essential services and to minimise the threat to the life of the community. They have therefore thought it right to advise the proclamation of an emergency under Section 1 of the Emergency Powers Act 1920, as amended, followed by the making of regulations under Section 2.

"The regulations will come into operation at midnight to-night. Copies will be available this afternoon. My right honourable friend will be making an announcement tomorrow about the arrangements for debating these regulations next week. They are based on those made in 1970, with some modifications, and confer on Ministers enabling powers which they will use only to the extent that necessity requires."

My Lords, that concludes my right honourable friend's Statement.


My Lords, we are obliged to the noble Earl for repeating this Statement; but it is difficult to comment on the form of the Statement without knowing more of the substance. In other words, we really need to see the regulations before we are able to say very much about what is being done or what it is proposed to do. May I ask the noble Earl whether he will say something about the use of the police forces and the possibility of the use of the Armed Forces in this situation? What guidelines are to be given to the police forces? I know that it rests on the police to maintain law and order, but they can work only under guidelines laid down by the Government of the day, and I should like the noble Earl to give us some indication of what has been said in this regard.

Secondly, can he give us an assurance that there will be no question, certainly until we have had an opportunity to debate the regulations—and not even then, I hope—of using the Armed Forces for strike-breaking? Finally, would the noble Earl agree that while it is right and proper that we should have a State of Emergency in order to share out the available fuel, oil and light, if it is in short supply, it is even more important, if we are in economic difficulties, to share out the available incomes? Would he agree that had we had a proper incomes policy, we should not have had a strike, let alone an emergency?


My Lords, I should like to join in thanking the noble Earl the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement. The only comment I feel able to make at the moment is an expression of hope that the emergency will be short-lived. But if it is in order, I am sure that the House would appreciate it if the noble Leader of the House were able to give us the most up-to-date information as to the action being taken by the Government to bring together the two sides in the coal industry dispute, and also about any other initiative the Government have in mind to bring about a settlement.


My Lords, I have said this before in not dissimilar circumstances, but again I should like to thank the Opposition Front Bench and the noble Lord, Lord Wade, who spoke from the Liberal Benches, for their restrained commentary on the Statement which I have just repeated. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, that it is difficult to comment intelligently on these regulations, which have yet to be seen by your Lordships. I understand that copies of them will be available in the Printed Paper Office at 4 o'clock. There will, of course, be an opportunity to debate them. I am sure that arrangements can easily be made for that next week through the usual channels. I understand that they have to be debated not later than next Wednesday; that is the timing.

On the particular point about which the noble Lord, Lord Wade, is concerned, I think it would be wrong for me, to lead on this matter at this moment, at the very moment when my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment is embarking on the process of conciliation. But, naturally, I will bear in mind what the noble Lord has said; and if, as I hope, progress can be made in bringing the two sides together, I shall be very happy to report such progress to your Lordships' House. But I think that, as yet, these are early hours.

So far as the use of troops is concerned, about which I was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, I should like to assure noble Lords that troops will not be used unless their use is absolutely necessary in order to maintain essential supplies. That assurance I can give categorically to your Lordships House. So far as I know, no special instructions have been given to police authorities in this matter—indeed, I am not quite certain whether such instructions can be given. But I should have thought that we may all rely on the normal discretion and good sense of the police in this country to handle tactfully and sensibly what is, admittedly, a very difficult problem. I hope that noble Lords will not wish to press me on this particular point at this moment.


My Lords, will the noble Earl the Leader of the House keep in mind that the mining communities have long memories and a deep sense of fair play? Is he aware that there would be no need at all for emergency measures, if the Government would now do what many of us believe they will ultimately have to do; that is, give the miners the just settlement, the modest settlement, for which they are asking?


My Lords, I think we are all conscious that the seeds of history are deep in the mining communities and elsewhere in this country. Last week we debated this dispute at some length in your Lordships' House. At this moment I would wish to confine myself to saying that I think it is the desire of every noble Lord that a settlement should be reached which will be fair for the mining community, fair for the miners, fair for the National Coal Board and fair for the community as a whole. I think that would be the wish of all the Members of your Lordships' House.


My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that the time for smooth and polite words in this matter is rapidly passing? Your Lordships showed great tolerance in our last debate, but is the noble Earl aware that we consider the Government wholly, or very largely, responsible for the nature of this emergency in the absence of the production by them of any sort of incomes policy other than an entirely devious one, amounting almost to a degree of dishonesty in presenting their case?




My Lords, I said the time has come when we have to face an emergency. Is the noble Earl also aware that I have never heard such an uncategoric categoric Statement in regard to the use of troops or police? Of course, the orders under which the police operate are decisive in this matter. Will the noble Earl—I am sure that in this matter he will—consider through the usual channels the earliest possible date for a discussion on these regulations, when we shall have to go more fully into all this?


My Lords, I shall of course be glad to consider the most convenient time for the House as a whole to have a discussion on this matter. I have noted the Party political points made by the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition. I should have thought that at this particular moment, when my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment has embarked on a process of conciliation, the remarks made by the noble Lord were the reverse of helpful.


My Lords, would the noble Earl the Leader of the House please be a little more forthright in his observations about the police? Like my noble friend Lady Lee of Asheridge, some of us have very bitter memories of the 1926 position. One knows that the longer this strike continues the more difficult it will be for both sides, the police and the strikers, to preserve an equitable temperament. Therefore, will not the noble Earl agree that in these circumstances, as bitterness develops—as it is; we hear about what is now taking place in Birmingham—he should be a little more forthright and suggest to the police, though he cannot give them instructions, that every force in the country involved in these difficulties should exercise the utmost restraint in dealing with these men who feel that they have a very real grievance—a grievance which I share? In the circumstances, it is most necessary that our police forces must be fully and frankly impartial in the way they deal with the picketing question.


My Lords, I rather suspect that if I replied to the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, as I feel inclined to do, the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition would accuse me of using smooth words. All I would say is that I have noted very carefully what the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, has said. It is certainly not for me to give instructions to the police forces or the police authorities, but I will certainly ensure that what he has said is brought to the notice of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary.


My Lords, before the noble Earl, Lord Jellicce, gets too indignant about Party political points, may I ask whether he will bear in mind that, without any doubt, it is a Party political policy that has created the strike? It is because the Government have tried to enforce their incomes policy upon the National Coal Board that we have had this stoppage. I should like to ask the noble Earl whether he can give an assurance that, when the National Coal Board meet the National Union of Mineworkers the N.C.B. will be able to speak outside the context of the Government's incomes policy.

The second point I want to ask the noble Earl about is this. Can he be a little more forthcoming on the point at which the Armed Forces would be used? The noble Earl said that he could give an assurance that they would be used only if the question was one of ensuring essential supplies. But this is what the whole thing is about. We are not going to have essential supplies. Does that mean that the troops are going to be used in order to ensure that we do get essential supplies—in, other words, a continuous supply of light and power from the electricity stations?


My Lords, I do not wish to bandy Party political points, and I thought I made it clear that this was my attitude on this matter. We had a chance of debating this whole issue at great length last week, and I think it would be far better at this stage—a delicate stage of this tragic dispute—not to become involved in Party 'argy-bargy" across the Floor of your Lordships' House. So far as the possible employment of troops is concerned, I must rest on what I have already said; but I can make it clear that, so far as I know, there is no question at the present time of employing troops in this situation.