HL Deb 10 February 1972 vol 327 cc1279-82

3.46 p.m.


My Lords, I shall, with permission, now reply to the Private Notice Question put by the noble Lord, Lord Champion. I shall reply in the words of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment. This is the Answer:

"Yesterday morning I met, separately, representatives of the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers. After establishing that the positions of both parties remained unchanged, I suggested to each in turn that they might consider resuming talks on the basis that if a settlement ran for a period longer than twelve months this might provide a possibility for some improvement in the cash offer. I also suggested that if this were accepted, talks might be held in a joint meeting under my Department's chairmanship. The Board agreed to this suggestion as did the Union representatives after consulting their Executive.

"In the joint talks which followed yesterday evening, the Board said that for an 18-month agreement from the date of resumption of work they were prepared to offer an increase of £3 a week on the basic rate of all surface workers and £3.50 a week on the rate for those employed underground on the 1955 Day Wage Agreement. This means that the lowest paid worker underground would receive a minimum of £22.50 for a full week compared with £19 at the moment. In addition, a guaranteed minimum of £22 a week would be established for the lowest paid surface workers, which would have provided an increase of £4 a week on the present minimum of £18. For workers on the coal face and other 'task workers' as they are called, the Board proposed an increase of £2.75 a week, providing a new basic rate for face workers of £32.75 compared with £30 at the moment. The Board was also prepared to discuss adjustments of certain differentials.

"At the conclusion of these joint talks I again met the Board and the Union separately. The N.U.M. representatives told me that they would be reporting the Board's proposals to their Executive this morning and that they hoped that the Executive would agree to further joint discussions. The Board told me that they would certainly be ready to meet the Union again. This morning, I understand that the N.U.M. Executive rejected the Board's new proposals but agreed that further joint talks should be held with the Board, and these are now taking place at my Department."

My Lords, that completes the Answer.

3.50 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for answering my Question by repeating the Answer that was given in another place. Although as a trade unionist I should not regard the N.C.B.'s offer of yesterday as one upon which a settlement appears to be at all likely, the last paragraph of the Statement makes it clear that this is very much in the nature of an interim statement. The last thing that I should wish to do would be to say anything from this Box that might have the effect of lessening the chance of a settlement on reasonable and honourable terms. My Lords, it seemed to me that the words used by Mr. Gormley last night, to the effect that it would be fatal to allow the talks to break down too soon, were statesmanlike. For myself, I hope they will not break down at all. But, as this is very much a matter in which the Government are closely implicated, I must appeal to them to refrain from adopting a too rigid position on the 7 per cent. to 8 per cent. which is generally regarded as the Government's unofficial guideline around which any settlement should be kept. I hope that the Government will recognise that the general public and most newspapers regard the miners' case as a very special one, and that they will act accordingly. I live in the very heart of a mining area and am married to the daughter of a miner who took care that none of his sons should go into the pit, because of the nature of the job. I appeal to the Government to recognise the devilish job that this is, and to ensure that the talks do not again break down.


My Lords, I should not wish to make any substantial comment while the joint discussions arc taking place, except to say how pleased we are that they are taking place and are continuing. Having listened to the Statement, I would only say from these Benches that, if we have got the matter correctly, it looks as though progress is being made towards a guaranteed minimum rate of earnings for the lower-paid workers in this industry. If that is so, we would welcome it very sincerely indeed. We feel that this is something which other industries require, but especially is this so in the case of the miners, where guaranteed minimum earnings for the lower-paid workers would be very much appreciated. I hope that this principle is incorporated in the final agreement.


My Lords, I rise only because I feel that it is important that from every part of the House we should welcome the Statement which has been made. I should like to say how deeply we in every part of the House hope that these talks will lead to a settlement.


My Lords, I should like to thank the two noble Lords opposite, and also my noble friend, for their comments here. Certainly I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Champion, is absolutely right, with his long experience, in saying that it would be quite wrong for us here to lessen in any way the chance of a settlement on reasonable and honourable terms by anything we say at the present time. The noble Lord, Lord Champion, has made a moving appeal to me, which I shall pass on to my right honourable friend. I do not think the noble Lord would wish me to comment upon it. The noble Lord, Lord Byers, has spoken about the trend towards a guaranteed minimum rate of earnings for a full week's work. I am glad that the Statement, so far as it goes, has been welcomed in this way, and I am sure that all noble Lords will join with me in expressing the hope that the talks at present going on are successful.