HL Deb 24 February 1972 vol 328 cc686-90

4.0 p.m.


My Lords, if it is for the convenience of your Lordships I should like now to repeat a Statement that is being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Minister for Industry. The Statement is as follows:

"My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry told the House on Monday last that the situation on electricity supplies had improved as a result of a number of factors, particularly the withdrawal of pickets from the power stations. He added that the immediate priority would be to get industry back into full production as soon as possible. Since then the recovery programme for getting fuel supplies to power stations has made very good progress and substantial quantities of coal and essential supplies have been delivered and much more is on the way.

"On the assumption that there is a favourable outcome to the miners' ballot, it is my intention to revoke with effect from midnight Sunday the directions prohibiting the use of electricity by industry on certain specified days. I must, however, point out that on their two high risk days they will still be subject to rota disconnections. Those large consumers who have received directions to restrict their demand and consumption to 60 per cent. of normal will be permitted to increase their consumption to 85 per cent. of normal.

"There are some points which I must emphasise. The most important is that this relaxation, which will only be made if there is a favourable outcome of the miners' ballot, assumes there will be a full and rapid return to work in the pits. It assumes, too, that all classes of consumers will co-operate to exercise maximum economy in the use of electricity. If consumers do not exercise economy, and of course if weather conditions are abnormally bad, the resulting overload on the generating system could lead to disconnections on what are at present medium risk days. There is, therefore, an element of risk in the proposed relaxation, but against the background of heavy unemployment and the full co-operation from the public so far the Government think this risk should be accepted. Following discussions with the C.B.I., this particular measure of relaxation has been chosen in order to enable industry to begin getting back towards full-time working as soon as possible.

"For the time being the other restrictions must remain. But I have the position under constant review and shall introduce further relaxations as soon as circumstances permit."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.


My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for making that Statement. And as I think this is the first official occasion since his new important appointment was made, may I offer him the congratulations of your Lordships' House and, in all sincerity, wish him Godspeed in the really important task which rests on his shoulders? Whatever the circumstances have been, we are at one in wanting the fullest employment by industry and by employees at the earliest possible opportunity.

Arising out of the Statement, I should like to ask the noble Earl one or two questions. Having regard to the statement which was made publicly, I think to-day, by the Secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers that they would co-operate in any way in providing extra working in order to restore normal conditions as soon as possible (that was the spirit of Mr. Daly's statement, although I have not the exact wording), and also having regard to the very reasonable assumption which is made in the Minister's Statement that the ballot is likely to be favourable in its conclusion, can the noble Earl tell us when he expects full working to be resumed by industry? Can he also tell us when, if things go reasonably well, normal conditions are likely to be restored on the domestic front?

Finally, inasmuch as the Statement refers to consultations and discussions with the C.B.I., may I ask the noble Earl whether any discussions have taken place with either the T.U.C. or the National Union of Mineworkers, and whether it is his intention (as I very much hope it is in pursuit of repairing fences with the maximum rapidity) to resume consultations with the National Union of Mineworkers as soon as the ballot is over?


My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Earl for making the Statement and at the same time to express to him my congratulations and those of my noble friends on these Benches on the new and important appointment which he holds and in which we all wish him success. I am sure that everybody will do his best to help him towards achieving that success. I am interested in what has been said about the future supplies of electricity to industry, but I wonder whether the noble Earl can tell us anything more about the supplies to domestic users than is said in the Statement?


My Lords, I should like to thank both noble Lords for what they have said about me personally, which I very much appreciate. I also recognise, as the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, has done—and I appreciate it—that, whatever our feelings may be about the origins of this dispute, there is an assential unity of purpose which I am sure we all share at the present moment.

Secondly, in answer to the question put to me by both noble Lords opposite in regard to time factors, a number of imponderables are involved here. The first imponderable is the result of the ballot, but I agree that we are all optimistic in that respect. The second imponderable involves the expectation of a good return to work on Monday in the mines, and here again I think we all have a reasonable degree of optimism on that score. The third imponderable is the as yet unknown factor: the degree of damage that has been incurred in the mines as a result of the strike. In that connection, I have not seen the full text of the statement made by the Secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers, to which the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, referred, but I have seen a short "potted" version and I very much appreciate the terms of that statement. The fourth imponderable is our old friend the British weather, and that is something that none of us can really adequately predict. The fifth is a very important imponderable which I hope in practice is not an imponderable, and that is the degree of self-restraint and economy which the domestic consumers, including noble Lords opposite and noble Lords on this side of the House, will exercise from now onwards. This is a very important factor indeed.

But, my Lords, given a reasonable run, given a reasonable break with those imponderables—to use the jargon, if I may—it is our expectation that normal supplies to both the industrial consumer and the domestic consumer should be available within a period of two to three weeks. I am deliberately being vague because we are updating the position almost from moment to moment, and there are these imponderables. I think that is the best indication that I can give noble Lords at the moment. In response to the third question put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, I hope to see Mr. Victor Feather this afternoon and I have noted what the noble Lord has said about consultations with representatives of the N.U.M.


My Lords, is there not another imponderable; namely, the extent of the damage that may be found when the mines are actually opened? May I ask the noble Earl whether, within his new authority, he will have some powers of activity in the provision from industry of the spare parts and engineering equipment needed in order to put the mines into full operation?


My Lords, the matter to which the noble Lord has referred was in fact my third imponderable. I note the suggestion which he has made, and so far as my own responsibilities are concerned I should like to make one thing quite clear. I must say that I was rather flattered to see myself described in a famous organ of the Press to-day as a "Supremo". It is very nice to live just for a moment in the company of the "Monties" and the "Mount-battens" of this world. But may I say that I visualise my task as being somewhat different, which is to give what assistance and what back-up I possibly can to those Departments and Ministers and organisations who are grappling, and grappling with a very real measure of success, with the present situation.