§ 4.53 p.m.
§ Debate further resumed.
§ LORD DELACOURT-SMITH
My Lords, the noble Earl who spoke to the House on the subject of our main debate this afternoon is invariably a persuasive speaker, but I hope he will not take it amiss if I say that there are many noble Lords on both sides of the House who will feel that he did not deal with the anxieties, the problems and the very serious questions to which this debate gives rise. They were raised in the impressive and moving speech made by my noble friend Lord Blyton, every word of which I fully and wholeheartedly endorse. But of course one cannot separate the situation of the coalmining industry, upon which he principally concentrated his speech, from the general background of the incomes policy which the Government have been following.
If I may say so, the noble Earl gave us what were already rather familiar arguments in favour of that policy, and he referred to the desire of the Government to keep a check upon the rise in prices. In such a policy there is of course a great deal of common ground, but the Government have chosen quite consistently throughout to put the main emphasis of this policy upon one particular way of trying to achieve the objective; that is, to exercise an influence upon the growth of wages. In seeking to keep down wages and in describing what was being done in that regard, the noble Earl did not really refer to other parts of the Government's policy which have borne upon this: for instance, the way in which, in a number of fields, they have allowed prices to rise; the way in which they deliberately deprived themselves of instruments which might be used for consumer protection; the ways in which they have lightened very substantially direct taxation and at the same time have diminished the availability or raised the charge for social benefits and taken a number of steps which have 539 increased the normal household expenditure for the vast mass of the population—an increase in household expenditure to which in fact the cuts in indirect taxation have constituted very little offset.
They have also sought to exert their influence, as the noble Earl I think quite candidly said, by seeking to operate primarily in the public sector. I do not deny that the exhortations of the Government are addressed to the public sector and the private sector alike, but there is a widespread belief that in the case of the public sector the Government go a great deal further than exhortation; and while they seek to avoid responsibility for the consequences of the pressures which they are exerting in the public sector I think it is quite disingenuous of the Government to pretend that they are not intervening in negotiations in the nationalised industries. The impression that one gets is that in fact they are intervening continuously and in detail, and I invite the noble Lord who is to reply to the debate to clear up this matter and to give us, if he is able to do so, a categorical assurance that there is no detailed intervention by the machinery of government in the wage negotiations in the public sector of industry. My own view is that it may be right or it may be wrong for the Government to exercise an influence of this sort; but whether right or wrong I believe the Government should be quite candid with the public and with Parliament about what precisely they are doing. Indeed the impression that one gets is that this policy is producing serious results, often robbing the nationalised industries of the power to do things which even on a strict commercial judgment they would prudently do if they were a private concern.
We are to-day concentrating our attention primarily upon the situation in the coal mining industry, because it illustrates in a particularly clear and unmistakable way the consequences of the policy which the Government have chosen to follow. This is a field in which the co-operation and restraint of the miners is universally recognised. They have co-operated in the reorganisation of the industry and they have co-operated in raising productivity, as my noble friend pointed out with such force and in such detail. In return it is also common ground 540 and it is also universally accepted that even the best offer which the Coal Board made—the offer which, as has been pointed out, has now been withdrawn—fell substantially short of covering the rise in the cost of living since the last settlement.
The argument which is put forward in justification is that there must be taken into account as well the increases secured by negotiation twelve months ago. In other words, the modest increases in real living standards which were secured twelve months ago are to be wiped out, or virtually wiped out, if the present offer were to be accepted or if the best offer, now withdrawn, were to be accepted. My calculation is that if the two taken together were set against the rise in the cost of living the miners would have gained something like one new penny in the pound in their real living standards over this period. Is it surprising that there has been such an immensely strong and united reaction to this situation? If men feel that it is possible to make a little progress in their standard of living they are perhaps willing to go on; but if the doctrine is to be advanced that the small improvement effected in one year may be wiped out in the next year, is it surprising that bitterness and resistance arises in an industry such as the coal mining industry?
It appears—and the Government must face these consequences and features of their policy—that in the coal mining industry, and other nationalised industries to some extent, employers are being forced first of all into a position of inflexibility where even quite small changes cannot be made if they do not conform strictly with the Government plan. They are being forced into the position of disregarding the cost of living. They are being forced into the position of disregarding productivity—whether past or future. They are being forced into the position of disregarding co-operation, whether past or future. They are being forced into the position of disregarding the morale of the workers in the industry for which they are responsible.
Who can read, without being deeply concerned, of the attitude which has been take up in respect of the maintenance of equipment underground and the attitude which the miners are expressing?—my noble friend Lord Blyton referred to it.
541 They have become so accustomed to pit closures that they are prepared to accept a situation in which if indeed the industry cannot afford better treatment for those it employs, then perhaps it would be better if there were no industry. These are immensely serious consequences which are arising in the coal mining industry and which, to my knowledge, are arising in some other nationalised industries as well, and they cannot be brushed aside by the kind of generalised references upon which the noble Earl relied. I must be perfectly frank and say to the noble Lord who is to reply to the debate that the Government are giving the impression that they do not care what harm is being done in the publicly-owned industries. I am sure that that is a mistaken impression, but it is the impression that is being produced by the course which is being followed. My mind goes back inevitably to the postal strike of twelve months ago, the effects of which are still being felt in the finances and in the morale of the Post Office.
Of course, the Government claim that this policy has achieved a great deal. The noble Earl gave us a number of figures which, he argued, justified the claim that this policy of the Government was having a great deal of success. It is doubtful what it is achieving in the private sector. The full figures are not so easily or so speedily available as they are in the case of the public sector. The noble Earl will agree that although there are a number of settlements in the private sector, as he said, round about the 7 per cent. or 8 per cent. mark, there are others which, whether looked at on the basis of the cash increase secured, or the percentage increase, or the level of pay achieved after the settlement, present a somewhat different picture. But in so far as money increases and percentage increases have fallen, are the Government entitled to claim that this is a triumph for their policy?
Last week Mr. Samuel Brittan, who is a well known independent commentator, wrote an article in the Financial Times on, "An Incomes policy that has worked". He said, among other things:…only the sheerest wishful thinking can brush aside the connection between the rise in unemployment and fall in unfilled vacancies and the drop in the rate of wage inflation. The Government's policy of standing firm against public-sector wage claims and being 542 willing to sit out strikes has contributed its share; but Ministers would simply have been spitting into the wind if the labour market climate had been different.I have quoted that extract in order to invite reflection upon the likely long-term success of the Government's policy. Even if all that the Government have claimed for that policy were true—which I do not accept—if indeed a substantial part of such success as has been gained by the Government's policy is due to high unemployment, what is the situation to be when expansion comes again? If it comes again, as we presume it must—the Government have not so far been very successful in producing it, but we must all most earnestly hope that their efforts will be more successful in future—and if the Government succeed in securing a lower level of unemployment, what will the situation be then with respect to their incomes policy?
No one, at least no one on this side of the House, is pretending that control of incomes and prices in a period of full employment presents an easy problem for a Government, but the present Government are going back almost precisely to the Selwyn Lloyd policy of 1962. They appear to be prepared to learn nothing from the experience of the preceding Government. They brush aside all that the preceding Government did in this field.
Whatever noble Lords opposite may wish were the case, in the end in good times and bad a real solution to this problem, if one can be found, can be found only upon the basis of broad agreement by Government, employers and trade unions. The Government, quite apart from anything else, have so far—and I welcomed what the noble Earl said on this subject—rejected initiatives from the trade unions and have deprived themselves (this was the point made by my noble friend Lord Balogh) of the Prices and Incomes Board, a body which could examine complex problems of this sort in some depth. As soon as one starts to look in detail at the situation in the coal-mining industry, as soon as one starts to look at this question of the "League table"—which is such a great over-simplification in the way in which the noble Earl put it—one sees the need for a body of expertise and authority which can make detailed examination of problems of this sort. Such a body is an essential 543 piece of machinery for any policy based on agreement.
My Lords, the Government have frequently advanced the argument that higher wages have produced unemployment. I venture to suggest that this is at best a misleading half truth and at worst can be a serious misrepresentation of the complex situation with which this country is faced. Such a crude analysis, which is about all we have had, may be good enough for the Conservative Campaign Guide, but we are entitled to something a little better, to something a little more perceptive from the leaders of the Government. At present their policy appears to me to be based on a dangerous misunderstanding of the trade unions and of trade union members. They seem to have gone out of their way since they were in office to minimise the possibility of securing trade union co-operation. They have sought to reform industrial relations without consulting the trade unions; and they have sought to carry out an incomes policy without consulting the trade unions. I believe that this implies a serious misunderstanding of the whole attitude and record of the trade union movement, and a failure to recognise the constructive part that the trade unions have been enabled to play by every Government in this country since the war—until the present Government.
We are focusing attention on the coal-mining industry in this debate and everyone who has as yet spoken in the debate, and I am sure everyone who will speak, recognises the seriousness of the issues which arise there. I should like to suggest to noble Lords that the crisis which is arising in the coalmining industry is a clear indication of the need for a change of course. I believe that the Government must get back on to talking terms with the trade unions, not only in the coal-mining industry but throughout industry. They must promote what it is now fashionable to call a dialogue with the trade unions. I believe that we have a great need for the Government to show statesmanship in the field of industrial relations, and perhaps in other fields, too. I most earnestly hope—and I believe that this will be the hope of all my noble friends—in the situation which is how presenting itself so sharply, that in the 544 national interest statesmanship will be achieved.
§ 5.13 p.m.
THE EARL OF BESSBOROUGH
My Lords, although I cannot agree with the terms of the Motion as set down by the noble Lord, Lord Blyton, or with many of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Delacourt-Smith—who none the less made an important speech—I am glad that the noble Lord has raised the critical situation in the coal industry; for it enables us to express sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Blyton, who spent so long (I think he started in 1914) in the most honourable profession of mining, a profession about which it seems that the writing may unfortunately already be on the wall. But this debate also enables all noble Lords to express sympathy—sympathy which should not be narrow—with all those miners who, as a result of the present strike, are now idle. There can be hardly a person in this country, and certainly no member of the Government, who does not hold the miners in very high regard and who does not wish them to have a good living wage, either in coal production, while coal is still an important fuel in this country, or, after retraining, in other jobs. We on this side of the House do care. I am sure, also, that many of the miners themselves must deplore the actions of some of their more militant members in harassing others in their working community. The protest marches, in my view, cannot help their cause.
As I see it, and as I think my noble friend the Leader of the House has already said in his telling speech, one of the tragedies of this strike is that it is likely to result in further pit closures. I think that some 380 pits have been closed in the last ten years—not 700, as I think has been claimed.
§ LORD BLYTON
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Earl? I said that 700 pits have been closed since 1947.
THE EARL OF BESSBOROUGH
I think Mr. Bailey gave those figures. My information (and I checked particularly on this) is that 380 have been closed in the last ten years. I beg the noble Lord's pardon: my figures, of course, are for the last ten years. This has resulted in 280,000 men being lost to tile industry.
545 Some pits are now, through loss of present production, bound to become economically non-viable. Then there is the question of pit safety. The miners say that the Coal Board overrate this aspect. But it is the Board's responsibility to ensure that their men work in safe conditions. It will be the miners who suffer if the Coal Board are correct. As we have been told, 12 years ago this industry supplied 90 per cent. of our energy needs. Now, I gather, it supplies some half of those requirements. The miners are in a most unfortunate position. I submit that they arc very brave men indeed to strike at this time.
Blame for the present situation has in the noble Lord's Motion been placed on the present Government. I believe, however, as my noble friend indicated, that the real trouble goes back further than that. The previous Government have a good deal to answer for. Their prices and incomes policy caused great havoc. Prices and wages spiralled at a nationally suicidal rate. Labour's policy was, I fear, to infiltrate their dogma into the industrial sectors. Bearing in mind that we are discussing a nationalised industry, why were other nationalised industries and huge purchasing concerns, such as the C.E.G.B., in which the Government believed they should hold some sway, not encouraged to purchase home coal in preference to imported coal and other forms of energy? Why was the policy with regard to pit closures allowed to accelerate at such a pace? Spiralling prices, insecurity in regard to work and the threat of imported materials, were substituted for the product from our own pits. I cannot believe that the last Government truly had the interests of the miners at heart. They should have been retraining miners more extensively to work in other fields.
It is in the interests of the people of this country that this strike be ended as quickly as possible, and I am distressed that neither the National Union of Mineworkers nor the National Coal Board seem to show willingness to have a continuing dialogue and to solve the problem. Here I am very much with the noble Lord, Lord Delacourt-Smith. Can it be that both organisations are so concerned with their strategic negotiating position that they assume they will lose face if they meet together? Without a 546 huge increase in the price of coal—and I see that acceptance of the present claim would cost the Board some £30 million—it may be that the Coal Board genuinely cannot increase their offer. It may equally be true that the N.U.M., if they are to satisfy their members, cannot lower their demands. In each case, surely, both sides should be working hard together to try to work out how to meet each other's case. No doubt they have been working very hard, but they must continue to do so. For only in this way will the suffering not only of the miners but of millions of people, elderly and young alike, be alleviated.
I think it was my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment who said in another place—and I think my noble friend repeated it—that the Government are not seeking a showdown with the miners. The Government do not wish to drive the miners into submission or into humiliation. As I see it, the Government are seeking a settlement which is just both to the miners and to the whole community. To allow the price of coal to increase sufficiently to cover miners' demands would undoubtedly cause a backlash throughout the nation. My other right honourable friend, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, said in another place two weeks ago that it would be tragic if, with the prospect of a better future for coal—and there could well be a better future—irreparable damage were now done, with all the unhappy consequences, industrial, personal and social, that would inescapably ensue.
The miners themselves have, I understand, rejected recourse to a national reference tribunal. If they believe that their claim is just, I fail to understand why they have not taken advantage of a hearing before such a tribunal. I agree with what the noble Baroness said about this; and bearing in mind the interests of the miners and of the people of the country as a whole, I agree with those who say that this strike can only do considerable harm to the prospects of the coal industry. It can only result in lower productivity, higher costs and the acceleration of closures which have been going on since 1967. Pits are already beginning to crumble, and power cuts are threatened: indeed, they may have already started this afternoon. In my view, the N.U.M. and the Coal Board 547 must continue their efforts to bring this futile strike to an end. If they are not to be locked up together in one room, at least they should be kept together until they have come to a settlement. The miners themselves cannot be the gainers if they price themselves out of their jobs and the country turns increasingly to other fuels. In my personal view, this is not a matter for Government intervention but one for the industry itself to resolve. We have heard that the Secretary of State for Employment stands ready to help—my noble friend has told us this. But surely the industry itself, management and unions, must in their own interests come together to settle this very grave situation.
THE EARL OF DUDLEY
My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down, may I ask him if he would like to take the opportunity to go back over one very important point? I listened very carefully to his speech, and he said that acceptance of the claim would cost £30 million. In fact, it is acceptance of the offer that would cost £30 million; acceptance of the claim would cost £130 million.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ LORD MAELOR
My Lords, in fairness to the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, perhaps I might explain that I am taking the place of the noble Baroness, Lady Lee of Asheridge, in the list of speakers. Let me say at the outset that I am an ex-miner and I worked down the coal mine when I was a boy. But I would not work down a mine to-day for a hundred pounds a week and I measure my words. I repeat them: I would not work down a coal mine to-day for one hundred pounds a week, and I am sure that. in saying that, I am not unique in this House. It would be a safe bet for me to declare that there is not a single Lord in this Chamber who would work down a coal mine for a hundred pounds a week. I am sure of it. Why is this?—for the simple reason that we have to recognise that this industry is the most inhuman, most dangerous and most toilsome industry in the land. In some respects it is uncivilised. although the men engaged in it form the most 548 cultured and civilised community in this country.
I often think that to-day, with our more humane ideas, if coal mines had never existed in the past and if a capitalist to-day decided to sink a coal mine and asked men to work there, the Government would declare it to be illegal. But the first coal mines were established over 200 years ago. We have grown accustomed to them, and we tolerate them because of the advances made over the course of the years. For the Record, and because of what I shall say afterwards, I am anxious to quote a commentary made by Arthur Bryant. the historian, on the First Report of the Children's Employment Commission. published in 1842. It is simply staggering. This is what he says:It appeared that the employment of children of seven or eight years old in coal mines was almost universal. In some pits they began work at a still earlier age; a case was even recorded of a child of three. Naked to the waist, and with chains drawn between their legs, the future mothers of Englishmen crawled on all fours down tunnels under the earth, drawing burdens. Women by the age of 30 were old and infirm cripples. Such labour, degrading to all who engaged in it. was often accompanied by debauchery and sickening cruelty. One witness before the Commission described how he had seen a boy beaten with a pick-axe. Lord Ashley in a speech in the Commons mentioned another whose master was in the habit of threshing him with a stick through which a nail had been driven. The child's back and loins were beaten to jelly.Some noble Lords may tell me that those were the conditions one hundred years ago and that, in comparison. the coal mine to-day is a paradise. If so. it is a hell of a paradise! Let me remind your Lordships of what happened only last year. 1971. Last year alone, 92 miners were killed in the coal mines of this country: that is an average of about two a week. Indeed, since 1947—that is since nationalisation—no fewer than 6,500 men have been killed in the mines. It is simply an industrial slaughterhouse. In addition to those men who have been killed, since 1947 no fewer than 40,000 have been maimed for life, permanently injured. And the sad story does not end there. Noble Lords will be aware that coal miners are subjected to a cruel disease known as pneumoconiosis. Even after the mines had been nationalised no fewer 549 than 860 miners lost their lives from this disease. At present, 48,000 ex-miners are drawing a part-disability pension as a result of this disease, and 20 per cent. of them are permanently disabled.
I ask your Lordships: can this misery be measured in terms of money? Can the miners be asking too much in terms of wages when they have to submit themselves to such hazards and cruelty? Noble Lords may have been shocked by the quotation which I gave at the beginning of my speech depicting the conditions in the mines at the beginning of the last century. But how far are we really removed from those days? Let me come to modern times and quote from the last report of the Medical Officer of the National Coal Board. This is what he said:Men in their early twenties are now contracting pneumoconiosis because of the sophisticated machinery that is being used in the coal mines. The increase in mechanisation from day to clay is producing more dust".Because of this disease men become physical wrecks before they arrive at middle age.
In the light of what I have said so far I ask the simple question: "Are not the men who are subjected to such terrible consequences in the pursuit of their daily toil worthy of the highest wages possible in an attempt by the country to pay the debt that it owes them?" The answer is a definite and overwhelming, "Yes", yet we allow the strike to be prolonged. How unconsciously wicked we really are! Can we also disregard the loyalty of these men? In spite of all kinds of provocations and causes of despair during the past 46 years these men have loyally plodded on without having an official strike throughout that period—nearly 50 years. In 1957, there were 580,000 men engaged in coalmining. By today that number has been reduced to 284,000. They saw one pit close after another, and the men removed from one area to another. But they allowed all this in a loyal attempt to save the industry and to have harmony between the Coal Board and themselves. They saw their position in the industrial league wages table reduced from top place to sixteenth place. What a sad commentary all this is on industrial relations within the industry!
Mr. Derek Ezra, the present Chairman of the National Coal Board, makes me 550 very doubtful of his competence, both by his performance and by his observations. I would not have the slightest compunction in sacking this man tomorrow or his deputy, Mr. Sheppard, for the same reasons. He made the stupid declaration the other day that even if the strike failed and the miners returned to work he would withdraw even the paltry offer which he had made and compel the miners to negotiate from scratch. What an unworthy observation by the very man whose connection with these brave men should prompt him to he anxious to provide the men with all that they ask for—even to give them more than they ask for, if that is possible! In doing this he would be only imitating another Ezra of whom we read in the Old Testament. If noble Lords will turn to the Book of Ezra in the Holy Book they will read of another strike when the Israelites were building the Temple in Jerusalem. They were good, honest workers. They were not satisfied with the terms, and they went on strike. The priest, Ezra, went to see the king and he said, "Now look here, these are good men; you had better make the best use of them and do all you can to help them." The King decided to do so. In the sixth Chapter of the Book of Ezra the king says:Moreover I make a decree what ye shall do to the elders of these Jews for the building of this House of God; that of the king's goods, even of the tribute beyond the river, forthwith expences be given unto these men, that they be not hindered.And that which they have need of, both young bullocks, and rams, and lambs, for the burnt offerings of the God of Heaven, wheat, salt, wine, and oil, according to the appointment of the priests which are at Jerusalem, let it be given them day by day without fail.He was giving these men more than they asked for. What was the result? That beautiful Temple was very soon erected. I wish that the mantle of that Ezra would fall on our Ezra to-day, and that he thought more of maximums than of minimums.
With regard to basic wages paid in the industry, I have often heard it stated in television discussions on the subject that some people do not believe that many miners, if any, return home at the end of the week with about £13 in their pay packets. This fact is undeniable. In my home town of Rhosllanerchrugog, in North Wales, a married man with a family was showing me his wages sheet 551 last Saturday. This was for the last full week's work that he did. On the top of the sheet was the sum of £19. After deductions, his net wages were £l3:40. Can any man keep up a home and a family on £13 a week nowadays? I was addressing 2,000 miners on Saturday and I asked them whether any of them had their pay sheets with them, because I knew that the point about low wages had been denied. Immediately 20 hands went up, and I checked up on the wages paid. I found that this low wage was very common. That is why the threat to close the mines does not appeal to these people. They say, "If I cannot get more than £13, close the pit. I shall be just as well off on the dole and, in any case, I shall have an opportunity to find some other job."
Let Mr. Derek Ezra make it plain once and for all that the basic wages for an underground worker are £19. That is the maximum basic wage. It is £18 for the surface worker. This man has been trying to dupe the country, the miners, and even the Press. Last Friday there was a photograph in The Times, of all newspapers, which was given to the paper by the N.C.B. There was a picture of a tunnel down a pit where the sides and the roof were squeezing in. I discussed this with a mining engineer. He said to me, "It is ridiculous to think that this has happened because of the three week strike. It would take months for this to happen". As a matter of fact, I learned afterwards that The Timeshad been duped. This picture was actually taken at the beginning of last November.
§ LORD MAELOR
Yes; and it was published last Friday, to reveal the effects of the strike. It had been taken at the beginning of November.
My Lords, Nye Bevan once said that Britain is a lump of coal surrounded by fish. He wished to point out, I suppose, that the only raw products we have are coal and the fish that surround us. As coal is the only raw product for export that we have in this country, and on humanitarian grounds, the Government should declare that no man connected with a coal mine should be allowed to return home at the end of the week with 552 less than £18. I am sure that that is not too much to ask for these men, of all people. The Government should declare it. We hear a great deal about "the norm"—it has been mentioned oft times in the debate so far—but I would re-echo the headline of the Sunnewspaper last Thursday when it declared—"To hell with the norm!"
We have been told that it would cost the Coal Board £30 million to meet the miners' demands. I maintain that that can be done simply.
My Lords, is the noble Lord quite certain that he is not muddling up the miners' demands with the Coal Board's offer, as my noble friend Lord Dudley pointed out?
§ LORD MAELOR
No, my Lords. I am sure I am clear in my mind: a Welshman always is. We have been told that it would cost the National Coal Board £30 million. Well, that can be done quite easily. At the moment the Coal Board have to pay annually a capital debt interest of £33 million. Surely, that should be the responsibility (I am not giving way to the noble Lord) of the Government. It was the Government, not the miners, who nationalised the mines, and it was the Government who paid the coal owners huge compensation sums. It should be the Government's duty to pay this debt annually. It has been done for other industries. Mrs. Barbara Castle did it for the transport industry during the period of office of the Labour Government. She covered, not quite this amount, but the debt owed to that industry. If that were done for the Coal Board then the Coal Board would be able to give the miners even the 47 per cent. increase in their wages for which they are asking and make a profit.
Before I sit down I would also offer a novel suggestion, for what it is worth. Many years ago a penny increase was charged on every ton of coal. The money thus obtained did not go into the coffers of the mine owners but was utilised to build miners' institutes, village halls, and for scholarships, throughout the country. How about adding a penny, or two or three, on a ton of coal to-day, and then at the end of the year distributing that money to all the miners throughout the country, all to have an equal share? What would happen? Production would 553 go up because to the tune that production was increased their bonus would be increased, and we should have, I imagine, contented workers. The miners' case is unanswerable, and it will be a reflection on us as legislators if we fail to solve the present problem. Let me utter a word of warning here. The miners are not going to give in this time. I am sure of that. They were let down in 1926 by even their fellow trade unionists, but they are not going to be let down on this occasion. We have been told to-day about power cuts. Thank God for it! We shall have many cuts before this strike is over. The miner is not going to return to the mines again on the terms offered at the present moment by the Government and the National Coal Board, and the sooner we realise this the better.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Blyton for having initiated this debate, and I trust that we in this House, at any rate, shall all back the miners in their demand and in their hard struggle. It surprised me to see so many women—the wives of colliers—at the meeting I addressed. The colliers are not receiving even social security—they do not receive a penny piece—and the wives suffer in consequence. But the wives declared that they will stand firm behind their husbands and not allow them to go back to the pits, even if the pits have to be closed as a consequence. The miners will not return there to work on the wages that they have been receiving up to now.
§ 5.47 p.m.
My Lords, we have great respect for the Welsh for football, song and poetry, but not necessarily for arithmetic and I think that the noble Lord, when he looks at his speech, will find that the £30 million he is speaking about is the value of the Coal Board offer and not of the miners' claim, which is very much bigger. I must apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Blyton. I had unprecedented train difficulty in getting here and so I missed his speech, and I am sorry about that. I have frequently spoken up for the miners in the past. I remember 25 years ago suggesting that every pit should have a large car park with a label up, "Reserved for miners' cars only". That was rather treated with derision in those days, but I claim to be a prophet over that matter. With my 554 noble friend Lord Selkirk, I believe we still hold the record—and are likely to hold it for ever—in passing 300 Amendments to the Mines and Quarries Bill in, if I remember aright, about two hours flat.
This House has had some very great miners as Members. I remember the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, and the noble Lords, Lord Lawson and Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, and of course there is present company also. Each and every one of them I have heard say that he wished no man ever had to go down into a pit again. Those are roughly the sentiments of the noble Lord, Lord Maelor. At the same time, they have shown a general inconsistency because they always regret the contraction of the industry. I have heard them do that, too, and it is inconsistent. If one thinks that there ought not to be any mines one ought to welcome the contraction of the industry, but I have no doubt that in their hearts they had a secret fascination for their former days in the pit. In fact, Lord Hall has told me how he used to like his little stall (I think that is what they used to call it) in the pit in Wales where he could pop down with his mate for just as long as he liked and pick out as much coal as he wanted. He did not approve of new fangled mining. I think they would be very sad to-day to see what has happened. Their hopes may be coming true, but not in a way of which they would have approved. We have an enormous wage demand, and a strike in the depth of winter, backed up by very vigorous picketing, and in some cases picketing that looks uncommonly like bullying.
The National Coal Board Report of 1971 gives a rather optimistic outlook for coal. It is said that coal is becoming competitive again. A couple of months ago in a board room I heard somebody say, "We must look at coal because it is becoming competitive". But the snag about this country is that as soon as anybody can say something like that about any industry you may bet your bottom dollar that within a month or two there will be a strike and the industry will be no longer competitive. I am afraid that when one gets old and cynical one tends to remember that and to act accordingly.
555 Whatever may be the price of coal to the generating industry to-day, to the private individual the prices are absolutely frightful. At the extremity of England, in Cornwall, last summer I paid, I think it was, 27s. a hundredweight for coke. That price is not competitive with any other form of fuel, and I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Delacourt-Smith, on one point on which he seemed dubious, that the spiralling cost of wages has had the most important effect of forcing people in industry to weed out all their employees who really can be spared. That is definitely true. Somehow or other this vicious circle of costs and prices must be broken. If every rise in costs and prices is immediately followed by a rise in wages, the position gets worse and worse. I have seen it happen in South America, where the value of money can go down several per cent. per month, and one even gets cases of currency being halved in a year. Nowadays if anybody claims that he is not being paid enough he always says that he could get more if he worked in a lavatory in British Leylands. I believe somebody has already said that on behalf of the miners. I think the answer to that is. "Go and do so. It is not a pleasant job; it will not give you much satisfaction, and it is very unlikely that you will end up in the House of Lords, as so many miners do."
Somebody—I forget who it was—made a case for a so-called prices and incomes policy. This is a very facile argument and I always regard it as being rather escapist; when you cannot think of anything else you say, "Let's have a prices and incomes policy". One may be able to influence prices through some form of incomes theory, but in a free society, buying a large proportion of its requirements abroad, either raw or finished, the Government of the day do not have a great influence on prices, particularly of foodstuffs. Beef and butter are typical to-day; more people are competing for smaller supplies, and I should not be surprised if the miners' wives are using beef and butter as a powerful argument. Without rationing one cannot do much about food prices. When you get to manufacturers, if you fix prices in an endeavour to bring them down you will find that either the manufacturer cuts the quality—that happens when there 556 is too much competition, and I have seen it happen all over the East—or you do not get the goods at all because he cannot afford to make them, or the manufacturer tries to bring down his costs by employing fewer people, which means redundancy. When you get to the big services, like fuel, transport, power and communications, wages form such a large part of their costs that any pricing policy is likely to lead to redundancy or to a large resort to the taxpayer, and probably both. In all these sectors of the economy, unless there is an adequate margin between selling prices and the costs you will get no progress through reinvestment.
What case have the miners got? The noble Lord, Lord Maelor, referred to the £19 gentleman who has to support a large family and who has £6 deductions. In the first place, if he had a large family he would pay no income tax, so his reduction presumably would be £1-odd for his national insurance stamp; and the rest?—mystery. I cannot believe that he pays £4 a week to his union, although I am sure they would be very pleased if he did. I quite agree with the noble Lord that the take-home pay of the top miner should not be less than £19 or £20; but if he is going to suffer himself to have a large number of deductions for various purposes which are not compulsory, then that is his look-out. That is quite voluntary. In twenty years the miners' average earnings (one must take average earnings and no other figure) has just about tripled, and in addition they appear, from the figures, to get 2¾ million tons of coal divided among something under 300,000 miners. If they get ten tons of coal (and one can be sure that it is the best coal) that is worth, to any unfortunate consumer in the South of England, the best part of another £200 a year. Of course as we know, wages in general over this period have far outstripped prices.
Miners say that they should be paid more than other people because they always have been. Is this not a relic of the days when they had a monopoly? To-day coal has a tremendous amount of competition. More money means less coal able to be sold unless there is more production. I feel certain that the solution to this problem is more money for 557 more production. It is a very intensive labour industry; something like 60 per cent. goes straight into wages, whereas manufacturing industries rarely go above 30 per cent. and in industries like brewing it is a good deal lower. These increased wages are almost immediately reflected in the sale price, and so coal becomes uncompetitive extremely easily.
If miners feel hard up to-day, why does the figure of absenteeism go up every year? I just do not understand that; it has gone up from 12.4 per cent. in 1952 to 19.2 per cent. in 1971. Surely this is a sign of prosperity, not of penury, and certainly the brewers, the bookmakers and the clubs all over the mining areas have never had it better. Of course coal output per man over the years has risen enormously, but it has entailed huge capital expenditure and many pit closures to do this. There is still a lot of coal raised at a loss, and I wonder how much of this is masked by averages. It was not long ago that the National Coal Board appeared to be trying to fix up long-term contracts at prices which could only he matched by their cheapest pits. This struck me at the time as being very queer arithmetic, and if those contracts had gone through (and I do not know whether they have) inevitably the other tied buyers, such as the electricity industry, must be paying the piper, to an extent; and the Central Electricity Generating Board certainly had some grumbles on that score.
One does not grudge production going on for social reasons. It is essential that there should be a slow and orderly run down. Anywhere where closures would be a social calamity it is the duty of the community to keep the mine going as long as possible. But it is the public who are paying the bill, both in the very high price of coal and in not getting much return from the National Coal Board. They are the ones to suffer when there is a strike and they feel let down in this sort of way. A further warning is that if and when the Coal Board find that certain pits will never be able to open again and the Central Electricity Board look to other fuels for their generation, then it is not only the Coal Board and the mines who will suffer; it will also react on British Railways, because British Railways get a large revenue out of carrying coal, and if there is a substantial drop in coal production I fear there will 558 be considerable redundancy and big losses in British Railways. I am absolutely certain the answer to this problem is to get together again, go to arbitration, make an offer. In the view of the industry there must be more production per man hour and then more wages for it.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ LORD THOMAS
My Lords, I feel a great deal of sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Maelor, and a certain amount of opposition to what the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, has said, because although he quotes the Welsh with abilities in poetry, song and rugby football he queries our ability in arithmetic. I hope I have got the arithmetic right because I have copied it from somewhere else; this arithmetic ought to be all right. I sympathise with the noble Lord, Lord Maelor, because I was born on the edge of the same coalfield, but I think I left it before he did.
My Lords, I rise this afternoon to make abundantly clear that I oppose and reject the censure Motion your Lordships' House is debating this afternoon. My attitude is based on the twin facts that the form of words in which the Motion is presented is crude and misleading and also that the implicit meaning in the Motion is unrealistic. I think that if it were accepted it would constitute an open-ended charter for widespread strike action in a multiplicity of industries throughout our economic structure and would do irreparable harm to our country. To imply that the Government's policy towards incomes made inevitable industrial action a factual necessity is to riddle the basic foundations of our economy with very damaging fissures.
As an industrialist I have kept in close touch with the events leading up to the mining strike which started on January 9. To say that there was an inevitability of strike action in the negotiations that were held constitutionally between July 6, 1971, when the National Union of Mineworkers' Aberdeen Conference passed wages resolutions calling for a minimum weekly wage of £26 on the surface and £28 underground, and £35 per week on the national power loading agreement, right through those negotiations that took place on September 14 and October 12, is a grave reflection of the stiff-necked attitude of the bodies that were negotiating on both sides. On October 12 the 559 Joint National Negotiating Committee heard the Board offer increases of £1.80 for surface grade No. 2 and £1 .75 for other surface grades and all underground workers. This offer was rejected on October 14. I will not enumerate all the dates of the other meetings, but on December 2 last year the National Union of Mineworkers had a strike ballot, which resulted in the announcement that 58 .8 per cent. were for and 41 .2 per cent. were against the proposal, yet on December 9 the N.U.M. Executive unanimously voted to call a strike from January 9, 1972, and notified the Board accordingly.
A series of meetings followed. On December 13 the Board Chairman, who has been very harshly castigated by the noble Lord, Lord Maelor, met the mineworkers' leaders and improved on the offer. On December 16 the National Union of Mineworkers Executive rejected that revised offer of £2 on surface minimum and £1.90 for others. Thus, to that it was the Government's policy towards incomes which made the strike inevitable is to my mind a gross distortion of facts.
Let us have an analytical look at the changes over the years in miners' wage rates and compare them with the cost of living index. I invite you to take January, 1947, as a basic date for an indext of 100, both for wages and for the cost of living index. During the years 1947 to 1970 the index of wages for miners went up from 100 to 400, while the cost of living index only went up from 100 to 256, distasteful though that was. But that is not all. If you take the 1971 offer which has been made and, unhappily, rejected, the cost of living index has gone up from 100 to 280 .4, but the index of wages for the minimum surface grade of miners has gone up from 100 to 444 .4. You will see that the amount of increase in wages in the mining industry has far outstripped the cost of living index.
Furthermore, there are some interesting anomalies that interest me, as an employer, in the way in which the cost of deductions from miners' wages are assumed and taken into their calculations. It is rightly said that what matters nowadays is the take-home pay of the worker in any industry. A good deal of play is made of the fact that mining is a tough 560 and highly demanding occupation and that it puts great strain on both the physical and psychological stamina of the workers. No one denies that. The average picture is of a lean human body stripped to the waist lying on its back wielding a pick with which is hacked a narrow seam of coal overhead; he is lonely, under muscular strain and all other kinds of objectionable and dirty pressures. In point of fact a modern pit is nothing like that on average; it is nothing like so satanic a place in which to work.
§ LORD THOMAS
My Lords, I am in coalmining machinery and I go down every now and then. The noble Lord is quite right: none of us here would get £100 a week to go down a pit. For one thing, nobody would pay us; and for another, we are too old. Mechanisation of the mines, better ventilation and coal-cutting machinery have altered that picture, and the rewards in comparison with those in other industries are substantial, particularly when the proffered rate for the avoidance of this deplorable strike is taken into account.
The take-home pay of a powerloader man without children on £30 a week, after deducting his income tax of £5.36, his National Insurance of £1.59, mineworkers' pension scheme and union subscription of 35p—not £4, as Lord Hawke rightly refuted—is £22.70 a week. After the proposed rate he would have been taking home £23.99, and I am credibly informed that the Coal Board's offer would have put the lowest paid workers from their position of sixteenth in the national wages league, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Blyton, up to sixth place—a very substantial improvement, as noted by the noble Earl the Leader of the House.
There are other notable anomalies in the make-up of miners' wages. For instance, in addition to the actual money paid there are allowances in kind—for example, coal and housing, which are worth on average far more than £2 a week—wholly untaxed. There is another factor which I mention with some reticence: that is, the habit of the miners, either directly or through their spokesmen, of deducting their contributions to 561 National Savings from their take-home pay. As an ex-Chairman and current President of the National Savings Movement I very much welcome the contributions of the miners to our savings schemes. We are very glad to observe their sense of thrift and precautions for the future. But it is, I submit, quite illogical for these savings to be deducted from their factual take-home pay, as indeed is their contribution of 35p a week to their trade union levy.
§ LORD MAELOR
My Lords, can I give an explanation for that? What happens is that the minor has mortgaged a house; he has to pay his interest every six months, and he has to save something, even if he starves himself, to cover that interest. The result is that he takes advantage of the opportunity given at the coal mine and he says, "Deduct a pound from my wages whatever they are, because I must have the money in six months' time to pay this interest on my mortgage."
§ LORD THOMAS
My Lords, with great respect, that does not come out of his take-home pay any more than rent does.
§ LORD TAYLOR OF MANSFIELD
My Lords, would the noble Lord forgive me for intervening? I do not want there to be any misunderstanding on this point. Did I understand him to say that 35p was the union contribution?
§ LORD TAYLOR of MANSFIELD
My Lords, I think the noble Lord is wrong. That is what he pays for pension and his miner's contribution, and that makes a big difference.
§ LORD THOMAS
My Lords, I accept that, and I apologise. What makes this current strike so deplorable and the hardened arteries of some of the negotiators so distressing is that the period up to the start of the overtime ban last November indicated trends of performance which would have enabled the industry to fulfil its financial obligations in the present financial year. This would have been achieved even taking into account the offers that were made during the negotiations last autumn. The industrial action taken by the Union has now completely overturned this prospect.
562 The mining industry was beginning to get a goodly record for consistency of productivity. To put it on the chart with broad strokes, in 1960 coalmining suffered 1,669 stoppages, and the rest of the economy suffered 1,163. By 1970 the number of stoppages in the mining industry had fallen to 157 as against 3,731 in the rest of the economy. These, my Lords, are meaningful figures and, what is more, the mining industry was entitled to feel that up until last summer it was making substantial progress towards establishing a feasible energy policy for the longer term based on maximising the use of indigenous sources in order to reduce our national dependence on imported oil.
Past performance could be extrapolated into a pattern of supplies to reduce dependence on imported oil, and it goes something like this: in 1971, the total energy required in the British economy was, if expressed in millions of tons of coal, equivalent to 330. By 1980, that figure was extrapolated to 430 million tons of coal equivalent. Out of these two totals of 330 and 430 million tons, it is expected that a combination of nuclear and hydro energy will provide respectively 12 and 40. North Sea gas will provide 24 and 70. North Sea oil, which is coming along, will by 1980 provide the equivalent of 80 million tons of coal equivalent. But coal is going to remain steady. As far as can be seen, it will remain steady at 140 million tons in 1971 and 140 million tons in 1980. In other words, there is every prospect that if we can get rid of this industrial withdrawal of effort, the balance of imported oil will be reduced from 154 to 100 million tons of coal equivalent over the next nine years, giving us a reduction in import dependence from 47 per cent. to 23 per cent.
This is a very important factor in our national economic equation. But clearly increasing confrontations of the extravagant kind that have beset our industry over recent months make it difficult for us to establish that British coal is in fact the more secure option. It is abundantly clear that sooner or later this question of the relationship between wages and the cost of living index has to be sorted out, not by an emotional parading of the streets, not by the swinging of arms and the shouting of slogans or, for that matter, 563 by spitting into the faces of female clerical workers. Extravagant demands for higher wages can only give another vicious upward twist in the rising spiral of the cost of goods in the high street shops.
The cost of coal is an essential factor in the equation of our national economy, and it is an important element in the price of practically everything that we produce. If those who work in the mines were paid at disproportionately low rates then there would be a case for thoughtful reassessment and practical readjustment. But this has to be done by rational negotiation, not by what is misleadingly called industrial action, which really means industrial inaction in so far as production is concerned. Why should the public, the taxpayer, and the workers in other industries be made to suffer by the threat of ultimately disruptive power cuts and all the human misery that they could bring?
As this strike goes on it can he reasonably concluded that the attitude of the top levels in the Union is not permanently the attitude of the great majority of their members. It is increasingly difficult to disregard the direction of the strike. It is politically motivated, and that is why I repeat that I oppose and reject the Motion to express,disapproval of the Government's policy towards incomes which made inevitable industrial action by the minersI look forward to irrefutable physical support by Members of your Lordships' House in the Lobbies for this point of view.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ LORD TAYLOR OF MANSFIELD
My Lords, may I say to the noble Lord who has just sat down that I hope he will not be disappointed after inviting me to go into the Lobby with him, but I shall not be there; I shall be voting for the Motion. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Blyton first of all for initiating the debate. I am also appreciative of the usual channels for the expedition they have shown in putting it on at such an early date.
I should like to refer to what the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, said about concessionary coal, because I think the facts ought to be widely known. Concessionary coal to miners is as old as the 564 industry itself, and is no different from the perquisites and concessions that are given to those on the railways, or those that are given, in the form of luncheon vouchers, to other workers in industry.
§ LORD TAYLOR OF MANSFIELD
When a colliery company in Nottinghamshire were deciding what they were going to pay to the coal face workers for producing a ton of coal, the figure was based not on 20 cwt. but on 21 cwt. The miners had to produce 21 cwt. in order to be paid for 20 cwt. On the assumption that the output per man per day was 3 tons, they had to produce 15 cwt. extra over a five-day week. The miners received concessionary coal every month, but although they had produced 60 cwt. extra over the four weeks they received in return only 20 cwt. I thought it important to put the record straight so far as miners' concessionary coal is concerned. The noble Lord said that in the South-West he was paying £20 a ton for ten loads a year, which is £200. But may I remind him that that coal would have been purchased at the pithead for not more than £6.50 per ton? Perhaps the next time he speaks, he will tell your Lordships what happens to the difference between the pithead price of £6.50 and the £20 that the merchant charges.
Those of us who have associations with the mining industry, and particularly those who have worked in and about a coal mine, as I did for 33 years, nearly 20 years of which were spent underground, find it not only difficult but almost impossible to divorce history from the present situation. But before turning my attention to the present situation and to its problems (and who would deny that, throughout its long history, one outstanding characteristic of the mining industry has been, as it still is, the many inscrutable problems that it has had to solve?), I want to say one or two words about the human side, because it is important. There is a tendency for even the most tender-hearted of us to forget the human side of this important industry until something spectacular, such as the Aberfan disaster, brings it to the surface. I thought of this fact when my noble friend Lord Blyton intervened during the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas.
565 Coal mining takes place between 500 and 1,000 yards below the earth's surface, in high temperatures, with dusty atmospheres and little room for movement when the seam is thin. I myself worked for a considerable time in a seam that had a thickness of only two feet. For seven hours I worked on my knees in a cramped position, and the meal break was not long enough to give time to crawl out into the gateway where there was more room to take one's little bit of sustenance. Believe me, my Lords, conditions of that kind are no picnic. It is not like going to the races, and it is certainly not like kneeling before the altar in church. For seven long hours, which seems an eternity, one is on one's knees with all the pressure on that part of one's anatomy, or on the spine. Coal mining is a difficult, dangerous, dirty, unpleasant job, and to describe it as pleasant would be doing violence to the English language.
I like to be magnanimous in my thinking, and I believe that the nature of coal mining is recognised. But, unfortunately for this industry, balance sheets—pounds, shillings and pence—dwarf the human side. To misquote the Psalmist, as my noble friend Lord Maelor quoted Ezra, if I forget the human side of this industry, may my right hand lose its cunning. I do not want to forget it because, if I and everyone else forget it, we shall become nothing more than mechanical computers, devoid of compassion for a fine and courageous body of men. All my life I have lived among them, and still do. I have worked with them, and been connected with them for more than 60 years. I have shared their adversities and their triumphs—and there have been more of the former than of the latter—enjoying their fellowship. They deserve the practical good will of this nation. For many generations, long before my entry into the pit in 1908, the mining industry had its problems, and it still has them. The problems are not connected with the geologists or the engineers; they are faced by the men and boys who produce the coal at the face and transport it along the roadways until it emerges into the light of day. It is bottled sunshine, to warm our homes and provide the energy without which economic activity would partially cease in this country.
566 In my humble judgment, the verdict of history is this. It has been a long and difficult road, with its milestones of accidents, disease and large-scale disasters, such as Senghenydd and Gresford, to mention only two, when, in a moment, without a word of warning, 650 men and boys were never again to see the light of day. In fact, they never returned home: the place where they died was their grave. Fatalities, and diseases like pneumoconiosis, dermatitis and miners' nystagmus, have over the years claimed their victims in this industry by the thousands; and the problem still exists, because these diseases continue to claim their victims. This is another balance sheet connected with the mining industry, and it should not be overlooked when assessing the value of the miners' service to the nation. Let us not forget that, as my noble friend Lord Blyton said, there are thousands in this industry, underground and on the surface, with a gross basic wage of £19 and £ respectively. By no stretch of the imagination, my Lords, can figures of that sort be described as an El Dorado.
My Lords, I should and must say, to be reasonable and fair, that much has been done in the field of safety, in reducing dust hazards and in training; and over the last twenty-five years there has been wonderful co-operation—and I think we should publicly state this—between the N.C.B. and the Union in efforts to minimise the hazards. Yet, in spite of these efforts, mining still exacts a heavy toll of human life and limb. May I reiterate what the noble Lord, Lord Maelor, said? Last year, which was the last period for which figures were published in this field, there were 690 accidents reportable to Her Majesty's Inspectorate, 92 of which were fatal—the equivalent of two a week. I was thinking last night, when looking at these figures, that, on the average of last year, six men are living to-day who would not have been alive had there not been the last three-week strike. I mention that only to indicate the toll that this industry takes of life and limb. Further, there were 598 serious non-fatal accidents—paraplegics, broken limbs, people impaired for the remaining part of their days. In addition, there were 81,615 who were absent from work for a period of three days or more as a consequence of accidents.
567 Now no one likes this situation. It makes one's heart ache, really. It disturbs one's mentality, no matter in which part of the House we may sit. And I know that these circumstances are of mutual anxiety, and have been for many years, to the Board and the Union. But, my Lords, let us not forget one thing. It is something we cannot help, it is something we cannot avoid: that wresting from Mother Nature her treasure, which has lain there for millions of years, is a hazardous operation, and the human side of this industry, so important to our country, should not be overlooked. It should' be recognised and, in my view, suitably rewarded in cash terms. My Lords, I was anxious to say these things, for I fear that, in the normal day-to-day operations of the mining industry, there is a tendency to overlook them, though it is not intentional. There is a tendency to forget the uncertainties that there are to life and limb, and the hazards that the miner is subject to—not occasionally, but every day of his working life.
My Lords, there is the dreaded knock on the door of the house, which may come during any hour of the day or night—and, believe me, it is not the commissar and it is not the milkman: it is the purveyor of bad news, to intimate to the wife or the mother that there has been an accident at the pits. It is a frequent happening. I know this from experience as a lodge secretary. What is the immediate reaction, whether it is the wife or the mother? "What has happened? Is he alive?" It is a situation in which there is a mixture of pessimism that the worst has happened, but also a hope that it is not the end of the husband, of the father or of the son.
One incident still lingers in my memory, and I do not think I shall ever forget it. Forty years ago, as lodge secretary, I had to convey to a mother that her 17year-old son had been killed. For me, as well as for her, it was an unpleasant experience, but no words that I could use could mollify or soften the cruel blow that she received. After a breathing space, which seemed an eternity, she said, "When will they be bringing him home? And what about the funeral? My means are very slender." His father, 568 as a coal-face worker in the early 'thirties, was bringing home £2 a week. It was my unpleasant job to have to say to that sorrowful mother, "As the law stands, the employer is liable to pay funeral expenses only up to a maximum of £15". The anguish of that woman was intensified beyond description, and I can still hear her saying, "Bernard, my boy—it is monstrous! That is not even the price they pay for a pit pony. My lad has gone—but to think his life was so cheap!" She said to me, "The price of coal to us wives and mothers is a heavy one. Do the folk who have no connection with mining, to whom coal is a mere black commodity to provide energy and warmth, realise the price that we, as wives and mothers, have to pay?"
My Lords, that is the human side of the industry. It is difficult to carry out one's original intention to be as brief as possible—it really is, believe me—but there are three other things that I want to mention as briefly as possible, having dealt with the human side. There are three matters I wish to ventilate and put before your Lordships. I think they are important. They are: first, the financial burdens; second, productivity, about which we have heard quite a lot to-night; and, third, the present situation—the strike of the miners.
I will deal first with the financial burdens, and begin by referring to the coal royalties. We have talked about the economics of the industry, but these other items have not yet been mentioned. I fear that the coal royalties is one that is almost forgotten. I make no apology for resurrecting the subject this evening because these royalties are still part of the financial burden that the industry is carrying; they hang like a millstone round its neck. I will state the position briefly. Some noble Lords will remember the Sankey Commission of 1919 and the battle that took place between the noble Duke, the Duke of Northumberland, and Mr. Robert Smillie the President of the Miners' Federation. Twenty years later the Baldwin Government decided that enough was enough and that they would nationalise the coal royalties. In spite of what the landowners had received over the years—it must have been millions of pounds—they were compensated with a redundancy payment of £66 million. They had not put the coal there. Until the 569 geologists and engineers came along they did not even know it was there; the landowners had no idea that this source of energy, this new bonanza, was there to be exploited. For many years they received from 4d. to 6d. on every ton of coal that was brought to the surface. And that levy was paid out of the costs of production.
But that is not the whole story. Under the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act (and my noble friend Lord Shinwell will know something of that) the liability for the payment of the compensation to the landowners was transferred from the Coal Commission to the National Coal Board. Although in 1938 the global figure was £66 million, nine years later, when the Coal Board took over the liability, it had grown to £78 million. I do not know why. This is the point I want to make in this connection: from 1947 for the ensuing 50 years, until 1996, the Coal Board must pay the Government, which redeemed the Commission's stock in 1938, the sum of £2¾ million. I wanted to ask the Minister one or two questions about that, but I think I shall leave them until a later date.
My Lords, may I mention one other matter, the question of subsidence costs and surface damage to property arising out of subsidence due to mining operations? Let me say first that I make no complaint about damage to property being repaired. It is only right that it should be repaired. May I also say that the Coal Board have been very good over this, whether the damaged property has been sewage works, schools, churches or private houses; they have met their obligation. My point is that the whole of the cost is a charge on the industry. The Turner Committee, if I remember aright, in the early 1950s recommended that the industry should be liable for 50 per cent. of the cost and the Exchequer liable for the other 50 per cent. That recommendation was made 20 years ago; yet the industry is still carrying the whole 100 per cent. burden—and this cost escalates every year. In 1955, the subsidence cost was £4½ million. In the Board's Report for last year the figure is £10 million. I estimate the two items that I have mentioned, the burden of coal royalties and the cost of subsidence, are equivalent to one shilling per ton on present production.
570 My noble friend Lord Blyton dealt with compensation to the ex-coal owners and dealt with it so well that I will not say anything about that. The only thing I shall say about productivity is this. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, that in the last 20 or 25 years there has been a fantastic productivity record in the mining industry. There has been a 100 per cent. increase, both in output at the face and in output per man-shift. No industry in this country and in the field of productivity has a better record than the mining industry. I could say a lot more about that aspect, but I will leave it at that.
My Lords, I want to close with a reference to the present strike of the miners which I know is exercising the minds of all noble Lords. If it is not, it should be; but I believe it is. What is it about? I will put it in a sentence. The noble Lord, Lord Hawke, made use of figures; the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, made use of figures, and the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, made use of figures. I will put it in a sentence, for I am certain that this is what it is all about. The miners can see their standards being eroded, year by year, in two respects: first, because of inflation; second, by comparison with other industries. If this erosion of the miners' standards is not halted (and I am sure that my noble friend Lord Beswick will appreciate this), they will be like Mansfield Town and Nottingham Forest Football Clubs—at the bottom of the League table.
There has been an increase in retail prices between 1970 and 1971 of 10 per cent. on the Board's offer—which has now been withdrawn—and I would say to the Chairman of the National Coal Board, Mr. Ezra: "Choose your statements more carefully." In my experience, nothing has embittered miners more than his statement, "If you do not accept these terms then they are withdrawn." This is interpreted by the miners as: "If you don't have this at some time in the near future then, like bad boys, you will get the cane." May I put it another way? Comparing the 1970 figures with those of to-day, the surface worker with two children would be 2 per cent. (or 32 new pence) worse off; the surface worker with no children would be one per cent., or 15 new pence, worse off; a power loader 571 with two children would be 4½ per cent. or £1.15 worse off, and a power loader with no children would be 4 per cent. or 98 new pence worse off.
My Lords, as everybody admits, the miners are moderate, reasonable and sensible people. But if they feel that they are being trodden on, or that their standards are being attacked, as they feel at this time is so—and I agree with them—they will resist. In my long connection with them I have not witnessed more determination than there is among our mining folk at the moment, and I echo the sentiments of my noble friend Lord Blyton. I hope that something will be done. One of the things that has to be done is to bring about the financial restructuring of the mining industry to avoid such unpleasant episodes as this; because as a result of it the dove of co-operation has gone through the window and a tiger of bitterness has come in.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ LORD ORR-EWING
My Lords, I am sure that every noble Lord in this House has gained immeasurably from the speeches of the three noble Lords who are ex-miners, and not least from that of the noble Lord, Lord Blyton. I cannot entirely agree with the terms of his Motion but I entirely respect what he has said and the great experience that he brings to our debate. If I have to praise all three, the noble Lords, Lord Blyton, Lord Maelor and Lord Taylor of Mansfield, I would say what an inestimable advertisement for the mining industry they are. One can hardly believe that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Mansfield, was born in 1895. I only hope that I shall be as hale and hearty and full of information as is the noble Lord at his age. I am sure that all three of these ex-miners, and many other noble Lords, have considerable sympathy for the low-paid workers in this industry. I say that first and foremost, because I do not think it reasonable in this day and age to have gross pay of £18 or £19 a week. I should have thought this was something which could be negotiated within the industry to set the matter right.
The Motion seeks to link the Government somehow with these lower paid workers and I do not think this is really 572 a logical sequence. It seems to me that the Government have, of course, some responsibility for the 1 per cent. of people who have jobs in mining; but they have also a great responsibility for the 99 per cent. who have not. Above all, the Government have an over-all responsibility for the economy of this country; and if this economy is destroyed our prices will become uneconomic, labour costs will seek to rise, because naturally they follow round, and as a result we shall have an even greater measure of unemployment which cannot be good for this country or the economy. So that is the responsibility which any Government must put first and foremost.
My Lords, we have heard a lot in this debate about miner's take-home pay. I saw a television discussion on it. But I would prefer to relate the matter to earnings rather than to take-home pay because there are a number of factors, some of which, like taxation, are involuntary—none of us likes paying tax—and others, such as rent and contributions to pension, which are to some extent voluntary.
As there have been so many quotations about the low wages of weekly workers perhaps I might set the record right by putting the other side. I have said that my sympathies lie with the low-paid workers and particularly those who work underground. But I think that we should recognise that on October 9, which was the last week of full earnings before the overtime ban was exercised, the average wage of all adult mine workers was £28.01. That is not great, but it is certainly very different from the figures which have been quoted in the Press and by the communications media. The men on faces covered by the national power loading agreement were getting £31.19 and if the offer now before the N.U.M. were accepted they would be getting £34.69. Compared with the wages in the motor industry, where I think the workers are in a very privileged and strong bargaining position, that is not a great figure, but it is much greater than many of the figures which have been quoted and I think that the record ought to be put right.
§ BARONESS BACON
My Lords, leaving on one side the national power loading figures can the noble Lord say how many 573 hours of overtime is included in the figure of £28.5 which he has quoted?
§ LORD ORR-EWING
My Lords, I have the figures, and perhaps I may give them privately to the noble Baroness. They come from the National Coal Board. The amount of overtime worked varies between 14 per cent. for surface workers down to, I think, 6 per cent. for others. But perhaps I may give the figures to the noble Baroness later.
§ LORD ORR-EWING
My Lords, a lot has been said both in the debate in the Commons, which I have read, and also in your Lordships' House, about the wages league. I find it a little difficult to understand because this league is made up of "the minimum wage rates"—not earnings, incidentally—"of the lowest grade male manual workers". It is not a realistic league by normal standards. My source of information, the House of Commons Library and the House of Lords Library, tells me that this information is published in the Industrial Relations Review and Report. It did not start to be published until the beginning of 1971, just a year ago. At no time during the period over which these figures have been published have the mineworkers been at the top of the league. But we have had that repeated and I wanted to correct the record. I think the important point is that now the miners are sixteenth in the league, and if they accepted the offer now before them they would rise to sixth place and be level with the dockers' fall back pay, the minimum position of £20 a week. Again I think that is unrealistic and I do not hold great store by it. I have sympathy with what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, who asked whether differentials were to stay static for ever and aye in a flexible and developing economy such as we have in this country. If this were so, it would produce a ridiculous result.
It may be apocryphal, my Lords, but I have heard the story of the convenor, of the shop steward who was asked whether he believed in equal pay for women. He said, "Sure I believe in equal pay for women, and the sooner they get it the better! But, mind you, we shall go for the differential when they 574 get it!" That is the attitude. Of course they believe that people should get a rise, but the moment that the lowest paid workers get a rise there is someone who demands a differential, and up go the wage rates and round goes the wages spiral.
We have also heard (and there is sympathy with this viewpoint) that the miners are worthy of special treatment because of the danger of their work, the possible hazards to health and other factors. If that is so, surely the trade union movement ought to state that it is prepared to give special treatment to the miners above all other workers. There has been no enthusiasm for that by the T.U.C. or any other section of the trade union movement. Mr. Roy Mason, M.P., made a statement suggesting that this course should be followed. I wait, as I am sure that your Lordships will wait, to see whether this suggestion is followed up. Certainly it is not something about which the Government can decide. The Government should not select one section of workers for preferential treatment. If they started to do that, they would be in real trouble in respect of other wage claims.
My Lords, I think it is worth noting that in November, 1970, 17 months ago, there was a miners' award of 12½ per cent. As my noble friend said from the Government Front Bench in addition to that 12½ per cent. in November, 1970, there is now on offer another 7.9 per cent. If one believes the calculations which appeared in the Economist a fortnight ago, they indicate that this 7.9 per cent. is nearer to 12 per cent. I would concede that that is probably an inflated rate, but there are calculations which show that 7.9 per cent. is a modest rate, and if they get increased productivity, which I think is likely, it would go well above 7.9 per cent.
I ask, why has the National Union of Mineworkers refused to have a ballot on this new offer? This is surprising. They changed the rules on ballots. It used to be 65 per cent. in favour before a strike could be authorised. Those rules were changed to 55 per cent. If the old rules had prevailed this strike would not have taken place because the ballot showed only 58 per cent. in favour of accepting. If a compromise is arrived at, should they not go back and see whether the compromise is acceptable?
575 Why should one ballot be accepted and stand and then all negotiations thereafter are to be by the N.U.M.? I also wonder why the N.U.M. has rejected arbitration. The National Reference Tribunal has passed, I think, 35 judgments since the end of World War II. It has been said that the Union does not think it is objective enough. On the other hand, the clerks' wages in the mining industry were referred to this tribunal as recently as last November. If the tribunal was sufficiently neutral in November, why is it not now considered neutral enough to pass judgment on this arbitration?
One cannot help feeling that the longer this strike goes on the more difficult it will become to settle it. Entrenched positions are taken up by both sides and tempers become shorter. The militants take things into their own hands, outside the direction of their unions, and we have instances of things which are wholly undesirable and which make it more difficult to get a settlement or a compromise eventually. It is not right to say that this Government or previous Governments have not singled out the coal mining industry for special consideration. It is as a result of the help given by successive Governments of this country that while in the E.E.C. only 29 per cent. of their primary energy comes from coal, in this country 45 per cent. of our energy comes from coal. So coal is in a special position in this country. One has to remember that West Germany, which contributes something like two-thirds of the coal used by the E.E.C. countries, will be our main competitor.
It is worth considering how successive Governments have singled out the coal-mining industry for special consideration. The Government have helped by persuading the C.E.G.B. to use coal. The Seaton Carew power station, rather against the wishes of the C.E.G.B., is to be a coal-fired station. The report by the C.E.G.B. for 1970–71 was very critical of this. It did not like coal being forced on to it, because it maintained that some of the natural gas and perhaps oil would be more economical for it to use. So compensation has been paid for the extra coal burned, which was limited to £45 million per annum.
The Select Committee on Nationalised Industries—noble Lords who wish to look 576 this up will find it in House of Commons Paper 471—listed a whole host of areas where special grants or financial aid have been given to the coal industry. The Government agreed to the writing-off of enormous debts. Under the 1965 Coal Industry Act, £450 million in past debts was written off. This saved the charges on them and helped the National Coal Board's accounts. I was rather surprised to hear strong requests being made by noble Lords opposite that again debts should be written off. I am sure that noble Lords would wish for their own personal debts to be written off with such ease and frequency, but are we to write off debts for the industry in this way? It seems that that would be singling it out for lavish treatment. Of course there has rightly been help to the Coal Board in the rundown. Half the cost of redundancy payments has been met by the Government under the 1965 Act and now two-thirds under the 1967 Act. It is right to recognise that this comes from the taxpayers, industry and the Government.
Then there has been the tax on oil of £100 million a year in order to make oil more expensive and to give favour to coal. It is recognised that this is an aid to the coal industry. There has also been tremendous capital expenditure, and rightly so, concentrated on the modernisation of pits by the National Coal Board. I will give the figures for the successive years from 1964–65: £347 million, £297 million, £210 million, £176 million, £164 million, £118 million, £134 million. So although it was a falling rate, there was £1,446 million of capital expenditure in seven years, an average of over £200 million a year. That was probably right, but let us recognise that this has been given. It is this capital expenditure which has led to the enormous increase in mechanised production. It was at a low level—27.8 per cent.—in 1958 and rose quickly in 13 years to 92.2 per cent., with much better conditions as a result. Of course productivity has increased markedly. It would be very disappointing if, with this injection of capital and all this help, it had not increased. With closures and concentrating on productive and modern pits, productivity has been helped. I noticed that the General Secretary of the N.U.M. stated that 700 pits had been closed. This is not so, for the number is 380, and there has been a reduction in 577 the number of men employed of 280,000, not 400,000 as the General Secretary, Mr. Daly, said.
There are two or three aspects which the House must be sad about. First, it does the mineworkers no good when we see the unpleasant way in which they picketed the secretaries of the National Coal Board. This is a gallant, manly industry which we all like and which many of us wish to praise. Men in the industry do not live up to their standards when they treat young women in that way. I also thought it unfortunate that the Minister, Mr. Robert Carr, should have been pelted with eggs and besieged when he went to open a labour exchange in Bolton.
It is not quite in keeping, when there is picketing of supplies of oxygen and other essential fuels for power stations. If people are to be thrown out of work through power cuts in the coming week, that will not be because of shortage of coal—the power stations have supplies—but because of militant pickets preventing oil and gas supplies getting to the power stations. This is a departure from normal industrial practice. I wonder whether when picketing was first thought of it was thought that it would be used outside the men's industry, to force and even to blackmail the nation. Finally one must also be sad to see the destruction of modern equipment in our mines, the destruction of equipment which is not only costly but which will take a long time to replace. People are literally destroying or allowing their jobs to be destroyed. This I think reprehensible. It is surprising because the President of the National Union of Mineworkers, Mr. Gormley, made a solemn agreement with the General Secretary of N.A.C.O.D.S.—the National Association of Colliery Over-men, Deputies, and Shotfirers. These are the people who supervise the safety measures in the mines and who would maintain the equipment while the strike was on. They are now being picketed and are prevented from going into the mines to see that overheating does not take place. Surely, to allow these mines to be destroyed at a time when coal is fighting for its competitive position with other fuels is like bringing the temple down around your ears. I think it is right that the House should be critical of this aspect of this unfortunate dispute.
578 I come, finally, to what is the message from this debate. I think it is good that the debate should have been initiated, although I must say that I do not agree with the terms of the Motion. Surely we should say from this House that sooner or later there will have to be a compromise, and that this compromise can be reached only if the Union and the National Coal Board get round the table and discuss what is a reasonable settlement. While the two are miles apart, not talking, there is no hope of overcoming this difficulty and finding a compromise which is acceptable. The Minister of the Department of Employment and Productivity, Mr. Carr, has said that his door is open. But surely it is not right for him to intervene so long as the two sides of the industry, who help govern the industry, both the unions and the National Coal Board, are standing pat on their past offers and refusing to talk or to compromise. Let them come together (is not this the message that should go out?) and then we may get a settlement which must be in the interests of this country and of our economy as a whole.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ BARONESS GAITSKELL
My Lords, this Motion introduced by my noble friend Lord Blyton, applying as it does to miners, could be extended to other workers in the pipeline who are waiting for wage increases. My noble friend made a moving though restrained speech, but it was also full of hard arguments. I think we have had a large dose of statistics and percentages. I will not confuse your Lordships with any more but will deal with the political and social implications that this Motion throws up. I do not blame all our economic troubles on this Tory Government: that would be as silly as the way they blame their present difficulties on the previous Labour Government. But this miners' strike cannot be discussed in isolation, without examining the measures taken by the Government, from their maladroit first Budget to the one million unemployed which we now have.
What makes the miners' case a little special—and many noble Lords have queried this—is that in this great traditional industry there has been an orderly run-down. They have been patient and co-operative while many of their jobs 579 have disappeared. However, this has not helped them to keep up with the wage increases in other industries. Great credit is due to the Mineworkers' Union and to my noble friend Lord Robens of Woldingham. We hear a great deal about the economic climate that is necessary to tempt the business community to respond to the Government's reflationary measures, of which they have produced a great many. Few people worry about the climate in a shrinking coal industry, where the pits are steadily closing and the jobs are being run down.
Both the Miners' Union and my noble friend Lord Robens criticised the Labour Government for not maintaining a high level of production. Neither oil nor gas, or nuclear power, is yet the cheap miracle fuel in comparison with coal. This idea has been greatly exaggerated by people who think that coal is finished. The Government, after all, can for social reasons take measures to keep men in employment, especially when they must know that 70 per cent. of miners work in depressed areas. If they do not somehow compromise, they are acting to increase unemployment still further. This, as well as the dirt and danger of the job, as I have said, makes miners a special case in dealing with pay awards.
The resignation of my noble friend Lord Robens was a great blow to the mining industry, and especially the reasons for his going—the hiving-off of the profitable ventures. No one can deny the spiteful and jealous attitude of Tories towards the nationalised industries. First they insist on profitability as the main criteria, and as soon as this is achieved they legislate to pass the profitable bits to private enterprise. Not even the Rolls-Royce failure and the trials of the shipping industry to carry on without some Government help can dissipate their doctrinaire phobias about public ownership. It is over the balance between public and private ownership in this accelerating technological age that there is a great divide between the two political Parties. For it is the Government's iron grip on the Coal Board—and we are not taken in by their denials—as well as the Government's total rejection of an independent prices and incomes policy, which includes dividends, salaries and wages, 580 that has brought about the coal strike to-day.
The Coal Board's debt could be written off without adding a penny to the price of coal. This is what Mr. Harold Lever said in the debate on coal in the other place. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, takes note of this.
Mr. Harold Wilson said during the debate on unemployment that when private spending and private investment has failed to provide full employment, only by public spending can the problem be solved. I must say that I could not agree with him more. In spite of the many inflationary measures that this Government have been forced to take, they have brought about a bad climate in industrial relations and embittered the workers, as we can see by this miners' strike, by dealing with inflation only by the method of unemployment. The last-minute plans for retraining will take years to yield results. In fact a Member of Parliament, Mr. Frank Tomney, said in the debate that we should have begun retraining during the Macmillan Government.
I have been reading accounts in the Press of the Report of the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development. The O.E.C.D. approves of the Government's reflationary measures to stimulate the economy but warns that these are not going to reduce unemployment quickly. Now the miners are not fools, and the Mineworkers' Union know this. When, I wonder, is the climate for investment to reduce unemployment going to change? Let us for a moment put the two cases side by side. The miners are on strike for a higher wage settlement. Would it not be fair to say that the business community is going slow on investment? And, after all, this investment would reduce unemployment.
I read the Prime Minister's speech on unemployment in the debate in the other place. Mr. Heath gave a clinical analysis of the employment situation, but he had no solution other than fiscal and monetary policies. Other speakers trotted out the old cliché about workers pricing themselves out of a job. The Prime Minister has recently had a very nice increase in salary. I am not one of those who think that our legislators are 581 grossly overpaid, but I have not noticed that anyone has written to The Times suggesting that the Prime Minister is pricing himself out of a job. A few days ago the Chancellor of the Exchequer was making a speech in Leeds. The Yorkshire coal miners are some of the most militant in the country, and he said to them that the "de-escalation of pay settlements was a very happy trend". Well, my Lords, I wonder what they thought of that. The miners are offered dole queues while the Government state that the wage increases requested by the miners will encourage other workers to ask for increases and so lead to more inflation. When there are over a million men out of work, I think it is a necessary risk for the Government to take. The noble Earl the Leader of the House asks us to say which group of workers should give way if the miners are to be given special treatment. Might I ask him: are the Members of Parliament, who have recently had a nice rise, a special case? My Lords, this is a tragic strike, and it does not look as if Tory Government dogma is going to end it.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ LORD MILFORD
My Lords, since the last great national stoppages in 1921 and 1926 your Lordships' House has had a very new experience. In those days there was no miner in this House who could put forward the miner's view to your Lordships. The Benches opposite held many mine owners and people on the management side of mines, and many landlords, but there was nobody able to put forward the miners' point of view. Therefore to-day is an historic day in which we have had miners to describe to your Lordships what it is like to be a miner. Of course on the Government side of the House there are still many families represented who formerly owned mines, made their fortunes out of mines and still have the mentality of former mine owners.
During the 1926 lock-out I was working in a shipping office, and this shipping firm were making large fortunes by bringing coal from America to this country. They welcomed the length of the lock-out of the miners and hoped that it would go on so that they could make more and more money from their ships. I sometimes had to go home from the shipping office through mining villages, 582 and one would pass down those straight rows of houses, with the miners sitting on their doorsteps with looks of absolute despair and dejection on their faces. I had somehow to reconcile the two lives I was living—in the shipping office, making packets of money, and walking through miners' villages with a tremendous sense of guilt. It was from those days that I began to get interested in economics and ended up as a Socialist.
To-day, thank God, the miners have seen to it that the shipowners are not going to make large fortunes bringing coal from America. Their case is to-day so clearly justified that it is getting support from working-class organisations all over the world and from wide sections of the public, in spite of the Establishment's propaganda in the mass media. During the week-end before last there was that superb demonstration of students in London, when many thousands of students not only demonstrated for their own grievances but joined up with the miners and the miners' unions, and marched for the miners. That was again a very historic moment in the history of the working class of this country. I cannot accept the lecture which was given to us by the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe. We heard that again and again in the 1920s and the 1930s, and it solved absolutely nothing: it dragged us lower and lower into the slump. There was no criticism at all from him on the mismanagement and on the lack of growth of industry. He was putting the whole thing on the demands for increased wages by the workers. It is the Tory Government, the representatives of the business employers, whose interests are completely opposed to those of the working class and their wages, who are being isolated to-day—not the miners.
The background to this strike is the Government's attack on the rights of trade unions, which they won over decades and generations of struggle, the wide fear of redundancy (which the Government are causing more and more) and, for the elderly people, permanent unemployment. Despite what the noble Earl said (he tried to make out that the cost of living was going down or remaining stationary). the cost of living is rising, and now the Government are putting up rents colossally, fares enormously; food is going up, and there is going to be a value-added tax. Yet he talks about the 583 cost of living being stationary or going down! There will be larger and larger deductions from the weekly pay packets of the working class. Because of these attacks on the real wages, the Government are asking the miners to accept a reduction, in real wages, of 4 per cent.
It is not true, as Mr. Carr and Mr. Barber reiterate, that the workers have priced themselves out of a job and that they themselves have created unemployment. Surely the restriction of purchasing power of the vast majority of the people of this country must be the basic cause of unemployment. If the miners were given more money to spend, they would want more goods produced by engineers, textile workers, farmworkers and others. And would not the same thing apply if more spending power were given to the workers in other industries as well—the Post Office workers, power station workers and the electricity industry workers? Why is it not true that if you have more money to spend—and we are in a technological age where we can produce really all the goods that are needed—higher purchasing power leads to more and more employment? However, we have to accept that big business wants this Tory Government to create and keep a certain amount of unemployment. After the last war we had a time of almost full employment, a period of nightmare to the industrialists, for it gave the workers' organisations strong bargaining power. For their public image, Government spokesmen declare that they are seriously concerned about the size of the unemployment figures. Yet at the same time they tell us that the worst is over; that our economy is now healthy; that the Common Market will put things right, and soon we shall be expanding and have prosperity for all. Yes: profits may be rising, the Stock Exchange buoyant, speculators rubbing their hands. But this will be at the expense of the working class. There is a lot of talk about productivity agreements: "If you produce more you can have a bit more wages." Between 1967 and 1971 production per miner has risen 55 per cent. The cut in real wages has been up to 4 per cent.
The Government declare that the strike is an affair between the National Coal Board and the miners, and the Government cannot step in. Are we really 584 expected to believe this? Does the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, think we are so naïve as to believe that the Government are not behind the National Coal Board and doing all they can to tell the National Coal Board not to give way? The Government's tactics are to beat the workers of the nationalised industries first, and then it will be easier to deal with the workers in private industry. First they starved out the postmen, and now it is the miners. The miners should be supported, not only on human grounds, but because they are the spearhead of the whole fight-back of the working class of this country against this Tory Government's policy on wages.
There has been a lot of talk about nationalisation. Tory Governments have always hated nationalisation and they have done all they could to cancel it out since they came to power. It is anathema to your Lordships opposite. Yet many of you on those Benches opposite have been saved by the nationalisation of the coal industry, the industry which you mismanaged so badly that you were glad when you got rid of it and could pocket fat compensation. The British Government have been behaving as if the coal industry is on the way out. In 1945, South Wales had 184,000 miners; now it has 35,000. Since 1958, over 500 pits have been closed and the number of miners reduced by 400,000. Yet the Central Electricity Generating Board, and the British Steel Corporation, have placed orders for between 5 to 8 million tons of coal abroad at prices more than double those available from British pits! Again, on the eve of this strike it was announced that 30 more pits were to be closed. Are the Government gambling on cheap oil replacing coal? We have seen oil-producing countries waking up and increasing their prices hugely. The head of British Petroleum has told us that the rate at which new large fields have been discovered has lagged behind the rate at which consumption has increased over the 1960s. Sir David Barran, Shell's Chairman, has warned that by 1990 the oil consumerscould be looking down the muzzle of the guns.That was in a speech to his shareholders. The policy of successive British Governments to sacrifice the British coal industry and thousands of miners to the interests 585 of a powerful handful of oil monopolists may be absolutely disastrous for this country. But, of course, one has to admit that there are some oil vested interests percolating through this Tory Government.
A similar prospect is arising with natural gas. America has reserves for only a further 13 years. New discoveries are falling behind annual production. Mr. Richard Bailey has said in the National Westminster Bank Quarterly Review, that American oil companies are moving into ownership of coal mines because the production of synthetic petroleum from coal is being stepped up to compensate for shortage of oil. He has also said in the National Westminster Bank Quarterly Review of May, 1971, that the argument that cheap energy imported from the Middle East oil-producing countries was superior to high cost domestic coal no longer rings true. The past rundown of the coal industry in the European Community and in Britain is now seen to have been a mistake. Britain currently depends on foreign sources for 44 per cent. of her energy requirements. The European Community have 60 per cent. How bitter this is for thousands of miners, and their families, made redundant in the interests of the oil tycoons. Here again I have to mention the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe. He said that if the strike went on the coal industry in this country would be further jeopardised and we would be turning more to oil and natural gas. Then he said that of course this was not a threat. I think if your Lordships read his words in Hansard to-morrow you will have to admit that it was a very cleverly veiled threat.
How are this Government going to encourage young people back to the industry if the real wages go on getting lower and lower? How are they going to get skilled workers in this technological age if the real wages are cut down? If the National Coal Board blandly repeats that it cannot afford proper wages, why is there such a large gap, as the noble Lord, Lord Blyton, said, between the prices that the National Coal Board gets for coal at the pithead, which averages at £5.84 per ton, and the price that that same coal is sold for to the public at round about £15 per ton? Who gets the difference? Is it not a fact that the Sankey Commission, a long time ago— 586 in the beginning of the 1920s—suggested that not only should the coal industry be nationalised, but also the coal distributors as well? If that happened we should not have had this tremendous gap between the pit head price and the price that the public have to pay.
We are continually told that we cannot afford this and that we cannot afford that when we are talking about wages or benefits to the working class. Yet we have given ourselves quite a nice little rise in this House; also to the Members of the other place, to other members of the Establishment, and the Royal Family. Mr. Ezra receives £20,000 a year. He has never done any work in a pit in his life, and he is making a pretty good mess of things at the moment. Of course, the coal industry could be reorganised and the debts and interest to the Government wiped out. An enormous amount of money could then be given to the miners. You Members of the Government, are you so tough-skinned that you do not feel the increasing bitterness you are creating among the working people, the miners and others, in this country? Or, are you so ruthless, so arrogant, that you do not care? The speeches that some of you make seem to be inhuman. If you go on carrying out your broad attack on the vast majority of the people of this country, then some time somebody is going to blow up. To get real peace in industry, and prosperity for the great majority of the British people, we shall have to get Socialism; true nationalisation of industries producing the essentials of life with workers having real democracy in their industries, having a real say in the management, and each person receiving an increasing share of the wealth that he is producing for us all. That is the picture of the future. You may not like the word "Socialism", but I am absolutely certain that it is going to come.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LAUDERDALE
My Lords, after listening to the rich repetition of clichés from 1926, all about big business, about the working class and finally about syndicalist Socialism, I did not imagine that I should end up by finding myself in agreement with one or two of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Milford, possibly because we have both been reading one or two of 587 the same sources. While I discard the overtones of some of his onslaught on so-called world monopolists, I do concede—I believe we should all concede—that Governments of both sides have tended to behave in recent years as if the coal industry were on the way out. I ought to begin by offering an apology to your Lordships, because, owing to other Parliamentary business, I was unable to listen to the opening of this debate, and in particular I missed the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Blyton, whom I also count as a great personal friend.
Certainly, nobody who has ever represented a mining constituency in the other place can be indifferent to the mood of the present time, can be other than appalled at the event of a national strike, can be other than horrified at the Luddite mentality which has broken loose in some quarters. Any one of your Lordships who has had the privilege and honour, as I have had, to live and work in a mining community, to go down I suppose twenty or thirty pits in the constituency and to know practically every face in those pits at one time or another, to make friends with the men working in conditions described by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Mansfield, so vividly, lying perhaps half in a pool of water hacking coal on their sides and all the rest, with the feeling that you are simply the ham in an ever-enclosing sandwich—this is something which nobody who has experienced it can conceivably forget.
The Motion fixes on the incomes policy, and it is not because I believe that that policy is in fact showing signs of success—and I do—that I think that the noble Lord, Lord Blyton, has chosen the wrong windmill. If there is a villain in the piece I should be inclined to say it is either the lack of a national fuel policy or at any rate the total muddle in that field. We are still supposed to be trying to work the four-fuel policy of the White Paper of the last Government, issued in 1967. That was prepared under the stunning impact of several phenomena. At that time, in 1967, oil was reckoned to be abundant and was seen to be cheap. At that time, although productivity in the coal industry had risen 50 per cent. over ten years, its future was considered to be of lessening importance—and this is where I agree with the noble Lord, Lord 588 Milford—in competitive terms; and the real question faced (if that is the word) by the White Paper and by the Government of that time was simply how to arrest a seemingly inevitable decline in order to stop the social impact of that event.
Then the White Paper also accepted that natural gas was the great new "in" thing. This was the new excitement; it was coming from the North Sea; it was expected to be clean and cheap, although there was some doubt about its abundance. Finally, there was even the assumption that nuclear power really held the future. To refresh your Lordships' minds about the White Paper, let me simply quote from the third paragraph of that document:Nuclear power has emerged from its early experimental stage into a proven and increasingly competitive source of energy".Those are the words of the Government in 1967. The White Paper summed up current ideas and its own thought in terms which, again with permission, I should like to repeat to the House:Oil has grown to become a major source of energy and the base of new and vitally important industries. Nuclear power made its commercial debut in Britain and is on its way to becoming the principal fuel for new generating capacity. And now natural gas has been discovered in the North Sea on a scale which guarantees a fourth source of primary energy.The development of nuclear power and the discovery of natural gas will allow the coal industry no respite in its continuing drive for greater efficiency.At this point the White Paper is trying to soften the blow of that Government's judgment upon the coal industry's future. I continue to quote. The coal industrymust expect to lose markets to the newer fuels because of their inherent advantages in ease of handling, cleanliness and price, and even if it were possible for the Government to arrest this change in the pattern of fuel supplies, it would be to the disadvantage of the economy if they were to attempt to do so. But the economy would also suffer by too abrupt a decline in coal, which would put at risk the success of the industry's reorganisation and result in needless hardship and waste.The Government have therefore sought to provide in their policy the conditions in which all the fuel industries will find incentive for the most vigorous further development and progress aimed at supplying industry with energy at the lowest possible cost in resources. while tempering the impact of this policy on the coal industry by transitional measures to 589 assist in its reorganisation … the Government's aim will be to make possible the supply of energy at the lowest total cost to the community having regard to the whole range of relevant considerations—economic and social".The energy equation has now radically altered. Five years after that White Paper was published we find that nuclear power has been a very slow and very late developer. It contributes only 2.7 per cent. of our energy in Britain; it contributes only 0.6 per cent. of the energy consumed in the Common Market and 0.3 per cent. of the energy consumed in the United States. As for natural gas, exploration was almost actively discouraged by the low price offered by the Gas Council. At the same time, the target of 15 per cent. of our energy supplies to be met from natural gas by the mid-1970s has been adhered to to the point that fixed installations are now established and may not readily be enlarged. As to oil, this is no longer either cheap or so abundant as was once imagined. The producing countries—that is, those embraced by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries—have imposed their own new taxes at source. Consumption, as the noble Lord, Lord Milford, said, quoting Sir David Barran, is now at a rate fast outstripping discovery. And whatever the volume of oil from the North Sea and the Continental Shelf generally may be—perhaps in volume terms up to 70 per cent. of our needs by the end of this decade—there is no doubt whatever that North Sea oil is exceedingly expensive to get and will be correspondingly expensive to supply. Nor does North Sea oil yet, at any rate, promise any relief from major dependence on imports from abroad. About a quarter or one-third of our crude oil consumption goes to industry mainly through power generation. That in turn needs heavy fuels which North Sea oil is, on the whole, too light conveniently to produce, except as a mix with heavier imported crude oil from overseas.
Then, coal. Its place in the energy equation has been transformed. Then there was a buyers' market; to-day it is a sellers' market. Now there is a world shortage of coking coal for the steel industry. Proven world resources which have also been measured amount to 460,000 million tons of coal, which dwarfs, in a proportion of five to one, the proven oil resources of the world 590 standing at 55,000 million tons. At the same time as all this, Western Europe faces a gigantic energy deficit. According to studies by the O.E.C.D., by 1990 this deficit in the Common Market will be of the order of 1,500 million tons of coal equivalent a year, and for Western Europe as a whole, including Britain, somewhere between 2,700 million and 3,000 million tons of coal equivalent. Yet in the face of that both European and British output has been allowed to fall by something like 170 million tons a year over the last 15 years. The annual production has gone down by about 85 million tons a year in this country and approximately the same in the Common Market. Little wonder, then, that the O.E.C.D. Energy Committee only a matter of weeks ago received and accepted a study urging special measures in Europe to increase coal imports. But if that points up a European opportunity for the British coal industry, surely there is another within Britain itself. Over the decade from 1960 to 1970 coal use in Britain fell 25 per cent. while electricity generation rose 40 per cent. and oil consumption rose 100 per cent. So now that the place of coal in the energy equation has been radically altered it is really bound to be a question of price as to how it makes the most of this opportunity.
British energy prices compared with those for Western Europe are considerably higher. Compared with those for France they are about 15 per cent. higher, with those for Germany 23 per cent. and with those for Benelux nearly 30 per cent. On the other hand, within Britain oil prices since 1962 have gone up 27 per cent., gas 20 per cent., but coal 55 per cent. It is quite clear that if coal is to seize the opportunity which is now ahead of it, and if the industry is to be restored to a sensible and prudent place in the economy both of this country and of Western Europe, the price of coal has got to be limited, or at any rate its rise must be arrested.
Therefore, my Lords, the coal industry's chance of seizing the present opportunity depends upon keeping the price at any rate under some restraint, while also increasing productivity, whether it be by further measures of organisation and mechanisation, or whether it means also by resorting to hydrogenation and gasification. But these matters call for a 591 flexible British Government fuel policy, consciously enunciated and comprehensible to everybody concerned; something that is based on contemporary rather than historical fact, for five years ago, my Lords, is now history. The purpose of a fuel policy must be to secure maximum effort to ensure the optimum development of all indigenous resources, be they oil and gas offshore or nuclear at home, and, finally, coal. The problem is in part one of machinery as well as one of purpose; the need is for a means of reconciling short-term economic and commercial objectives with long-term technical supply problems.
My Lords, I have only one practical contribution to make to this debate, and I put this idea to the Government for their consideration. I suggest that they should think about having a mechanism for fuel not unlike the Annual Farm Price Review. I suggest that annually there should be a close study, so that costs, demand and indigenous production may be intelligently equated with total needs. Given a flexible, realistic and, above all, comprehensible fuel policy, framed and annually adjusted in such a way one would surely have the context for an intelligent settlement of this strike, for which I cannot but believe both the National Union of Mineworkers and the National Coal Board are most eager to find a formula.
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ LORD SHINWELL
My Lords, in January, 1947, the coal-mining industry became public property. It was preceded by a vigorous campaign against nationalisation, supported, as one might expect, by the Conservative Party, and assisted materially and financially by the private coal owners of the country. At that time, a year or two after the war, the coal-mining industry was in a derelict condition. That was inevitable, because during the five years of the war hardly anything was done in order to meet the natural ravages associated with underground operations. Nevertheless, following the appointment of the Greene Tribunal, compensation to the private coal owners was assessed at approximately £350 million. It was not my decision; it was left to the assessors associated with the Greene Tribunal.
592 As I have said, the industry was in a derelict condition, but the private coal owners, who were about to receive some £350 million by way of compensation, if not mollified were at any rate moderately pleased. If the industry had not been taken over by the State, it would not have raised half that sum in the market. Indeed, nationalisation of the coal industry in 1947 was a blessing to many private coal owners who before the Second World War, with the industry privately owned, were at their wits' end to make even the barest margin of profit. So, from the standpoint of many private coal owners, nationalisation of the British coal industry was not, after all, such a bad thing.
But what followed? Because of the derelict state of the industry, the failure to meet the obvious ravages associated with underground operations, the absence of any injection of new machinery, the fact that inadequate equipment was being operated, it was necessary for the National Coal Board to embark on a vast volume of expenditure for the purposes of rationalisation and mechanisation. In fact—because we might as well put this matter in its proper perspective —over the twenty-five years of public ownership of the British coalmining industry there has been expended no less a sum than £1,200 million for the purposes of new equipment directed to mechanisation. But that is not all. Over the years there has been an average expenditure on depreciation of round about £60 million annually. The raising of vast sums of this character is by no means an easy task, particularly for a publicly-owned industry. Those concerned meet with prejudice, with bias, with resentment, with opposition, with hostility from those who dislike the nationalisation concept. So the Government had to come to the assistance of the National Coal Board, and it is precisely because of the vast volume of expenditure for the purpose of enabling the mining industry to continue, if not to flourish, that we are now confronted with this position. That is what it is all about.
Something was said on the other side, I think by the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, about the decision of a previous Government to write off a loss of something like £450 million. But when we 593 take into account what the Coal Board have had to borrow and expend for the purpose of maintaining a deteriorating industry, what has been described as almost a dying industry, we realise how desperate the situation was for the National Coal Board, for the mining industry, but also for successive Governments. Those Governments had to decide whether the coalmining industry should continue. There were in the last 20 years or so many reports on the question of fuel policy. Perhaps the most egregious blunder—and I will not single out any particular Government because practically all Governments have been responsible—was that they failed to promote an effective and efficient fuel policy. The noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, has referred to the various fuel components—oil, natural gas, nuclear energy, coal and the like. Of course, if, following nationalisation, Governments had taken account of the potential of nuclear energy in peace time, the prospects of oil development, of natural gas, of electricity generation and the like, with the addition of coal production, and had co-ordinated the whole of the fuel components into a fuel policy, we might have avoided the present desperate situation.
But that is a very large subject. I will only add one word to that aspect of the matter, and it is a personal word. I was responsible for piloting the nationalisation Bill and also the Electricity Supply Bill through Parliament, and then there was what was called a fuel crisis. I find it very amusing now when people speak of the fuel crisis of 1947. There has been a crisis ever since. Almost every Government have been faced with aspects of the crisis, and have been at their wits' end how to solve it, in spite of the good weather, unlike that of 1947. It is a very interesting subject. Perhaps one day the whole truth will be unfolded when the contents of Cabinet papers can be exposed. But leave that alone for the time being. It does not help very much, anyhow, to dilate unduly on the past. Let us deal with the present situation.
I want to say to noble Lords opposite, with the greatest respect—they are entitled to their opinions as noble Lords on this side of the House are—that some of the speeches delivered on the Government side of the House will create more bitterness than ever among the miners, if 594 they are read by miners and known to miners. Take note of the nature of the speeches. Of course, there have been some sympathetic overtones and undertones, murmurs; I think that characterises the nature of the sympathy—murmurs. We could have done very well without them, particularly the sympathy that seemed to ooze out of the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe. He was really anxious to help, if only he could, but the wind does not blow in the proper direction. He reminded me of the old saying:It is all very well to dissemble your love, but why did you kick me downstairs?That is how it struck me. It did not help very much. We had similar speeches, but always covered by an interpretation of the facts which was quite inaccurate, quite unrealistic, but nevertheless the sort of material that suffices for propaganda against the mining community and indeed against national ownership.
But we had something else: we had suggestions about how to solve the problem. I want to direct attention to that. How do you solve the problem? "Oh, it is as easy as falling off a log. All we have to do is ask the Secretary of State for industry or employment, or what-have-you, in the Government, to call all the parties together "—just like that. But what is he going to say to them? We had the answer from the other side of your Lordships' House this afternoon and this evening: that it would mean inflation if the National Coal Board increased the offer even by a small margin. Besides, it might encourage the others, because there are several demands in the pipeline and they will want their share beyond 7 per cent. or even 8 per cent. So suppose that Mr. Carr and Mr. Davies convene a conference of representatives from the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers, and they sit round a table. So far as the miners are concerned, what is going to be said to them except "Unconditional surrender"? This is the very bones of the Government's policy.
That brings me to the Motion proposed by my noble friend Lord Blyton, in what I must say was a most powerful speech. What does that Motion convey? Just this: that if anybody is responsible for the present situation, it is the Government. There can be no challenge against that. There has been an attempt 595 to challenge it by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas. We are, in effect, discussing what is to happen to a large body of men, 250,000 or so of them, who, even if some of them are doing very well with £25 or £30 a week—less deductions, but leave that aside—are certainly not, on the whole, living in luxury. To hear some noble Lords on the other side speak you would imagine the miners were living in luxury. One noble Lord (I forget who) seemed to argue that the conditions underground were not so bad after all. He sometimes goes down the pit, he declared. But I, too, have gone down the pit, not to work but to see what is happening. There is pandemonium, with the dust, the atmosphere, the potential danger and all the rest of it.
I do not want to be emotional, as some of my colleagues have been, in dealing with this matter; they have worked in the pits and I have not. I am dealing with facts. But I want to say here that it does not lie in the mouths of noble Lords opposite, some—I know not all of them—with more than £10,000 a year, some with £15,000 a year and £20,000 a year, or in the mouth of Mr. Ezra, or any other Chairman of the National Coal Board in recent years with £17,500 or £20,000 a year, to ask miners to accept the kind of conditions they are now facing. Indeed, I go so far as to say to noble Lords opposite—and I am not saying this in an unfriendly way; I have no feeling of malice towards them, but it is wrong ideas with which I disagree —that if they had any real respect for themselves and any real consideration and sympathy for the miners in their present plight, despite what is happening, all the talk about safety and the rest of it, and picketing, those with £10,000 a year would abstain rather than vote against the reasonable proposition put before your Lordships' House by my noble friend Lord Blyton. They would stay out of it and let the Government "stew in their own juice", because the Government's own juice is responsible for the present situation.
I am sorry that the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, is not present now. I do not like to speak behind anybody's back; I prefer to have them before me, but it cannot be helped. I know that this is dinner time, and that is the reason for the 596 wide open spaces, not the fact that it happens to be I who am addressing your Lordships' House. I do not suppose that it was deliberate at all. The noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, tells us, "This, of course, is all part of the Government's incomes policy." The Government pretend they have not got an incomes policy. They say: "No, we have not got an incomes policy. We are not tied down to any particular kind of incomes policy"—except, that is, when it comes to deciding what should be the rates of pay, and what the increases in emoluments in a nationalised industry should be. Then they have something to say. What they have said is, "In order to avoid all the iniquities associated with inflation, those who are engaged in the public sector, and in this instance those engaged in the coal-mining industry, can have no more than 7 per cent. "That is the position. We have had some speeches to-day dealing with incomes policy. I regarded them very largely as an academic exercise. There were some excellent speeches. One would have thought this was an economic debate, and nothing to do with the mining industry or a strike, or with safety provisions in the mines, but just an academic exercise. Are the Government going to promote an incomes policy? Of course they are not—except in this situation. That is the position.
Now a few final words. How is this situation. There may be a shortage of speakers on the other side—and I take note of it—say that it is a very serious situation. There may a shortage of power; there may be redundancies, and many thousands of people will be thrown out of work. Not that I think that would matter to the Government; they have already thrown out of work a million. It has become almost a habit with them! But this is what they say: "This is a very desperate situation". How are we to deal with it? To ask the miners to give way? I doubt whether that is going to happen. They may ask them, but I think the response will be in the negative, particularly after some of the speeches from the opposite Benches this afternoon and this evening. If the Government stick to that policy, then I do not see any solution to this problem. So the question is: are the Government going to give way? Are the Government going to say to the National Coal Board, "We 597 recognise that there are financial difficulties, and we are going to come to your assistance."?
How could they come to their assisance? Just look at the figures. The National Coal Board made a profit last year of £33 million, apart from the payment of interest. What was the interest? Just about the same amount. Interest on what? Interest on the loans borrowed from the Government for the express and explicit purpose of providing conditions which would enable the industry to survive. That was the position. The remarkable factor about this—and apparently it has not been noted by noble Lords—is that pits have been closed in cases where vast amounts have been spent on new equipment. I cannot offer any figures, but I am certain that many millions have been spent on providing mechanisation and various equipment in pits, only to discover that they had to close. And yet interest is being paid on the loans borrowed from the Government for those purposes.
It is not a question of complete capital reconstruction, as is suggested by some of my noble friends. It is merely a question of adjusting the situation in order to meet what might be regarded as a temporary difficulty. That could be done. It may be argued that the demands made by the National Union of Mineworkers could not be met. Perhaps they have asked for too much. It may well be so. But it is possible for the National Coal Board to come closer to the demands of the National Union of Mineworkers, so long as the Government leave the ring clear. That is what I am asking the Government to do. They should leave the ring clear for the National Coal Board and let the Board have the opportunity of adjusting its financial position in the light of what has happened in recent years, because of its vicissitudes which were inevitable in the circumstances, as I have ventured to demonstrate. Let them do that, and there will then be a possibility of avoiding cuts in our electricity supply and further redundancies and more unemployment on the railways and the like.
I do not say that we can reach a solution of this problem, any more than we seem to be able to reach a solution of any problem. But let us make the effort. Unless the Government are prepared to do that, I can see this dispute lasting 598 for much longer than any of us would desire, bringing more trouble and misery and anguish in its train. An effort should be made to avoid that. It will not be avoided by the Government simply holding firm and saying, "No. The National Coal Board have decided, and we stand by them", so that the miners must either surrender or suffer. That will not do. I am not indulging in any threat against the Government, because that is not my business. I cannot speak for the National Union of Mineworkers. But I judge by the attitude of the men, by the bitterness, by how harshly they feel about the position, that this may mean a very tragic situation not only for the mineworkers and the National Coal Board, not only for the mining industry, but also for the country. I ask the Government to sit up and take notice.
§ 8.23 p.m.
THE EARL OF DUDLEY
My Lords, the noble Earl and other speakers have affirmed that this House remembers and honours the miners' contribution to British history. They have shown great qualities in peace and war. They produce our most valuable indigenous raw material. As the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, said, they have courage and endurance at the coal face or on strike and they are passionately loyal. In their present difficulties they now also need to display their judgment and common sense. These abilities will be increasingly put to the test as to-day the strike moves into its fourth week, giving this debate an extra significance. The noble Lord, Lord Blyton, is doing a service to his fellow mineworkers with his Motion, although I do not agree with it and think it could have been better worded. It is too abstract and academic for this highly-charged issue. Fortunately, any debate about the coal industry was sure to uncork a whole vintage jeroboam of heady rhetoric and fragrant reminiscence from the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, which, as usual, noble Lords thoroughly enjoyed.
§ LORD DIAMOND
My Lords, does the noble Earl not generally find when he opens his jeroboam, that what comes out of it is sparkling?
THE EARL OF DUDLEY
My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord and I am not suggesting anything else. I used the word "vintage", too. I am not quite sure what worried the noble Lord 599 so much about the balance sheet of the N C.B. He said that there has been £1,200 million of capital expenditure since nationalisation. The fixed assets of the N.C.B. are now £1,200 million. That is the latest balance-sheet figure. The old assets purchased for £350 million have been fully depreciated in just over 24 years. There is nothing extraordinary or unusual about those figures, and similar ones can be found in the balance sheet of any company.
I do not agree with the Motion, because this is one strike which cannot be laid at the door of 10 Downing Street or at any other Ministerial door. The dispute is over weekly minimum wages; that is, the rate for the lowest grade male manual workers in the coal industry. Of the six best paid groups of this category of worker in industry, in the league table from which the noble Lord, Lord Blyton, quoted, five are in the public sector and one is in the private sector. Of the 24 best paid groups, 11 are in the public sector as against 13 in the private sector. So it cannot be argued in this instance that the public sector has been unfairly treated compared with the private sector, nor that uncontrolled or excessive wage increases in the latter have influenced wage demands in the public sector. In reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, I must say that Government intervention in the public sector, or non-intervention in the private sector, does not apply here.
I listened carefully to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Blyton, and concluded from his remarks that he thinks the miners' claim is fair. If so, it is beyond my comprehension how the Government's incomes policy can be the cause of the strike, because the claim is out of all proportion to what the Board say they can afford to pay; and is much in excess of what would be the norm of any incomes policy, even one formulated by noble Lords opposite. It would, in the Board's view, place the industry for a long time in the position of having to receive an annual subsidy from public funds. Is this what the advocates of nationalisation wish to achieve—a loss-making public sector financed and subsidised by the private sector? Is that the economic plan for recovery by the N.U.M. and the T.U.C.? Is that the noble Lord's formula for fighting inflation and stimulating investment? Or could 600 it perhaps be the stratagem of those who aim to disrupt the British economy from political motives, credulously swallowed hook, line and sinker in all innocence by noble Lords opposite?
Maybe the noble Lord really thinks that the Union has opened its mouth a bit too wide. Privately, perhaps he calculates that they have taken up a negotiating position. If it is in his mind that the claim is out of proportion to present realities, then his reasoning must be that it is being pressed by the Union because of the lack of an incomes policy. This presupposes that the law of the jungle rules over wage negotiations. That may be so, and the Government have sought to correct the situation by the Industrial Relations Act. Noble Lords opposite never suggested that the Act does not go far enough. They always said that it goes too far. But noble Lords now seem to say that this Government should legislate not only for the machinery of wage negotiation, but also for the results.
The noble Lord, Lord Delacourt-Smith, mentioned the Prices and Incomes Board, so he must have in mind reinforcing voluntary agreement with legislation. Have noble Lords opposite the backing of the N.U.M. or the T.U.C. for this suggestion? If the noble Lord and his friends keep on like this, the T.U.C. may have to look to this Government to look after the T.U.C.'s interests. The noble Earl has outlined the Government's attitude towards statutory or voluntary incomes policies. I have in previous debates voiced my own objections to a statutory incomes policy, although I should like there to be, pace the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, wider statutory control over prices in the interest of the consumer. I see these powers as a deterrent and as seldom used. But the Government have preferred to rely on the C.B.I. voluntary agreement—more successful than I expected, but about whose long-term effectiveness I have doubts.
Changes in the general level of prices in the coal industry are a matter for consultation between the Coal Board and the Government, and this fact no doubt weighs heavily in the Board's calculations. Of course, I am in no position to know whether the Board have got their sums right: nor, I suspect, is the noble Lord, Lord Blyton. All I know is that 601 the Board say their offer is based on the maximum estimated to be available before meeting interest charges on public funds, and that beyond that they are governed by the terms of the Coal Nationalisation Act. The Secretary of State evidently agreed with the Board's estimates when he said concisely in another place:The Board pre-empted a 2-cwt.—almost a 5 per cent.—increase in productivity.The offer, if accepted, would at best leave the industry in a break-even position; but noble Lords opposite say that the mineworkers should be a special case.
The noble Lord, Lord Blyton, said that the way to find the money was to have another capital reconstruction scheme. I listened carefully to his financial proposals, and concluded that "capital reconstruction" is a euphemism for a further cheque from the Government to cover past losses and a blank cheque for future losses. The noble Lord said that it would be said from this side that this is a subsidy. Of course it is a subsidy—and I will say why. The total loans outstanding are about £675 million, and interest charges are £36 million. Even if all loans were written off and all interest charges abolished, it would only go under one-third of the way to meet the miners' claim. So I put the position again fair and square to the noble Lord: assuming the Board's estimates are near the mark, and if the offer is inadequate, does he think that mineworkers' wages should be partly subsidised by the taxpayer? Or would he prefer a further price increase, to fall on the general body of consumers? These are questions which require to be answered in the course of this debate, and in the context of this Motion.
The Motion misfires because it tries to establish a connection where none exists, between Government incomes policy and the strike. In fact, the Government bear about as much responsibility for the strike as the noble Lord himself, if not less, and a great deal less than the noble Lord's friends on the Union Executive. I think the noble Lord impaired his Motion by trying to find a scapegoat. So many causes, deep-seated and of longstanding, contributed to the strike that it is a waste of time to try to pin responsibility on any one of them. I could mention the poverty of the mineworkers, and the risks many of them run; our 602 low wage economy, which we hope to improve by membership of the E.E.C.; the decline of the coalmining industry, and of its relative importance in a modern industrial economy; the degree of efficiency of public sector industries; and, last but not least, the stubbornness of the Union Executive. I would not single out the actions of the Executive but for the fact that, since the result of the strike ballot was announced on December 2 last year, no opportunity has been given by it for moderate opinion in the membership to express its views, despite the Executive receiving two further improved offers from the Board since that date. Although the militant faction in the Union membership is not large—some 10,000 out of a total of about 280,000 mine workers, or 3½ per cent.—the militants comprise nearly 50 per cent. of the Executive and are able to control it; and the General Secretary, Mr. Daly, can truthfully be described as a militant.
What worries me about Mr. Daly's activities since December 2 is that he appears to have been digging in—in the military rather than the mining sense. He brought down harassing fire on any fresh approach from the Board. He quoted distorted figures to millions of viewers on television, apparently to gain sympathy for the miners. And his most constructive public contribution was to say that the strike will end when the Board accept the miners' claim—and that, in reply to the noble Lord, is the call for unconditional surrender.
I cannot believe that moderate opinion in the membership sees much merit in these tactics, or that it does not regret giving such wide powers to the Executive to take to the negotiating table. At that table the Union representatives turned down an offer which would have raised the gross rate at the lowest level to over £20 per week, out of which no man would have taken home less than £15 per week —and in view of the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Delacourt-Smith, about £18 a week, I will give details about take-home pay. In fact, if the offer had been accepted, the number taking home between £15 and £16 would be 3,000; the number taking home £16 would be 8,000, and the number taking home £17 would be 34,000, including the 11,000 already mentioned. Now 603 the T.U.C. urge that the minimum wage throughout industry should be £20 per week. They must surely rate this figure as a living wage; or are they suggesting that their members should receive less than a living wage? After taking into account allowances in kind, such as concessionary coal and housing, worth £2.13 tax-free per week, the mineworkers' average minimum wage would then be third in this league table, at over £22 per week (so I am a bit up on the noble Earl and well up on the noble Lord, Lord Blyton) and these earnings could have been improved if the productivity increase reached 3 cwt. more per shift. I think that the Executive underrated the productivity offer: but it is not generally realised outside industry how difficult productivity agreements are to negotiate, or to have measured and accepted on the shop floor or down the mine.
The gap between the improved offer and the Union's claim is still very wide —£6 per week for surface workers, £3.10 per week for face and contract workers and £7 a week for other underground workers. Because the gap will be so hard to bridge, I fear the strike is likely to be even more prolonged, ruinous to the industry, disastrous for the miners and a grievous blow to the national economy, unless moderates in the Union prevail over the militants. The point has already been reached where hardships must outweigh the possible gains; and I should like to mention and place on record that, despite this, it is to the very great credit of the miners that they have agreed to keep running essential supplies of coal to hospitals, and are still doing so.
I ask my noble friends and their right honourable friends in another place to take the initiative by appealing with all the media at their command over the heads of the militants to the great body of moderate opinion within the N.U.M. The public, too, are entitled to know the facts. Emotional response to the miners and sympathy with them has obscured the real issues. And if noble Lords doubt this, I ask them whether the mineworkers would still be receiving the same sympathy and attention from the public if they had accented the Board's 7.9 per cent. offer, like the gas operatives, who last week, instead of calling an 604 "inevitable" strike, accepted a 7½ per cent. offer with the minimum of publicity. Some people believe that public opinion will not be alienated from the militants until the effects of the strike and of coal shortages begin to bite. It would be heartless and senseless to wait for that to happen. The Government must act now with a view to winning over the public and men of moderation within the union. These last are the men to whom the country must look to end the strike, by their accepting that the Board's offer, or thereabouts, would be realistic and even fair having regard to the viability of the industry, and following upon a 12½ per cent. increase in wages last year.
Finally. I should like to say this to noble Lords opposite. I have no prejudices because my family on both sides were colliery owners. Incidentally, the Florence of Florence Colliery, Staffordshire, now so much in the news, was my great-aunt Florence Leveson-Gower. By coincidence, when I put my name forward to speak in this debate I received a thesis, 595 pages long, from a Mr. T. J. Raybould, prepared in 1970 for the degree of Ph.D. in the University of Kent, entitled, "The Dudley Estate—Its rise and its decline between 1774 and 1947". should like to quote one brief passage from it for the benefit of the noble Lord, Lord Milford:Economically the estate served as a buttress in times of depression—particularly in the extent to which it afforded credit to local iron-masters and mine tenants who would otherwis6 have gone into liquidation; creating further economic and social hardship. In an area which depended for its livelihood on such basic and complementary industries as coal and wrought iron. laissez faire for the employees of the Dudley Estate meant regular employment, relatively high wages, safe working conditions and no truck system. These factors served to Influence other coal and iron masters to the good.The noble Lord, Lord Blyton, may accept, after hearing this comment from a disinterested party, that there was a tradition in my family up to nationalisation of caring for miners and their welfare. It is also a fact that my grandfather piloted the Workmen's Compensation Act through this House. So I speak to-day in full awareness and sympathy for the very real sufferings of coal miners and with the hope that my words will not exacerbate the dispute but serve to put some of its causes into proper perspective.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ BARONESS SUMMERSKILL
My Lords, I must apologise to the noble Earl who has just spoken for not having heard the whole of his speech. I was called to a patient. When he hears that the patient was attending the Primrose League Dinner, I am sure he will forgive me. I gather from what he has been saying that he has been trying to explain to the House why the miners should not have an increase greater than the 7 per cent. that has been offered them. I thought that I heard him say as I came in that those who expect them to have more than 7 per cent. are militants. I can only say to the noble Earl that I must put myself in the category of "militant" because I want to put a case to the House which I believe is unanswerable.
There are certain aspects of the coal industry which make it unique in the industrial world. Those aspects are not being considered by the National Coal Board and are not being considered by the Government; and noble Lords like the noble Earl who has just spoken who know a lot about the mining industry brush them aside as though they are of little interest. I speak as a doctor. Frankly, I was astonished when I looked at television last week and saw Mr. Ezra, with a complete lack of understanding and compassion, say—and I wrote this down in my own home—that he wanted to run a successful enterprise, looked at entirely from the point of view of industry and what it can afford on the basis of improved productivity. He seemed to have forgotten that he is dealing with a notoriously hazardous occupation in which the workers are daily exposed to the risk of injury and even death and to the chance of contracting certain distressing diseases.
I think I am right when I say that this industry is unique in this respect. If there must be mining—and I deplore the fact that there is mining—and if the extraction of fuel must be done in this primitive fashion, we must recognise the human sacrifices entailed and endeavour however inadequately—and if they gave 8 per cent., 9 per cent., 10 per cent., 11 per cent., or 12 per cent. it would still be inadequate for this job—to compensate these men for the risks they run of injuries and permanent loss of health. The noble 606 EARL may say that if they do die of pneumoconiosis, then, so long as it is complete pneumoconiosis, their widows will be compensated in some small manner. But I am talking about the risks that these men face every day of their lives. Let us think of the beginning of their lives—and the noble Earl is familiar with the sight of the miners coming out of the pits. In the first place, for lack of alternative occupation, boys who still have three or four or five years to complete their growth are compelled to work in conditions which are calculated to stunt that growth; for in winter during their working days they may seldom see daylight. They may get up in darkness, work in darkness and go home in darkness. In the days of the noble Earl's grandfather these were 10 year olds or 12 year olds—tiny boys! Indeed, in the last century women crawled on their knees, naked, with chains round their waists. That was the consideration given by the coal owners of the past to the people in this industry!
Furthermore, my Lords, in what other occupation are the workers forced to toil in such cramped position, to assume such unnatural postures as they crawl along under the low roof? Is there another such industry? I say that this is unique. These conditions, combined with strenuous physical effort, are responsible for the high incidence of arthritis. What a simple disease, it may be said. My Lords, those who have had arthritis will know that it is accompanied by chronic pain for which doctors have not found a cure, chronic pain which accompanies the victim into his retirement. Then, during the whole of their lives—and this, I am sure, has been mentioned before—while they are compelled to tolerate these conditions there is the risk of accidents, of fire, of entombment and even of sudden death; because they are captive workers in a mining village which offers no alternative employment. Some go to other forms of employment; but most of these men have had to endure these appalling conditions because there is no alternative.
During the war the recognition of the dangerous character of mining led to conscripts being offered the alternative of working in the pits. What other industry was regarded as involving dangers equal to service in the front line? The noble 607 EARL and other noble Lords talked about keeping the increase to 7 per cent. I repeat: what other industry was regarded as involving dangers equal to service in the front line? Furthermore, I should like to know how death and disablement are costed in the accounts of the National Coal Board. Indeed, this question can be asked of industry as a whole; for the callous disregard of authority for those who work in industry is a national disgrace. More than 500 men lost their lives in industrial accidents in 1970; over 300,000 non-fatal accidents were reported to the factory inspectors. We moan and groan about men who strike and we say that the country is losing money; but the total number of working days lost through industrial injuries was nearly three times the number lost through industrial disputes and strikes. But management rarely concerns itself with this tragic picture because accident prevention does not improve the balance sheet, I know that there are a few outstanding exceptions; but how many managements are truly concerned with this loss of life? Surely—this seems to me a curious business contradiction—the effect of the maintenance of plant and machinery is to give a worthwhile return. We know that management devotes money to the upkeep of the machinery. Then why are human lives less valuable? The high cost of not caring results in expensive strikes, and one of those strikes we have to-day. But the public, the men and women I have asked, are in sympathy with the miners. The strike has resulted because there has not been sufficient caring for these men.
The House will forgive me if I give one or two other figures that I want to get on the record. The Factory Inspectorate report that in 1971 there were 69 fatal accidents in the mines, despite the fact that 600 pits have been closed. If I am wrong about that number, my miner friends will correct me. There were 600 pits closed, yet in 1971, when we are told that things are improving, 69 men lost their lives and there were 635 serious reportable accidents. The Chief Inspector of Mines reports that in 1968 there were 784 new cases of pneumoconiosis. The measure of this distressing and progressive disease may be assessed only by periodic X-rays. I would invite Mr.
608 Ezra and the Secretary of State to read and digest the contents of page 45 of Volume 1 of the latest Coal Board report before they again assert that productivity alone should determine the miner's reward for his services to the community.
The figures reveal—and I was shocked to read them, because we are always being told that things in the pits are much better (the noble Earl himself said so to-day)—that 26.6 per cent. of miners examined in West Wales and 20.9 per cent. in East Wales were suffering from some category of pneumoconiosis. In North Durham the figure was 15.9 per cent., in Doncaster 12 per cent. and in North Yorkshire 11 per cent. It is of little comfort to a miner to be told that dust standards have been set which should not be exceeded, when the effectiveness of these standards is unknown. I do not know whether the noble Earl knows this, but these standards have not been changed since 1949. Why is that? Where is all this caring we are told about? The dust standards in 1972 are the same as in 1949. Is it surprising that the degree of pneumoconiosis is so high?
The fact is that while there has been some improvement since twenty years ago, the rate of improvement has been slowed down by mechanisation. We shall be told about water which is used in the pits in order to reduce the incidence of dust. I have asked experts and I am told that, with mechanisation, the amount of dust has increased and the water has little effect. We hear a lot about water, just as we hear about pit baths, but when it comes to examining the incidence of disease among miners we see a shocking report. I would just say this to noble Lords: that while pit baths may provide a nice debating point and allow the miner to clean his skin and make himself look much sweeter when he goes home to his wife, unfortunately science has not devised any means whereby the dust in a man's lungs may be washed out. That dust is killing men to-day as it did 25, 50 and 100 years ago. That, my Lords, is why I say to the House that this industry is unique. The National Coal Board and the Government should have compassion and recognise that, and increase the miserable sum which they are now offering to these fine men.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ LORD DAVIES OF LEEK
My Lords, I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, because I went out for a moment during her speech. But I have sat through, I should think, over 90 per cent. of the debate so far and I have found it fascinating, loaded with facts which it would bore the House to reiterate. But facts are not really the anatomy of truth; it is the interpretation of them that counts. The noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, made an excellent and constructive suggestion at the end of his speech which I hope I may remember to come back to. I have heard it said that we cannot deal with history, and that all these things are past. But that is a ridiculous attitude because it is as a result of history that we are suffering from many of the problems confronting the Coal Board to-day. Take the establishment and the nationalisation of the pits. I had the honour to be a Member of the House of Commons when the pits were nationalised. I had the honour to be a member of the Turner Committee and, with my colleague who has passed away, who was then the honourable Member for Abertillery, George Dunhill, I went round all the mining areas of Britain to study this mighty problem of mining subsidence and the rack and ruin it created in the industrial areas.
I pick up one constructive suggestion from my noble friend Lord Taylor of Mansfield about the Turner Committee's Report. I do not wish to sound pompous, but I may say, having been a member of that Committee, that we travelled round the countryside for two years and we produced a Report very quickly. We visited the areas of local authorities which have suffered from mining subsidence, including Dudley and the famous area there which has made a great contribution to British engineering and mining. We saw how local authorities in whose area coal was produced had suffered as the result of damage to properties, including homes, farms and mansions. I suggested, and the suggestion was followed up, that this debt should be borne by the country generally.
I was fortunate enough to live in the mountains above the smoke. We were farmers and colliers but we brought the lovely pit ponies up to the farms when there were strikes. I liked that, but I 610 did not then realise the bitter heritage of strikes. I sincerely believe that some Government—the Labour Government should have done it—should look again at the Turner Committee Report, and take from every ton of coal the cost of mining subsidence. I will pick up a constructive part of the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, which I liked. The noble Earl suggested that it might be worth while if we could do for the miners what is done for the farmers. I am interested in farming and the Annual Price Review. What is there to stop the trade union movement, the Coal Board, the Government and others who are interested from looking at the pros and cons and the cost of coal every year, and producing an annual review of our coal prices? This might give great satisfaction to the Miners' Union as it does to the Farmers' Union.
I should like to pick up another point made in the debate which I think needs emphasising. No matter how much we ululate, we have no fuel policy. For all the talk and for all the Governments which have been in power since the public ownership of the mines, we have not had the courage to work out a national fuel policy. I want to remind my noble friend Lord Blyton that he led a delegation to Europe, and I was with him, in connection with the Steel and Coal Community. He was very knowledgeable on this matter. I put all my cards on the table, for I was against going into the Community, but I was not against gaining much of the constructive knowledge which evolved from it. It was evident then that we should have been working—most of my noble friends who are Europeans and I—towards that Community and pressing for a national fuel policy or a European policy.
Nearly all the statistics have been given in the debate to-day. A mistake was made in that White Paper. Those of us who know something about the industry were against limitation and the rapid closing down of pits. They were closed down almost like a concertina. We have suffered as a consequence because someone had the bright idea that North Sea gas and supplies of oil would be cheap for ever. They must have travelled, but probably they were blind to the facts of life. As someone said 611 the other night, the Arab will not for ever live in a tent. That is a loose expression, but it summarises the problem of oil throughout the world, for the Arab wants to have a higher standard of life.
Now I have to criticise the society in which we live. We live in an acquisitive society and the answers have never been found. It is no good looking back into history. I will tell the House what I was reading last night, digging for gold in the old Macmillan Report, the May Report of 1931 and the famous finance report in which Ernie Bevin gave information to trade unions in 1931. That could have been written to-day. There was the same problem of coal and productivity and no one has come up with the answers.
We have reached a time in society, call it by any ism or asm or any ology one likes, when mankind is forced to look at the organisation of production on planned lines. I shall not use the word "socialism". The United States of America is forced to do this and also the European Economic Community. In other words, the old laissez-faire system of society is as dead as the dodo if mankind wants to survive. I shall not go into the modern "in"phrases about Doomwatch and all, that, but that is true about pollution and what is going on. I ask myself, what is the problem? We can spike it down to find the answer. It is a simple question, but the trouble with simple questions is that they are always difficult to answer.
The coal industry last year produced 133,000,315 tons of coal at an average price of £5.84 a ton, and coal is costing some people £20 a ton. People are crying out about the price of a bag of coal for old age pensioners. Why cannot the miners get a living wage? I was surprised to hear the tycoon of the Savings Certificates, the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, give a dissertation on how much a man can live on and the comforts of working in a pit. He was down one, but I bet it was not when there was machinery in it, for it would have frightened him to death. We now have 34,500 miners on £18 a week, 29,000 on £19 a week, 5,800 craftsmen on £21.70, 7,400 ultra craftsmen on £23.62 and 10.500 men in the pits on £22.75. After January 1, under 612 parity there would have been 25,000 men on £30 a week but they would be in good places. There is the truth about wages. That is the maximum. Can they earn more by overtime and by getting nystagmus or more dust? I was glad that my noble friend spoke about pneumoconiosis. for 26 per cent. of the 7,443 men in the West Wales area, where some of the toughest coal in the world is produced get pneumoconiosis while working with machinery.
It was very unfair of a noble Lord, for whom we all have great respect and who has done a good job for the nation in National Savings—and I have just as much right to make cracks about that as anyone has to make cracks about "sentimental tones"used by my noble friend Lord Shinwell and others who have devoted their lives to these problems. If we find stiff-necked attitudes over these problems I have as much right to criticise them as others have to criticise what they call an over-sentimental attitude. The noble Lord even brought in the National Savings certificates. My noble friend Lord Maelor and I know that when those certificates were first introduced, many miners collected them with their miner's lamp. They were collected to pay a little mortgage on a house, sometimes £100 or £200 a house. I sometimes saw what happened to those savings. When I was about seven years of age—I shall remember this to my dying day —I was up in St. Gwynedd and three of my uncles were down the pit. We were up on the side of the mountain and we could almost look down into the pit. My aunt was in bed dying of cancer and my mother was nursing her. Four hundred and eight-nine men were killed there. Before very long that mountain was black with women waiting to make inquiries and for their men to come up out of the pit.
I want to see a more humane attitude in the Coal Board. We are getting so used to slide-rules, computers and graphs that human beings are becoming just dots on a logarithmic graph. I want to introduce into the Coal Board the right of miners' wives to ask where their Tom, Bill or Harry is if he has not come up after there has been a fall in the pit. In Stoke-on-Trent on New Year's Day some years ago I heard of wives being told to apply to Birmingham to find out 613 what had happened in a local pit. I hope that noble Lords will see what I am driving at. We must move the Coal Board from its smooth, high, haughty attitude towards the industry as a whole when it says, "Look at the statistics". I want to know how my brother Tom is if he is down the pit and has not come up after 24 hours. It is these simple things. Let us decentralise some of the human side of it, and we shall get a better attitude among the miners.
Lastly, I come to the Common Market —and nobody has mentioned this yet. It has been the policy to hive off anything in a public industry that is making money. The Labour Government were a bit frightened about it, but this Government have gone further. I think it was absolutely disgraceful, for instance, shoving back to public enterprise the poor little pubs in Carlisle. To think that a mighty Government would waste their time on a thing like that! But to-day, in the mines, we are not allowing the mines to develop and invent their own types of machinery to combat mining subsidence. They wanted to do it. They were stopped sometimes from doing their own repairs on mining subsidence, and they sub-contracted. In other words, in an area where mining subsidence was rife, much of the work was put out to private enterprise. The Coal Board could have saved tens of thousands of pounds if they had been allowed to do the job themselves. These factors are worth noting.
This is something that must be borne in mind when we go into the Common Market, because the European Community do not allow their pits to produce their own machinery; neither shall we be allowed to produce our own machinery. Much of the direction of these pits in Britain—and this should be seen to before we go into the Common Market—will come under the control of Brussels as a result of the Paris Treaty and as a result of our going into the Common Market. Consequently, we should be hammering away for a European and a national fuel policy. We talk about Europe and Britain: the European Coal and Steel Community, between 1952 and 1961, provided 121,593,713 dollars to re-employ 360,369 workers, of whom 310,252 were colliers. Why do I give those figures? I do it so that we should not isolate ourselves and pretend that we are the only people who evolved a system of sub- 614 sidising miners who moved when pits were closed. Do I make my point clear? In other words, the European Coal and Steel Community had a policy of ameliorating and easing the burden of the movement of miners inside their area. Somewhere in the neighbourhood of 227,733 colliers in Germany were subsidised in that way, and some 79,000 in Belgium were helped in the same way. In other words, this is not just something that a Labour Government have done. That backs up the statement I made earlier in this speech, that we have reached an age where we must plan. Even acquisitive nations like Germany, France and Belgium have had to deal with this problem in a special way.
We are asked why we should treat the mining industry in a special way. My noble friend Lady Summerskill has given some facts: out of 280,000 in the pits, according to the Report before the present one, 82,213 had industrial injuries requiring them to be away from work for more than three days. Out of more than 280,000 underground workers, 82,000, in rough figures, were away last year for more than three days, not because they were "tight"or went to the rugger match at Cardiff Arms Park or were watching rugby league, but because they were injured. So when we are asked why they should have special treatment, it is because during one year of work one-third of them have three days at least, and some three weeks, away from work through injury in the pit. It is different from other industry. When I look at my television I see a strong, clean-limbed boy learning how to use a tank as he should, and getting good money for it; and the caption suggests joining the Army for £18, £19, £20 and upwards a week. As was rightly and aptly pointed out by my noble friend Lady Summerskill, during the war the only job—with farming—that Bevin boys were allowed to go into was the pits, because of the danger of the occupation.
In other words we agreed then that it was a special occupation, and I think 90 per cent. of British people who know the mining industry or who have been anywhere near it would not resent the fact if any Government, be it Labour or Conservative, had the courage to re-assess the entire economy and even the Act. Because under that Act the Coal Board were placed in an invidious position. I 615 heard one noble Lord talk about business. The first Coal Board Report in 1946, from which I shall now read, made this point on page 125:A joint stock company could have covered part of the deficit on colliery workings by not distributing any dividends, but this expedient was not allowed to the Coal Board. The Coal Board must make repayments of capital and interest to the Government each year, whether good or bad.That should be eradicated from the public ownership Act.
I have spoken long enough, but I should have liked to analyse the whole position of the thousand million pounds or more that the Coal Board have had to pay out since 1946 on interest or dues, of which only £415 million, in a lump, more or less, was given only a year ago. However, I must not bore the House, and somewhere or other in some of the excellent speeches that we have heard to-day these figures may be found. What I am pleased about is that on both sides of the House there is great sympathy for these men, and I hope that noble Lords, never mind the semantics, will understand the humanity and the heart that lie behind the Motion moved by my noble friend to-night.
§ 9.17 p.m.
§ LORD TEVIOT
My Lords, in following the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, who is one of the most stimulating speakers in the House, I have to change from top gear down to second gear, otherwise I fall flat on my face. There is only one thing in his speech with which I disagreed and that was that he said that nobody had mentioned the Common Market. I can name three of my noble friends who did so. Now to my own speech. I think we must be very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Blyton, for giving us this opportunity for discussing this serious current crisis. I will reiterate —it cannot be reiterated too often—that this House is extremely fortunate in having so many noble Lords who have so much mining experience. The reason for my brief intervention is that for six years I was privileged to be what is known as "a working man" and a trade union member. Therefore I have not found it difficult to see how this strike has come about, even though I do not agree with the precise wording of this Motion. There must be very few coal miners who elect to go down the mines 616 from choice, because the work is very dirty, dangerous and unhealthy. It is a declining industry with many pits being closed, and it must be very frustrating and unnerving not to know when your turn is coming and whether you are going to be out of a job or will have to travel a great distance to go to one.
In the mining communities there are very few alternative forms of employment. although steps are being taken to overcome this state of affairs. I was very privileged a few years ago to stay on several occasions with a miner and his wife in a small mining village in County Durham—or rather a mining village with a redundant pit—and I was very much struck (and I do not wish to sound pompous) with the high standard of sincerity and moral behaviour of this community, which seemed to be very far removed from the so-called permissive society in which we live and about which there is so much discussion. It was like going to another world. It is not for me to go into the intricate dealings and negotiations which finally brought matters to a head: this ground has been very fully covered already, with far too many statistics, if I may say so. At this point I would only say what a pity it was that the Unions did not feel in a position to go to arbitration. That was first said by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear; but the strike is now with us and indeed is now into its fourth week. Therefore we must all strive for a return to work as soon as possible. I know that that is a mundane phrase but it can bear repeating.
I should now like to move on to a very different subject and I hope that it will be treated in a realistic and enlightened manner. I am not condoning the action of the union leaders in perpetrating this situation, but I wish to consider the logic which underlies it. The subject is that of picketing, which has caused so much criticism. When a body of men decide to take strike action they intend to make it as effective as possible and to cause the biggest impact, which is quite understandable. One of the ways to do this is to picket. In the case of the miners, there has been little need to picket the mines themselves because there has been a near 100 per cent., if not 100 per cent., stoppage. The union leaders have seen fit to pay travelling and out-of-pocket 617 expenses to enable miners to picket. There again, one may not agree with this, but one cannot criticise the miners for taking full advantage of the facilities offered. I hope your Lordships will take this as being sincere: I am not being facetious when I say that there is little to do if one is on strike at this time of the year. There is nothing to do in the garden; little point in taking a holiday, but it is worse still to spend time drinking in pubs or clubs.
Man possesses a warlike instinct within him to protect his rights and even to fight for them. You can hardly expect him to sit at home twiddling his thumbs when he can be with his friends fighting for his cause in picketing power stations and the like. It is very unpleasant, admittedly, for those who are trying to earn their living to be hampered by pickets. Therefore they have to be protected, and the country has to subsidise the extra police detailed to do it. When a man's blood is up it is not easy to calm him down. I fear that we sometimes brush this fact aside. But the tragic part of all this is that in the end the miners will achieve so little. If they could achieve a little more out of it they might ease their consciences and satisfy themselves that the strike was worth while; but it will take years to put everything right. There is another point which has been mentioned briefly; that is, that the shopkeepers and the middle men in the mining areas have also suffered. They are innocent bystanders and should be given a thought.
I am fully aware of the awkward position in which trade union leaders find themselves in being pressed by their militant members into taking strike action. I once took part in a one-day strike over a minor point, and one gets very much into the swim of it. If one's leader does not support one's interest, one thinks him weak and vacillating; but a trade union leader is a leader, and he has to be a very superior leader. He has got to be more of a leader than the highest management, and he has to have a public relations ability. I know that he does not have to show a profit in figures, but he has to show a profit to his members and fight for substantial pay increases and better conditions for the employees.
618 It is true that there has not been an official strike in the mines for nearly 46 years. One is also aware that in the past decade or so, and probably for the next two decades or so, life will continue to be disturbed in the mining areas until only the profitable coal mines will be worked, and new industries will take their place. It is always better if there is a variety of employment to choose from. I was talking only recently to a man who originally came from County Durham—I am sorry to quote the same county twice—who is now a security man in London. He said that he did not know that jobs such as he was doing now existed. In his youth the only jobs were in the mines or the Co-operative store. Those who worked in the Co-operative store considered themselves superior—and I speak with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Jacques; I mean no disrespect to him—and would not speak to the miners, even if they had been to school with them.
My Lords, one can never be sure whether deep down a strike becomes a show of distaste towards a Government and a political Party that the strikers dislike rather than a desire to uplift the miners' wages. Obviously, a sweeping statement like that has to be qualified at once, and one must quickly say that there were many periods of industrial unrest in the past two Administrations when the political Party of their alliance was in power. That was mainly due to the prices and incomes policy of that Administration, which was very unpopular with the trade union movement. We must now face the fact that although prices continue to rise—and some other noble Lords have mentioned this—they are not rising at such an alarming rate. We can feel confident that we are coming round the corner. My right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made many reflationary moves and one can say with a reasonable degree of certainty that he is going to make more soon. We are very conscious of the high unemployment figures, but this is not the day to go into that question. We may be able to do so very soon and I gather the matter is on the Order Paper. But whatever political persuasion we may support and whatever feelings we may have, we must continue talking, something which there has been rather a lack of. It was impossible to understand there 619 could be any reason why my right honourable friend the Minister of Employment and Productivity was refusing at the beginning of this dispute to intervene and help, when his impartiality in previous disputes has been recognised by all as being sincere and genuine, without question.
There is one point I should like to clear up for the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, who is going to follow me. I would have done as she did had I been sitting on the Benches opposite when my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing was speaking. I refer to the question of take-home pay and hours of work. I always think it is invidious and it is a question concerning Government, civil servants and the like. One cannot equate take-home pay and hours of work with an actual basic week. If one wants to make comparisons one must be careful how that is done. I have been careful in my, I hope, short speech not to go into statistics. One can twist anything with statistics. I suppose one could make vague comparisons, but I do not like doing that. Food prices are more or less the same up and down the country, but property prices and rents vary. That is the only thing I should like to say on that point; but I will agree with the noble Baroness and shall be very interested to listen to her speech when she tells us about these figures. Far be it from me, my Lords, to give advice to anybody, but I plead with everybody—the miners and the leaders of the miners, whatever political opinions they may have—for the country's sake, to let us get talking quick and fast.
§ 9.27 p.m.
§ BARONESS BACON
My Lords, it is sometimes customary when making a speech in this House for a Member to declare his or her interest. My interest in the coalmining industry is that I was born in a Yorkshire mining town; I have lived all my life in the same town; I still live there and travelled from there this morning. We have had some excellent speeches to-day, particularly that from my noble friend Lord Blyton, but I agree with my noble friend Lord Shinwell who said that some of the speeches we have heard have been rather academic. I must say that if I could have brought some of my miners down here with me 620 to-day, they would have thought that some of the speeches we have heard were rather irrelevant to the problems which are facing them to-day.
The noble Earl, Lord Dudley, said that he had no prejudices because he came from a family of mine owners. My Lords, in this matter I have prejudices because my father was a miner and for nearly thirty years was trade union secretary for over 3,000 miners. I have grown up with the problems of the mining industry. I was a schoolgirl during the 1926 strike and can remember vividly my mother getting up at about six o'clock in the morning to go to the local working men's club to cut sandwiches to give to the children as they went into school. I can remember my father getting an agreement with a friendly trawler owner to let him have fish twice a week so that we could sell fish at a penny a pound twice a week from our small garden. These are the kind of memories I have. But the mining communities have always been tightly-knit. They have always helped each other since long before there was any social security or a National Health Service. My home was always a cross between a citizen's advice bureau and a welfare department, and occasionally it was a clothes shop as well (a clothes shop, not a closed shop) when my father gave out boots. He also ran a miners' convalescent scheme and he had to be something of a medical man as well in order to go out and buy the limbs, because there was nowhere else in those days for the miners to get their limbs if they were unfortunate in having an accident at work. I remember, too, that in a shed attached to our house we always kept two invalid carriages for use by miners who needed them.
The noble Earl, Lord Dudley, said that it was his grandfather, I think, who introduced the Workmen's Compensation Act, and he was very proud of that. It may be that in its day it was very good, but I am much more proud of the fact that it was a Labour Government which abolished the old Workmen's Compensation Act and substituted the Industrial Injuries Act. I know from experience that mine owners in the past were insured against accidents, and so the poor unfortunate miner had to deal with an 621 insurance company, whose agents sometimes got the miners to sign away, for perhaps £50, an injury which meant the loss of a limb.
I started teaching in Featherstone, which has a name in mining history, because it was there, many years ago, that the troops opened fire on the strikers. But in the 'thirties in the Featherstone mining community 73 per cent. of the boys in my school were suffering from malnutrition. Noble Lords may think that this is past history, and that in 1972 it has nothing to do with the present position; but it has to do with the present position because we cannot discuss the coal industry in isolation from its history. Even the young miner of to-day who was born after the 1926 strike is conscious of this history. The young miner belongs to generations of miners, with son following father arid, before pit closures, usually into the same pit. It is difficult for them, and it is difficult for me and others of my colleagues on these Benches, to see the present situation in terms of percentages and profit and loss. Before the War the miners were low paid; they were on short-time working, working three days a week. Then, during the War, when coal was so vital, the miner was an important person; and after the War the wages rose. Miners then were among the better paid workers: conditions improved, welfare was better, there were pithead baths, there was a National Health Service and the Industrial Injuries Act. But then, with the contraction of the industry and closures, the position changed considerably. Since 1951, the number of miners working in our pits has been reduced from 600,000 to 280,000.
I wish to stress again something which has already been stressed from this side of the House; namely, that the miners co-operated in all this change. The older miners accepted redundancy payments so that the younger miners could stay in the pits, and some of the young miners were willing to be uprooted and to travel to other areas in order to get other jobs. But while conditions have changed over the years mining is still an arduous job; it is still an unpleasant and a dirty job, and it is still a dangerous one. The miner still has to go into the bowels of the earth, for long hours without any daylight. As 622 my noble friend Lady Summerskill has pointed out, he still gets the miners' lung disease of pneumoconiosis, and miners are still killed or maimed for life.
My noble friend gave some figures about this, and I want to give a few more. In 1971, 92 men were killed in the mines, and since 1947 6,500 men have been killed. Since 1947, 860 miners have died with pneumoconiosis. Since 1947 40,000 miners have been seriously injured and maimed, and since 1947 48,000 miners have been seriously disabled with pneumoconiosis. Near my home there is a disabled miners' centre which I have visited from time to time, and one of the sad things is to see those miners who were so healthy and vigorous and strong being brought every day on crutches and in chairs in their little buses in order to get together and do some handicrafts. In my time I have been to practically every miners' rally in the country, Durham, Yorkshire and many others, and I have always enjoyed it, but again one of the sad things is to see the rows of disabled miners sitting in their invalid chairs. You would not see this at any rally of any other industry in the country. As my noble friend has said, this is the price of mining.
For this job, difficult as it is, unhealthy as it is, and dangerous as it is, what is the miner paid? There have been conflicting statements about this. Some people have been quoting gross wages. Take home pay has been quoted, and earnings. But we have to get one or two things clear. There are standard wages for surface men and underground workers, with certain craftsmen getting a little more, and with the power loading men getting more than that. But there are no bonuses, no piece work, and the only way that any man who works either on top of the mine or below the mine can earn more than the standard wage is by working overtime. That is the fact. And to work overtime down a mine is much more arduous than to work overtime in any other industry.
What is the normal wage? For many underground it is £20 gross, some of them only £19, and for surface workers £18. The noble Lord who has just spoken referred to my intervention when the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, was speaking. The Coal Board have issued some figures purporting to show how well paid 623 miners are. In its statement it said that for the week ending October 9 the gross average wage for a surface worker was £25.10. But the basic rate for a surface worker is £18 a week, so they must have worked 12 hours overtime, or in other words 10 hours a day, in order to get the princely sum of £25.10. The week that was quoted was, I believe—if I am wrong I can be corrected—the week before there was an overtime ban, when miners were in fact working more overtime than they usually do.
My Lords, if I may intervene, this is a great mystery, and I hope that the noble Baroness can throw some light on it. The National Coal Board in their last report, Table 2, show 1971 average weekly earnings—that is, presumably, every man in the mine—of £27.05. At the same time there was, I think, a figure of 19.2 per cent. absenteeism. How on earth do these figures tally up with what the noble Baroness has been saying? I cannot understand it.
§ BARONESS BACON
My Lords, I do not understand it either, but I have something here which might be more conclusive than the average and percentage figures in the Coal Board Report. I was just coming to this. Last weekend I asked some of my miner friends to give me their wage slips. Lots were forthcoming. I could have had hundreds to bring down here to-day, but I have just brought a handful. Some of them are for surface wages and some of them are underground.
§ LORD ORR-EWING
My Lords, I am sure the noble Baroness will agree that some statutory overtime is, by contract, always worked. It is part of the agreement when miners sign on. So this is after the overtime ban, which is really an artificial condition.
§ BARONESS BACON
My Lords, it is not an artificial condition; it is exactly what the miners earn, and these are their wages slips. These are based on a week's work. If noble Lords opposite are trying to say that a man has to go down into the bowels of the earth for ten hours a day five days a week in order to get a decent wage, then of course that is quite 624 a different argument. I have these wages slips here, and the gross pay on every one of these—
§ BARONESS BACON
They are different dates. Not one of these reaches £21 gross pay. I will quote from only three of them. This one is a surface worker; £18 a week gross. Out of that he has to pay his National Insurance payments, and so on. To be fair, I am giving gross wages and not take-home pay. This £18 is gross; and this man has two children. Another one, an underground man has a gross pay of £20.17. He has his stoppages after that. This man has three children, lives in a council house, the rent of which is £3.25 a week, and his bus fares cost him 50p a week in order to get to work. Another man, working underground, only £19 gross a week. This man has four children at school, and his rent is £3.25 a week. This is what we are talking about. We are not talking about percentages and profit and loss, but what the miners are thinking about. They have their families to keep on this amount of money.
My noble friend Lord Blyton pointed out that workers are eligible for family incomes supplement if their gross earnings are less than £18 a week for a man and wife with one child, and less than £20 a week for a man and wife and two children. I never thought when this Government introduced the family incomes supplement that' people like miners would be eligible for it.
My Lords, the noble Baroness has quoted a lot of cases, but unless the National Coal Board are just plain lying in their statistical tables, which is very difficult to believe, how on earth can the average cash earnings in 1971 for all miners be £27.05p per week if the figures that the noble Baroness is giving are typical? It must mean that many miners are earning £40 or £50 a week to create the average.
§ BARONESS BACON
My Lords, I cannot speak for the Coal Board figures. What I have given are the actual wages of the men who are working in the area where I live. Those are the actual pay slips, and this is what it is all about.
§ BARONESS BACON
These are for a full week's work in every case, and not absenteeism. If the noble Lord would like to see these pay slips afterwards he can do so. The names and addresses of the men are on them, although I am not going to quote them. These are the pay slips, and I could have brought hunderds more like them. The miners feel that they are slipping behind in pay increases over the last few years. I will not quote figures because I have taken longer than I intended to do because of the interruptions, but the latest offer by the Coal Board was £2 and £1.90 a week, at a cost of £31 million.
A good deal has been said during this debate about the interest payments of £33.6 million a year which the Coal Board has to make, and I feel that this could be written off. A point which needs to be made is that in a contracting industry, such as mining has been over the last few years, such a payment is a bigger drain than it was when the industry was bigger. What the Government have to do is to equate the cost of giving the miners a living wage with the cost of this strike in the loss of production, in the loss of equipment and machinery, and in the losses that there will be if other industries are affected. It is clear to us all that the Coal Board's hands are tied, and only the Government can break the deadlock. I believe that the miners are a special case and, after all the arguments that have been used to-day, they ought to be treated as such. I believe that there must be a new offer to the miners which they can accept with dignity.
§ 9.46 p.m.
§ LORD ARWYN
My Lords, in opening the debate on this subject in another place the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry paid a kind tribute to the miners and referred to the dangers of the men working in coal mines. I am sure that most of us here can echo his words, but words, however kind, are not enough. It is very obvious that the Coal Board have been confined to the limits set by the Government for industry in general, without regard to the future of the coal industry itself. There are no differentials, no priorities, and the lowest paid worker in a multiple baker's is higher paid than the lowest paid miner. Any increase is based on existing rates, regardless of any apparent importance of the future of this 626 key industry to our economy. One of the purposes of the timely Motion of my noble friend Lord Blyton, for which we thank him, is to draw attention to the inevitably serious consequences to our economic life if this strike is allowed to go on much further. It is therefore the duty of everyone in your Lordships' House, who has been in any way connected with the industry, to highlight the dangers which we are facing. The public will remain indifferent until they are personally affected, and by the time that happens the damage could be on a disastrous scale.
The whole technique of coalmining has altered so much that entirely new skills have replaced those of the pick and shovel era. The conditions of work are such that they cannot be described in words. Whereas in the pre-nationalisation period a man's tools were simple, men are to-day operating anything up to £250,000 worth of sophisticated machinery in the highly dangerous, confined space of a mechanised coal face, amid noise and coal dust. The car worker earning over £40 a week, working in air-conditioned, well-lit surroundings, is not in any physical danger as are the highly skilled men working at the coal face, who get from £5 to £10 less pay—about the same as a shorthand-typist in the City. Enough has been said about comparisons, but I should like to point out that, of all the 124 lowest grade workers in the league table in which miners appear as 17th, not one has the hazards which miners have to face. In fact, if the hazards of the whole lot were put together there would still be no comparison.
My noble friend Lord Maelor has quoted the figures of accidents over the last 23 years. I want to emphasise his reference to the increasing danger from coal dust. With the continual demand for increased production mechanised coalmining will have to become a young man's industry, and soon the problem will be to find the young men willing to risk their lives, or to become physical wrecks in their early thirties. They are more likely to say, "To hell with coal-mining". The problem is already on our doorstep. Only those who have worked in coal mines know something of the degradation which it generates. You feel inferior, as one speaker said earlier on. It is only the wonderful 627 community life which saves one's self-respect. Without being at all facetious, I would suggest that our political leaders could gain tremendous experience, add very much to their prestige and help to re-establish good relations with the coal miners by spending, during the Recess, one full working week helping to run a mechanised coal face, the next week to be spent on the duties undertaken by the lowest paid underground worker. That fortnight would provide an insight which no lengthy reports or pictures could ever convey. The much-publicised conducted tours are always a waste of time: I have taken too many people around myself. During another Recess I would suggest at least a week in an industry where the rate for the lowest grade manual worker is higher than the miners'. There are at least 16 of them, ranging from the top lowest grade manual worker in civil air transport, who gets £25 a week, to the lowest paid manual worker curing bacon, who gets the same as the lowest paid manual mineworker. This is in the £16 and £17 class. The political leaders who are ready to accept this challenge will also set a pattern lacking in our top industrialists—one which could not easily be ignored—as a sincere effort to establish communications.
My Lords, I repeat that I am not being facetious, and I claim to speak from adequate experience of the effect of sincere personal contacts. I am personally concerned with the welfare of 10,000 employees at the moment, and I think I know what I am talking about. In pre-nationalisation days a colliery manager had to be a lickspittle to the hoard of directors and a hard taskmaster to his men if he wanted to keep his job. Is the policy of the Government to turn the Boards of nationalised industries into catspaws by the introduction of Bills such as the Coal Industry Bill, limiting the Boards' activities? I seem to remember similar measures in reference to the Post Office. The pattern is becoming familiar —too familiar. The whole relationship between management and labour built up over the years is just disintegrating. This is a fight which can disintegrate not only the coal industry but the whole of our economic future as well. The N.C.B.'s forward development plans for the next five years will be demolished, and it will 628 still be their responsibility to produce enough coal to supply 50 per cent. of all our energy requirements.
My Lords, bitterness is now being generated by the Government's determination to treat every industry alike, with an increase limited to 7 or 8 per cent. regardless of priority. It is insanity. The action of the N.U.M. reflects this bitterness, by their refusal to provide safety cover for 133 out of the total of 289 pits. In addition, a further 118 are only partly covered; and to-day we have heard that only 31 pits are covered. Safety cover includes operating pumps, maintaining the intricate ventilation systems and the heat generated in every coal mine, with the consequent danger of fire. Once a fire starts, if it is not brought under control it can be the death knell of a colliery. I know something about it: when I was a youngster I was in charge of rescue teams when 200 men lost their lives in the main colliery disaster at Neath. My Lords, if this strike goes on for the predicted six months, it will he a major disaster. Those who saw the David Frost programme last night from Blaen Rhondda could not have failed to be impressed by the sincerity and deep emotional reaction to the attitude of the Government, particularly by the wives. Make no mistake about it, the fact is that the N.C.B. are giving the impression of being a catspaw in this dispute. The colliery manager is in danger of sharing the stigma, and relations between management and labour can easily slip back to those of 50 years ago. As an old mining engineer, I know something about the feeling of being crushed between two forces while carrying out plain duties. A mining engineer is different from other industrial managers; he lives and works with his men. When there is danger he is there, and not in a distant office.
If we go into the Common Market we shall be producing a tonnage of coal in the United Kingdom equivalent to all the present Six, or near it, with far greater reserves than they possess. The time has therefore come to insist on a real fuel policy for the next 20 years, by which time the known oil reserves will be nearly exhausted but the coal reserves will not —far from it! I suggest that the industry requires a drastic reconstruction starting 629 at the bottom and restoring the miners' status to the top of the wages league. The next objective is the elimination of all danger from dust as a pre-requisite to greater production. At the same time a full-scale independent inquiry at the highest level should examine the organisation of the industry from the whole set up at Hobart House to the coal face and to include a report on the dictatorial, academic attitude of the N.C.B. Chairman and that of the Government. One other thing is vitally necessary. It is up to the Government to prove to the young miner of to-morrow that a career in coal-mining will provide lifelong security and a reward commensurate with the danger to life and health which such a hazardous occupation will always entail.
My Lords, the writing is on the wall. No longer is there an unlimited reservoir of labour willing, because of lack of alternatives, to spend their working lives in a coal mine. This fact must be borne in mind when the new policy and philosophy for the industry is created. We must remember that economic miracles cannot be achieved by dictatorial edicts, but they can be achieved through inspired leadership in the co-ordination of management and labour.
In the early 1920s, thousands of men left the coalfields—I was one—and went off to mine china clay in Cornwall. I refused to go back in the late 'twenties although I was offered the management of two collieries. This exodus will occur again. I have always kept in touch with the coal industry and I know it can have a splendid future. The reserves are there and we are yet only on the threshold of discovering the full value of this unique commodity. But the industry requires an entirely new philosophy, new attitudes and new men at the top, in Government and in the National Coal Board, before our young men will again regard coalmining as their future.
§ 9.59 p.m.
§ LORD HARVEY OF PRESTBURY
My Lords, the House has listened to the noble Lord with great interest. He made some very constructive suggestions towards the end of his speech. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Blyton: the House is indebted to him for initiating this debate. Although he is an old friend he would not expect me on this occa- 630 sion to agree with the terms of his Motion.
It is a terrible thing to think that this strike has now embarked on its fourth week. I well remember in the House of Commons twenty-five years ago when the industry was being nationalised we were told that when the nation owned the coal and operated the mines there would be no more strikes. That is not so, my Lords. The nationalised industries have their problems just like the private sector. I agree entirely with what has been said about the conditions of work in this industry. They are dangerous, and there is little to be said for them. I should like to remind your Lordships that there is another job which, I think, is equally dangerous and difficult, that of a deck hand on a distant fishing fleet trawler. That is a smaller industry, but such men are usually away from home for anything from twenty-one to twenty-eight days. They get frostbitten and soaked to the skin and they are out of their beds every night. At least a coal miner usually gets to his own home and bed. But conditions have improved in the trawling industry and, to some extent, in the coal mines. In the main, the coal industry has a very good record, but for twenty years the miners have seen their industry running down. It is not a very pleasant way to live, to be working in an industry where you do not know what security you have. I should like to see a longterm plan, for as long as may be, outlining the future for those who work in the mining industry.
The noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, talked about a fuel policy. Fifteen or twenty years ago it was not possible to have such a policy. Then we did not have natural gas and we did not know what would be the oil supplies from our own coastline. But now the whole situation has changed. We know that there will be a considerable amount of oil coming from off the North-East coast of Britain. Is it not time that we had a real national fuel policy? If the coal industry has to be run down even more, the miners have a right to know. In that respect, I think that we have to be absolutely fair. The industry has been run down from something like 600 pits to 300. Of course, the coal industry has to compete with natural gas, nuclear energy and oil. 631 Many figures have been given to-day from speakers on both sides of the House and there have been quotations from the Coal Board Report and references to miners' pay slips. I think that most people are pretty disappointed when they see their pay slips, but I wonder whether my noble friend could publish something in the OFFICIAL REPORT which would be understandable and authentic, giving the average wage for the various grades of workers.
Annual productivity in the coal industry has improved something like 50 per cent. in the last ten years and that compares well with any other industry. Of course economics come into it, as was shown during the debate. The industry has been given the vital help which it had to have if it was to survive. There have been capital write-offs and so on. We have had the same thing in respect of the air Corporations. B.O.A.C. had £120 million written off and B.E.A. £80 million. We had the same thing, to some extent, in the private sector with Rolls-Royce in the last year. Occasionally in the national interest it is necessary to inject public money into industry. Economics comes into this problem. Before the coal strike the Coal Board was something like £35 million in debt. There was another £26 million deficit before the strike started and the stoppage is costing something like £10 million a week and probably more.
As I understand it, there is an offer of £2 a week, back-dated to November 1 last, for 121,000 miners; secondly, there is an offer of £1.90, backdated, for all other adult workers; and, thirdly, an increase for juvenile workers. We have been told that if productivity could be increased that would be fine; that they could accept something and next November that could be back-dated to January 1, 1972. I think there is a case for the mining industry and the distant water fishing industry to be treated preferentially. They are both vital industries for us. Probably the coal mining industry has to be run down over the years, although we were told by Lord Robens in his maiden speech a few weeks ago that there is a great future for the coal industry in the Common Market. I think he said that there could be exports to the value of something like £150 million a year.
632 I should not like to say that the figure is as great as that, but probably it could be £100 million a year in exports to Europe.
What disappoints me in this situation is that we have not heard many constructive suggestions. It is not easy to make them, but in a debate such as this often more damage than help is caused outside. It has been said that the miners' struggle is not just a struggle for an increase in miners' pay, but a struggle on behalf of the whole trade union movement. Can we have clarification of this statement? Surely we should be discussing the whole of industry and its workers. If this is to involve dozens of other industries which are in the queue, where will the country end? Will this not make prices go up everywhere, especially affecting old people and those living on fixed incomes?
Just before the struggle started I saw Mr. Gormley on television. He was saying that very little separated the two sides. If that was so, why should there have been the strike? They said that the issue was very narrow, yet here we are embarking on the fourth week of the strike. No one would begrudge the miners the last rise they had, but I should like to know where the money goes for the coal produced at the pit when the difference between that price and the price of delivered coal is about £15. There is no wastage of coal; it is a commodity which keeps. I should like to see a full inquiry held into all aspects of the industry and into the profits which are made, so that we may get to the bottom of this problem.
When the price of coal went up after the last pay increase it brought protests from the Electricity Generating Boards. It was said that coal was becoming uneconomic for them to use and they demanded that they should be allowed to return to the use of gas or foreign diesel oil. There is a steady process going on in industry to-day. Firms are approached by the Gas Council to switch over from coal to gas. I have experienced this with reference to a factory with which I am connected in the Manchester area. They have made a very attractive proposition. When one works out the cost of putting in new burners to convert to gas one finds that it is more than paid for in five years 633 and it is a cheaper fuel. If the industry is to survive it must be competitive. If the rundown has to take place, there must be some money to enable men to be placed in other jobs, but whenever a settlement is arrived at there will undoubtedly be many closures of mines. Fewer people will buy coal and many mines will be in such a condition that probably they will not be workable. That might have been the case anyway, but at least the process would have been orderly.
Very little has been said today about safety, but we have read about this in the Press. Reference was made to a picture which appeared in The Timeslast week. Someone said that it was taken last autumn. Much damage is being done and I find it disappointing that, against the advice of union leaders, the safety of the mines is not being maintained. There has been a refusal to save machinery in deep pits in South Yorkshire and the Midlands. This will mean enormous costs for the Coal Board. I agree that if one is to have a strike one should have a good strike, but surely there must be some sense in which men are advised by their leaders about how far they should go. This process will only accelerate the closure of many pits. It is not easy for a layman in this House, or outside, to give very constructive advice on a problem such as this.
Over the years there has been a very real affection in the hearts of British people for the miners. There is no question of that. It would be a crying 634 shame if this were dissipated; but if this situation continues much longer, they will lose it. And who pays in the long run? It is the aged and the sick who foot the bill. The rest of the people can go out and buy Aladdin stoves and get along somehow or other. It is the old people who really pay the price when we have these national crises.
I should like now to refer to the pickets. I think what we have seen on television has been absolutely disgraceful; it was reported that one father spat at his daughter when she was going through to do some office work. This does not help their cause one little bit. I really hope that they will resist this type of behaviour in the future. It is very bad for them, and it is bad for the industry. I say again that I believe we need a fuel policy to cover the whole national effort. I should like to see preferential treatment not only for the coal industry, but for the distant fishing industry and perhaps one or two others, where they are treated as a special category which has no bearing on other industries, with a long-term plan for the industry so that the men in the industry know where they are going.
At the end of the day, it will be difficult to get these people to talk. Why cannot they go to arbitration? They are a strong body of fair-minded men. If there is a case—and I think there is for many grades of workers—surely arbitration would put their case right. I beg the miners to see the light in this direction.
§ 10.12 p.m.
§ LORD ENERGLYN
My Lords, on the one hand we hear the claims of the miners for a wage related to their hazardous and capricious job; on the other hand we hear that the profit and loss account of the National Coal Board indicates that there are no profit margins which can be used to meet this wage demand. On both sides I see in this confrontation genuine and sincere attempts to resolve what seems to me to be the financial dilemma. Even though it could be conceded that this impasse is not the direct responsibility of this Government, it does give them a great opportunity, because it seems to me that only Her Majesty's Government can find the wherewithal to solve this financial problem. And they solve it, I suggest, within the spirit and context of the plea of the Prime Minister, by ceasing to look backwards, looking forward and striding ahead. Let the solution to this problem be an imaginative step forward in creating good will between Government and workers. Once it is recognised— and I mean really recognised—that the primary energy and raw materials of the country are paramount in dictating the national economy, we must see to it that the basic sources of primary energy and raw materials are guaranteed in all circumstances.
Therefore I should like to touch for a moment on the assessment of the national price that we should be paying for coal in terms of Britain's potential future. During the past decade we have heard loud voices proclaiming that the coal industry is doomed. Under this kind of threat, can we really expect miners to go on enduring the hazards of coalmining without feeling militant or despondent? We have closed pit after pit without a real protest from the miners. Let that, as many noble Lords have already said, be placed to the credit of the miners. In looking ahead, do we see any truth in this picture of a doomed industry? Despite the closure of pits and the reduction in manpower we have maintained output by increasing output per man by mechanised mining—and let that go to the credit of the National Coal Board. Let us praise their mining engineers who have created levels of safety along with mechanised mining which have—and I speak with absolute 636 certainty, my Lords—no rivals in the world. Now add to this the fact that Britain still possesses the greatest reserves of coal in the whole of Europe and, more than that, possesses a wider range of coal than practically any known part of the earth's crust.
It is against that backcloth that we have to assess the future of coal and coal miners as we enter this new phase in our history when the assessment and judgment of traditional elements of industry will be at stake. Any error of judgment of this kind would mean the disastrous continuation of unemployment. The use of magic norms and numerical calculations are academic exercises, and these will not take us along the road to abundance. Only primary energy and raw materials will pave that roadway into the future that we hope for. Coal is still our richest asset in terms of national resources and it will remain so for decades to come. We simply cannot survive without it, as the bitter weeks ahead may well prove to us more graphically than any words of mine. It is imprudent to think that foreign coal can ever compete with British coal on the home market. It would be equally short-sighted to fail to realise that if we set about it properly we can become a major source of coal for overseas markets; Japan, for example, is thirsting for coal. But we need not look as far away as Japan. The reserve figures of Europe declare quite clearly that within the next decade they are going to need more and more coal; and this is the challenge that is supposed to be associated with a doomed industry!
Measured in millions of metric tons of coal equivalent—this was referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, who indeed has put the picture of fuels very correctly and accurately before your Lordships, and I would thank him for it —it has been shown that the world energy consumption is round about 7,000 metric units. By 1980 it is perfectly clear that this figure will be 12,000 metric units. Therefore within the next eight years only the world has to find 5,000 metric units, and that means simply that the position of solid fuels in the energy structure of the world will never deteriorate from its present position until nuclear energy has reached fulfilment.
637 It may surprise your Lordships to learn that even after a half-century of research we still do not know the fundamental structure of coal, the way in which the atoms of carbon are linked with those of nitrogen, sulphur and oxygen. It is only within the last decade that new techniques have become available to scientists which are beginning to reveal this fundamental knowledge. Once we have this knowledge at our command we can render coal into liquids and, even more easily, render it almost effortlessly, with the use of catalysts that are now emerging, into gas. From these gases we can exploit the thermo-chemical energy, making direct current—these are not Jules Verne stories—without the use of dynamos, and we shall also obliterate that factor of coal, the curse of the burning of coal and the making of smoke.
Why not broaden the activities of the National Coal Board and involve them in the exploration of the other minerals that lie, many of them, beneath our coalfields? I suggest, with respect, that the imaginative promotion of £50 million for the exploration for minerals in this country might more profitably be used by the geologists and mining engineers of the National Coal Board in searching for these minerals than extending these grants, perhaps, to overseas investors. This has been done before in the search for oil: the British Petroleum Company combined with the National Coal Board in drilling deep bore holes. This was very successful. We can repeat this exercise by drilling through our coalmines down into the buried lead and zinc deposits, for example, in Derbyshire. Here it seems to me that we have a possibility of looking again at our fuel and energy processes; and in giving this some thought the Government might enlarge a Ministry by calling it something like "Minerals and Fuels and Power"because this is the trinity that one should be looking at.
So I appeal to the Government to solve this financial dilemma; if they can, to restructure the characteristics of this mining industry as a service to the nation and, in doing so, restore the confidence of the miners in their industry and prove to them that there will always be coal miners in Britain, and that they 638 are not only just the vital source of our primary energy, but that we respect them and protect them from the hazards they endure to make Britain become as great in the future as their coal made us supreme in the past.
§ 10.23 p.m.
§ LORD BALOGH
My Lords, we have had a long and not only exhausting but exhaustive debate. I will not try to follow the two noble Lords who have spoken before me and who have unparalleled experience of the coal industry. I am sorry that the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, is not in his place. I should like to respond to his economic lecture. That lecture has omitted the fact that in as much as there was any success in the Government's policy, it was due solely to slackness and unemployment. If it did not mean a complete somersault of the prices policy—which it did because we have certainly had price control, and they swore to do it by monetary control alone—on the wage front, we have an unbalanced wage restraint on the public sector wages by greeting with glee the increase in profits and after-tax incomes.
I have for 25 years preached and pleaded that it will be impossible to combine full employment and economic stability—especially price stability—without a purposive contact between the Government and both sides of industry, whether public or private. I hope that I interpret correctly my noble friend's Motion, that he condemns the Government not because they have an incomes policy, but because they have the incomes policy that they have.
No Government can do without an incomes policy. When the Prime Minister went around trumpeting up and down the country that he would not have an incomes policy I predicted in this House that he would have mass unemployment. The Prime Minister has succeeded in combining mass unemployment with a rate of inflation which, despite self-congratulatory Ministerial noises which we hear now, is still above the worst we have experienced under Labour. That incomes policy is a wage restraint based on unemployment and operating in the public sector only. In the private sector the concentration of economic power has 639 undermined resistance against wage increases. Employers know that they can shift the burden of wage increases while strikes would be fatal to them. So we have the dustmen's, the electricity workers' and the postmen's strikes, and now the miners' strike. While the private sector collapsed in the face of the wage push, the taxpayer is called in to bail out the Government's miserable and immoral policy.
It is monstrous to enact tax laws which increase the top £50,000 salary by £6,803 (with two children), and then to turn round and ask for restraint by people who hazard their life and health to get the country's domestic energy and see their standards steadily eroded. Ministers have an effrontery to come here and in the other place to complain about the effects of wage demands and then go and encourage the Gas Board to pay outrageous prices and tribute to North American exploration companies. It is nauseating to see the Prime Minister and his Secretaries bleating about high wages and wage demands and then appointing special committees to fix top salaries, when they know full well from past experience and even from a priori reasoning that that arrangement is bound to lead to leapfrogging of incomes. Sectional boards inevitably have to take into account comparability, and comparability leads to leapfrogging. So we see that my friend the noble Viscount, Lord Boyle, who in sincerity and uprightness is not surpassed by anybody and paralleled by very few, is constrained to grant salaries which must necessarily be provocative.
The Prime Minister's increase of some £150 per week is paralleled only by the Lord Chancellor's £100 per week, of which £50 per week is for acting as Speaker of this House. I always understood from the Front Benches, and more especially from the noble Earl the Leader of the House, that this House prided itself on not having a Speaker. Some £50 a week for a non-job! Not bad! All this shows a peculiar and a louche priority of values, a perverted sense that cries out for a thorough analysis by an eminent connoisseur of the obscene, as is my noble friend Lord Longford. And then we have the Government "yammering"about the miners' excessive wage demands. The 640 Coal Board sends round, at the taxpayers' cost, a sheet saying that the minimum for a miner with two children is as high as £16.42 per week. For shame! It is outrageous to ask the miners to submit their case to a tribunal consisting of an ex-civil servant who worked for a large-scale industry, an employee of the trade association and a so-called academic who is notorious for his anti-union views. How could the miners expect justice at their hands? What an outrageous suggestion it is! The Government pride themselves on the success they had in reducing the rate of inflation. When one reads the Macmillan memoirs one sees that he too had visions of an ultimate solution—like Hitler—of the problem of inflation. But he, too, had an Election timetable, and once expansion started the ultimate solution dissolved. We had another and worse bout, despite the fact that unemployment remained higher at each successive peak than it was before. If it was Miss Christine Keeler who last time interfered with the planning of the election boom, it will be French Marianne and Germania now. The price increases attendant upon our entry will make a safe choice for an election boom impossible.
In my opinion the miners' or any profession's income problem can be solved only in a national context on the basis of an overall consensus; a national consensus, not purely on incomes but on social ambience in general. This can be achieved only if the trade unions are conscious of steadily advancing social justice and public accountability. Such consensus is especially necessary in conditions such as we have now, which have been created by the foolish policies of the Government. Incomes have been deliberately made more unequal by cutting direct and increasing indirect taxation. The provision of social services will be limited by means tests and financed by regressive social service contributions. What do the Government want? A discriminatory policy has been pursued against the public sector industries but not against the civil servants. A public Budget surplus has been converted into private gain, and that has produced, of course, a boom in assets like houses and shares, which are at the moment touching as high a record as is unemployment.
641 Only a broadly balanced programme can have a chance of success, and the elements of such a programme cannot be explored too soon. We shall need a tax reform; we shall need a very definite extension of public ownership. This might embrace building societies and various other things. It should definitely include experimentation. Without such new beginnings I do not believe we shall get the sort of harmony which we need if England is to survive. in fact we could say to the Government, "Undo all that you have done in your folly and do all that you have not done before".
§ 10.33 p.m.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
My Lords, I must confess that as the hours of debate have ticked by my enthusiasm for rising to speak has become an ever-cooling element, so I start by using that hackney phrase, which I know will please the House, "At this later hour I will not detain your Lordships long". Neither do I feel qualified to follow the noble Lord who has just spoken in his exposition of gas (as regards the problems of North Sea) prices in relation to other fuels.
My Lords, we debate under the shadow of a strike which involves economic suicide for the livelihood of those who depend upon the coal industry for their sustenance, and a strike which I believe can deal a grievous blow to our promising and improving economic prospects. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Harvey of Prestbury; I believe that the miners have a fund of good will and sympathy throughout the country, but I fear they are in danger of losing it because of the action of a few militants; and they would be in danger of losing if their leaders refused to compromise except on the terms they laid down. This strike will have to end by a compromise settlement. There can be no victory for anyone in it: there cannot be victory for the Government, there cannot be victory for the public, there cannot be victory for the miners. In his opening speech the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, said that the Government do not seek to force a surrender. As the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, said, in what I thought was a very powerful speech, the sooner the parties get round the table and get down to a solution, the better for all concerned.
642 As I see it, the position now is that the National Coal Board made an offer, since withdrawn, and the National Union of Mineworkers refused that offer. The noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, called, as did other speakers, for a fair settlement for all parties—the State, the miners, the National Coal Board. The noble Earl said that this settlement must not put at risk our improving position by renewal of cost/wage inflation. It seems to me that the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, was like someone who rides a horse, brings it up to the jump, has a look at the jump and then turns away. Because how can a non-money Coal Board, meeting a National Union of Mineworkers who say "No settlement without cash offer", come to any fair settlement without some element of public funds being brought into the compromise in some form or other?
In analysis of the situation and possible ways of working towards a settlement, I confess some puzzlement in two directions, on which I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, will be able to put me right. My first puzzlement is this: when is a wage claim one that must be resisted as being outside the Government norm and a menace to the Government's defence against cost/wage inflation, and when is a wage claim labelled as special and therefore carries with it an acceptable review of the rate for the job? In one case you have a massive number of men seeking a moderate—in terms of income —individual increase; in the other special category a very limited number with a claim for review of salaries and pension levels. The miners' claims are for £5, £8 or £9, according to their particular work, and, of course, these claims will have to be scaled down, and scaled down very severely, in any final compromise settlement. Members of Parliament, the Judiciary, Ministers and civil servants get thoroughly well deserved and well-earned rises—I make no criticism of it—far beyond the norm, under the label of special case.
I guess that the Minister's reply to me will be that a little to several hundred thousand men can endanger our improving economic position, but a lot to quite a few does not. But the individual miner thinks in terms of individuals, and that feeling, I believe, must be realised when we come to evaluate this dispute. So I 643 ask, could the miners be considered in the category of special, with the Trades Union Congress agreeing to that and, as such, agreeing in relation to other wage claims in other grades?
My second puzzlement is this, and again I am sure the Minister will he able to put me right. When is Government support money for an industry a subsidy, and when is it not? The suggestion for direct subsidy for the coal industry is rejected, and rightly, by the Government, and there has been no support for it, I think, from anyone on this side of the House. But, turning to another nationalised body, British Rail are to receive £60 million to cover losses from running uneconomic social service railway services. British Rail are to receive some £27 million to cover restraint on price increases to the travelling public in accord with the C.B.I. example. Are those sums subsidies or are they not? On this basis, could not the National Coal Board receive subvention to enable price increases to consumers to be kept down in relation to a higher wage level to be bargained with the National Coal Board, and, I repeat again, endorsed by the Trades Union Congress as a special case and not one to create a whole further number of claims?
In the final event, public money will have to be injected as part of the settlement, when it comes. So could not the National Coal Board, the National Union of Mineworkers, the T.U.C., the C.B.I. and the Government sit down and work out a deal based on a reasonable plus on the Coal Board's last offer, and the plus to be linked to two things: the trade unions' endorsement of it as a special case and a productivity agreement which would yield enough revenue to repay, over an agreed period of years, an interest-free loan of public money. It is with great diffidence to all the experts we have heard, and no doubt shall be hearing shortly, in your Lordships' House, that I fly this little kite of mine. At once and gladly will I pull it down, but the Minister must be willing to fly a better one than I have, and fly it higher and make it a bigger and a sounder one. My Lords, I finish as I started: in the final event there will have to be a compromise, and public funds in some form or other will have to play a part in the settlement.
§ 10.43 p.m.
§ LORD DIAMOND
My Lords, the noble Lord who has just sat down may feel very satisfied that he has both spoken shortly and given a great deal of information which noble Lords in all parts of the House—and I hope that I do not embarrass him by saying on this side of the House—found very well worth listening to. It is a pleasure for me to be able to follow him on yet a further occasion.
My first duty is to thank my noble friend Lord Blyton not only for giving us the opportunity of this debate, which has been extremely well attended, and has shown how necessary it was by the number of speakers, but for the very moving and well-informed speech with which he opened the debate. I hope that I am not out of order, but I should like also to thank the noble Earl the Leader of the House for making it possible to have this debate at fairly short notice. I thank him, too, for his speech. I understood his point very well when he said he would endeavour to see that nothing he said was going to make it more difficult for this strike to be settled. If he were here now, I should be only too happy to tell him that he entirely succeeded in that endeavour. I am bound to add, however, that he did nothing, either, which made the settlement of this strike any easier. He said nothing about that, and I say to the noble Lord who is to reply to the debate that what this House wants to know is what the Government propose to do to end this deadlock. It is no use hiding behind phrases about difficulties and problems and sensitivities, and about other right honourable colleagues' responsibilities and duties.
We have had a long debate; a number of your Lordships from all parts of the House have contributed, and the one theme has been that there must be some compromise from all sides. Compromise means movement from both sides if there are two sides, or from all three sides if there are three. All that the noble Earl the Leader of the House really said in his opening speech was that the Government regard wage increases of between 7 and 8 per cent. as appropriate, and that that figure would help them to carry on with their successful progress in limiting inflation. Curiously enough, by the most amazing 645 coincidence—and it is nothing but coincidence—the wage that is being proposed by the National Coal Board is between 7 and 8 per cent. more than was paid last year. There is nobody on this side of the House who believes for one moment that the influence of the Government on the present wage settlements is not important, and there is no ex-Minister who would not say that the Government are rising to their responsibility for seeing that their influence is important, because that is what Government are there for. In this very difficult area, every Government have to exercise their influence in some way or other as they see best. What the present Government are doing and have made perfectly clear, as has been stated by the Chairman of the Coal Board in his own words, and as was in effect repeated by the noble Earl the Leader of the House in his opening words this afternoon, is to indicate very firmly indeed to the National Coal Board that their limit is between 7 and 8 per cent.
My Lords, the strike cannot be settled within that limit, and speaker after speaker in your Lordships' House has made it clear that there should be a movement. That means a movement downwards by the miners' representatives —and that is not impossible in a wage negotiation, although I have no authority of any kind to indicate what might be acceptable. I have no knowledge at all, but it would not be surprising, in a wage negotiation, if the first figure represented something which would be satisfactory but perhaps not something to be relied on. It means also a movement upwards by the National Coal Board, who have said that they cannot offer any more because they cannot possibly afford another penny. Every businessman here —and there are many—and every accountant will know that that is a statement which cannot be sustained. In an industry of this kind, with so many unknowns, that cannot be sustained. You do not know what labour difficulties you are going to have during the year. You do not know what productivity increase you are going to have during the year. You do not know what domestic coal demand is going to be during the year, as a result of the economic development of the country. You certainly cannot control what world 646 demand and world prices are going to be during the year.
All you know—and many noble Lords seem not to have read the first sentence of the Coal Board s Report, which perhaps I may be forgiven for reading—is that,The strong demand for coal continued in 1970–71 and again exceeded production.What we know is that we need more coal than we are producing; and we shall do so next year. But I repeat, no chairman or managing director of any business of that size can possibly say as a fact, and expect to be believed, "I cannot afford one more penny, not I cent." There are too many variables and too many unknowns for a responsible person to make that statement. What he can say is, "I am not allowed by the Government to go above 8 per cent." That we can understand. But he cannot rest on the other statement.
I have to be practical and as speedy as the hour necessitates, and there is no need for me to reiterate again our admiration of the miners, their responsibility over the years, the moderation of their leaders and their courage. That has been made clear by so many of my noble friends, many of whom have the right to say it, being miners, descendants of miners or living among miners. I can claim only to have been down a pit or two and never to have hewn coal, so that those tributes come properly from them and I need not repeat it. I want to get straight on to one or two suggestions for breaking this deadlock.
The first point I made I repeat very shortly. It cannot be right that the Chairman of the Coal Board can say, "This enormous industry, the biggest in the country, is so much in the hollow of my hand that I can tell you precisely, within one penny in the pound, how much I can afford for wages." That is the first point. The second point—and this was referred to by several noble Lords—is this. The calculation is not entirely straightforward. With respect, I did not agree with everything which the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, said, although I thought he made a very constructive speech and a very good speech indeed. He drew attention to the number of issues where the costing had been done 647 in a particular way—for example, the tax on competing fuel. That has its effect. He introduced a number of other examples—the way that the capital had been partly written down in 1965, and a number of other matters. All I am saying, therefore, is this: "Let nobody say that you can put a particular figure on your profit and loss and say, 'That is it'." Of course you do your best, and of course every auditor does his best in signing the certificate; but nobody can say, "This is the truth and the whole truth, and there is no other aspect of the truth." What I am saying is that it is possible to look at these figures and ask a number of questions.
One question has occurred to many of my noble friends, and I will repeat it. I, as an accountant, have not had enough information in the report to give a firm answer, but it would not surprise me at all if this business had not been treated as any other business in the private sector would have been treated; namely, that if you are closing down business after business, pit after pit, department after department or factory after factory, as the case may be, you adjust your capital accordingly. If capital is lost, it is lost; and it is merely lacking objectivity to say, "I refuse to recognise this." I am saying that I do not know enough of the facts, but I should not be at all surprised if it could be demonstrated that an appropriate write-down of capital was overdue.
Now let me help a little further with the figures, because the most relevant thing which has been pointed out is that today the interest on every ton of coal produced is greater than it was before the capital write-down, and only to a small extent is that due to the higher rate of interest on the money recently borrowed. It is mainly due to the fact that it has got out of gear, and there is no businessman or stockbroker here who knows of any private firm which can run on a gearing like this of 100 per cent. borrowing and nought per cent. capital; so that before it makes a penny profit it must pay its standard dividend on what, in other circumstances, would be the whole of its capital. So one must look at the facts a little more objectively than has been done so far; and I am saying that the position revealed is interesting be- 648 cause the amount of that interest is exactly £31 million—the amount of the Board's offer, which is something less than an 8 per cent. increase on last year's wages.
Supposing that these figures were looked at, and that it was found as a fact that the assets lost and the businesses lost through the pit closures would have meant in a normal business the necessity to write down the capital by (what shall we say?) a quarter, that would mean that one-quarter would be available for increasing the Coal Board's offer without one farthing (if "one farthing" is an expression one can use) being put on the cost of coal. There would be no additional cost at all. One-quarter would mean that the figure of something less than 8 per cent, would be raised to about 10 per cent. I am not saying that that would settle the matter. I am only saving that we should then move to a situation in which the miners were being asked to accept a continuation in their standard of living and not a fall in it. What they are being asked to accept at the moment is a 2 per cent, reduction in their standard of living—ignoring their productivity, ignoring the benefit the Board have had out of their work. Let me remind the House of what that benefit is.
During the course of the last four years the cash value of the proceeds per man-shift have gone up by 60 per cent. —not in real terms, but in cash. The cash value of the wages has gone up by 25 per cent. The boss, the Board, has had an improvement of 60 per cent.; the men, the miners, have had an improvement of 25 per cent. It is odd that, against those figures, the Board say that they cannot possibly afford any more. I am saying that, notwithstanding the cash improvement in what the man-shift produces, notwithstanding the fact that productivity over the last decade has been higher than in manufacturing industry generally (and this is what happens when you nationalise an industry); notwithstanding both those facts, the miners are being asked to accept a drop in their living standards. Without doing other than taking an objective view of the capital structure of the Board, I believe it may be possible to say that there is available a further sum of money which, without putting one farthing on the price 649 of coal, would enable the offer to be increased by 25 per cent. And that would result in the miners' living standards being continued instead of dropping.
Let me go on to a further point—and here I follow the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye. He said, in short, "Where is the sinfulness in subsidy?"He was talking about subsidies in transport. We do not have to look a long way ahead; we have only to think, as my noble friend Lord Energlyn, reminded us, that associated with coal are minerals; and associated with energy are minerals. We have to think of our business in this House on Thursday next, in three days' time. What are we proposing to do on Thursday? We are proposing a subsidy of £25 million. And for what? For minerals. For the men who are going to win the minerals? Oh, no! We are to propose a £25 million subsidy for exploration; for the firms which are to explore for minerals. Here we are dealing with the later stage. The mining happens after the exploration has taken place. There are men who will be winning the minerals. All I am saying is, if it is right to claim subsidies from the Exchequer on trust, if it is right to provide £25 million on trust for a number of firms to explore for minerals, can it be very wrong to provide, say, half that sum—to divide it between the mineral explorers and the winners of the minerals? The miners produce the coal. Can it be wrong to provide £12½ million for them?
This is where I answer the question put to the noble Earl the leader of the House. He had not his figures handy at the time when he was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, what would be the precise figure that would produce an 11 per cent. increase. This subsidy would produce an 11 per cent. increase in the miners' wages as compared with last year—going up from somewhere between 7 and 8 per cent. and 10 per cent.—without any cost at all. This excludes that other alternative, by itself, merely sharing the subsidy between two recipients instead of giving it all to one small group. Sharing the subsidy between two recipients would result in ability to break the deadlock by enabling the Coal Board to offer a sum equivalent to an 11 per cent. increase. It would enable miners to have the magnificent 650 sum of a penny in the pound increase on their living standards, which would help greatly in places like Chesterfield and Pontefract where miners live and where, in two or three months' time, they will have to pay an additional £1 a week rent.
I am saying that there are various methods by which this deadlock could be broken. I regret to have to say that one can conclude, from everything done by the Minister and from the speech made by the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, at the beginning of the debate, that the Government have continued in their attitude of lofty disinterest in this matter superficially while behind the scenes seeing to it that nothing more than 8 per cent. so far has been offered. The way to break this deadlock is to make it possible to arrive at a compromise by one of the various methods which I have suggested, and which would be done as soon as the Government removed the shackles preventing it. We are saying to the Government that it is precisely at their door that this first official strike in the mining industry for the last half century rests. The miners, quite properly are unable to contemplate a situation in which they see their living standards literally falling; where they see their co-operation in securing something like a two-thirds reduction in their manpower turned against them and where they see their standards and comparative position falling the whole time.
My Lords, there is a lot more that I could say, were time available. I have suggested sufficient to show that this is what we demand of the Government; and unless they come forward with concrete proposals and undertakings of action to break this deadlock, we shall be bound to show our disapproval and condemnation in the Division Lobbies.
§ 11.2 p.m.
§ THE MINISTER WITHOUT PORTFOLIO (LORD DRUMALBYN)
My Lords, we have had an extremely interesting debate and one in which many excellent suggestions have been made. I should like to say at the outset that we will have all those suggestions most carefully examined. It would be folly for me to attempt to respond to them tonight. Indeed, I cannot, obviously, commit my right honourable friend to suggestions 651 that he has not yet even considered. So, if I may, I will undertake to consider the suggestions made by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, and by many other speakers, not least by the noble Lord, Lord Energlyn. I was particularly interested in the emphasis on a fuel policy laid by a number of speakers, including my noble friend Lord Lauderdale, the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, and the noble Lord, Lord Arwyn, my noble friend Lord Harvey of Prestbury and the noble Lord, Lord Energlyn, himself.
As the Motion before the House "calls attention to the … coal mining industry" I should like to start by saying a word about that. The Government keep the balance between the different fuels under close review, but they do not wish to predict the future demand for any particular fuel. The relative advantages of nuclear power and of oil from the OPEC countries and gas from the North Sea, as compared with coal, can vary, and can vary at very short intervals. Predictions in this field are very fallible. The present strike will of course certainly cause them to vary. Basically the Government consider that consumers should be free to choose their own fuels. Future coal demand must then depend primarily on its competitiveness. But the Government recognise the need to take into account wider considerations such as security of supply and other social and regional factors. As my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing said, coal receives protection through the fuel oil tax and through restrictions on conversions of power stations. A number of noble Lords, notably the noble Lords, Lord Arwyn and Lord Harvey of Prestbury, have urged that a full inquiry should be held; and it seems to me that they have slightly different ideas about what the inquiry should be. The noble Lord, Lord Harvey, also urged a long-term plan for the industry. But I think one must say that we have to get the strike settled, at any rate before we can consider such rather long-term matters.
My Lords, I should like to say right away—and I agree here with my noble friend Lord Thomas, who made an excellent speech—that one has to analyse this Motion. As I see it, it does three things. It calls attention to the situation 652 in the coal-mining industry; it states that the Government's policy towards incomes makes industrial action by the miners inevitable, and thirdly it invites the House to express its disapproval of that policy. What matters so far as this debate is concerned is that nothing should be said that could make things worse or make it more difficult for the strike to be settled. First the Motion calls attention to the situation in the coal-mining industry, and noble Lords will expect me to say something about that and to put the record straight where it seems to me that it needs to be put straight.
It is very important that the traditional impartiality of the Secretary of State should be maintained, since he may see an opportunity to intervene with an attempt to get a settlement, and he will do that when the time seems appropriate to him to do so. At the present the dispute is one between the National Coal Board and National Union of Mineworkers even if the effects of the dispute are felt much more widely. What matters now is not whether the policy of the Government made the strike inevitable, as the Motion alleges—at this time what is important is not so much what caused the strike as finding a basis for a settlement. However, as this Motion challenges the Government's policy as it affects incomes, I shall also deal with that. But first may I say something about the situation in the coal industry and the background of the strike? This has been gone over many times in the debate and I do not think I need say very much more than this on that particular aspect.
We have had in the past few years, in the past twenty years if you like, an immense industrial transformation carried out with extremely little trouble, and that is a standing and durable tribute to the good sense and realism of both the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers. It resulted in a technically advanced industry far better equipped to compete with other fuels and to play its proper part in the wellbeing of the nation. All this earned, and received, the gratitude of everyone. The miners themselves were better off, better housed, better paid. One compares it with the war time and the immediate post-war time. They are better housed, better paid with better welfare services, 653 and they have a job to do which is much more interesting because it is more highly skilled. It remains, however, one of the most arduous and dangerous occupations. I do not dissent from Lord Harvey of Prestbury in joining the deep-sea fishermen with those in this industry. It is one of the most dangerous of occupations, although I am bound to say that the incidence of fatal accidents has fallen considerably. A good deal has been said about this aspect, but I would just add this comment. The fact that it is between one-half and one-fifth in its incidence in other comparable countries is a great credit to all concerned in this country.
As to productivity, in the last ten years output per man-shift has increased on average by 4¾ per cent. a year. The rate of increase reached a peak of 9 per cent. in 1968–69, but fell to about 2 per cent. in the succeeding two years. It was still falling in the present year, 1971–72, even before the overtime ban started on November 1; and in the first nine months productivity was about 0.5 per cent. less than last year. As to costs, they were fairly stable between 1960 and 1968–69, when they rose by only 2 per cent. a year. But in 1969–70 they rose sharply, and again in 1970–71, so that a 20 per cent. increase was recorded over those two years. Whereas coal supplied nearly 90 per cent. of our energy consumption in 1950, the proportion had fallen to 47.1 per cent. in 1970. Consumption by gasworks and the railways had practically ceased, and domestic and industrial consumption had more than halved.
Despite modernisation and increased productivity, the position of the industry cannot be said to be entirely healthy. Prices have risen since October, 1969, by about 40 per cent., on average, though within this average there are wide variations. Productivity is falling. Since the writing-off of £415 million of the National Coal Board's capital in 1965 the N.C.B. have accumulated losses of nearly £34 million. And, speaking of that capital reconstruction, I should remind noble Lords that the Board were then relieved of the entire burden of compensation to former coal owners. A small profit of £½ million was made last year, but this year the losses of £20 million through overtime bans, and of £10 million a week so long as the strike lasts, are bound to result in a deficit on 654 the year's out-turn. All this means that there would have been serious problems ahead for the Board and the Government, quite apart from the strike.
Until the strike, coal had been fighting hard, and not without success, to retain markets against heavy pressure from other fuels, and the industry had slimmed down and increased its efficiency. The prospects for coal, here and abroad, depend on the choice of coal-users, and that in turn depends on price and reliability of supplies. The prospects were looking brighter, especially as there was a good chance of increasing sales within the E.E.C. The strike has put them at risk. That, my Lords, is a summary of the situation in the industry to which the Motion refers.
It has been suggested that if the National Coal Board were relieved of more of their capital obligations they would be able to pay higher wages. But the offer which the National Coal Board have made is in line with the bulk of recent settlements of wage claims. Is it seriously suggested that it would be right to transfer to the taxpayer the cost of settling at rates which in the Board's judgment are against their interest and the wider public interest? Is it right to finance inflation in that way? Can one ignore the economic situation of an industry and what the consumer is prepared to pay? Fuel is a field in which competition is keen. Prices of coal have increased by 40 per cent., on average, within the past two and a half years. Since the National Coal Board are barely breaking even, any wage increase is bound to mean higher prices, unless coal is subsidised. The N.C.B. had hoped under each of their offers to be able to contain price increases within the 5 per cent. C.B.I. formula, which has been generally accepted by industry as a whole.
Everyone in this debate has said that there is great public sympathy for the miners. But, as I think my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing said, how long would that public sympathy survive once the daily lives of the community begin to be seriously disrupted and real hardship becomes widespread for families, and for the old and sick. As I have said, the National Coal Board have certainly shown no obstinacy. They have raised 655 their initial offer three times at least: there have been four separate offers. Their last offer, which the National Union of Mineworkers did not put to their constituent members, would have given £2 a week more to 121,000 adult day-wage men paid under the 1959 day-wage structure, thus raising the minimum wage to £20 a week—a target of the T.U.C.—and would have taken the miners from 16th to 6th place in the league table of minimum rates. To the other 160,000 adults it would have given an extra £1.90 a week. In addition, there would have been an extra five individual holidays a year.
The effect of these increases, taken together with the increases of up to £.2.77½ per week to bring all workers under the National Power Loading Agreement up to the same level as that of the Nottingham and Kent workers, would have raised the average earnings of men on faces covered by that agreement up to £34.67 and those of craftsmen on N.P.L.A. faces up to £42 a week. Last October, average earnings overall, including average allowances in kind (concessionary coal, housing) of £2.13, were £30.14, compared with £28.80 for all industries. I think my noble friend, Lord Bessborough asked me for that figure. The increases offered would have taken the average over £32 and they would have cost the N.C.B. over £31 million.
The noble Lord, Lord Delacourt-Smith asked: did the Government allow the National Coal Board to negotiate freely? The answer, my Lords, is that they did. The Board freely negotiated without Government constraints—and if I may say so, I think that where this debate has gone wrong throughout is that this fact was not appreciated, or, if it was appreciated, it was not believed. But this was so. Of course the Board, like all other employers, are aware of the Government's view of the need to reduce the level of wage settlements as part of their general policy against inflation, and likewise the Board kept the Government informed of developments. But your Lordships will, I believe, accept that this was both proper and customary, given the duty of the National Coal Board to have regard to the public interest.
§ LORD DIAMOND
My Lords, the noble Lord is as fully aware as I am of the minutes of the meeting between the N.U.M. and the Coal Board on December 21, the last paragraph of which reads:The Board said that they had very carefully considered the N.U.M. claim on the basis of the Board's operations and had looked at every possible means of improving the situation. It was for this reason that they had devised their latest package offer. In doing so they had, of course, to take account of what was happening externally.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
Of course they had, my Lords. That did not mean that the Government were giving them instructions what to do. I am sure that in all fairness noble Lords will appreciate that that is so.
One answer to the charge of unfair treatment in the public sector—and this has been a recurrent theme, not least from the noble Lord, Lord Balogh—lies in the statistics covering wage rates and earnings published recently by the Department of Employment, to which my noble friend the Leader of the House referred. The indices dominated by the private sector and the reduction in 1971, compared with 1970, just could not have occurred had de-escalation been limited to the public sector. It follows that attention was paid, as my noble friend the Leader of the House said, by the private sector, as well as by the public sector, to the Government's policy.
§ LORD DELACOURT-SMITH
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord would clarify that point a little further. Are we to understand from what he said that if the National Coal Board decided in all the circumstances that it would be appropriate to make a further and improved offer in order to contribute to a settlement, the Government would raise no objection to their doing so?
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, this has not been put to the Government; I cannot possibly answer that question.
§ LORD DELACOURT-SMITH
Will the noble Lord give way? The National Coal Board may not have put the question but, with respect, I have put the 657 question. This is to clarify the point that the noble Lord has made. If the National Coal Board decided, in the light of circumstances, that they should come forward with an improved offer to contribute to a settlement, are we to understand that the Government would make no objection to their putting that improved offer?
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, that is a hypothetical question, and it would be quite improper to attempt to answer it. It is a different question. Noble Lords on the other side laugh; they know that they put me in a certain difficulty. They know that if they were standing where I am they would be in the same difficulty and would give the same answer.
I have been asked, "Could not something have been done to avoid this strike? Could not the Government, even now, do something to end it?" The Board alone are fully responsible for the management of the industry. They have made four separate offers; they have repeatedly met the miners' leaders. They have expressed willingness to have the dispute resolved by the National Reference Tribunal, a standing body of three independent members provided for under the Coal Mining Industry Conciliation Scheme, and respected by everyone (except apparently the noble Lord, Lord Balogh), but the National Union of Mineworkers refused. It is difficult to see what more the National Coal Board could have done. They offered the most they considered they could afford in keeping with the prospects of the industry and with their statutory duties. Does the noble Lord wish to intervene?
§ LORD BALOGH
My Lords, the Minister says that there was no pressure or influence on the Coal Board, and that the private sector is treated like the public sector. Will he tell me which company could have withstood these losses that are now incurred by the Coal Board, unless the Government would guarantee it? Does he not realise that what we are now seeing is a public subsidy to withstand the strike? That is what we are witnessing now, because it was only because—
§ LORD BALOGH
We are not in Question Time. The Minister has yielded; I am not going to be intimidated; I am not that sort of a man. Will the Minister answer how a private company could stand these losses, and how a private company would weigh up the costs and advantages of striking or not striking'?
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
With respect, I understand the point very well. But private enterprise is in a totally different position from the nationalised industry which is entirely dependent for its funds on the Government. That is so. I do not see that the noble Lord is advancing any kind of argument in that whatsoever.
My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State considered the situation on the eve of the strike and was forced to conclude, both then and subsequently, that no practical step that would help towards a settlement was yet possible. His judgment was confirmed by the meeting arranged by Mr. Victor Feather and the meetings which my right honourable friend had with both parties. Both sides were offered the opportunity to explain the position to the Department of Employment, but the Union, I am sorry to say, did not accept the invitation.
Reference has been made in the debate to the damage that may be done to equipment in the pits and to the pits themselves if the proper safety measures are not carried out. The noble Lord, Lord Arwyn, with his long experience, dwelt on the dangers involved, and others have mentioned the cost of neglect. The National Coal Board expected the cooperation of the National Union of Mineworkers in the necessary work of safeguarding underground machinery and equipment. In the event, the National Union of Mineworkers' instructions to members to undertake this work have unfortunately been largely disregarded, so that the Coal Board have had to rely solely on officials and managers. I should like to thank these men who have put in long hours of work on an 659 arduous and difficult task, and in some cases in the face of picketing. The effect is that the National Coal Board anticipate great practical difficulties in restoring conditions in many mines to former standards, and clearly the longer the strike continues the greater the problem for the Board and the higher the cost. The Board are of course more concerned about the prospects of future employment for the miners rather than the cost and difficulty of replacing damaged machinery. It is very much to be hoped that heed will be paid to the Union by its members in this respect.
Reference to picketing methods has been made during the debate by my noble friend Lord Harvey of Prestbury, my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing, and others. I think I should mention that after the end of February under the Industrial Relations Act it will be illegal to picket private houses. But, apart from this, the law can act only if there is violence, threats, intimidation, trespass on private property or obstruction on the highway. My noble friend the Leader of the House has explained the Government's policy towards incomes. What nobody has explained is how that policy makes industrial action by the miners, or anyone else, inevitable. Plainly it is in the interest of everyone—or nearly everyone; certainly of all honest citizens—that the rate of inflation should be curbed. And that is precisely what the Government have been trying to do, and trying to do in a way that is fair for all.
My Lords, as the hour is late I would end simply on this note. What this Motion is calculated to do—and let us be quite clear about this—is to lay the blame in advance for the widespread hardships which would be likely to arise if this strike at this particular time of the year were to continue. Paradoxically, it seems to lay it on one of the most widely accepted and increasingly successful policies of the Government: their policy.
§ to combat inflation and provide a basis for faster growth. It is, of course, no novelty in politics for one Party to seek to lay the blame for any adversity that befalls the nation on its political opponents. But what we all want is an end to this strike—the first national strike of the miners, as the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, said, for half a century. What I would invite noble Lords to consider is whether voting for this Motion will contribute to the ending of this strike. I, for one, find it impossible to believe that curbing inflation by reducing the rate of wage settlements made the strike inevitable, and I suspect that many noble Lords on both sides of the House share that view. But, even if it did, it serves no good purpose to divide the House on the causes of the strike. My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Blyton, whom I congratulate not only on giving us an opportunity to discuss this matter today but for the very moderate and sympathetic way in which he introduced this Motion, will not press his Motion to a Division. It is at best irrelevant. But, if he does, I hope that your Lordships will register your strong disagreement with it.
§ 11.30 p.m.
§ LORD BLYTON
My Lords, there is no doubt that on the opposite Benches there is strong disagreement with this side of the House on this issue. As I understood the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, what he said was reminiscent of Stanley Baldwin's attitude as the Leader of the Government in 1926. All I can say is that this will be a long and bitter struggle with the miners. As each side has put its case I shall end it with that comment, and I hope that we shall record our votes in the Division Lobby.
§ 11.31 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the Motion shall be agreed to?
§ The Lordships divided: Contents 44; Not-Contents, 99.661
|Archibald, L.||Burntwood, L.||Gaitskell, Bs.|
|Ardwick, L.||Chalfont, L.||Gardiner, L.|
|Arwyn, L.||Champion, L.||Garnsworthy, L.|
|Bacon, Bs.||Davies of Leek, L.||Henderson, L.|
|Balogh, L.||Delacourt-Smith, L.||Henley, L.|
|Bernstein, L.||Diamond, L.||Janner, L.|
|Beswick, L.||Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Lee of Asheridge, Bs.|
|Blyton, L. [Teller.]||Energlyn, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, Bs. [Teller.]|
|Brockway, L.||Evans of Hungershall, L.|
|Longford, E.||Serota, Bs.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Maelor, L.||Shackleton, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Mais, L.||Shinwell, L.||White, Bs.|
|Milford, L.||Snow, L.||Wright of Ashton under Lyne, L.|
|Milner of Leeds, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Morris of Kenwood, L.||Summerskiil, Bs.||Wynne-Jones, L.|
|Aberdare, L.||Gainford, L.||Mountevans, L.|
|Aldenham, L.||Glasgow, E.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Amherst of Hackney, L.||Goschen, V.||Napier and Ettrick, L.|
|Amory, V.||Gowrie, E.||Nelson of Stafford, L.|
|Balfour of Inchrye, L.||Greenway, L.||Northchurch, B.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Gridley, L.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Grimston of Westbury, L.||Oakshott, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Hailes, L.||O'Neill of the Maine, L.|
|Berkeley, Bs.||Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Bethell, L.||Harvey of Prestbury, L.||Rathcavan, L.|
|Brecon, L.||Harvey of Tasburgh, L.||Reading, M.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Hatherton, L.||Rhyl, L.|
|Brooke of Cumnor, L.||Hawke, L.||St. Aldwyn, E. [Teller.]|
|Brooke of Ystradfellte, Bs.||Hood, V.||St. Helens, L.|
|Burnham, L.||Jellicoe, E. (L. Privy Seal.)||St. Just, L.|
|Caldeco[...]e, V.||Killearn, L.||Saint Oswald, L.|
|Carrington, L.||Kilmarnock, L.||Sandford, L.|
|Chesham, L.||Kinnoull, E.||Selkirk, E.|
|Conesford, L,||Lansdowne, M.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Courtown, E.||Latymer, L.||Stamp, L.|
|Cowley, E.||Lauderdale, E.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Long, V.||Teviot, L.|
|Craigmyle, L.||Lothian, M.||Thomas, L.|
|Crathorne, L.||Lyell, L.||Thorneycroft, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Macleod of Borve, Bs.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Mancroft, L.||Tweedsmuir, L.|
|Derwent, L.||Margadale, L.||Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, Bs.|
|Digby, L.||Mersey, V.||Vivian, L.|
|Drogheda, E.||Milverton, L.||Ward of Witley, V.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Molson, L.||Windlesham, L.|
|Dudley, E.||Monckton of Brenchley, V.||Wise, L.|
|Essex, E.||Monk Bretton, L.||Wolverton, L.|
Resolved in the negative, and Motion disagreed to accordingly.