§ 3.35 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
§ BARONESS SEEAR
My Lords, your Lordships will remember that we on these Benches have been pressing for an Energy Commission for some time. Therefore we are delighted that the Government have decided to set up a Department of Energy, and we greatly welcome the appointment of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, to lead that Department. As was said by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, this is a situation of increasing 602 seriousness and increasing anxiety. But we who have supported an incomes and prices policy consistently for a long period of time, cannot go along with the idea put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that, because the demands from the miners are very powerful; because they are in a position of great strength and, according to information, many people sympathise with the position of the miners, the Government should settle outside Stage 3.
It is not that we have any regard for Stage 3 as an incomes policy—and I shall be coming to that point in a moment—but it seems to us impossible to argue that you should support an incomes policy and then, when the going gets tough, or when there is a group which wields a great deal of power, the Government must retreat from the application of that policy. If that is the line to be taken, my Lords, we had better pack up the idea of a prices and incomes policy altogether, because again and again a situation will arise and then, with regard to the very group for whom such a policy has been particularly necessary, the Government will be required to retreat. That can do no good at all; and not least because—this has to be said again—if Parliament is to retain the ascendancy which, surely, in a Parliamentary democracy it must have, it cannot bring in Regulations and run away from them whenever it becomes difficult to apply them.
I should like to make the point, and to ask the Government again, whether there is no possibility of using the clause in the incomes policy which allows for the implementation of the 3½ per cent. productivity agreement that would provide additional money for the miners. The miners want additional money; we know that a settlement with regard to the 3½ per cent. productivity arrangement has not been reached. We understand, and we accept, the miners' dislike of productivity agreements as such. But is it not possible that there should be an overall production payment to be made to the mining industry as a whole in virtue of additional amounts of coal produced? Such a promise of additional payment by virtue of additional coal being produced would surely not be against the spirit of the Stage 3 agreement. After all, it is very likely that in the existing circumstances the amount of coal that the miners will 603 win when they get back fully to employment will be considerably in excess of what was originally expected when the 3½ per cent. productivity clause was inserted. After a decline in work of the kind we have had, and a restriction of output of the kind that we have experienced, it is a common occurrence that when men return to work there is a great increase in output; and because of the change in the situation it is very likely that when there is a full return to work on the part of the miners there will be a considerable increase in the total amount of coal which is mined. Is it not possible, without being seriously in breach of the spirit of Stage 3, that if there is an increase above the expected level of coal production we so badly need, an additional amount of money could be paid to the industry which the miners themselves could decide should be distributed according to a formula which appealed to them?
We understand that the objection to a productivity scheme is that there is, because of natural causes, a different level of productivity in different pits and this makes the kind of productivity which is limited to a pit or even to an area of coal to seem unfair in the minds of many miners. But if there were a promise of additional payment for a substantial increase of production, and which could be distributed by the N.U.M. in agreement with the Coal Board which would mean that additional money was paid, surely this could be done within the terms of Stage 3. But having said that we do not accept a retreat from Stage 3, we urge the Government to recognise that in to-days' circumstances Stage 3 is quite inappropriate. We never liked it; the details of Stage 3 are so complex and it is indeed too inflationary. This was true before the oil situation arose. It has now become totally irrelevant as an incomes policy in to-day's circumstances. What we need, and what we beg the Government to do now—not at some future time after the settlement has been reached—is to start working on a quite different kind of prices and incomes policy.
My Lords, there are three elements in this total question: there is the problem of the control of inflation; there is the problem of differentials between different kinds of work and different categories of workers, and there is the interest of social 604 justice—a term very widely used and never clearly defined.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD HAILSHAM OF SAINT MARYLEBONE)
My Lords, it means something different to everybody.
§ BARONESS SEEAR
It means something different to everybody, as I am prompted by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. May I suggest that we are seriously muddled as to who should make which decision. The responsibility of Government is to protect the community as a whole against inflation, as the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has said. There is overwhelming agreement in the country that we want to halt inflation and it is the Government's responsibility to see that this is done. But I suggest, my Lords, that it is most emphatically not the responsibility of Government, or the responsibility of any particular agency established by Government, to decide in detail the differentials between different categories of workers or to lay down how much shall be paid to this group of people as against how much should be paid to that group. Anyone who has handled wage questions at the level of even one company knows the complexities of this problem. In any case, this central determination of differentials leaves out many of the most important questions and, above all, it leaves out the ability to respond to changes in the market situation, changes in the demand and supply of labour. It is no good pretending that market forces can be kept out of the consideration of wages. Indeed, the real problem about the miners at the present time is whether to cut away a good deal of rather excited talk about them. In fact, for market reasons, the miners are in a very much stronger bargaining position than they were three months ago, and the weakness of Stage 3 is that it is quite impossible to recognise and to respond to these market changes, and any system for controlling incomes which does not allow for changes in those forces is going to fail. Every single system which we have tried in the past has failed basically for that reason.
I shall not weary your Lordships this afternoon with a discussion about why—though I believe this to be true—there is a very strong argument, ethically as well 605 as economically, for recognising the power of market forces in determining pay, but I will merely say that to try to ignore them is ridiculous, a Canute-like activity. We know that one of the major problems to-day is that free collective bargaining has been eroded and the trade union movement feel that they are no longer playing their right part in determining levels of pay. We on these Benches have been saying for a long time that the Government should control inflation by agreeing in Parliament, on a basis of statistical information and the best forecasting we can get, on the level of pay increases over all in the country that the economy can stand, while at the same time containing inflation and with the objective of containing inflation. That is the Government's job. Having said that, it should be handed over to the unions and the employers to settle differentials between them and to settle the movement and changes in pay position which are going on all the time.
I deplore the references made to returning the miners to their previous position in the league table. There is no fixed position in the league table. As Sir Stafford Cripps had the courage to say in his White Paper on Incomes Policy nearly thirty years ago:The maintenance of differentials is never by itself a justification for pay increases.You have to take the total position into account and bargain about it. It is a matter for negotiation. Let us get back to the negotiators. This will give the unions what they want, to come in on the determination of pay but within the control of Government to the extent that there is a global amount to be distributed and no more. If this is being conceded, then the Government have to operate a claw-back system by one means or another, and the more this claw-back system operates directly on the people who are creating inflation by allowing excessive payments to be made, the better. But if that proves too difficult, a more general claw-back system, in which to a great extent the innocent will suffer with the guilty, will have to be operated.
This gets us back to where we need to be with the bargainers conducting what is essentially a matter of bargaining. May I say, too, that not only should that be done at national level but we should be harnessing the good sense and collaboration, and indeed the good will, which certainly 606 exists at factory level. My contacts up and down the country tell me that at the present time there is in fact a very good spirit at the level of the plants; and I have heard from some of the most militant factories and industries that there is more collaboration between the shop floor and the management in dealing with the problems which have been created by this crisis than has existed for a very long time. Surely this good will is something we ought to harness now. Now is the time to establish works councils, to be mobilising the knowledge the intelligence, the will to collaborate and to take part, in order to try to solve the problem in a responsible manner. But this cannot be done so long as the Government are trying to hold the control of pay centrally in their own hands. Let us start to move back to a situation which makes for a statutory incomes policy whereby the Government decide the global sum and exercise a claw-back system where this is exceeded.
I know that some people would say that this way of fixing through collective bargaining does not meet the problems of social justice, that it does not decide the relative value of job A as against job B. This is an immensely difficult task; it is a matter of opinion, it is highly subjective. Before we advocate job evaluation as being a way of determining the relative value of job A against job B—true within a company plant it helps greatly to sort out the jumble of wages and to have a more rational and acceptable system—anybody who has worked these systems knows that they are very subjective. They are based largely on custom and their value lies in the degree of acceptability they get because the people who are going to be affected by them have taken part in determining how the system is to be constructed. You are asking that people should work out the relative value of the primary school teacher against the technical operative, against the junior civil servant. There is no way of doing it, and do not let us fool ourselves that we are going to achieve social justice in this way. In any case, when we are talking in these terms we are talking only about pay, and basic pay at that. But anybody who knows anything about salary and wages questions knows that all people are intersted in to-day is the total remuneration packet of whatever kind. There is 607 a great deal concerning this matter which cannot be settled by any central body. You are not going to get the kind of equity which some people seem to be striving after, by establishing differentials on some basis they believe to be just. Some people say that some jobs are obviously more necessary than others.
I do not wish to waste time, but just before the devaluation in 1949 I was in the United States and took every opportunity I could to find out what British goods were being sold. I went into a china shop one day and asked them what British goods they were selling. They pulled down from the shelf the most ugly china painted lady I have ever seen in my life. They said, "Of course, we could sell any number of these." At that moment in time, of course, what we needed was dollars. Dollars meant machinery and wheat; and they meant that the top priority in social and economic terms was the production of hideous china painted ladies. I do not think that any table would have recognised how important such ladies were, nor would it have recognised that things change and that any central system of fixing differentials must always be out of date because it is in a continual state of flux—market forces mean that priorities are altering all the time. So let us go back to collective bargaining and leave this as a problem of social justice. We from these Benches, and most other people, too often talk about "social justice". Personally I would prefer to use the word "justice" and leave it at that. I can never quite see what is added by the use of the adjective "social". If we could have merely "justice" we might perhaps do things rather better than we have in the past.
I should like to urge that we leave collective bargaining in a framework for fixing differentials. You get your social justice through the far more sensitive and accurate instrument of a tax credits scheme, a guaranteeing (as it is intended to do) through a tax credits system which will redistribute through the tax and social benefit system assistance from those who have to those who are in need. We do not need to wait for a fully worked out tax credits system before starting on this. We could start now, with changes in social benefits which 608 would help those most in need. From these Benches we have urged many times, for instance, that we should have family allowances for the first child. It would cost no less than £335 million, which is a distributive act of no small order; but it would do far more for social justice than fiddling around with differentials for different categories of workers—which will not be enforceable in any case. So, let us speed on the tax system for redistributing benefits and thus help to achieve social justice.
Finally, social justice is not only a matter of redistribution and the meeting of needs; it is also a matter of opportunities. If, because of the strength of market forces and of society's present needs, some jobs command more money, then it is part of social justice to see that access to those jobs is available to those who are prepared to go and take on that kind of work. If one resents the amount of money that is earned by certain persons, often the question is asked: "Why do you not go and do the job yourself?" One answer is that there should be opportunities for people to go and learn how to do the jobs for which applicants are in short supply and which command high rates of pay. Often today such opportunities are not there. I hope that does not sound like "King Charles's head", but if planning and retraining to meet labour shortages was necessary six months ago, it is fifty times more necessary today. Industries which were in full spate are going to contract, and industries which were not previously in demand will be greatly in demand in the very near future. Let us ask the people who are responsible for the work of the Manpower Services Commission to be looking now and telling us in Parliament where there is going to be a demand for labour, where people will be squeezed out of industries which will contract because of our present circumstances, and where and what opportunities will be made available to enable people to move from declining industries to expanding ones in this totally new situation in which we find ourselves. Let us make a new start from today, with a different kind of incomes policy, bringing back the unions into the bargaining procedure and opening up opportunities where in the past opportunities have not existed.
§ 3.56 p.m.
§ THE LORD BISHOP OF LONDON
My Lords, the fact that the nation faces a crisis of major proportions and that it is necessary for this House to be recalled to discuss it is a searching and terrible comment on our ability to order our affairs peacefully and for our wellbeing. We have gone a long way towards mastering the universe and harnessing it to our own advantage. We have built up a wonderful technology and immense economic resources. We have banished much of the drudgery of life and opened up visions of prosperity undreamed of only a few years ago. Now we bid fair to destroy what we have achieved and to confound the hopes that rise so strongly, simply because we have been unable to create a structure of society in which men sense that they are being treated justly, in which they feel they are receiving a fair reward for their labours and in which their differences and grievances can be dealt with in a sensible and civilised manner.
It is, I suggest, a terrible condemnation of all of us that at this particular moment in history, when we should be looking forward so confidently and hopefully to the enjoyment by all of the riches which are available, we should instead be debating within the setting, outside this House, of rancour and bitterness within society, when thinking and sober-minded people are asking themselves whether or not society as we know it will be able to survive at all. It is considerations such as these which lead one to believe that basically the issues that confront us are not primarily economic or political, but moral. Of course they have wide economic significance, for they concern our ability to provide the goods and services necessary for our well-being. They have political significance because they involve decisions, and those who are to make them, together with the wisdom of those decisions, the right to challenge them and the manner in which this should be done. But, basically, what should concern us is the rights and duties of persons: their right to a fair share of the economic cake; their right to withhold their contribution to the common stock of service; their right, if they are so minded, to disrupt the pattern of society and to inflict suffering on others in order to gain their own ends; and their duty to serve the community, even though this may involve 610 a sense of grievance and injustice. These matters of human behaviour and human relationships are basically what concern us to-day and it is these things which involve the moral standards of the nation.
I appreciate that in discussing these issues those of us who have had no direct experience of the conditions of life and work of those involved in these disputes must speak with humility and reticence. Like so many of your Lordships, but I know by no means all, I have not experienced insecurity or dire poverty. My work has never been unpleasant or dangerous; I have never needed the protection of a trade union. Neither I nor my family suffered, as so many did, as a result of the depression in the 'thirties. Those of us who approach these problems from a background of privilege and security ought to be very careful before we condemn those who at first sight seem to be so unreasonable and un-co-operative and so ready to inflict pain on others in order to forward their own interests.
Nevertheless, experience is teaching us more and more clearly that it is one world we live in and one nation to which we belong, and that there can be no place for insensitivity to each other's needs. If there is, then disaster will follow as surely as night follows day. We are all involved in these problems, and we shall all stand or fall together. We all have a right to express our opinions and try to persuade others to our way of thinking. But, my Lords, let us do so charitably, respecting each other's point of view, and let us get rid of the anger and bitterness that are be-devilling our national unity and dividing our people into blocs and war with one another.
The layman in these affairs is quite frankly mystified by the way in which, year after year, these crises come upon us and we go through the same process of tension, disruption and final solution. Each year we have a confrontation, the threat to strike, the "go-slow", the overtime ban, the work to rule. We note that these crises blow up at the most inconvenient times of the year, when they cause a major amount of discomfort and disruption. Finally, a solution is found and the public are told that the way is set fair ahead. But back again next year we come to the all too familiar round of industrial strife.
611 It seems inconceivable that it should be beyond the wit of man to devise a system of industrial relationships within which reasonable men can discover a rational way of solving their differences within the rule of law, without resort to the confrontations which are so familiar and which in. the end do harm to everyone concerned—unless of course there are people who are not prepared at any cost to co-operate, and who are dead set on using industrial strife to undermine confidence and destroy the very fabric of society. If there are such people they should show themselves so that we can know who they are.
The key to our problems lies surely in the providing of a sense that justice matters and that justice has been done. That means justice for everyone. If there are those whose blood boils at the mention of ASLEF or the National Union of Mineworkers, let it be remembered that there are as many who are enraged by what is represented by such words as Lonrho or Centre Point and who feel that not enough has been done to require the very rich to make adequate sacrifices, or to protect the lower-paid sectors of society. The very severe measures taken over Christmas may be designed to cut consumption. But cuts in public expenditure and the working week will hit the wage earner harder than the salary earner, and it will be the lower income groups who will feel the effect more severely. Unless something is done to show a greater realisation of the needs of the poorer elements of society, then appeals for national unity and sacrifice will fall on deaf ears.
Our problems must be examined in both the long term and short term. In the long term we ought as a nation to face squarely the possibility of a new social contract between the groups of society. The British Council of Churches have recently called for such an examination, based possibly upon the work of the National Economic Development Council, and embracing within its purview not only the interest of the nation but also its duty towards the poorer nations of the world and its trading relationships overseas. It could include within that consideration such suggestions as those made by Sir Eric Wigham in The Times of January 2, emphasising the need for a reassessment of job evaluation and a restatement of those categories 612 which merit special consideration. It could at least make suggestions for structural changes in the economy and for the redistribution of wealth which could be debated coolly and dispassionately by the nation and lead to a re-establishment of confidence and reconciliation.
Meanwhile, in the short term a way must be found to resolve the dreadful polarisation that has been allowed to develop, with the parties involved taking up positions which cannot be modified without loss of face. It is the duty of the Government to govern, and it is, so I believe, the duty of citizens to obey the law however much they may disapprove or dislike what it requires. It is surely of the essence of the working of democracy that the people obey the law and do not attempt to make it unworkable by creating chaos. If they do not like it the remedy lies in changing the Government when opportunity occurs. I support Phase 3 because I believe it to be a genuine attempt to deal with the problems of inflation which so far have defied all our attempts at solution. I believe it to be our duty to try to make it work.
I hope as well that an appeal may go out from this House to all those involved in industrial action, both leaders and rank and file, to consider afresh and at greater depth and imagination the consequences of their action. On the wider scale there is the real possibility that they will bring down the whole structure of society and subject our people to the indescribable misery of runaway inflation such as many can remember or experienced after both world wars. On the smaller scale there is the misery inflicted on ordinary inoffensive citizens. Those who are acting in this way are not taking it out of the Government; they are taking it out of the poor who will be poorer for a three day week; out of the old, who need light and heat; out of the working population, herded together, waiting for uncertain trains, wearied and exasperated by long hours of uncomfortable travel. These are the people who are suffering, and I confess to some impatience when I hear from time to time trade union leaders regretting the inconvenience being caused to the public, and that nothing can be done about it. I am afraid that we are all the victims of the mass mind. We are not greatly moved when we read of 7,000 people 613 killed each year on the roads. The horror strikes home only when we witness an accident or lose a relative or friend in one. Similarly, the present troubles are to be measured in the shortages and the pains inflicted on individuals. It is to be hoped that those who take this action have the imagination to understand where it hurts the most.
My Lords, I hope that one of the outcomes of this debate will be to cause us to look beneath the surface problems, great and serious as they are, to try to understand and cure the moral issues which underlie them. Our attitudes are to so large an extent created by our historical antecedents; our personal circumstances, the past history of the Industrial Revolution, our own inheritance. That inheritance is compounded of things both good and bad. It is our task to overcome the unhappy consequences of the faults of those who have gone before us. The coincidence of the oil crisis with our domestic troubles has been a sharp reminder of the way in which power is being transferred, and of the world movements to which we are subject. If for that reason alone, it is essential that we should be prepared to make a radical reassessment of the suppositions which we have accepted and to bring a changed attitude of mind to their consideration. With the help of God this can be done. But pray God it is not too late!
§ 4.12 p.m.
My Lords, if I may crave the indulgence of the House for a few minutes and speak more from the heart than any great political knowledge, I would ask your Lordships, with humility, to consider the facts. We are as we are because it is partly our own fault. The blame for our plight should not be flung completely at either this or any other Government. It is the fault of no Party or no individual. It is our own fault as a nation because we have allowed ourselves, over the years, to wander into Cloud Cuckoo-land. Slowly but surely we have become selfish and self-indulgent. It is no more a question of trying to "live up with the Jones's"—we want to live above them. What do we expect of the standard of living? What is this great thing, the standard of living? Television sets upstairs, one downstairs, one in my lady's chamber, with three motorcars in 614 the garage? How far do we have to go before we reach an adequate standard of living? Complaints have been made about cuts in the hours of television broadcasting. Might it not have been a good idea if every household had its electricity cut off at 10.30 at night? What has happened to conversation in the home? What has happened to the reading of books? All this seems to have gone by the board over the years. That is what I mean by Cloud Cuckoo-land.
We are not entirely to blame in this matter, however, for there have been many things to help us toward the situation in which we now find ourselves. I will refer first—and no doubt my reference will not be agreeable—to the Press. I do not think that they have helped the national situation in any way. Only last night one read the banner headlines of in evening paper: "Queen to stay with Lady Jane". What sort of world are we living in? The Press have also been misleading. They quote old things and try to bring them up as new. Another article in an evening paper last night accused all sorts of people of all sorts of things which bear no relevance whatsoever to the situation to-day.
Secondly, I do not think that in certain cases the City have been entirely helpful towards the Government. When chairmen of companies receive rises of £30,000 or more, is it not to be expected that the worker earning £20 or £30 a week will shout and roar? In one case, which I think I read about yesterday or the day before, one chairman or managing director received an increase of £2,187.50 which he gave to charity. That is a beginning of a new thought at least.
The third and most important point has been the incredible speculation in houses, land and property in this country. It has not only given us a bad reputation at home, it has given us a bad reputation abroad, where we badly need a good reputation. Here, in this country, we are innocent until we are proved guilty. There are so many who have been guilty, that they can no longer be innocent. This is no solution to the matter that we are debating. Three years ago I had to carry out an investigation for the Furniture and Bedding Association, and I discovered that £1,600 million per year is spent on gambling. This is quite a large figure. The average householder spends £5 per 615 annum on his home. The figures seem somewhat wrong somewhere.
I am the first speaker this afternoon who has personally worked down the mines. It may not seem it in my City suit, but in fact I was a locker boy at Warsop Main near Mansfield. The miners were the kindest, most thoughtful, most generous people possible. When I ask an electrician to come to my home, or a plumber, he charges from the moment he leaves his shop or office. One of the points, I believe, that the miners are making is that they should be paid in order that they can wash. Surely that is not asking too much when we pay for deliveries from that well-known Knightsbridge store for instance. When you compare what the miners earn with what somebody earns on an oil rig, the difference is quite laughable. A miner's job is a terrible one. He may go down in the morning, and it is dark: he comes up at night, and it is dark. He does not see the light of day. The miners versus oil riggers! What does one say (I am sorry to mention it) to hospitals when bricklayers earn £150 a week? Or to the teachers, who are supposedly teaching our young for better and further things, when comparing their rewards to those of a plasterer earning £150 a week? Where are the relative values? They are not there. Napoleon called us a nation of shopkeepers. Very soon there will be no shops left for us to keep, apart from the big stores who can afford to carry over. What about the small ones? Where is ambition? How we can teach ambition to the young? How can we teach them that this is in fact a wonderful country; that a man can still be successful, that he can still work and still get on if he has that ambition behind him? That, my Lords, must be taught, and it must be learned. So let us forget the Shylocks and think a little more of Portia's words, which your Lordships all probably know:The quality of Mercy is not strain'd; "It droppeth, as the gentle rain from heavenUpon the place beneath: it is twice bless'd; "It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes.If we think of those words, we may come to a quicker, a more lasting and a much happier solution. I thank you, my Lords.
§ 4.19 p.m.
§ LORD THORNEYCROFT
My Lords, it falls to me, and it is a happy duty, to congratulate Lord Kenilworth on his maiden speech. One might say that it was a brave man who would choose this particular subject, with all its controversy and difficulty and complexity, upon which to make his maiden speech, but I think your Lordships would agree that the noble Lord, Lord Kenilworth, discharged that duty in an admirable way. He indeed had some claim, which he revealed later, to speak because he had some experience of one aspect of these problems. But perhaps what impressed your Lordships most was the dignity and restraint with which he dealt with some of the values in the world to-day. It was a speech which admirably followed the dignified statement of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London. I would start my own remarks with his phrase: What kind of world are we living in? Certainly it is a world in which I hope we shall hear the noble Lord in this House on many future occasions.
As I say: what kind of a world? My Lords, I am bound to say I agree with others who have spoken in this regard. This is the gravest situation I can remember in this country. Not even in war have I seen this country so close to losing many of the values, the standards and the freedoms which it has taken centuries to construct. The challenge which faces us is not a challenge to the Government. It is certainly not a challenge to the Conservative Party. It is a challenge to Parliamentary democracy, a challenge to the rule of law, a challenge to established authority in the United Kingdom. Perhaps this is what makes it so difficult, because if we fail to contrive some answer to this challenge it will not be just this Government that will find it difficult to govern; it would be any Government. A Liberal or a Labour Government would be faced with precisely the same difficulties.
Nineteen hundred and seventy-four provides a grim background to the events we are discussing: the search for surface-to-air missiles, the assassinations, and the rest. I am an industrialist and I see these factories to-day. The factories in this country (I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said) are grinding to a halt; and it is a downward spiral. 617 It is not just the constant effect of a three-day week, because shortage will pile on shortage. The lack of one component results in the lack of another, until the whole of this immensely complicated, interrelated structure is gradually brought to a standstill. At the moment the blows are perhaps less on workers, though they are substantial, than on the means of giving workers employment; because many workers are getting perhaps even 90 per cent. of what they did before, for 50 per cent. of the work. But, of course, the damage and financial strain on any medium or small-sized company, or indeed any large one, are very substantial indeed. The plans which we industrialists look at habitually at this time of year, our plans for 1974, are probably not worth the paper they are written on; and we know it. The very foundations of our standard of life and our employment in this country are cracking underneath. Whatever merits the claim of the National Union of Mineworkers or of ASLEF have, the price being exacted is a very savage one.
This is a liberal, a humane and vulnerable society in which we live. We have always cherished, for example, in the criminal law the rights of the accused. We have always said that this is a place where political people can find refuge. We have settled our internal disputes by negotiation or arbitration. We have found ways of settling wage claims—perhaps a little over the odds now and again, but we have managed to do it. When I was a young man in the other place it was considered almost improper to make an intervention in discussion of these matters; it was left to the Minister of Labour of the day to make his statement in a dignified silence, and when a settlement was eventually announced—perhaps a little too high; I do not know—there was general approbation from both sides of the House.
Other countries may have grown richer faster, or felt safer, but this was our way of managing these affairs. We were proud of it. My Lords, all this is in peril to-day. For it seems to me that the world has discovered a truth but has not yet learnt how to live with it. It is that a small minority can hold a vast majority to ransom. Sophisticated explosives, for example, to-day enable a few men with a bomb to bring civilisation as we understand it to a standstill. We have seen examples 618 of it not far off. A sophisticated industrial society, in which each part is infinitely dependent on every other part, enables one strike by men determined in a certain area to bring the industry concerned to a standstill; or in the case of some source of energy, to bring the nation to a standstill.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Shawcross, in an interesting and dignified speech from the Cross Benches in your Lordships' House, on the last occasion we debated these matters, referred to the Communist influence in the National Union of Mineworkers. It is not fashionable to talk about Communism, but I do not think anybody could say it is utterly irrelevant to the debate upon which we are engaged. The intellectual basis upon which the Marxist attacks the systems under which we live has been so riddled with argument—in particular by books such as The Open Society and its Enemies, by Karl Popper—that I do not hear many seriously advancing the Marxist arguments to-day. In practical terms, the Free World has shown itself capable of constructing a very prosperous society and conducting it under conditions of wholly political freedom. Such glimpses as we get of the other world—The Gulag Archipelago, and other matters—would lead one to suppose that in other, less happy places life can be "short and brutish".
However, there are other ways of attacking a capitalist system than by argument. It is certain that the ruthless exploitation of monopoly power in industrial action could bring even the greatest nation to its knees. It is suggested in some quarters that all this is quite simple; that all the Government need to do is to get out of the way, to abandon their policies, to concede, or to concede in part, the claims. I listened to these arguments. I hope I always listen to every argument that is advanced, but I listened to this argument advanced in the most lucid terms, in Derby, by Mr. Enoch Powell, who says: "This is quite simple. We simply ought not to have a wages policy. We ought to accept that there is a shortage of coal, that there is a shortage of miners. We ought to let the wages go up, attract miners to the pits, let more coal be produced. This is the classical market mechanism approach."
619 I find it rather strange to hear those arguments advanced which are relevant to competition in an open market, but to hear them applied to a monopoly position as a political exercise seems to me to be an inept approach to economics. One might as well say that if a group of industrialists corner copper or sulphuric acid and hold the rest of industry to ransom that is not the market mechanism. So I do not accept those arguments. To find Mr. Enoch Powell in the ranks of the Socialists, or even of some Communists—
§ LORD THORNEYCROFT
My Lords, if I may just finish this argument—may be a little odd, but no more than that. To find the Socialists in the camp of Mr. Enoch Powell seems to me to be obscene, and I ask the Labour Party to reflect upon the yawning gap between the great traditions of Socialism—"for each according to his means; to each according to his needs"—and the claims to-day of the National Union of Mineworkers, or the attempt of ASLEF to gain one more advantage over their fellow railwaymen.
§ LORD WIGG
My Lords, I am greatly interested in what the noble Lord is saying but he is a little selective in his arguments. In his anxiety to demolish Mr. Enoch Powell's rejection of a wage policy, is his memory really so short that he has forgotten in the 1970 Election the twin planks of the present Prime Minister's policy—and I quote Mr. Heath's words:We utterly reject the philosophy of compulsion in wages control"?Labour compulsory wage control was a failure. Mr. Enoch Powell may be utterly wrong, but at least he has the merit of being truthful and consistent, which is more than I can ever say of the right honourable gentleman.
SEVERAL NOBLE LORDS: Oh!
§ LORD THORNEYCROFT
My Lords, I have had comments made about me before this, so it does not worry me very much.
§ LORD THORNEYCROFT
My Lords, I do not want to start swapping 620 exchanges with Mr. Wilson supporting one thing and Mr. Heath another, because the situation is rather too grave for that. To-day, we are faced with a situation where, in my judgment at any rate, these policies are in fact wholly necessary. I believe the Government to be right in having a three-day week and in sticking to these policies. I believe they cannot make a concession. I wish they could. I do not claim with joy that their position has now got to be rather inflexible. I am old enough to prefer compromise to fighting everything out. One learns these things as one goes along, but the facts are that if the Government compromise, first of all many others will follow with a claim. I live too close to industry not to know the men who are lined up to follow through if a concession is made to the miners. I know that any concession would be self-defeating because unless the Government's anti-inflation policies are sustained the value of any money that is given will be eroded. This gold would turn to false gold in their hands. The victory would be a victory for militants at the very moment when there is the gravest danger in this country—far beyond the National Union of Mineworkers—if we give any encouragement to militancy. I think it would be wrong to do so because we should be faced with the same claim next Christmas. As we all know, this claim follows very closely on the Government's defeat in this very industry a year ago; and it would also be wrong, because this claim has been stated by many of those concerned with it to be a claim and a strike with a political interest, to defeat the Government on their anti-inflation policy.
Therefore I believe that the authority of the Government, and above all the authority of Parliament, must be sustained. Parliament has always succeeded in bringing under control the great Estates of the Realm. They did it with the kings, they did it with the barons; they did it with the great landlords they did it with the proud corporations and the companies, by means of their monopolies and restrictive practices legislation, and all the rest. There is not an area of activity in this country which is not brought under control, except at the moment this question of the monopoly power in the trade unions; and a way must be found.
621 I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London that a way could be designed. For my own part, I do not think there would be much difference in your Lordships' House about it. The difficulty is not in designating the means; the difficulty is in trying to find enough reasonable men to work it. In his policies, set out in the document, In Place of Strife, Mr. Wilson advocated, for precisely the same reasons as we do, the need for some form of Industrial Relations Act, and that Industrial Relations Act would need to have enough teeth in it to make it difficult for small groups of men to hold the whole country to ransom in the way that is happening at the present time.
There is little more that I want to say, my Lords. As I have said, I would seek any means of compromise. I believe that the best chance we have is to stand together. Therefore we should seek to stand together. I believe that the Prime Minister has made every concession that is open to him. He has talked, he has negotiated, he has stretched Phase 3 to the very limits—indeed, some think beyond the limits that are safe. If a settlement is made on the terms that have been offered there still remains the pledge to sit down and discuss the long-term future. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington—and I join with others in welcoming him as the new Minister for Energy—would no doubt be playing a prominent part in a settlement of that calibre. But to go beyond the offers that are now made would be too perilous a course. I hope that we can stand together, for if we do that I think the authority of Parliament will prevail. But, in the last resort, if we cannot stand together then I think the matter must come to an issue.
§ LORD THORNEYCROFT
If Mr. Benn is right in saying that the National Union of Mineworkers represents the whole of the working class and is going to fight on that score, then I think the matter must come to an issue, and the only place at which it can come to an issue is at the polls, before the British people.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ LORD ROYLE
My Lords, as the first speaker from these Benches, following the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Kenilworth, I should like on behalf of 622 my colleagues to express our appreciation of that speech and to congratulate him on it. I would go further than the noble Lord, Lord Thorneycroft, and say that I cannot wait to hear Lord Kenilworth's next speech. And I hope it will be from these Benches, because he seems to be completely in accord with the things in which we believe. Seriously, we look forward to hearing from him many more times in the future.
So far as the noble Lord, Lord Thorneycroft, is concerned, when he and I were Members of another place we never started a speech without referring to what had been said by the previous speaker. It was a very nice courtesy, which is not always observed in your Lordships' House, but this afternoon I want to follow the noble Lord, Lord Thorneycroft, for a minute; indeed, I should have liked to follow him for very much longer had it not been for the long list of speakers yet to come. I listened to him very intently. I would only say that I disagreed with at least three-quarters of what he said. I am concerned when he talks about standing together. I remember the time when he left the Tory Government, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. He did not seem at that time to be standing together with anybody, with one exception. The only person who stuck with him was Enoch Powell. Is it not extraordinary that we should have had from the noble Lord this afternoon this appeal to stand together? In making it, he was throughout condemning the action of the miners. If the noble Lord wants to talk about "according to need", I suggest to him that the miners' actions at the present time have been taken because they really need something. That is why they are in their present position to-day.
So far as the other speeches are concerned, it is obviously impossible for one to take up all the points made in the course of a debate. I would only say with regard to the speeches of the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London and others, that it may well be that in what I have to say to some extent I shall be following them; but I shall be doing so in a much more extreme way than has so far been mentioned in this debate. I hope that I shall not be regarded as being a Communist. Knowing what I am going to say, 623 I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, if he were here, would accuse me of being a Communist: he has got them under his bed. So far as I am concerned, it is Fascist capitalists who are under my bed. These are the people I dread, not the few Communists in the Mineworkers' Union.
My Lords, during the last few weeks the media have uttered millions and millions of words, rarely saying anything in support of the miners, and mostly saying things supporting the Government. In the course of these two days, in your Lordships' House and in another place, thousands and thousands of words will be uttered on this subject, one that has disturbed us all. I confess to having lost some sleep about it. We have sorted out our thoughts as to this great issue before the country at present. But, at the end of it, I come down on the side of the people who believe that Her Majesty's Government have planned a deliberate confrontation with the miners, to the extent of imposing on industry and commerce a three-day week, which will bring in its train unemployment and misery. To quote him once again, Mr. Enoch Powell yesterday was talking about this being a "bogus emergency" (it is not often that I find myself in agreement with Mr. Powell, but I do agree with him on this) created by the Government on purpose to cover the situation in which they find themselves, whereby they have to look for a scapegoat. My Lords, this is a situation that developed long before the Arabs held back some of the oil. It was present long before the miners began short-time working. It has been there for months and months. But the Government had to find a scapegoat. What they are doing now, in my view, is to cover up their deficiencies over the years in which they have been in office; they have to cover up their economic failures on purpose in order to be able to ask the country, "Whom do you want to govern, the elected representatives or the trade unions?" But this is not an issue. I would dare the Government to go to the country on such a question.
My Lords, since the Prime Minister made that speech we have seen vacillation. Let us take the matter of the generators. If anything was panicky, surely that was. People who had bought generators in case some day an emergency 624 should arise were told that for three days they could not use them, in spite of the fact that they had all the oil necessary to run these generators for many weeks. On that matter the Government had to climb down because they saw how ridiculous it was. I am looking across at the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and am wondering what he feels about the speed limit of 50 m.p.h. I get very fed up when I have to try to keep down to that speed on a motorway. I find it almost impossible. This is another of the things on which the Government have vacillated and shown that they are panicking in what they are trying to do. As a result, we have a confused nation. People are asking, "Why? Why? Why is all this happening?" And there is no real explanation or answer to their question.
My Lords, this has nothing to do with industry, but I should be interested to know what the noble Lord, Lord Royle, is advocating. Is he advocating that we should give the miners all they have asked for, that we should give the ASLEF people all they have asked for, and that other no doubt very worthy claims should also be met? Is that what the noble Lord is saying?
§ LORD ROYLE
My Lords, the noble Viscount must wait and see what I have to say in a few minutes.
My Lords, we have a three-day week, but what for? To limit production. But over the years, some of us have dreamt about another kind of three-day week: a three-day week that would be brought about by the advances in science and technology in the last 50 years, which should have produced for the workers of this country at least a three-day week, in which they could live with cultured leisure and high living standards. That is the three-day week we have dreamt about. But the Government have imposed on the country a three-day week which will produce nothing but misery. One great truth emerges from all this. We need a complete revision of our estimation of individual value to the community. We need to decide whose service merits the greater rewards. Perhaps I may give your Lordships two illustrations.
After the battle of the Somme, after Passchendale, where I was, I saw that it was the masters and the boys of this 625 country who were upholding the future of the nation. Some of them stood in the shellholes of Passchendale, and came back to Lloyd-George's wonderful land for heroes to live in. Where are they 50 years later? They are now having to strike for things they need. My other illustration comes from my own association with South Lancashire. I lived there for 60 years. I represented. West Salford in another place. Who were my constituents? Miners, engineers, textile workers—the workshop of Britain. Where would Britain be without those people?
I put it to you, my Lords, in war and peace who serves the nation best in the final analysis? On whom, in that final analysis, does the nation depend: on the people I have named, or on the manipulators of bulls, bears and futures on the Stock Exchange? Does it depend on the people I have named or on the property speculators referred to by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London? Who are the important people? To what extent have we looked at this problem over the many years? And, as a result, who should be rewarded the most for what they provide for the country? If I may say so, the present energy position answers this question; it is proved now who matters most. It was this situation in my younger life that made a Socialist of a private trader. I knew what was going on in that Lancashire connurbation, and because I discovered it I found myself an extreme Socialist, if you like, and I am perhaps preaching it this afternoon.
I have just been asked what do we do in the short term. First of all, I believe that the Government have to revise Stage 3. The noble Lord who made his maiden speech this afternoon, Lord Kenilworth, made a quotation from Portia. I would say to noble Lords on the other side of the House there is another quotation which was made very many years ago by one of their own, the great Duke of Wellington. He is reputed to have said that wise men sometimes change their minds, fools never. I think there is a great opportunity at this moment for a change of mind with regard to Stage 3 And if we settle again with the miners—not fully; let us talk, treat them as a special case—the cost will be infinitesimal compared with that of the present policy and methods. We keep hearing about 626 further claims that would come along. But it is not proved, and it was not proved following the Wilberforce Report two years ago. That is in the short term.
With regard to the long term, I believe there has to be given, not only to the miners but the workers in every industry in this country to-day, definite and sincere assurances that there will be an immediate revision of values in all industries. I know that it is not easy. The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, pointed out how hard it is when it comes to evaluation of jobs and the like. We have never really tried it; and I believe that the time has now come to try it, in a more serious way than we have ever done. The debate this afternoon was opened by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, and all of us have a high regard for him, but I was worried by his assumption that the steps which have been taken are inevitable. I do not believe they are, and I therefore ask the Government to think again.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ LORD GORE-BOOTH
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Royle, began by reminding us of the pleasant courtesy with which he is familiar by which a speaker addresses himself, at least a little, to the remarks of the previous speaker. I am glad that he has reminded us, because it is a great pleasure for me to do so, even if I feared after two minutes of his speech that I should have to say that I disagreed with him about everything. In fact I fear very much that he had so many fascist capitalists under his bed that he has failed to notice the communists who have escaped. On the other hand, on a later subject I found myself most interested, and I should like to return to it—that of job evaluation and what we are all worth. Perhaps in the most general way I may be allowed to say that if we fail as a country, it is not because of one section or one individual or another; as it has become fashionable this afternoon to quote, like the noble Lord, Lord Kenilworth, I will quote Shakespeare and say:There you and I and all of us fell down.May I sincerely compliment the noble Lord, Lord Kenilworth, on his intervention, because at his very first attempt in our House he has proved both manifestly articulate and manifestly sincere. I hope, 627 as do other noble Lords, that he will address us frequently from his great variety of experience in quite a short time.
I feel in a sense that I shall let down somewhat the quality of this debate, partly because I have not the natural eloquence of so many speakers who have spoken and partly because—and I know it is rather contrary to good taste to reveal one's own machinery going round in your Lordships' House—I feel that this is essentially a debate in which more than ordinarily we each pick up something from each other, and that compels us, while we wave our notes about, to think again of what has already been said and rearrange our ideas somewhat accordingly. This, I will confess, is what has happened to me. But may I start by saying one thing I did intend to say: that I join with all noble Lords in welcoming the setting up of the Department of Energy and the appointment of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. I should like to think that the Quiet but persistent pressure from all quarters of your Lordships' House for an organisation with an outward and visible sign of good intention and effectiveness had at least a little to do with the decision of the Government to set up a Department and to appoint the noble Lord as its head.
I hope he will be able to reassure us on one small point, as I am talking nuts and bolts. The list of items of which he will be in charge put nuclear energy at the end. I think this was an alphabetical accident, but I would hope that the feeling of urgency that he has already put forward in broadcasts and elsewhere about North Sea oil also applies to nuclear energy. There are counsels to go on hesitating consistently as we have hesitated for nearly 15 years. I urge strongly that this now be considered a time for decision.
Before coming on to the more general points concerning the state of the nation, may I take the liberty of dealing with two specifically economic arguments which I think ought to be dismissed as not valid in this situation. I raise them only because I have heard them both in this House. One is the argument that if there is a choice between inflation and deflation, then one should opt, if reluctantly, for inflation. That is a very dangerous 628 doctrine indeed, because there is such a thing as absolute inflation. If anyone remembers, as I remember a little, the situation in Germany in 1923, that was a situation in which overnight the cost of, shall we say, lunch, could rise from £15 to £150. That is what we are ultimately faced with if there is any avoidable self-indulgence in the matter of inflation. So that comparison is not valid, and I say it as one who in my last intervention in these matters at least drew attention to the cruelties of excessive deflation when we practised that ourselves.
The other argument, which I should like to protest to be a non-argument but which is frequently used, is that the cost which we are incurring as a nation by the Government standing on their policy about Stage 3 is far more than the cost of giving way to the demands of the National Union of Mineworkers. That is really setting like against unlike, if it is true—and it all depends on this "if"—that a major concession could lead to a breaking by other people of the barriers to inflation. Thus the two sides of the argument are quite different, and you are comparing not the immediate cost, which is very heavy, but the almost infinite cost which giving way would cause. I am not saying at this moment that that is so, but it deeply affects the argument and makes it much more difficult than it has hitherto seemed to have been.
Although I am not a spokesman for the Government, I must express disagreement at this point of the debate with the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Royle, that the three-day week is something of a conspiracy. The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, explained to us most convincingly that, mechanically speaking, in the present situation that is the best way to cope with the emergency that we have. On purely practical grounds the Government, if they had to do something like this, at least attempted to do it in the right way.
The question now is where we go from here. Here I should like, rather daringly, to pick up an argument used by the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition. He put forward the proposition that, in the position of deadlock such as has been reached between the National Union of Mineworkers and the Government. "Someone has to give way". Certainly 629 from my experience in negotiations this is an over-simplification of the case. What in fact has to happen is that no doubt somebody has to take the first step, but almost the essence of any negotiation is that, in the end, both sides must seem to have had to concede something and to have retained something, and that is very different. Therefore, may I express the hope that somehow in these negotiations a way be found by which the Government can maintain that they have preserved their anti-inflation policy and that the miners have at least some prospect of further renegotiation—I think that the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, suggested something similar some time ago—but that the position nationally remains intact. This is a very difficult position to arrive at, and the argument is further complicated—here again I fear that the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition, in his most impressive speech, perhaps again shortened the argument too much—by statements about the object of the overtime ban which do not belong in industrial argument. Hence, the dilemma for the Government is even more difficult than the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, suggested.
Perhaps I may make one suggestion about why things have gone wrong. I do it with some hesitation. I do not claim, like the noble Lord, Lord Kenilworth, to have worked in a mine, but I have been down many mines and I have a particular association with one mining community, so I can say that I share at first hand the admiration and, if I may say so, the friendship of people in that great community. I wonder whether what went wrong may not have been that the obligations of a leader, or leaders, of the trade unions are manifestly primarily and over 90 per cent. to get the best bargain they can, and to go after it by every legitimate means in their power, but very occasionally there arises a moment when it is a supreme and very difficult obligation for trade union leaders to say to their members and followers, "Possibly no, or at least not yet". Perhaps there was a moment when "Not yet" should have been said at the outset of this argument. This suggestion does not contribute to a solution, but perhaps it contributes to thought about what should be done when the nation finds itself in a position where it is threatened from outside in the same 630 medium where an industrial dispute is occurring inside—namely, energy. I simply put that forward as a thought, so that people who are interested in these things humanly and economically can ponder on it.
Finally, I must come to the question as to whether I have any suggestions for what we should do. In this respect I have two. There was in The Times of December 31 a notable letter by Mr. Gerald Coke on our present discontent. If we were in the American Senate it would have been promptly inserted by one of your Lordships into the Senate Record. As we do not have that custom, I simply mention it. One point that the writer stressed was one which has been much discussed already, if from different points of view, and that is that of job evaluation. I feel that the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, and the noble Lord, Lord Royle, approached it from diametrically opposite views. I would simply like to suggest, looking ahead, we are going to have to do a national exercise in job evaluation. I would agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, that you cannot abstract this process from market forces of supply and demand, but perhaps in some way we might arrive at some kind of national guideline for the future in estimating the contribution to the country as between a construction worker and the middle school teacher. We should never arrive at an accurate answer—the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, was right in saying that it changes all the time—but it might be possible at least to have some kind of doctrine even if not Government sponsored, which would give the Government some guidance on where to go on a matter which seems to have got sadly out of hand. Let us remind ourselves that we still talk in old-fashioned terms about salaries, which seem to be superior, and wages, which appear to be inferior, but there are wages which are higher than salaries these days, and so a new vocabulary will have to be evolved.
Now to the immediate point. There has been much urging towards unity. Over the Christmas period many of us tried to think how unity could be achieved. I join with the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, in the feeling that you cannot just say that we are going to be united. The most united phase in our lifetime was when we were united against an 631 external threat in 1940. Is there something we could unite about now? I have, in perhaps a rather feckless way, been talking at random to people of all backgrounds and asking what they felt we could unite about. The most impressive answer I found was, "Well, I would like to unite over being able to get on with the job of work". There is a mass of people who do not say very much but who are vastly interfered with by present circumstances, and who would really like to get on with their job of work without constantly being menaced by somebody going off duty in a lightning strike or by some disturbance of some kind. There is a great mass of people who would be thankful if they could just settle down properly again to their respective jobs of work, and of course have every right to protest about them, discuss them and disagree about them. The mental habit of work has somehow strayed, and I feel that at this moment a great deal of the load in this country is probably carried by too few people. This is not the fault of the majority of the people; it is the fault of this disturbed atmosphere that we have got ourselves into. I am not one for volumes of self-reproach. Granted that there are material things more than we need, I think that we should not stand in—if I may put it this way—too many white sheets at once, because really those things are symptoms.
The final question that we have to ask ourselves is what is each individual man and women for. There is a great deal of talk about people's selves, and what they want and what they need. If somehow we could get back into the habit of, "What can I do, and what can I give", then these symptoms would put themselves in their right place and we should find that we are again making the progress of which we are perfectly capable, and which we could begin again to-morrow. That is what I hope (aided by such exhortations as those the right reverend Prelate gave us) that we shall ultimately decide to do, and I hope we shall decide soon.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ LORD BOWDEN
My Lords, I want to take up a point that the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, made about the importance of being able to get on with the job, and I have something to say which I hope will interest the noble Lord, Lord 632 Aberdare. The Government's policy is not being followed and the reason is very simple; no one can understand it. In the last five weeks, no fewer than 15 Statutory Instruments have been circulated; they must be obeyed because they are now the law of the land. These documents are confusing, they are obscure and they show every sign of the hasty drafting which was necessary to produce them. I have spent some hours totally failing to understand most of them, and your Lordships will not be surprised to know that half of the industry in Lancashire is totally be-wildered and baffled and unable to conform to a policy which it cannot understand.
For example, last week the North-Western Electricity Board had more than 10,000 callers asking for elucidation of obscure points of interpretation of the doctrine. Then, on one day last week, the Department of Trade and Industry—which is the other available answering service—had 1,600 telephone calls, 100 visitors and 400 formal applications for exemption from various restrictions which had been put upon them. The previous Saturday, one of the senior officials in the Department decided to have a look at some of these cases and found himself studying three of them for a whole day. It is inconceivable that 5.000 cases can be answered. Inevitably, the rulings of civil servants are arbitrary in the extreme, and inevitably they must often be wrong, for it is inconceivable that they could have mastered, even in outline, the extraordinarily complicated, obscure, tedious and, very often, absurd regulations.
Almost every day the Government in Whitehall send out a series of corrections, the last one of which included a statement that in order to save fuel it was forbidden to use electrolysis for the removal of facial hair, except at certain approved times. The person who drafted that regulation was obviously unaware of the fact that the total amount of power needed for electrolysis is not as much as would operate an electric light bulb for half-an-hour, and was confusing electrolysis of the face with electrolysis of brine to produce caustic soda. It has been decided that halls may be used for such activities as boy scouts' and girl guides' rallies, but in no circumstances must they be used for the display of carpets or for the sale of goods. The 633 future of such businesses as hairdressers has been put in jeopardy, because they have been classified as shops and are therefore compelled to work very arbitrary hours.
We have a situation in which the law is obviously crazy and it is extraordinarily difficult to get it interpreted. Many businessmen can survive only if they ignore it or defy it. I believe this to be one of the greatest dangers confronting the community. We cannot expect businessmen to put their lives and the future of their businesses in jeopardy because of a half-understood piece of legislation, the purpose of which no one can explain to them. For example, it is not untypical that no distinction is made in the regulations between factories which are totally enclosed and entirely artificially lit, and those places such as shipyards which depend almost entirely on daylight for their proper functioning. Both are subjected to precisely the same rules and it is clear that that cannot be right.
The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, said that in his view the present system is about as good as can be devised. I cannot believe that to be true, and if the Government had taken industry into their confidence before they drafted these bizarre regulations it would have been possible to agree on a much more sensible scheme. For example, industrialists might be required to work with half the power that they normally use. If they used more the price could be doubled, and if they went above 60 per cent. of normal the price could be doubled again. Complicated as they are, schemes such as that would be as nothing compared with the incredible elaboration which has been adumbrated and broadcast.
It is a good principle of law that it should not concern itself with trifles, and it is precisely because it has concerned itself with trifles and has intervened at all stages in the economy of the community that the law is in disrepute as it has never been before. Firms which have most elaborately equipped themselves and which are most fitted to face the future are most at risk at this moment. Any weaving shed will be safe if it is operating with antiquated old looms, which were written off twenty years ago. It can hire and fire labour as it needs it and it does not matter very much 634 whether it works one, two or three days a week. On the other hand, the modern, well-equipped weaving shed which has installed the latest type of Swiss looms can make money only if it is working seven days a week. Both of those institutions are treated alike. The old one will carry on, but the new one on which our future depends will be destroyed in a month.
I believe that the present system is as inefficient, as ineffective and as destructive as could be devised. It is impossible to read through some of the regulations and retain any conviction at all that the man who wrote them was sane at the time. I have never in my life encountered such a farrago of nonsense, or encountered industrialists so indignant and so outraged at the way in which they are expected to behave. It is not good enough to find, as I found when I went around the Department a week ago, that the crowd of people waiting for advice was so great that they had to stand in the car park because they could not even get into the waiting room before going upstairs. Those were people who were responsible for running large organisations, men of influence, men of authority, who want—if I may refer again to what the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, said—to get on with the job, but because of the lack of information and the tremendous sense of mystery they are unable to do so. Any system would be better than that, and I beg the Government to try to abandon these 15 Statutory Instruments, and introduce something which industry can understand even if it involves a total change in policy and a total reform of the law, which is now only four or five weeks old!
A firm which I happen to know rather well made the perfectly sensible suggestion that, since the purpose of the exercise was to save electricity, they would prefer to work five days a week on a reduced number of hours instead of the statutory three days. They could save electricity and do more work in the same number of hours. Permission was refused. Now that the power engineers are back and we have no reason to believe that there will be any problem about the peak load, I do not believe that there is any reason, technical or otherwise, which makes it necessary to specify the days on which factories may work, or to do more than insist that they should 635 save electrictiy in any manner which seems to them suitable and which, in case of doubt, they could agree with the responsible authorities. To leave them in doubt and to leave them to flounder is quite unforgivable.
The position is made even worse, because some of them have to come to realise that, if they are found to be in breach of the law they cannot defend themselves by saying that they sought advice from a civil servant. He will probably have forgotten all about the matter because he advised 5,000 other people, and he has no power to interpret the law. This situation must be remedied, and I beg the noble Lord. Lord Aberdare, to do something about it. I hope he will tell his noble friend who is now responsible for the new Ministry of Energy—I am not quite clear about the extent of his responsibility—that if nothing is done the Government regulations will destroy the whole fabric of industrial Lancashire, and inevitably provoke something akin to mass civil disobedience. People cannot be expected to accept and obey a law which they cannot understand if the price is their own ruin. It was said by Tacitus that the Romans came to the North of England where they made a desert and called it peace. This may be the epitaph of the Party opposite if they are not careful.
Now, my Lords, I should like very briefly to say something about the causes of the trouble in which we now find ourselves. It seems to me that the settlement with the miners and the settlement with all the other trade unionists have little or nothing to do with it. We have in fact been living through exactly the same process which made America prosperous in the 1920s. Your Lordships will remember that America appeared to become wealthy by inflating the price of common stock. I remember reading that if one man bought General Motors at £100 and sold at £110 to somebody who sold at £120, everyone had made money and everyone could spend it. Curiously, in this country everything but common stock has been used as a medium for speculation, the most notorious case of course being houses, property, land, offices and so on, but old masters and second-hand silver teapots have come in, too. It is an extraordinary thought that last year the ordinary 636 Englishman earned more by sitting in his house and doing nothing than he did from his taxed income. The appreciation in the value of many a house was at least as great as the income of the man who lived in it. Putting the matter another way, there are about 18 million houses in this country and the increase in their value last year was almost certainly as great as, if not greater than, the estimated value of the gross domestic product, which is about £42,000 million.
It is perfectly evident that the economy is in extraordinary trouble, although the average man who owns his house is still living in it and has not gained anything tangible as a result of its inflated price. Nevertheless, in any town in this country half the shops now seem to be selling antiques or dealing in real estate. Here is the reason: inflation of an unprecedented size resulted from the injection into the economy of sums of money much greater than the total wages and salaries earned by all the working people in it. Here is the source of inflation, and we have achieved what I can only describe as the ultimate economic miracle. We have been buying Mercedes cars, Volvos and Renaults, and we have been paying for them by inflating the prices of houses in Richmond and Wilmslow. This is not a process which can continue for long, and I think we have reached a situation comparable to that in America in 1929 and 1930, when the stock market finally reached its peak and started on the way down.
During the whole of this extraordinary inflationary period British productive industry has been starved of resources. For example, last year a man who bought shares in I.C.I. got about 4½ per cent. on his investment and on the same basis the machine tool trade paid about 3 per cent. and the paper trade paid about 2 per cent. I have talked to members of these great industries, and when I pressed them they all admitted that had they done their accounting properly and made due allowance for the cost of replacing their worn-out equipment at up-to-date prices as distinct from historic costs, none of them would have declared a dividend at all. My Lords, whether the machine tool trade pays 2 per cent. or nothing matters very little if you can get 12 per cent. or 15 per cent. for your money from 637 a building society or if you can get even more by lending it short-term to the stock market. No one will invest in productive industry any more. Lack of available capital has destroyed the capacity of British industry to manufacture and has destroyed the ability of firms to employ people effectively and pay them proper wages. We have enjoyed a boom comparable to that which the Americans had in the 'twenties, and I very much fear that we have now reached our 1929.
My Lords, it is quite wrong to blame the miners or anyone else for the inflation. The inflation has been created, almost entirely, by the enormous injection into the community of vast resources created by inflating the price of absolutely everything except those goods which can be made and sold on world markets. I think it does not matter very much what the miners are paid. Somehow the community must be preserved intact and alive. So many firms in the North will be bankrupt and totally destroyed in another two or three weeks that nothing can compare with the urgent problem of getting coal available again, almost at any price. We have had to pay the going price for oil: we fear to pay the going price for coal. Yet, as we very well know, there is more energy in the Selby seam than there is in all the oil in the North Sea. Coal is going to be our primary source of energy for very many years, and we have to get it. To destroy the community because of an obsessional hatred of the miners, which seems to have been displayed by some politicians, seems to me to be the most unstatesmanlike enterprise on which any great Party ever embarked.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT CALDECOTE
My Lords, I disagree hardly at all with the analysis made by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, of the gravity of the situation in which we find ourselves. We certainly live in very grave times, and our backs are not far from the wall. In such circumstances it is always tempting to press for a Coalition but I agree with those who say that, except in times of war, when there is an external enemy on which we all agree. Coalitions are not effective. For conflict is helpful if it is constructive. Nevertheless, the present escalating Party conflict is, I believe, bad, unhelpful and 638 unconstructive. It will make no contribution to solving the grave problems which face us; and if intolerable damage and suffering to our people are to be avoided, those problems have got to be solved, and solved quickly. But how?
My Lords, there is wide agreement that the miners have a hard and often dangerous job to do, for which they should be fairly and generously paid. There is wide agreement that inflation is a great evil which must be contained. I strongly support the view, therefore, that any settlement must be within Stage 3, because I believe, first of all, that that is the most effective immediate method of containing inflation; and, secondly, that the surrender of that principle would do irreparable damage to the authority of the Government and, at least as important, to the influence of those courageous people in trade unions and elsewhere who openly and fearlessly represent moderate opinion.
Public opinion, too, is broadly against the gerrymandering of Party politics in conditions such as those in which we find ourselves to-day. Many would like to see the moderates of all Parties working together to solve the problems and to solve the few outstanding disputes. That would enable all of us to get back to work, as the noble Lord, Lord GoreBooth, suggested, and to work effectively once more to create the wealth which is essential to our future wellbeing; to make that bigger cake in which we can all share. I think the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, was seeking this when, in the debate on December 18, he said:I am suggesting that there are, from time to time, issues of such gravity that Parliament must speak with a single voice—whatever the differences and whatever the difficulties—for only in this way will Parliament be able to give the necessary leadership which, if it is not forthcoming from Westminster, will be sought elsewhere."—[OFFICAL REPORT, 18/12/73, col. 204.]There are two major issues which have obstructed the progress which the vast majority of people want to see. The first is the entrenched position of the Government and the unions, the practical impossibility of unilateral retreat on either side on the Phase 3 issue alone. The second is the growing electioneering and scoring of Party points. To deal with these obstacles I suggest that we should seriously consider the following package deal, or something like it. First of all, the Government should 639 confirm their assurance to the miners that they would have a full review of pay and their conditions of employment in the light of the new energy situation. It should start immediately, and be completed within, at the very most, nine months. The very best proposals should be made to them within Phase 3 on pay, on compensation for injury and illness, and to the maximum possible extent, any other benefits which come within Phase 3.
Secondly, if that were accepted and a return to normal working followed, let the Government undertake without delay to consult with the T.U.C. on the Industrial Relations Act with a view to repealing its controversial clauses. Perhaps particularly the trade union registration requirement might be singled out, or any others that the T.U.C. would like to bring forward as major obstacles. Perhaps also the amendment of the Act in any other way and as soon as practicable, might be considered: or some other conciliatory gesture, such as the establishment of food subsidies. Then, to remove the electioneering atmosphere, and to encourage co-operation on the immediate vital issue—I say this with the greatest possible respect, and perhaps I am stepping in where angels would fear to tread—the Prime Minister should give an undertaking that there will be no Election before next October unless the Government are defeated in another place on some major issue. As everyone who has any understanding of our Parliamentary system knows, that in Party terms would be a major sacrifice of room for manoeuvre. That is perhaps its merit. Thirdly, if all that were agreed, the Leader of the Opposition should give an undertaking on the full support of the Shadow Cabinet for the settlement of the miners' and other outstanding claims within Phase 3.
By the acceptance of such a package deal, all the Parties involved would be seen to be making sacrifices and to be giving way on important issues. There would be the minimum loss of face, the common good would be served, public opinion on both political Parties would be enhanced, and there would be increased confidence in Parliamentary democracy. Above all, industry could get back to work and produce the wealth we so sorely need. Surely it is prizes such as that that make any sacrifice 640 worth while, and such proposals worth a try.
The present outlook is indeed grim and dark, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. That light is the new spirit that is to-day spreading throughout industry where the wealth of the country is mainly created. That new spirit stems from a growing acceptance of wider objectives than the purely financial ones and of full co-operation in decision making. Of course, we need full power restored to industry to-day, immediately, but if that new spirit is to grow, as surely it must, in times like these we need an example from both political and industrial leaders—all types of industrial leaders, trade unionists, managers, industrialists—of flexibility and co-operation, perhaps on the lines I have suggested. Without such an example the light at the end of the tunnel will remain a speck and we, the British people, will travel gloomily through it, in poverty and misery, for a long, long time to come.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ LORD SHINWELL
My Lords, the speech delivered by the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, is the first effort at producing some constructive propositions which might, even to a partial extent, assist in producing a consensus of opinion and eventually a possible solution. That speech, with the sentiments of which, on the whole, I cordially agree, was in marked contrast to the declaration of no surrender by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, which appears in the evening Press. Indeed, it was not the noble Viscount opposite, Lord Caldecote, who expressed the Government's philosophy on this crisis, it was the noble Lord. Lord Carrington.
Towards the close of the two great wars we have had in this century a demand was made for peace by negotiation. There was, if not the probability, at least the possibility of negotiation leading to peace. Ah, but those in authority, the Carringtons of that period, said, "No surrender", and thus those wars were prolonged and thousands, indeed hundreds of thousands, of our young people lost their lives. My Lords, I would much rather have expressed these views face to face with Lord Carrington, if Lord Carrington, who now occupies a central position in this critical situation, had been present. If I had known he was unable 641 to be present I would have sent him a note accordingly informing him of my intentions.
Two assumptions have constantly been made in the course of the debate. One is that if the miners abandon their decision to ban overtime at an early date, in due course, perhaps not in a few weeks but at any rate in the course of a few months, everything in the garden will be lovely. That is the first assumption. But there is another, developed unfortunately by the noble Lord, Lord Thorneycroft, who in his speech followed the speech we heard in the debate in your Lordships' House by Lord Shawcross. What was the content of those speeches? The miners would be ready to adopt a moderate attitude, indeed to surrender, to abandon their overtime ban if it were not for the militants—"militant" is a moderate expression; the Communists, the Marxists. This not my language; it is the language of the noble Lord, Lord Thorneycroft.
In the debate which preceded the Christmas Recess there appeared to be in your Lordships' House rather more harmony than has developed in the course of the debate this afternoon. There was then a consensus of opinion which began with a remarkable speech from my noble friend Lord Diamond. I ventured to follow it up by expressing a view; not that I expected that it would lead to a complete solution but it might have been an approach to a solution. I should like to repeat it in a sentence or two. What did I say to your Lordships' House on that occasion? I said that if there is a crisis—and undoubtedly there is a crisis, and moreover, it is the worst crisis I have known during my political life; far more grave than the crisis of 1931 or what happened during two World Wars—then it is the duty, the bounden duty, of the Prime Minister to ask Mr. Wilson, the Opposition Leader, and Mr. Thorpe, the Liberal Leader, and the representatives of the employers in the C.B.I. and the representatives of the trade union movement in the T.U.C., to meet him and to discuss the crisis, to diagnose the complaint, and to endeavour to reach something in the nature of a solution.
I would repeat what I then ventured to say to your Lordships' House; and I would add to that consensus the politicians, the leaders of the trade unions and the employers, some representatives 642 of your Lordships' House whose speeches I have heard during the last three years of my occupancy of this Bench. Among them there is the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, a prominent industrialist. Had it not been for the speech that be made, I would have included the noble Lord, Lord Thorneycroft; but I exclude him entirely, completely, absolutely and emphatically. Among others is the noble Lord, Lord Stokes, who does not attend your Lordships' House frequently but who, nevertheless, would be available. There is the noble Viscount, Lord Amery, who is not only an industrialist but also an ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer. If I may say so, without appearing to be condescending, or patronising, he expresses moderate views; although sometimes the noble Viscount rallies to the support of the Government when they are in difficulties, I forgive him for that. I would bring in some Members even from this side of your Lordships' House. Some who are industrialists are quite competent to express an opinion objectively. That is how I would approach a possible solution of the problem. But my words on that occasion have fallen on deaf ears. There was no rational impact. I repeat them nevertheless.
I shall give Members of your Lordships' House the reason, and I return to the assumption underlying most of the debate: that if the miners gave way and surrendered, all would be well. That is completely fallacious, and it can be ruled out. If in the course of the next few days, and perhaps as a result of their confrontation with Mr. Willie Whitelaw, the miners agree to abandon their claim and return to work in a normal fashion, producing all the coal that the country requires, we should still be in the throes of a great crisis. My Lords, the crisis began long before the miners thought of abandoning overtime. Who says so? The Prime Minister has said so more than once. How often in the past year or two has he declared that much of our troubles, most of our problems, derive from what has been happening in the last 20 years? That was his opinion, and I agree with him. I would go further than he does. I venture an opinion which I have embodied in a recent publication—not that I am asking noble Lords to purchase it; a copy can be borrowed free of charge from the Library. The 643 crisis goes back almost to the beginning of this century. It was intensified by the industrial disputes before the First World War; by the war itself; by the Versailles Treaty; by the Hitler period; by appeasement and the Second World War, and what has happened since.
The noble Lord, Lord Bowden, who has now vacated his seat, referred to inflation. One would imagine that inflation began only the other week. I have known inflation ever since I came into political life 70 years ago, and even before that. The cost of living has always been going up, either because of demands being made throughout the world for goods that were not available and therefore market forces began to operate, or for some other reason. Incidentally, my Lords, when the question arises of what causes inflation and of the action of the miners and the railwaymen causing industrial disputes, I would refer again to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Thorneycroft. He did not seem to know that capitalism exists; he did not seem to be aware of it. He certainly was not aware of the capitalist system. I am not using this as a political allusion at all, but there it is; you have got it and bad luck to you for having it. I would ask if this debate is to bring about a transformation, that you consider the content of the capitalistic system. It is the operation of market forces, supply and demand. If goods are in surplus, prices will fall; if not, prices will rise. And moreover, occasionally, because the noble Lord, Lord Thorneycroft—I wish he were in the Chamber to hear what I have to say—
§ LORD SHINWELL
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Thorneycroft, has been changing his geographical position, as he sometimes has to change his political and philosophical position—but I do not want to make a song and dance about that. I would ask the noble Lord, when he talks about "market forces", to consider what is happening with the miners. They have only one thing to sell, that is their labour. And they want the highest price for it. Is that a monopolistic attitude? We could complain 644 about monopoly, if we cared to consider the submissions made in past years to the Monopolies Commission. Why were they made, my Lords? In order to restrict the operations of the monopolies; and the noble Lord, Lord Thorneycroft, knows about this even better than I do, because he is associated with that collection.
So, my Lords, let us dispose first of all of the argument that the miners are disruptive and are Marxists. If I may digress, I guarantee that if we consulted the average miner and asked him whether he knew anything about Karl Marx, he would associate that name with Marks and Spencer, or something like that. He would not know anything about him. I guarantee that very few of the miners' leaders—I hope that they will not be annoyed at what I am saying—apart from perhaps a handful, have actually read Das Kapital; and if they have they will not have understood it, any more than some of the famous economists in your Lordships' House can understand it. I excuse them because the economists have been at loggerheads with each other for so long. So let us dispose of the assumption that if the miners abandoned their claim the crisis would not remain. It might be eased a bit, with more coal for the steel industry. But when we talk about the steel industry not having coking coal one would imagine that coking coal existed in vast abundance. Everybody who knows anything about the mining industry knows that coking coal is very scarce indeed.
I should now like to come to the question of the miners themselves. I have listened with great interest to what the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, said about the miners; but this morning I received a copy, as I do every day, of the Northern Echo. As your Lordships know, it is seldom that I quote from anything, but I venture to quote a couple of sentences by Dr. Hugh Faulkner, medical secretary of the Medical Practitioners' Union, who said—Figures from the Registrar General showed that miners were at greater risk than almost any other group. Those who deny the miners a special case have to be reminded that in terms of death and permanent disability from accidents, occupational chest diseases, sickness and stress, they carry greater all-round risk than any other group in our community—except perhaps deep-sea fishermen".645 And one further sentence or two—Comparing the standardised mortality ratio for miners with all other occupations, miners are 13 times more likely to die from occupational lung disease—and nearly four times more likely to die from accidents…That is the difference. So the miners say, "We suffer a great deal". Most of them are redundant before they are 60; that everybody knows. They say, "We want to sell our labour at the highest cost". That is not holding the nation up to ransom. In any case, if there is any talk of holding the nation up to ransom, what about the Ranks, the McDougalls, the Garfield Westons and the harvest people who are now holding the housewives of the country to ransom by forcing up the price of bread almost every day? They may have good reason for it. When it comes to holding up to ransom, what about the Arabs who are holding this nation and other nations to ransom? How are the Government dealing with that situation? They are now proposing very shortly to arrange to sell unlimited arms to Saudi Arabia and other Arabian countries in return for an ample supply of oil. If ever there was chicanery, trickery, mucking about—capitalism, if you like; the worst elements of capitalism—that is an example of it.
But what have the Government done? They have as a remedy appointed Lord Carrington to take charge of energy. If I have any qualification for entering into this debate it is because I am, so far as I know, the only ex-Minister of Fuel and Power who is a Member of your Lordships' House. Moreover, I am the only person who in 1924 was Secretary for Mines, or in 1930, after being at the War Office for a while, was Minister of Mines, and if I may say so the only person who dared to say to Mr. Attlee when he sought to transfer me to the War Office from the Ministry of Fuel and Power, "Let me stay where I am because I want you to consider the notion when I was Secretary for Mines to integrate coal, oil and electricity." Nuclear power was not then in the offing.
I do not congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Carrington; I rather sympathise with him. He has a job on his plate. He has to tackle it. But what has the noble Lord said? He has to decide about priorities. What has nuclear power to do with the present crisis? Nuclear power is well ahead—I am sorry, but that is so. I deplore 646 it. As for North Sea oil, several Members of your Lordships' House, high ranking ex-civil servants have talked in an irrelevant fashion about North Sea oil when it comes. Suppose it comes—and I hope it does—how long is it going to last? So we have to rely on coal. That should be the first priority of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. What are we going to do in order to produce more coal? How is it to be done? By no surrender? No. It could be done in another fashion. The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, spoke about it. She and the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, and the noble Lord who made an excellent maiden speech, all made suggestions about it. It could be done on the basis of higher productivity.
Another way—perhaps the best way of all—is that the Prime Minister should resign. I wonder whether that solution has occurred to the Government. He has been a menace ever since he became Prime Minister. He forced us into the Common Market although he promised that he would not do it without the consent of the people. He has adopted the three-day week, the two-day week and the one-day week without consulting anybody. That point has been developed in the course of a speech this afternoon by the noble Lord, Lord Bowden. The sooner he goes, the better. Ah, but an Election! What would happen as a result of an Election? All right, the Tories are returned again. No surrender; the three-day week, the two-day week. Do you think the miners are going to return simply because there is to be an Election? No. Let it be clearly understood that I agree with my noble friend Lord Shackleton who opened the debate. We do not want strikes if they can be avoided. We do not want this crisis to last any longer than it needs to; we want to get rid of it as soon as possible.
I agree with much of the sermon to which we listened from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London. I may not agree with every word of it—I am not acquainted with theological matters—but the sentiments were of the highest quality. We all want a better life for everybody, social justice and so on. I do not suppose we will get it from this Government—certainly not as a result of an Election. I warn the Government: Have an Election; defeat the Labour Party; defeat the miners; defeat the railwaymen. Is that going to promote 647 greater unity of the country? Not a bit; it would create more division of this country than has ever been known. I do not want that to happen. I have a great affection for this country in which I was born; I believe that we can yet recover if we display common sense and good will. But we shall not recover under this Government. Not that I blame those noble Lords who sit on the Front Bench; they are just part of the Government. It is the fault of the Prime Minister, and the sooner we get rid of him the better.
§ 5.59 p.m.
§ LORD WIGG
My Lords, it is a happy event that on this occasion I should be following my right honourable friend (if I may so call him to-day without being called to order for breach of your Lordships' rules) since I was his Parliamentary Secretary when he had an experience, which he did not recall, while he was Minister of Fuel and Power at the time of the crisis in 1947. That is an event which is etched on my memory, an event caused by the worst weather conditions in this century. There was no mercy for my noble friend, no mercy for the Labour Government. One could quote statistics, and among the leaders of those who exploited that situation for the benefit of his Party was the noble Lord, Lord Thorneycroft. He was the spokesman for the Conservative Party. No blow below the belt was too low, and for him to talk about the Communists in denigratory terms is not worthy. I have watched his political record from the time when he first stood in Stafford. I opposed him then; I spoke against him; I spoke against him when my late friend Stephen Swingler beat him. The noble Lord is not fit to sit in the same room with many members of the Communist Party. However misguided their views may be, they live lives of frugality in the furtherance of a cause in which they believe. And if the noble Lord, Lord Thorneycroft, could point to a life as full of self-denial as men like Arthur Horner, Will Paynter, and even some who are alive to-day, he would be a better man than he is.
I say this because, on behalf of my right honourable friend Lord Shinwell. I was a go-between in 1947 when he had to take that terrible decision which the present Government have also had to 648 take, when they cut off industry in its tracks. He behaved very differently. As it happened, on the Friday or Saturday after the Government took their decision I had to consult the Department of Trade and Industry on a number of technical points concerning Statutory Instrument 2091, which has been referred to. There was no one in the Department; there was not even a Press officer. I spoke to the duty officer and, eventually, to the private secretary to the Secretary of State, who was kind enough to telephone from his home. How differently did my noble friend behave! From the moment the decision was taken in those days—and it was over a week-end—the Ministry of Fuel and Power became a staff headquarters, dealing with problems as they came up, until the crisis was eventually resolved. And what a different crisis it was!My noble friend inherited in 1947 coal stocks of 11 million tons—a fact which had been kept secret because we were still fighting the Japanese. The present Government had built up their coal stocks very carefully to 36 million tons at the outbreak of this crisis; and there were also very considerable oil stocks. I do not agree with my noble friend Lord Royle, nor do I agree with Mr. Wedgwood Benn, although I accept their figures.
There was an attempt in the Sunday Times last week to answer Mr. Wedgwood Benn. The point was made that Dr. Cripps, who advised Mr. Wedgwood Benn, had not taken into account the short fall in oil stocks in the second quarter of last year. I noticed that when the noble Lord. Lord Aberdare, was reading his brief this afternoon, he talked about the end of the period of crisis as coming at the end of March. I do not think that is correct. We start to de-stock round about November 10 (the date varies from year to year, although the hours of daylight are the same, according to the varying weather conditions), and we start to restock about March 10. I think that those who believe that the present Government created this situation in order to bring about the confrontation miss a simple point. It is one that is borne in upon me, I suppose, as a result of my life's experience. If I have to judge, in moments of calm at least, men's actions and to decide whether they are Wicked or stupid, I have learned to reject the 649 thesis that they are wicked. They are invariably stupid; and Mr. Heath and his Government are no exception to that rule.
If I do not believe that, then the case I shall make against the Prime Minister is indeed a grievous one, because on December 18, in the House of Commons, when he was analysing the situation, he shared the responsibility between the miners, on the one hand, and the railwaymen, on the other. On December 18, in column 1166 of Hansard, he used the words "among the train drivers". Noble Lords can pay their money and take their choice: either this was a mistake or it was a deliberate lie. Because up to the present day not one single ton of coal has been lost as a result of the action of the train drivers. I do not believe that it was a deliberate lie. I believe that the Prime Minister is not at grips with the situation and that he walked into a confrontation without realising it.
Perhaps there was another, more subtle, reason why he was not sorry it happened. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, I thought, tended to dismiss Mr. Barber's statement as a non-event. Of course it is true that in terms of the build-up it was. On the other hand, had he read the debate he would have noticed one significant thing. Mr. Barber did a U-turn in his monetary policy. He curtailed action, for which I have pleaded in this House time and time again, to restrict hire-purchase, the use of credit cards and credit generally. That earned the plaudits of even Mr. Enoch Powell. So, under the shadow of this event they managed to do a U-turn without, again, realising the political consequences.
I pursue truth at all times (it is one of the unfortunate things I suffer from), and therefore I noted the statements made by the Prime Minister while the noble Lord, Lord Thorneycroft, was speaking this afternoon. Mr. Heath said during the 1970 Election—and this went a long way towards securing his majority—that Labour's compulsory wage control was a failure. Yes, it was. Mr. Wilson, Mrs. Barbara Castle and others who attempted, inside an economy such as ours, to impose a statutory wage control were quite wrong. It is impossible. If you have a society in which vast fortunes can be made—indeed, I think one might say that the only way to make large sums 650 of money quickly is by playing the market (what was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Royle, as "the game of bulls and bears")—and where you have the property developers, the Stock Exchange, the discount houses and the merchant bankers, all those who neither toil nor spin but live in great comfort; if you have such a society, in which the bias is on consumption (and it is the consumption of candy floss) you cannot at the same time impose wage restrictions on those who risk their lives and practise their skills in dangerous and unpleasant circumstances.
This is the fact that has to be grasped. Mr. Wilson failed; and Mr. Heath, in his wisdom or his stupidity, exploited that failure for his political advantage. Then, driven into a cul-de-sac from which he cannot escape, he forgets that he said:We utterly reject the philosophy of compulsory wage control.He was right, but at that time he did not expect to get power; and when he got power and he found himself in a situation from which there was no escape he proceeded to apply that policy which had already been a failure and which he knew would not work. Now we have the policy of "no surrender". What should the Government do? If the picture of the noble Lord, Lord Thorneycroft, is correct, and if it is true that an irresistible force has met an immovable object then the Government cannot govern. Their constitutional duty, it seems to me (though I am no constitutional lawyer), is for Mr. Heath to go to the Sovereign and offer his resignation. Mr. Wilson would then be sent for, and he would go to the country on the issue of the continuance of a compulsory wage policy. Or, if Mr. Heath likes to do so, he can do the same.
I therefore not only urge but demand, and will use every occasion I can up and down the country to say it, that in view of the situation this country is in we need an Election at once. This would settle the question not of who rules the country—rule must be by Parliament through the process of law—but whether the British people wish, regardless of the consequences, to push on with a policy which is demonstrably not working, has not worked in the past and cannot possibly work in the future. The country will decide. You cannot have an Election of the phoney, rather sordid, pleas of 651 the noble Lords, Lord Thorneycroft and Lord Shawcross (birds of a feather flock together!), on the idea that this is a plot by the Reds. What utter nonsense! I have had my battle with the Communist Party. I can look back to the names I was called at the time of the seamen's strike. But I recognise the honesty of my opponents, even when I disagree with them. There is no conflict here, and there is no possibility of conflict here, on the issue of a Communist plot or Communist takeover. There is an issue on the competence of the Government to make mistake after mistake so that they have trapped themselves in a situation from which there is no possible escape and as a result of which in a matter of days—certainly weeks—this country will be reduced to stagnation and utter ruin. The only possible way out in a democracy, if Mr. Heath himself cannot see the way ahead, is either for him to resign and let Mr. Wilson get on with the job, or for him to go to the country.
I was not present at your Lordships' last debate on this matter. I had gone to North Africa to look at various aspects of the oil shortage. I would remind my noble friend Lord Shinwell, and others like him, that this is not a plot cooked up only by the Irish, however much he may want to think so. The Bolivians, the Venezuelans and Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all are involved. In September there was a conference in Algeria (I have reminded my noble friend privately of this and I will now remind your Lordships) of 76 non-aligned countries. For the most part they were underdeveloped countries. They came together and now understand a little better the way of life. Britain and the capitalist countries of the West are no longer going to be free to practise colonialism. There are many on these Benches, like my noble friend Lord Brockway, who have spent their life denouncing colonialism. Now they have a time to rejoice, because what has happened with oil is going to happen with mercury, tin, copper, sisal and cocoa.
The underdeveloped countries are no longer going to accept the dictum of selling cheap and buying dear. They are going to take advantage of that backwoodsman kind of philosophy announced from the Liberal Benches this afternoon. 652 They are going to use the price mechanism, and if there is a shortage they will exploit it to their own advantage. The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, read his speech this afternoon with great patience, and I listened to it with even more patience. He talked about an international crisis, and about the supply of oil and prices. I beg him to widen his horizons, because if he is thinking of an international crisis only in terms of oil he should start thinking again. This covers the whole spectrum, the whole range of basic commodities. The West is in for a very troublesome time in the second half of the 20th century.
Here I come to a point which interests me not just a little—the subject of North Sea oil. One of the things that is done by exploiting countries, such as our gallant French allies, is that they acquire a basic commodity such as oil. They did it in Algeria and they are now doing it with the Saudis. The downstream products are developed but the country from which the product is purchased or obtained never gets the advantage of the developing industries, such as petrochemicals, plastics and the like. Here we are like Algeria. They have the oil of Hassi Messaoud and the gas of Hassi-R'Mel, and we have the oil in the North Sea. But they are going to develop their oil and gas, and the downstream products, in the interests of Algeria. I am afraid that North Sea oil is going to be a giveaway to some of the Government's capitalist friends or, if not to them, to our gallant French allies. This seems to me to measure our chances tied up with the wages policy. If you have an economy, as described by the late Aneurin Bevan, in which there is a division between the public sector and the private sector, the question is: where should the line be drawn? It will not be a straight line, it will be a zigzag line. Below the line private enterprise will have its place. Above the line, coal, steel, petrochemicals and electricity—what Aneurin Bevan called the "commanding heights of industry"—must be in public control, if not in public ownership. Public good must prevail in that area. When that happens, and when the mass of the people whose livelihood is tied up with those industries see that they are getting a fair deal, then, and only then, can you talk about a wages policy. In the meantime it is a sheer waste of time.
653 The only other thing I want to say concerns the practices in connection with our prices. Here I agree with my noble friend Lord Bowden. The way this has happened is worthy of an unarmed company of the Pioneer Corps, commanded by an unpaid lance-corporal because somebody has forgotten to take his stripe away. It is absolute chaos, and the reason for the chaos is that there was no consultation. Nobody went to the unions or the C.B.I. and the employers and said, "We are in a hell of a mess". They did not need to be told that, anyway. Nobody said, "We are in a jam. There is only so much power available in certain areas; sit down with us and see how best we can work this out." Nobody in the Department of Trade and Industry knows what they are doing. I will not attack civil servants because I have worked with them, both as a Minister and as my noble friend's Parliamentatry Private Secretary. I know how dedicated they are to the public service. They obey the policy laid down for them by the Cabinet and by their Ministers. Maybe they have their critics, but I am not one of them; and I certainly do not use this House, and I never used the House of Commons, to criticise them. They are not to blame; the responsibility lies with the Government. I say that, not only in terms of policy but because of the method by which that policy is being carried out, the Government stand condemned, and there is only one possible answer: they must go to the British people, tell them the truth and let them judge. My Lords, I have no doubt what the answer will be.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ LORD AUCKLAND
My Lords, there are two ways in which the Government Benches could approach this very grave subject. One is to be violently partisan and attack the militants in the trade unions; the other is to try to be objective and look to the future. I shall do my utmost to take the latter course. I have, I suppose, two reasons, or two qualifications, and two only, for taking part in this debate. Like many of your Lordships, I am a director of a small business. Secondly, I have for nearly twenty years commuted each day on the Southern Region of British Rail. The station which I normally use has now not seen a stopping train for about one month. So like a number of noble 654 Lords and other people in this country, the people who use my station have to get to London by the best means we can. I should like at this juncture to pay a warm tribute to the London Underground and to the Green Line 'buses for the way in which they have coped with this situation.
My Lords, the word "crisis" has been used several times in this debate. I venture to depart from the use of that word at this stage. I believe we face a grave situation. I also believe that the situation has had the effect of uniting various sections of the community of this country in a way in which they have not been united for a very long time. One can take, for example, the travelling public who have been very long suffering during the past few weeks. There is the example, too, of the terrible railway tragedy at Ealing (which is not a long way from my office) where several people were killed and where some of the drivers who were involved in the workto-rule turned out to cope with the situation. Much as I condemn—and I stress the word "condemn"—some of those drivers who are at present causing disruptions, I think the other side of the coin should also be seen, because it is in a country such as ours where a situation of this kind, where a complete antithesis, if one likes to say it, can happen.
I can only say this from this House to the Executive of ASLEF—and I have no intention of raising the temperature of the House (which has been raised a little during the last half hour or so) because I do not think that that would be constructive. The people who are suffering as a result of this dispute on British Rail are not the executives in the stockbroker belt; they are not the captains of industry: they are the clerks, the young married women, the young men, the young people who have to travel to their offices (many on inadequate salaries by present standards), who have to leave home at an inordinately early hour, and heaven knows what time they get back home at night! I am not using that argument solely to put any pressure on ASLEF, nor shall I make any comment on the observations of the Chairman of British Rail yesterday about the drivers who refused to take out trains. I think it would be wrong to do so at this stage, while talks are still going on.
655 I have my views; a great many people in this country have their views and your Lordships and Members of another place have their views. I think it would be ingenuous to do anything else but to leave people to draw their own conclusions. All I would say is this, quoting the example of my own company. The other day we had four telephone calls within 15 minutes. Four leading business houses had cancelled management courses which my company was to have run. Why? Because on the days on which the courses were scheduled there was no power, no heating and no light. Also, a number of those attending the courses were coming from places where the train service at the present time, to say the least of it, is very difficult. My Lords, this is one company. I am not doing any special pleading, but if one multiplies this by the many companies in this country, small and large, who must be suffering financial hardship because of the present situation, it presents a picture which must give rise to great concern.
My Lords, mention has been made of the media and the part which they have played during these disputes. I have never been one who likes to attack the media, be it television, the radio or the newspapers, just for the sake of attacking. I believe that on the whole the media of this country pursue a responsible policy. But we have had, in the past few weeks, a rather sinister kind of government by television. I do not wish to mention names, because here again I do not think it would be helpful, but things have been said on the television screen and on radio (depending on which beliefs one has on either side), which perhaps were better left unsaid. It is for that reason that I believe it was right to recall Parliament, because Parliament is the place where observations on a grave situation, such as we now face, should be made.
I want to say one word about oil. Just over a year ago I was lunching with a top American oil executive in his seventies. He started a quarter of a century or so ago as a rigger in California. This man happened to be a friend of some friends of mine with whom I stayed in Los Angeles a few years ago. His words to me, paraphrased (and bear in mind that this is just over a year ago), were: "My good friend, there is going 656 to be a world shortage of oil very shortly. For God's sake subsidise your coal mines to the hilt and pay your coal miners the maximum you can afford to pay! "Those words ring heavily in my ears, and I think they would ring heavily in the ears of anybody else who had heard them.
I do not propose to comment to-night on the wages coal miners receive. In a remarkable maiden speech, one of the outstanding maiden speeches this House has heard in some years, the noble Lord, Lord Kenilworth, referred to his own experience down a coal mine. I have often thought it would be a good thing if more of the younger Members of your Lordships' House and another place were to have the facilities to go down a coal mine to see for themselves what conditions are like. We should then perhaps be in a better position to judge. I do not think to-night in your Lordships' House is the right time or the right atmosphere to make too many controversial comments on the present action of the National Union of Mineworkers; except to say, as my noble friend Lord Caldecote said, that the onus is on the Government at the earliest possible moment to institute a deep and speedy inquiry into coal-mining in general; into the ways in which a realistic wage can be paid and, above all, proper sickness and death benefits. I believe the last two are of vital importance. The same applies to the railways.
The railway line on which I and a number of your Lordships travel is one on which in normal times, during the rush hours in the mornings and evenings, at least three or four trains run an hour. They usually run to time. It is a jolly good service. I think we sometimes take for granted the fact that the 8.30 train turns up, and it gets us to London, or it gets us home again to Surrey, Hampshire or Essex. But somebody has to drive that train. Whatever the merits or otherwise of the present dispute may be, I believe the sooner it is settled, the better. I believe the time has now come, in view of the tremendous inconveniences caused to members of the general public who can least afford it, for the drivers to return to work. But I believe no time should be wasted in looking well beyond Stage 3. One of the problems of Stage 3 of the prices and incomes policy is that very few people (many of whom are 657 perhaps simple like myself) properly understand what it is all about. Perhaps more explanation when it was originally introduced might have helped.
Having said that, I think the Government are right to have brought in this particular measure, because it has been stated in sources well outside Government-supporting circles that, in view of the present circumstances in this country, Phase 3 or something similar was inevitable. Contrary to what was said a few moments ago, I believe that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, although they have made mistakes—what Government have not?—have bent over backwards to do their utmost to bring these disputes to an end. Meetings have been held. Ministers have been available. We can only hope that there will be a gleam of light at the end of the tunnel soon, not only for the sake of this country but for the sake of our friends overseas. There is a danger of our becoming self-perpetuating in gloom, and this filters to countries abroad. When I contact business and other friends in countries which I know, such as New Zealand and Scandinavia, I now make it my practice to point out that we are not the only country which is suffering from problems of this kind, and that there are still in this country a vast majority of people, whether employers or magnates or trade unionists or politicians of whatever Party, who put the country first and will strive their utmost to get this country back in due course, but perhaps not before a worsening situation, to sanity and prosperity.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ LORD BALOGH
My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord opposite will forgive me if I do not follow him. If he re-reads his speech he might consider that innuendo by anecdote is not helpful, and is perhaps even less helpful than a direct attack which is made openly. The present British crisis is really a manifestation in a sharp form of a very old disease. We must not underrate it: it is a very serious crisis. But obviously it is a crisis which would have come at one time or another in any case, and it has only been aggravated and made sharper by certain things which are beyond the control of the Government. That part of the crisis which is beyond the control of the Government of course has something to 658 do with the rise in primary product prices; of this the most typical and the most extreme example is the oil crisis. But of course we have had this before. It is one of those manifestations of human speculative affairs that, whenever primary product prices rise over three or four months, economists and other people are always there to say that a secular movement is taking place, that something completely new has happened in the world, and from now on obviously there will be a steady worsening. I, for one, am a little sceptical about this. It happened after the First World War, when as great an authority as Keynes said that commodity prices will go up—and down they went promptly. Then after the last war it was Colin Clark who said that primary commodity prices would go up—and down they went at once. So on the whole let us keep a cool head about it. On the other hand, of course, there is no doubt that the Arab restrictions and price increases are a very serious aggravation of an already difficult situation. That difficult situation has an impact on the prospects; and I should like to isolate these facts, not merely to speak about the mining crisis, difficult and dangerous as that it, but to keep it in a certain framework of intelligent debate.
In my view, the great difficulty about this worsening of our terms of trade is one of the problems which the noble Lord, Lord Thorneycroft, perhaps would not accept; it is that British businessmen do not sufficiently put up their sterling prices in exports. If they cannot export very much more they should put up the prices of their exports, because obviously we are now in every way under-valued in certain of the more labour-intensive commodities.
It will come as a surprise to noble Lords opposite to hear that labour in this country is, and always has been, cheap. English labour has always been very cheap. Their lot was difficult and disagreeable; why there was such an amount of emigration from this country in the 19th century was because people wanted to get higher wages. We—or rather you—have never put in a sufficient amount of machinery to be able to pay higher wages. Wages in this country as compared with Germany, for instance, are extremely low. The great difficulty which has arisen is that since the war, not 659 because of great intelligence or that we have learned from Keynes or something of that sort, but for various good reasons, there has never been a setback. In 1951 there was not an advance; in 1962 there was not an advance. But there has never been a setback in this country since the war. We are now almost 30 years from the last war. This sort of thing has not happened in Britain for at least two centuries. We always used to have setbacks which brought down prices and brought down production to a considerable degree, but this has not happened since the war. Certain class relationships have changed because there has been full employment, and with full employment the situation is very different from when there is not full employment. The master-servant relationship changes. This is a disagreeable thing for the master. A friend of mine who has never made jokes made one very good joke. He was asked what in his view was most labour-saving, and he said "a kitchen maid". Now the kitchen maid has disappeared from the upper middle class—the lower middle class only had "skivvies"—and the upper middle class is therefore very much hurt. I sympathise with them because in this respect I am one of them.
When class relationships change you must have institutional and political changes, and this the country has almost unanimously refused to do. That goes for both labour and capital. I do not exempt the trade unions from the charge that they have not kept up with the times. I have always said, and I am sure that those few noble Lords who stay in the Chamber for my speeches have often heard me say, that there is this very great problem of adaptation to modern conditions because of the change in the industrial structure. The industrial structure has become concentrated on the capital side and equally on the labour side, but what is so very awkward for this country at the moment is that the concentration has taken place in a fractioned way, if I may use that phrase; that is to say, there are many very big unions but there is not one union. If you have many large unions and you have a new class situation in which the master-servant relationship dissolves into thin air, then you get what is known as "leapfrogging". Here we have the real problem. 660 As the ASLEF affair shows, and as the miners' affair shows, the real problem in this country is not so much concerned with the absolute level of wages. The real problem concerns differentials and status.
I myself always get very "het-up" when the civil servants get a much greater increase than I get, because I consider myself to be much better than most civil servants, and my experience in government does not contradict this prejudice. So when the civil servants get £1,000 and I do not get £1,000 I am very bitter, whereas whether I get a little more or less inflames me much less. One of the things which the Government and the unions will have to learn is to live with this terrible fact that we must do something about differentials, and we must do it centrally.
The second thing we must learn is that we must do something about not trying to get more than there is available. One cannot do that. Quite simply, somebody will have to forgo something. This is why in my humble opinion the situation at present is very serious. It is one thing to distribute an increase in the national income more justly. That is easy—at least it is easier, although in fact we did not find it very easy. If the national income increases by 4 or 5 per cent. per annum that part of the national income which represents an increase can be distributed in a way which one might call "present day fairness", whereas the other national income is distributed in a much earlier type of fairness—what was then considered to be fairness. Of course one cause of this situation is that those people who have property can use it for income, and can convert income into property. It is a sort of leger-de-main which is extremely profitable and calls for great skill. It is practised by most eminent lawyers. I am sure that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack will agree with me that one of the most profitable parts of a barrister's job is to be ingenious about this sort of thing—the deeds and polls, and whatever they are; I have never quite understood it.
§ VISCOUNT AMORY
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord would allow me to speak for one moment. I apologise for interrupting him because, if I may say so, he is speaking extremely 661 lucidly and most interestingly. I am really interrupting him on something he said about two minutes ago, but I was not very successful in getting up, when he was speaking about differentials. I happen to agree with him very much that this is the key to the whole problem. He told us that we ought to do something centrally about this. I wonder whether he has time to develop that theme just a little further, as to the way in which he thinks this matter might be tackled, because I agree wholeheartedly with him.
§ LORD BALOGH
My Lords, the noble Viscount will find that I merely wanted to set out the problem, which is twofold. There is the matter of differentials and that of absolute pay. Absolute pay has something to do with the balance of payments and anticipation of speculative movements. Differentials have something to do with the relative level of wages. So if I may continue my speech for a few minutes, while apologising for the length of it, I shall certainly want to deal with that, because I have a proposal to make which is obviously quite impractical, but nevertheless, it has to be made because, after all, orthodoxy tends to catch up with me!
My Lords, the very grave problem which has arisen lately is that we shall not get an increase, so we shall have to make a place for certain differential movements. We shall have to face the fact that very many people will have to have a cut in real income. The Prime Minister and his spokesman in this House talked about the increases in national real output. At times I queried the figures. I have had an unsuccessful tank battle with a much more powerful tank than myself, but in the end we agreed there was an increase. But there will not be an increase this year. Already last year the terms of trade began to turn against us while the Prime Minister was making his speech. But they were turning by only 10 per cent. and could be absorbed, and we still could have made up the 1½ per cent. increase in the domestically available resources, which is something different from the total national output. It is different because of the import/export relationship. We shall have to give up much more of our real produced goods in order to get the same imports. The problem, therefore, is a very different 662 one. This is where I begin to blame the Government, and I have blamed them from the beginning. I am sure that those noble Lords who were kind enough to listen to me will remember that I have always said that one must have consensus in order to avoid crises. Consensus was precisely the thing we did not have. Not only did we not have consensus, but everything has been done in order to ruin a consensus which we could have had with this Government.
My Lords, from certain points of view—and it is a fact of life which I have always been astonished about, though I have accepted it—trade unions and Bolshevik Party leaders prefer to deal with Tory Governments because somehow they believe that they are the "genuine stuff", whereas a Labour Minister in England is not. The Government join with Mr. Brezhnev: I congratulate them. Yet we never had consensus. There was a wilful increase in prices which ought not to have occurred—in things like rates, and so on. I will not go over the list because we have gone through it so often, and it is extremely boring.
My Lords, on top of everything, when the reaction came and Mr. Barber began to deflate, my noble friend Lord Wigg said that Mr. Barber made a U-turn, but he did not do that; he became a merry-go-round, because his U-turns were several times repeated; and that, I think, only merry-go-rounds do of their own free will. Human beings are averse to this sort of exercise. He did not use the opportunity to promote consensus. What he did was to give up the well-advertised credit control through competition, which was neither credit control nor competition. As the Germans say, ernstfalle when it came to serious business he had to abandon it altogether and at once. Then we had this very disagreeable affair of the remissions of taxation in 1971–72. Surely that was very bad from a viewpoint of reaching consensus and promoting equity. That he did not before Christmas take this splendid excuse to reverse at any rate that part of the taxation changes which he introduced on surtax was to me astonishing, because there was a good reason for it. He could have squared it with his constituents, and perhaps he could then have asked for countervailing concessions from the trade 663 unions, which he cannot do now. And, of course, there is this non-increase, or decrease, of the increase or decrease of public expenditure which he initiated. Nobody knew what he cut. Did he cut what was there, what was being spent; or did he cut the increase which was expected? Or did he cut the increase after the decrease had been taken into account owing to slippage of works, which is about £600 million, between the letting of the works and the execution of the work?
On top of this, there was devaluation. I am always amused, sometimes wryly amused, by the fact that floating was presented as a very new idea which would solve everything. We floated successfully, they say, in 1931. But how did we float? We had 2½ million unemployed. We had the Ottawa Conference; we introduced a tariff system of almost 35 per cent., on average, and we deflated like mad. Of course it was all right then. But floating in a full employment economy with anticipation of price increases, which are then translated into wage increases, is a different story altogether. As I have said, I was wryly amused when the noble Lords on those Benches opposite and my noble and honourable friends in another place extolled this affair as something quite new, and as something which would solve all the problems. Now, of course, we have the increase in prices as a result. By now, it is about 25 per cent., which is quite a lot.
I should like to turn now to the miners' case. I first of all want to say that I deplored enormously the Prime Minister's action when he wrongly, as I said at the time, abolished the National Board for Incomes and Prices, and created two Boards which are in loose contact with one another, which are manned by different types of people and which have a different approach to the problems. Not only did they do that (and my noble friend who was of course Deputy Chairman of the institution, knows it much better than I do), but it was done after this institution, the National Board, had introduced real light into some very dark corners of the British economy and had contributed a very great deal to productivity increases, which since the Government abolished the National Board and also abolished S.E.T. have been 664 deplorable. We had 5 and 6 per cent. increases up to 1970. Since then the figure is about 1½ per cent.; it is horrific.
This new Board and its manifestations strike me like a discussion between Byzantine monks and mediaeval rabbis interpreting the number of angels who can alight on a pinhead; or, rather, when is a bath not a bath, or a shower not a shower, but working time? It seems to me that the whole thing is ludicrous. It seems to me that the sort of arguments ought to be brought out which have been brought out by noble Lords on this side about the unique differential difficulties and dangers of mining, and the fact that we are losing miners when we want to gain them. My right honourable friend Mr. Jay in another place pointed, very rightly, to the fact that when the first freeze occurred there was a special dispensation for those vital industries in which manpower losses were suffered. If one modified this blessed document, this new Koran or whatever it is, on the norm, or whatever it is called now, in this respect, we could make some progress.
I am now coming back, my Lords, to my original theme. It has to be accepted that the miners' case is an exceptional case. If that is not accepted then obviously the Government have an argument. I myself think one could get this accepted, and particularly if there were ancillary measures, taxation, social services and that sort of thing. I am sure it has to be accepted that the miners' case is a special case, and on its basis no further wage demands can be made in other industries.
Let me close with two suggestions. It seems to me that we need a new institution which will concern itself with differentials. This can be done, as it is done in Sweden, either by the T.U.C. itself, or by a new dual or tripartite organ. It seems to me that the present organ is absolutely unfit to operate successfully in the sort of way it operates at the moment. The trade unions must be brought in far more. The T.U.C. responsibility must be far more clear. It seems to me that this case ought to be pushed to the hilt. It will be very difficult. The trade unions in this country, unlike those in Sweden or Germany, or even in France, are not sufficiently concentrated. But I think on the whole that if one gave them the choice of a prize one could get them to agree.
665 The second thing is that it seems to me that we must use the National Economic Development Council for another purpose. That is, to bring about an agreement on what my right honourable friend Mr. Harold Wilson called the size of the national dividend; that is to say, to establish how much income increases in toto one can have, and therefore what the sort of equalibrium situation would be (with taxation, of course, thrown in and duly accounted for) between dividends and labour, tending towards a more egalitarian distribution of incomes. I say "tending" because I do not think it can be done very quickly. I do not think it should be done in such a way as to frighten people off enterprise. It has to be done in a way that is acceptable to management. But I think it has to be done. I conclude by saying that I feel very strongly that, unless we recover at last from this horrible experience, a number of people will go bankrupt. I think that a number of banks will be shaken, but I hope they will not go bankrupt because I hope they will handle the situation more intelligently than the Americans handled it in 1933. But a 20 per cent. decrease in production, which is already upon us, is calamitous; 30 per cent. is catastrophic, and 40 per cent. might be really the end of Britain as a leading industrial nation.
§ 7.6 p.m.
§ LORD HARVEY OF PRESTBURY
My Lords, we have listened to the noble Lord, Lord Balogh, with great interest. I think the point he made about differentials is a very important one and perhaps should be studied in considerably more detail. When the debate started the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said that he thought and hoped that both sides would speak with frankness, and I am going to take him up on that in my own way, because I think it is such an important debate for Parliament and the country that we really should say what we think.
In the last 10 days, listening to the radio and watching television, there has been a deplorable slanging match coming from all directions about the general situation. I will refer to that in more detail in a moment. When speaking in this House on December 5, I was, along with others, very sympathetic to the case of the miners. I had the privilege of representing Macclesfield on the edge of the Potteries. A number of miners lived 666 in Congleton in my constituency. I saw them over a great many years and you could not wish for a finer set of men. Of course they have a good case. But supposing the Government did give way now, can anyone imagine that ASLEF would not pursue their claim? Would not the coal be left at the top of the pits? Of course they would pursue their claim. There would be one after another. We had Mr. Scanlon on television last week saying that if it were not for the three-day week he would certainly be bringing the engineers out to make trouble. These are threats coming from, not all the way round but from many sources of industry. I thought the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, spoke, as he said, very frankly, but he did not refer to ASLEF in his speech and we did not have the benefit of his views on how he saw that problem and how it should be dealt with—because it is part and parcel of the country's problems. A girl working in my office told me yesterday that coming up from Kent people were standing ten deep at the station at Bromley. She said that it was a very unpleasant experience; people started to get rough and really bad tempered and out of hand. This is a matter which has to be looked at as well as that of the miners.
As the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, said, this confrontation has been building up for 25 years, or probably longer, and successive Governments have failed to tackle it. It would have been considerably cheaper if it had been tackled ten years ago. It is no good blaming Mr. Heath and suggesting that he should resign and Mr. Wilson take his place. God forbid! We may be in trouble, but I do not think that would help very much. We have to get this industrial unrest out of our system. It is not just a question of the pay of the miners; it goes much deeper than that. All Governments make mistakes. I was looking at Command 3438 on Fuel Policy in 1967, in the days of the Labour Government. They were talking about the future costs of oil. It says:It is difficult to predict the course of oil prices. There are a number of reasons for expecting them not to increase. The industry is continually searching for ways of cutting costs, as for instance by the use of very large crude oil tankers to reduce freight charges and increase flexibility and security of supply. Competition is strong both between companies and between sources of 667 supply, and the surplus of crude oil seems likely to persist for many years despite the expansion in world demand.How wrong can Governments be? All the leading nations of the world were wrong not to foresee this problem. The "think tanks" and the brains of the different countries should have seen staring them in the face like a sore thumb that we were getting a cheap source of energy from oil.
Inflation has to be stemmed. It is no good saying, "Give the miners what they want, and then we will tackle the problem". It has to be stemmed from now onwards. If we do not stem it, the people who will foot the bill are the old people and those living on small fixed incomes, and the rest of the country will get along for a certain period of time. The coalface workers, as I understand it, have been offered 161 per cent. This is not ungenerous.
§ LORD JACQUES
My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me to interrupt? The coalface workers have not been offered 161 per cent.; the coalface workers are being offered 6.8 per cent.
§ LORD HARVEY OF PRESTBURY
My Lords, I stand to be corrected. The point that I was making—and here I am very sympathetic—is that I understand that the pension of the miners up until a short time ago was £1.50 a week; a year ago it was increased to £3 a week. I think that that is absolutely deplorable. Men who work in organisations with which I am connected gradually come on to the staff even if they are on the shop floor. They come on to the monthly pay roll, and they get at least 50 per cent. of their pay in the form of a pension. If we went to a miner aged twenty-six and told him that we are going to do this for his pension he would not be interested, because young people of that age are not, although they are more interested to-day than they used to be. The pensions of miners ought to be dealt with. Many have to retire early because of bad health, or are given a slightly less onerous job with less pay. I think that we should go all the way with these men, and the railway workers, to get their pensions in line with what they should be, and in line with the top firms in industry.
668 Having said that, after six months to get ourselves sorted out, we should say to the miners, and probably the railwaymen: "You are top of the list. You have the top priority. Some form of Commission will look into the question of pensions, wages, differentials, and what have you." They must be almost the elite. Not quite the elite, because, as the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, said, there are the distant fishermen. Anybody who has done the trip to the North Cape or Iceland in the old trawlers, or even to-day, when you are 22 or 24 days away from home and your own bed, with cut hands, black frost, will know what it is all about. It is a far worse job than mining has ever been, and equally dangerous. Nevertheless, I would give the miners that priority and an undertaking, and would right away increase their pensions and give them something solid that would come within Phase 3 and perhaps save everybody's face.
It has been said that this is the worst crisis since the war. It is the worst crisis that I can remember in my adult life. I remember that as a young officer in the Regular Air Force in 1926 I had just got my wings for flying, and one of my first jobs was to fly papers from Biggin Hill to the North-East of England during the General Strike. I was 18, and I thought that it was a great experience. I was getting eighteen shillings a day subsistence because I was away from home. I think that this is a far worse crisis than that. In the war, as a nation we spoke with one voice; but we are not doing that today, and that is the regrettable part of our problem. I do not want to be unduly personal, but during the past week, Mr. Wedgwood Benn, who leads the Opposition in another place, used the situation, in my view, for Party politics.
§ LORD HARVEY OF PRESTBURY
My Lords, the noble Lord has made his speech. We have sometimes agreed in the past on Defence matters, but I have my views on this matter and perhaps he will listen to what I have to say. Mr. Benn held a Press conference on January 1, and he said that the three-day week was a "calculated deception" on the part of the Government, all worked out in great detail. He went on to say:Short working surely was just a Tory device intended to turn the working class 669 against the miners and at the same time deflate the economy without having to impose taxes on the middle class.That is about the most outrageous statement that I have ever heard in my political life, and I hope that I am in the middle of the road, and in some respects as good a radical as the noble Lord opposite.
Let us look at the situation and see who is involved apart from the Government in this "fraud". If the fuel crisis is a fraud and a fake, as Mr. Wedgwood Benn says, then who is involved? It must be the National Coal Board, the Central Electricity Generating Board, British Rail officials and the Steel Corporation. These are all nationalised industries, operated and controlled by a highly responsible and very fine set of men. They must all be involved, because they have agreed to what the Government are doing. The noble Lord shakes his head. As I understand it, that is what has happened; they have agreed that we have to have the three-clay working week. I think that Mr. Benn's statement is an insult to the average person's intelligence. He is trying to put this over, but if he wants to help the Tory Party he is going the right way about it. The most worrying part is that the Leader of the Labour Party has not repudiated what he has said.
§ LORD WIGG
My Lords, I am not in a position to defend Mr. Benn or anybody else, but let us be factual about this. Would the noble Lord look at the Sunday Times, which did a detailed analysis of what he said. I have it here, It says:Essentially, Cripps's forecast"—Dr. Cripps's figures, on which Mr. Benn based his case—depended upon two assumptions. The first was the shortfall in coal deliveries would only be 30 per cent. As we have said, it has in fact been 36 per cent.Then he goes on to say that the assumption was also based upon the fact that the C.E.G.B. would get 3 million tons more oil in the second quarter of 1974, whereas in fact they would be getting less oil. It is in the second quarter of this year after the crisis date is passed.
§ LORD HARVEY OF PRESTBURY
My Lords, if the noble Lord would wait, I was coming on to that. I am glad that he referred to the article in the 670 Sunday Times, because some of the things that I have been saying about the Coal Board and the national interest were said far better in the Sunday Times than I can say them. I have really got his support, for which I am grateful.
In my view, the Government have behaved correctly and honestly in this whole matter. I do not think that they have been as tactful as they might have been, and their public relations have been deplorable. I said in the debate last month—and many other noble Lords said the same—that the country needed to be told the facts almost on a day-to-day basis in a crisis like this, and they have not been. The only thing that Mr. Benn achieved is that he eventually extracted some figures from Mr. Boardman, but Mr. Boardman should have given this information before that date. Even to-day my noble friend Lord Aberdare gave information about certain types of coal. I should like to see a full statement made so that we know exactly where we are. The Government must face up to this problem. Having the responsibility to deal with it, they must put over to the nation what they are trying to do and the reasons for it. I do not think that noble Lords should be too sensitive if the word "communism" is mentioned. My noble friend Lord Thorneycroft was slated because he referred to it. Mr. Tom Jackson, the Post Office Union leader, made reference to it a fortnight ago, and showed great courage in so doing. I will not get involved in that aspect, and will say only that we must face up to these problems but without overstressing them.
The Chancellor has been much criticised for what he did in his so-called mini-Budget, but I think it is right to avoid the swingeing taxes that some people would like to see inflicted. What he has done to the property people will be found to be far worse than appeared on the day he made his speech and will hurt them considerably. But I do not defend them one little bit; they have had their run and he has caught them out. The alternative to the new hire-purchase controls and the extra charge on property speculators would have been to put up income tax by 7p in the pound, or even by 20 per cent. The Chancellor has acted very correctly. Goodness knows, my Lords, the people have suffered 671 enough without having extra burdens put upon them.
It has been suggested to me by some sections of industry that instead of working a three-day week on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, or Thursday, Friday and Saturday, we should work on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, or Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. It would be far better to have a heavier load on Wednesdays than to dislocate the transport services and have overtime worked on Saturdays. I should like to have the Government's considered reply on that point.
Britain's future is far better than almost any other European country, and I am not in the least despondent if we can get over this problem and tackle some of the other problems. This country has everything. Our technology is second to none. We have harbours, ships, natural gas, oil coming along in abundance in a year or two, and an abundance of coal which we should be exporting to European countries. Last year, the Government agreed to invest approximately £1,100 million in the coal industry and I should like to suggest that an even greater sum should be invested. Companies' order books are full, and in the businesses with which I am connected I have never seen a better spirit, particularly in the factories in the North of England. People are enthusiastic about overcoming the difficulties and the problems of getting to work, and some of them are working without being paid overtime. There is no question of referring to the Dunkirk spirit, but Sir Max Aitken, an old colleague of many of us in the House of Commons, gave a worth while New Year message. I should like to see both Houses of Parliament getting together with various councils to sort out some common policy for the immediate future to get us out of our difficulty. Otherwise, we are in for a dreadful time. Surely we have the intelligence in both Houses to achieve that much.
§ 7.23 p.m.
§ LORD TAYLOR OF MANSFIELD
My Lords, I am very much obliged to my noble friend Lord Brockway for asking me to take his place on the list of speakers. The reason why my name is not on the list is that I did not know 672 until too late that your Lordships' House would be sitting to-day. Your Lordships will understand that I am very grateful to my noble friend, who felt that the voice of someone who has lived all his life among the miners, and still does so, and who for many years worked underground as a miner, should be heard in this debate, and I hope your Lordships concur in that view.
I should like to take up two points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare. I am sorry he is not here at the moment, but I understand the reason for that. The first is the question of coal stocks, and the second is the proposal of an inquiry into the future of the miners. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Harvey of Prestbury, that the Government have not been very forthcoming on the question of stocks. Since we last met we have listened to the news on television and the radio and we have been confused. We have been given certain facts, but the person who was responsible for giving us the correct information has said nothing at all.
The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, has indicated what the stocks were when the miners commenced their overtime ban and what they are now. I do not want to misrepresent him, but I think he said that when the overtime ban commenced there were 13½ million tons of coal at the power stations and 2 million tons at the collieries. My information, which comes from a very reliable source, is that when the miners' overtime ban commenced in November there were distributed and undistributed stocks of 37 million tons, which is more than there was during the miners' stoppage of 1972. I regret that the Government have cut off a source of information which is valuable not only to Parliament but to the public at large.
Ever since 1943 or 1944, when the Ministry of Fuel and Power was instituted, we have had good information from the responsible department, not only about stocks of coal but also about manpower and absenteeism in the industry, as well as about the production and consumption of electricity and gas. I raised this point in a debate a few months ago and the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, very kindly said that he would see that I had a copy of the relevant information. On six occasions I 673 received copies of weekly statistics; but that practice has now stopped and, as a consequence, there has been more ignorance among both your Lordships and the general public. I appeal to the Government to recommence their former practice so that we may know the facts.
With regard to the question of the inquiry that the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, raised, I will leave that for the moment and come to it a little later. During the debate on the Motion moved by my noble friend Lord Kennet I made a general contribution on the question of energy, and there is only one thing that I should like to say by way of repetition. During a debate in the other place in 1965 I made the statement that all post-war Governments had been guilty of putting too many eggs in the oil basket. I do not detract from that statement. As a consequence, what has happened so far as coal is concerned? Many pits have been closed, and at least half a million men have been taken out of the industry since 1957. Not so long ago I listened to a debate in the other place in which the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry accused the Opposition of having closed more pits than the Conservative Government had closed. I am not so sure about that if you take the matter over a long period. But what I do say is that the Governments of both Parties did too much in this respect, and at this moment we see the chickens coming home to roost.
My Lords, the noble Lord. Lord Carrington, has been appointed what the newspapers described this morning as "The Energy Supremo". I should like to offer my congratulations to him, but at the same time I must reiterate what my noble friend Lord Shackleton said earlier on. When I was coming out of the Underground to your Lordships' House to-day, there in the newspapers concerning the present dispute I saw the big headlines:Lord Carrington says 'No surrender'".That is not the way out of this present difficulty. That is not the way of consensus. It is not the way of conciliation. It is the way of confrontation.
My next point is this. So far as the social and economic life of the country is concerned, in my view the last two years have been tragic; and much of what is taking place to-day is the Government's 674 responsibility. The spiralling of inflation is their responsibility to a very large extent, though not altogether. I know that they are not responsible for the rise in world prices; but so much in our domestic life has happened during these last two years that has helped the inflationary process here at home. What do I mean? There have been the increases in rents and the increases in mortgage rates; and even when we had a wage freeze before Phase 1 or Phase 2, and now in Phase 3, prices went up to an alarming extent—and during that period of freeze nobody could say that the escalation in wages was responsible for that rise.
The next point I should like to make, my Lords, is that the atmosphere in the field of industrial relations has been poisoned. My noble friend Lord Hardwicke made reference to me in the debate in your Lordships' House on December 19, and he referred to what I said to him during the passage of the Industrial Relations Bill—in my view one of the biggest mistakes that has been made in this century so far as industrial relations are concerned. He quoted that I said to him, as I said to others, "This thing will never work". He thought I was over-optimistic. I have no attributes either of omniscience or of prophecy, but I felt at the time, and I still feel, that this piece of legislation will not work. This is one of the factors responsible for the poisoned atmosphere so far as industrial relations are concerned.
May I make a reference to the Industrial Relations Court? I am sure that it the Lord Chancellor (who I do not see in his place at the moment) is entitled to stand up in defence of the Chairman and of that Court, I too am entitled to give voice to something that passes through my mind. One of our big unions decided not to go before that Court, and they were fined £75,000. Another of our big unions took the opposite view and decided to go to the Industrial Relations Court and state their case, and they were fined £55,000. So whatever you do, whether you go or whether you do not go, or if you do not win your case when you do go, the result is the same. This money was contributed by the pennies of the miners, the engineers and the factory workers. They call it sequestration, but I call it pinching.
675 As I saw your Lordships going through the Lobbies during the passage of the Industrial Relations Bill, what was uppermost in my mind (and I am sure your Lordships will forgive me for saying this) was, "Forgive them, for they know not what they do, and they know not what havoc they are going to cause by this piece of legislation as far as industrial relations are concerned". I thought that the Lord Chancellor himself—I am sorry he is not here; I have told him personally that I would mention him, so I am sure he will not mind—when he was speaking in the Second Reading debate on the Industrial Relations Bill, was at his theological best. He quoted the verse of a hymn. He was referring to those of us who were violently opposed to this legislation, and he said:Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;The clouds ye so much dreadAre big with mercy and will breakWith blessings on your head".The blessings are coming all right, are they not? They are coming all right in the industrial area!
Now in the remaining time that is at my disposal I want, if I can, to dispel any ignorance that there may be among your Lordships, and I certainly want to have it on the Record so far as the general public are concerned. The noble Lord, Lord Harvey of Pestbury, said that coal face workers can get 16½ per cent. He was falling as much for the propaganda of the Press and the media as are the general public. If you study the proposals which have been made to the miners, you will see that, while it is true (and I will give the percentage in a moment) that some who work unsocial hours can get 16½ per cent., they are only a very small percentage of the total. I will keep your Lordships on your toes for a minute before I give the actual percentage.
What are the proposals which have been made to the miners? They are called generous, more than reasonable, but they are no more than have been offered to other workers. What are they? Let us examine them for one moment. The first is 7 per cent. on the basic rate. Then there are the payment of 17p per hour for the working of unsocial hours, the threshold agreement, the New Year's Day Bank Holiday which came into 676 operation this year. All those things under Stage 3 are given not only to the miners but to other workers as well, plus the productivity agreement. That applies to other industries as well. What about the productivity agreement, the proposal of a productivity agreement in the Code and in the proposals? This was put forward by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, two years ago. I know that there has been discussion between the N.U.M. and the N.C.B. What has been said I do not know. What I do know is that no finality has been reached in two years. How much longer it will be before a productivity agreement is arrived at I do not know. And this represents 3½ per cent. of the 16 per cent. that the noble noble Lord, Lord Harvey, was talking about.
Really, my Lords, the only additional thing that has been given to the miners under these proposals is a little extra on the holiday pay. Let me say this to your Lordships. So far as the miners are concerned, the Board has conceded that they are entitled to an extra week's holiday pay, but because of Stage 2 it was not possible to give it. Again because of Stage 3 it is not possible. All that has happened has been the giving of a couple of pounds extra on the holiday payment of the miners—something which has not been given to workers in other industries—plus one other thing: that is, when a miner reaches the age of 65 and the point of retirement, the gratuity that he receives will be increased from £300 to £500. Apart from these two things, the proposals offered to the miners under Stage 3 are no more generous than those offered to other workers in industry.
§ LORD ABERDARE
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? He did interrupt me so it is tit-for-tat. I should like to make it quite clear that, according to the National Coal Board, even leaving aside the 3½ per cent. efficiency increase, 25 per cent. of miners would get more than £6.25, 50 per cent. would get more than £4.75, and 70 per cent. more than £3.20.
§ LORD TAYLOR OF MANSFIELD
My Lords. I have a lot of figures here, I did not want to quote them, but they do not quite square up to what the noble Lord says. Which is right and which is wrong I do not know. That is part of 677 our democracy. We have a difference of opinion about how these things work out.
Let me say this, since the noble Lord has raised the point, about the payment for unsocial hours. Seven per cent. of the manpower in the industry will not get anything at all because they work during hours which are regarded as social. It is only 2½ per cent. of the manpower in the industry who can get the maximum of £6.80 per week. If I were to read out all these figures it would take too much time, but beginning at 8 per cent. of the manpower in the industry, rising and falling, this means that only 2½ per cent. of the manpower in the industry are likely to get the maximum increase under the proposals.
May I ask the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, this question? The payment for unsocial hours as laid down in the Code is not new. It has been operating in the mining industry since 1966. Even now the miners on night shift receive, by agreement, a payment for working those unsocial hours. May I put this to the noble Lord? In the light of this, will the miners lose that and get the full 17p under the proposal, or will they get what they are getting now as well as the 17p? Perhaps the noble Lord could enlighten me on that.
My last point, and I am sure I have spoken too long, is the promise to the miners, "Well, if you accept these proposals, let us have an inquiry." My heavens! If commissioners, inquiries and committees could have saved this industry, salvation would have come long, long ago. One cannot help but look at history in this regard. If I were a member of the Minters' Executive what I should want, so far as an inquiry in the future was concerned, would be some cast iron guarantee that it would be carried out. You may ask what I mean by that. Let us take the Sankey Commission in 1919—and I know that this is going back a long time. Three of the main proposals of the Sankey Commission were an immediate payment of two shillings a day—which we got; legislation immediately to reduce the hours from eight to seven, which had operated from 1908, and the promise that there should be a six-hour day. What has been the position? We got our seven-hour day in 1919. In 1926 the Baldwin Government 678 reversed that and went back to eight hours. It is the case that the underground working hours for the miners to-day are, by Statute, greater by half an hour than they were in 1919.
My Lords, whether I am called militant or whatever label is put on me, I would say that, in the light of some of the promises which have been made to the miners of this country, so far as a future inquiry is concerned I should want some cast-iron guarantees that this will be carried out.
My closing words are these. I watched television last night and saw pictures of all the people who were going to meet the Secretary of State for Employment, Mr. Whitelaw. And they got them labelled "moderates", "militants", "Communists" and so on. It seems to be becoming the fashion now. Recently I have been reading the life of a late and very respected Member of your Lordships' House, Lord Birkett. When he was Mr. Norman Birkett he was the Liberal candidate for Nottingham, East. If you read his programme and his Election address—I say this particularly to my Liberal friends—you would realise that in 1923 Norman Birkett would have been regarded, I am certain, as a militant. This disease is now spreading to the Government. They say that there are "militants" and "moderates", and that in the Government there are "doves" and "hawks". I do not know what is the difference between a "dove" and a "moderate" or a "hawk" and a "militant"; my intelligence cannot comprehend it. I heard on the radio this morning that although the Press have dubbed the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, one of the "hawks" in the Cabinet, he denies it vociferously.
My Lords, there is a great deal more that I should like to say about the mining industry. We are in a sorry mess. It does not appear that the Government are going to move and the miners do not appear to be going to move. The noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, who is to speak next, comes from a county where it has been reported this week that one of the miners' leaders said that the miners should cease their overtime ban and accept the Government's proposals. What happened? Although they had gone down the shaft, the miners in two of the pits came out again, and 2,000 or 3,000 tons of coal 679 were lost. My Lords, you cannot tell me that all those men who came out of the pits because their leader had misinterpreted their views, were Communists.
During the Christmas Recess I found that the attitude of the rank and file miners is hardening, and I hope that some way will be found to solve the problem. I believe that the miners are a special case, and I would say that they should be paid danger money. When a "Gresford" takes place; when a "Lofthouse" takes place; when a "Markham" takes place, there is sympathy by the bucketful; money pours into the disaster funds. But when the miners ask for something with which they can not only maintain but also improve their standards and live decently, the answer is, 'No'. I know of no industry—and I have been connected with it for nearly 70 years—that is so dangerous and so dirty, and which has so many health hazards.
My Lords, I will conclude by saying that I once took a former Tory Member of Parliament, now deceased, down one of the local pits in Nottinghamshire. It was a modern colliery and the seam was 4ft. thick. We could either get down on our knees or stoop. I can recall the M.P. saying, "Bernard, let's stop a minute". We stopped, and we sat there; and he said, "Well, I don't mind telling you this am not going to use the adjective he used, although it makes the comment a bit more forceful and adds a little more colour: if your Lordships would like to know the adjective I might be disposed to tell you privately— "I would not have this job for £100 a week".
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ LORD CRAWSHAW
My Lords, I feel very honoured at being able to follow the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Mansfield. Obviously, I cannot match his first-hand experience of mining, and, of course, he spoke with great moderation and restraint. But, as the noble Lord mentioned, we have it in common that we both come from the same part of England, from next door counties. A great deal of mining takes place there, and whatever one does one is bound to meet many people who are, or have been, engaged in coalmining.
680 I was moved to come to your Lordships' House to-day because of two conversations I had last weekend with the person mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Mansfield, the leader of the Miners' Union in Leicestershire, Mr. Frank Smith. I thought Mr. Frank Smith a most courageous and patriotic man. Perhaps he was a little misunderstood by some of his colleagues. But after talking to him, I realised that he was deeply proud of the miners under his care and deeply interested in their welfare. He talked at length about the sort of dangers that they face and the jobs that they do. I thought that he represented all that is best in British miners. I have found the British miner to be a person with a deep sense of public responsibility and with an interest in various local charities; the local hospital, the church or chapel or whatever it may be. He is, of course, deeply interested in all forms of sport and, in passing, one reflects how pleased the M.C.C. would have been had they been able to take a younger version of Harold Larwood or Fred Trueman to the West Indies.
I do not believe that the average miner is particularly interested in Party politics. He does not see it as his job to overthrow the Government by a form of industrial action. I have certainly learned to respect the job that the miners do and the dangers that they face, having twice in my life landed up in a hospital bed adjacent to a miner. As your Lordships' probably know, and as I have just said, Mr. Frank Smith takes the exceptional view that the overtime ban should be ended so long as the Government will undertake immediately to review the complete situation. He suggested to me that if we cannot find a way to give them more money under Phase 3, at least we might find a way of taking less from them. I was interested in the figures produced by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, illustrating the net rise for miners under the present offer. I know that there is a growing resentment among workers in various jobs who are earning in the £30 to £40 a week bracket. They are finding that income tax takes more than they think it should. No doubt we all think that, but these people have a slight feeling of resentment particularly when, as has already been quoted this evening, their wages may be compared with the 681 £150 a week which a self-employed plasterer can earn, and his money may not always be so manifest or apparent to the tax collector. I think that one may understand that feeling of resentment.
Frank Smith's approach is the moderate approach. There is, of course, a vocal "Left Wing". I shall watch with great interest to see what happens at the miners' Executive to-morrow and how my friend Frank Smith gets on. If the moderate view prevails in one form or another, I hope that my noble friend Lord Carrington, when he comes to allocating public capital to develop various forms of energy, will take note and will back the miners to the hilt, for I would far rather develop our own mines and line the pockets of our own miners—who will in any case spend their money in this country—than provide further fleets of Rolls-Royces for Arab Sheikhs.
One of the factors which has been aggravating inflation and the wage claims was brought home to me very sharply before I left home this morning when I opened a bill for concentrated animal feedstuffs. I was asked for £70 per ton, which is twice the price I was asked at this time last year. I do not blame the Government or anybody else for that; it is a question of world prices, I know—but it must mean one of two things: either the livestock producers will go bankrupt or food prices will go on rising. I hope the Government will take note of this when they are faced with present and future wage claims. This leads me to my final point. In an effort to avoid these high prices of feedstuffs I am now closely involved with the installation of a large grass drying plant. This is to be fired by oil and so I have been closely watching the price of oil. The latest figure that Shell quoted for me for heavy oil was 7p per gallon after rebate. They expect that to rise by 2p to 9p per gallon by next summer. We reckon that we can produce dried grass, equivalent to the bought cake which I have mentioned, at present prices of £35 per ton, and even after next summer's rise in price our production costs will still be well below £40 as opposed to the £70 which I have mentioned.
I say all this because I believe it is possible to be too pessimistic about the oil situation and its price. I also believe that the coal situation can and will be 682 solved, given the moderation of men like Frank Smith and a perceptive understanding by the Government, which I am certain will be forthcoming, of the miner's job and the dangers he faces.
§ 8.3 p.m.
§ LORD TANLAW
My Lords, I shall be very brief indeed as some contribution to the energy crisis of the day. I want to say only two things which I believe are of some consequences. The first is that the cause of the situation that has brought us here to-day to discuss the national situation in the words written on the Order Paper has been an interruption in supplies of energy. I feel, as do most noble Lords who have taken part in the debate so far, that when concentrating on the causes of the interruption of supply, be it the Arabs or the disputes going on in the various sections of the energy industry, we should not forget at any time that the real crisis is the 13 per cent. inflation crisis and the fact that the economy is sailing into completely uncharted waters. I feel that it is not the right time to enter into discussions on where it will end, but it is inflation that has been the underlying cause of the problems which have brought us here for these two days.
Like my noble friend Lady Seear, I welcome the appointment of the new Energy Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and his team. We welcome it especially from these Benches mainly because we have been pressing for some separation in the responsibilities for energy in the huge Department of Trade and Industry. We hope that this will be one step in recognition of the need for an Energy Commission for which we in this part of the House have been asking for so long. I understand why perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, is not here. Perhaps he is looking for an office for himself and for his team of 700 or 800 civil servants who go with him. I would wish to take the opportunity to-day of wishing him the luck and the utmost speed in doing so. But I hope that he may take to heart the words of an adviser to the National Coal Board, Dr. Schumaker, who took the phrase for his book, Small is Beautiful. The noble Lord is starting off with 700 or 800 civil servants; I hope that he and his Department will not have any expansionist ideas. One could go on 683 expanding this Department indefinitely, and I shall be asking the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, at intervals in the course of the next month, how greatly he is increasing the numbers in his Department.
I should like to feel that this is going to be a most effective Department. I think it will be if it is kept small. I hope, too, that the new Department of Energy will create an energy policy. I read in to-day's paper that the spokesman in another place for the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has already said that one of the first jobs will be to create a new energy policy. My Lords, I am delighted to hear this, but I am somewhat bewildered because we on these Benches—myself perhaps most of all—have still not understood what the Government's old energy policy was, if ever they had one. We have asked time and time again what the Government's energy policy was. We have originated debates in this House about the Government's energy policy, but we have never had an answer. We now have an Energy Minister and I sincerely hope that we will be able to have an energy policy which I and some of my noble friends are able to comprehend and comment on.
I feel that recent events have shown the real need for more information about the subject of energy. I think that the last intervention I made in your Lordships' House concerned the worrying factor that we were not informed enough to make a proper contribution to a debate on such a serious subject as the one we are discussing to-day. I asked whether it was possible for briefings from civil servants to be given to Opposition Members of this House before they took part in a debate. I received a long letter from the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, giving the reasons why, under the existing system of Parliament, that is impossible. Nevertheless, I think it has been shown without doubt in the moments of crisis that when Ministers appeared on the media they aroused in the general public, and indeed in the Opposition Parties in this country, an unnecessary amount of resentment at the lack of information they gave. Either the Government did not know the situation or they knew it and would not reveal it.
684 The word "crisis" has been used in almost every speech this afternoon. I believe that if we are to support the nation or the national future we must be taken into the confidence of the Government in order to do our best. I should like to offer some advice, which I hope will not be taken amiss. I believe that the amount of television time taken up by Ministers and by trade union leaders in these last weeks has added greatly to the feeling of crisis and bewilderment of the general public, and I believe it to be more than likely that this was the main cause of panic buying up of petrol. People were not given confidence in the leadership of the country at the time, and I hope in future that perhaps the noble Lord the Minister and trade union leaders will restrain themselves and will not appear too often on television. We have only a limited time in which to watch programmes these days, and it would be a great relief to know that instead of appearing on television the personalities who are running our future in these critical weeks are carrying on negotiations or getting down to running this country.
On a lighter note, my Lords, I, too, with the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, was delighted to read in the Daily Express about the need for the new Minister to have some energy. One law that has been constantly ignored, or perhaps I should say overlooked, in all matters of energy, by Ministers, public bodies and successive Governments, is a law which has not passed through this House: it is the second law of thermo-dynamics. Some noble Lords will be well aware of what I am about to say, but for those who do not know it, this universal law recognises that energy is indestructible, always convertible but never reversible. We on the Liberal Benches respect this law, in the sense that we have accepted efficient energy conversion as being the basis of all Liberal speeches moved on these Benches, and indeed of Liberal policy. Perhaps now that he has this new Department the Minister will be able to consider the significant fact that losses in the generation of energy are in the region of 40 per cent. It seems to me that if 1 million tons of coal equivalent are used in a power station, 600,000 tons of that coal which has been brought up to the surface and brought to the power 685 station serves no better purpose than to heat the sun in the morning and the moon at night. I would urge that something be done about this.
I should like to think, although there are no votes in this, or no immediate public response, that one of the first tasks to which the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, will put his mind is the appalling waste of energy in power generation throughout the country. There is an enormous amount of research—which means money, of course—to be done in the conducting or transmission of electricity. There is a great deal of research to be done into electrolysers for conversion into hydrogen. That is probably for the year 2000, but if research is not started in the next five years there will be an energy crisis in each new decade, each one worse than the last. I hope there will be plenty of time to expand and develop these thoughts and, now that we have a Minister in this House, he will be able to keep us in the picture as to what his new Department will be doing for the future.
My Lords, I will mention just one more thing. It is very difficult to come to any pay agreement. whether it concerns coal, oil or any other form of industrial agreement, until the real price of coal, or the real price of oil, has been stabilised—until, in fact, the price of energy has been stabilised. Businessmen in this country cannot possibly plan ahead without that, and essential industrial investment will be less than it is already. Another task which this Energy Commission, for which we are still asking, could do would be to bring perhaps a little more quickly a stable price for coal and oil. These are highly political issues in terms of negotiation. I should like to feel that they are not going to be turned into Party political issues but will be given top priority in the weeks to come.
I should like to mention a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Auckland: that some of us should go to visit coal mines. I have myself visited coal mines, and I have also travelled in the cabs of steam and diesel trains. I do not believe that this will help in the present crisis, but, if I may say so, I have been in a private enterprise company concerned with the management of coal mining, and it seems to me that the salaries and terms of conditions 686 of work are a management problem. Perhaps this is over-simplifying the matter, but if you do not pay men properly you cannot expect them to work properly; if you do not communicate properly with them, you cannot expect them to work properly; and if you do not pay them or communicate with them properly, you are going into liquidation. I feel that this is a perfectly straightforward business fact. It is a question of management, and I am not really sure who is managing our public companies. Of course this is a completely different subject, but I believe that it is relevant to-day.
These are huge monopolies employing almost a majority of the workers in this country—certainly in terms of energy generation—and, frankly, I am worried about the management of these companies. I do not believe that they are being managed on normal business lines or that they are managed as efficiently as, say, an oil company. In my opinion, the managements are not using the normal business terms of management which would be employed in a business enterprise.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, may I intervene, before the noble Lord leaves this point? He has said that he has been down a coal mine, but I should like to ask him whether he knows anything about the management in the Coal Board, the systems of communication or the methods of training. He has made a number of off-the-cuff, quite serious accusations about the management style as compared with private enterprise. I think that unless he has some real grounds for them he should not develop this aspect further.
§ LORD TANLAW
My Lords, at this late hour I shall not develop it. As I said, it is another subject. I will just leave it there, if the noble Lord would prefer it—indeed, I will withdraw my remarks. I will merely conclude by saying that the events of the past few weeks which have led up to this debate this evening have left the basic energy situation unchanged, in terms of what was debated by your Lordships in February. The energy policy to which we were then trying to look forward was not about extrapolations nor about the resources at the bottom of the sea. It was about 687 guaranteed supplies and a stable price for energy. I believe that the situation is still the same to-day, but the rules of the game, because of recent events have changed, to the extent that every single institution, private or public, has to look again at the price of energy in order to come to a conclusion, or find a new policy, if this country is to have any industrial future after the next few months.
§ 8.18 p.m.
THE EARL OF GOWRIE
My Lords, this has been a sombre debate on a sombre occasion. I am glad that I can at least start with something more pleasant, in other words, to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Kenilworth—and I hope he will read these words to-morrow—on an excellent maiden speech. He delivered it with such verve and clarity that very soon he was in the enviable position of having both sides of the House trying to woo him from the Cross-Benches. He will, of course, have to make up his own mind, in terms of Shakespeare, whether he wishes to represent Portia or Shylock so far as Stage 3 is concerned.
This afternoon, as I believe your Lordships know, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment met the National Executive of the National Union of Mineworkers, led by their President, Mr. Gormley. I think that at this point it might be for the convenience of the House if I related what happened, as I have been told it. My right honourable friend explained that the electricity restrictions introduced by the Government were necessary to avoid coal stocks at power stations sinking to the level where it was no longer possible to maintain supplies to industry and domestic consumers on a continuing and orderly basis. These restrictions would be lifted when normal coal supplies are resumed.
The Secretary of State pointed out that the National Coal Board's £44 million offer was very substantial and recognised that the miners had a claim for special consideration under the counter-inflation policy. Acceptance of this offer within the limits of the counter-inflation policy would mean that the miners' relative position would be restored to the post-Wilberforce level and would be protected from erosion during Stage 3. My right 688 honourable friend said that the Government fully recognised that the changed world situation underlined the importance of the coal mining industry and its significance in our economy in the future. This had been demonstrated by the appointment of my noble friend Lord Carrington as Secretary of State for Energy.
If the N.U.M. were prepared to accept the settlement available to them under Stage 3, the Government would be ready immediately after normal coal supplies were resumed to discuss with both sides of the industry the future of coal, the manpower requirements and the pay arrangements appropriate to a modernised industry in the longer term. In response to the Secretary of State, the N.U.M. Executive members raised a number of points, including as they saw it the need for an immediate improvement in the basic rates over and above the present offer, to retain and attract the manpower to develop the industry; and the recognition of coal mining as a special case in the changed world situation which justified immediate improvement beyond Stage 3.
In reply, the Secretary of State explained that, while interpretation of the Code was not for him but for the Pay Board, he saw no room in Stage 3 for any improvement in substance in the offer already available. He nevertheless believed that Stage 3 offered them the possibility of a reasonable settlement and the only assurance possible that this improvement in their relative position would be preserved. The discussions which the Government were offering immediately following a Stage 3 settlement and normal working could cover matters to which the N.U.M. Executive members had referred, including problems of pay structure, pensions and the particular health hazards of this industry. In the light of the discussion, the Secretary of State asked the N.U.M. Executive to consider very seriously what he had put to them and they undertook to do so at their Executive meeting tomorrow.
To return to the debate, no one has denied that we are indeed facing a crisis of large proportions, though one or two noble Lords—the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, and, in particular, the noble Lord, Lord Royle—have echoed Mr. Powell in calling it a "bogus emergency". The noble 689 Lord, Lord Shinwell, called it the greatest crisis he had known in his long political life, and so did my noble friend Lord Harvey. The noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, pointed out that we were indeed facing a crisis regardless of the miners' action. I suggest that it is precisely because of this that the public now regard the action being taken by the miners, whose job they sympathise with, whose job all recognise as dangerous and vital, as particularly untimely and damaging. Perhaps this is why morale in many places in management and among workpeople is high, as my noble friend Lord Harvey suggested.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, what on earth does the noble Earl mean when he says that morale is high because the public think the miners are behaving badly? I do not understand.
THE EARL OF GOWRIE
My Lords, I was making a point in respect of the speech made by my noble friend Lord Harvey. Perhaps the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition did not hear my noble friend's speech.
§ LORD HARVEY OF PRESTBURY
My Lords, if I may make clear what I said—and I thought the noble Lord was present when I made my speech—I said that particularly in the North of England morale could not be higher among workers in overcoming the problems of travel and other difficulties. My noble friend is absolutely correct in what he is saying.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, do not disagree; I said the same thing. I could not see how the noble Earl, who is usually so precise with his academic background, linked these particular concepts, but it is not important.
THE EARL OF GOWRIE
My Lords, in that case I obviously received from the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition the iron fist first and the velvet glove second, but we are more or less in agreement as to what I was saying.
I should like to add that the Government have not acted in the way in which they have because they wish to beat down the miners, as some have suggested, or beat down the unions or anyone else. We have acted because we are facing a crisis and because crisis, tragic as it is, is at 690 least preferable to catastrophe. Measures would have been necessary without the action of the miners or the railwaymen and we fully acknowledge this. We face an escalation of costs in the face of the rise in price of imported raw materials and oil and the Government must there-for ensure that this is not added to by further inflation as a result of pay increases. Many noble Lords have said, "Why not pay the miners what they ask, get the coal flowing again, scrap Stage 3 and start again?" I ask whether any noble Lord here on any side of the House could say with any confidence that we could start over again and that the increase that the miners have had will not affect the expectations of those others waiting for a pay increase.
In this connection, I would ask noble Lords opposite, and the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, particularly, how much more over the Stage 3 limits they recommend paying. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has said that there are times when one has to buy time. I do not think that we would disagree with him, but I would ask him at this point, "Time to do what and time for whom?" We have solemnly undertaken, as my right honourable friend's statement said, to review the whole situation where the miners are concerned, their whole working future, and I say to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Mansfield, that we had backed this undertaking, long before the Yom Kippur War, with £1,100 million in hard cash. We have designed Stage 3 as a special case with the special needs of the miners in mind. We have responsibilities for millions of other workers who settled under Stage 3 and whose settlement they would surely look on as being betrayed by the success of the miners' claim.
The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, suggested that the actual take home pay under the settlement to the miners might be 61p. Probably he has been reading, as I have read, the article by Mr. Michael Meacher on this point. Like Mr. Meacher, I am no statistician and it would be invidious for me to get into an argument about this figure at this point. I do not think anybody is denying that the pay offer which has been made to the miners under Stage 3 will put them in a favourable position in respect of earnings, and therefore in respect of living standards, compared with other groups. 691 If noble Lords opposite say that nevertheless miners should be given more now than has been offered under Stage 3, will they also tell us which groups in their view will be prepared to accept the reduction in their relative living standards—
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, since the noble Earl poses a number of questions to my noble friend, would he ask his noble friend Lord Carrington, as there is some dispute and uncertainty about what the pay award will be, to say tomorrow specifically what the offer means in terms of the varying grades within the mining industry, not only in terms of gross and average, but in terms of take home pay? There is uncertainty about what this figure is. Therefore, would the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, bring the House fully into the picture to-morrow as to what this award means to the various recognised grades within the mining community?
THE EARL OF GOWRIE
My Lords, I shall certainly ask my noble friend to do that, but I would say that my noble friend who opened this debate gave figures very clearly.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, I was present when the noble Earl's noble friend spoke. He spoke in general averages. We should like to know what this offer means to the various grades within the mining community, and particularly what this represents in take home pay.
§ LORD HARVEY OF PRESTBURY
My Lords, the noble Lord opposite has asked whether he can have the figures of take home pay. May we have the gross figures in addition to the take home pay? Everybody has to pay their contribution to national insurance. Could we also have information about pensions? My noble friend may refer to that later.
THE EARL OF GOWRIE
My Lords, I have taken note of these points and will try to accommodate noble Lords in this respect.
§ LORD BOWDEN
My Lords, it would also be helpful if we could have the ASLEF figures. They may be just as important.
THE EARL OF GOWRIE
My Lords, we have had rather a long debate, and the noble Lord, Lord Jaques, has still to speak, and I am sure he could take up some of these points with great authority. I should like to give answers, but I should like to do so as clearly and factually as I can in my own way.
I come now to the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, who was concerned with differentials, as was noble Lord, Lord Balogh. The noble Baroness suggested that the Government should set out how much money is available for wage increases and should leave it to management and unions to sort out the wage increases within that figure. She went on to say that it would not be easy. With that I would agree. In fact, may I suggest to the noble Baroness that the Government are going some way along the road that she proposes. The Pay Code sets the limits for the groups of workers, and the distribution of that money may be decided by negotiation. I admit, however, that the Code does not attempt to act on the differentials between groups. I am not sure whether unions or management would welcome the offer to do so. May I point out that the current railway dispute largely stems from the problems of the differentials between drivers and others. That my noble friend Lord Harvey recognised. Equally, it is not the Government, but the miners' leaders themselves, who introduced the idea that miners should attain a certain position in the "league table", which the noble Baroness mentioned. I would just finally say to the noble Baroness that although it is not being done with the expedition that she would like, on grounds of cost, nevertheless we too are on the road to the tax-credit system that she desires.
My Lords, after the traditionally uncontroversial maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Kenilworth, my noble friend Lord Thorneycroft made a splendidly controversial speech. I do not propose to join in that controversy. I think it would be quite wrong for me to do so. To a certain extent I seem to be in it already. But I would say that the point he made about 693 the miners' long-term future being in some way underwritten by the appointment of my noble friend Lord Carrington, as well as by the £1,100 million investment, is a good earnest of the Government's intention to treat them, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Royle, "as a special case". The noble Lord, Lord Royle, talked of fascists rather than communists under the bed. I think the difficulty here for someone like myself, who believes in a mixed economy, is that we have no bed to go to.
The noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, made an appeal that nuclear energy be given a considerable priority under my noble friend's new Department. That appeal will, I am sure, be taken note of. I am glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Bowden, here. He raised the question of hairdressers and the difficulties they face because of the electricity restrictions. Perhaps I specially should be glad to announce that the Government have decided to go some way anyway to help them. We have issued a general licence which allows hairdressers to use electricity for an extra hour each day.
The noble Lord, Lord Bowden, made good play with some of the confusions that arise from regulations in an emergency. On the point about electrolysis, I think I shall have to say "Touché" to him, and I will investigate it further. On the question of justification for the three-day week which the noble Lord raised, and in which many noble Lords will be interested, we found that to meet the situation of the three-day week the electricity industry had to devise a new form of rota which could be used to achieve load shedding of varying intensity while preserving, in certain circumstances, three consecutive days of uninterrupted supplies to consumers between Monday and Saturday in each week. The rota was designed to be operated by shift workers and was not affected by the E.P.E.A. industrial action. Therefore the present plan, tragic as it is that we have to have it, does at least have the merit of meeting the main objection to the 1972 arrangements raised by industry, the C.B.I. particularly, in that it gives industrial consumers three consecutive—and I stress "consecutive"— days of uninterrupted supplies. Rota cuts have not so far been operated in the present emergency. Essential services have there- 694 fore been fully protected. Domestic savings have been achieved by Government appeals, but there is a continuing need for maximum economy in domestic use. I am very glad to be able to say that we have good evidence that consumers are, in fact, reacting very well.
My Lords, I turn to the speech of my noble friend Lord Caldecote, who was kind enough to inform us in advance of some of the points that he wanted to make. I am glad that he, at any rate, on this side got a bouquet from the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell. A substantive point he made was in connection with the Industrial Relations Act. The Government have always said that they will consider any constructive amendments to the Act that the T.U.C., or indeed anyone else, might suggest.
The noble Lords, Lord Shinwell and Lord Wigg, suggested that the Prime Minister should resign. I do not know if it is my place, even if I had the nerve, to relay this suggestion to my right honourable friend, but I am sure that he will, or will not, take note of it. My noble friend Lord Auckland very wisely and constuctively pointed out that it is the small man who suffers in this situation, that it has serious effects on small companies. He asked for an inquiry into coalmining. I think that my right honourable friend's Statement which I read earlier, meets his point there.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Balogh, is not in his place, so presumably he does not wish to hear what I have to say. But I must say that he was in a very sunny mood to-day and said much with which the Government can agree, particularly on the point that our exporters could—and indeed this we are urging them to do—increase their sterling prices for exports and so bring in more money. My noble friend Lord Harvey of Prestbury, wished for a considered reply from me on the question of staggering hours. vis-à-vis electricity. If it is to be considered, I must beg for a little time and I will write to him on that point.
The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Mansfield, as we know, is very opposed to us on this situation, but we listen to him with very great respect for his militant moderation, if I may use that term. He asked for clarity about the size of the stocks of coal. He mentioned 695 the figure of 37 million tons (I think it was) last November. Our figures are that on November 11, 19.1 million tons of coal were held at power stations. The overtime ban started on November 12, and between then and December 13, when the new restrictions came into effect, power station coal stocks fell by 3.6 million tons. In the corresponding period of last winter they fell by only half a million tons.
At the time of the decision to impose restrictions the rate of run-down of stocks was averaging 0.9 million tons a week. Projections then made by the electricity authorities showed that if there was no change in the delivery situation, and even allowing for the earlier restrictions on electricity consumption, stocks would decline to the critical level of about 7 million tons by the end of January or early February. This level is that at which a balanced distribution of stocks between power stations can no longer be maintained. As the noble Lords know, once that level is reached, unplanned disconnections, imperilling services essential to the life and indeed the health of the community, cannot be avoided. The figure as to the stock held by the N.C.B. was, in fact, given splendidly, if I may say so, off the cuff, by my noble friend Lord Aberdare earlier. My Lords, the electricity authorities advised that to avert this risk it was necessary to reduce consumption by a further 20 per cent. from mid-December, and that savings of this level should reduce the consumption of coal by about half a million tons a week and thus enable the power stations to keep stocks above the critical level until the peak winter demands begin to tail off towards the end of March. I hope that noble Lords will agree that, in face of these facts and this advice no responsible Government could have avoided imposing further restrictions designed to achieve the 20 per cent. saving that was essential in order to maintain services throughout the winter.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Mansfield also talked about unsocial hours. Miners do get unsocial premia now, and these can be increased under the Code. Other industries, with more generous arrangements, cannot in fact increase them. My Noble friend Lord Crawshaw made some points connected 696 with agriculture. Since we are now in the happy position of having in this House a junior Minister for agriculture—my noble friend Lord Ferrers—I will refer to him what my noble friend Lord Crawshaw said. I am happy to be able to say to the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, that I have an address for my noble friend Lord Carrington. The headquarters of the new Department of Energy will be in Thames House South, Millbank.
My Lords, I must make an end. I will look forward to what the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, has to say. I admired many things—not all, but many things—that his right honourable friend Mr. Prentice said in the News of the World on Sunday, especially his contention that millions of pople are prepared to put the national interest first if they are told clearly what the national interest is and if they are told all the facts, good and bad, by their Government. I have tried within the constriction of time to give as many of the answers as possible, and as factually as possible. But when all is said, when all the facts that my senior colleagues, both here and in another place have, are gathered together and studied and delivered, we are still faced—all of us, and not just those of us in Government or Parliament—with the common task of forging, of remaking if you like, bonds of sympathy as well as of interest between all groups in our economy; that is only to say, within the household which we all share. This task, I think your Lordships will agree, also needs energy—this time, our own.
§ 8.41 p.m.
§ LORD JACQUES
My Lords, may I first, on behalf of the Front Bench on this side of the House, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Kenilworth, on his maiden speech? Judged by what he said, we hope that he will speak very often. We also join in the congratulations to the new Ministers and the new Lords in Waiting. I should like to thank the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, on his very prompt report on the talks that have taken place between the Government and the National Union of Mineworker's Executive. We indeed received a report exceptionally promptly.
I submit, in the first place, that the present emergency arises because the Government have their priorities wrong. 697 This country has a continuing and very serious deficiency in its balance of payments. It has an increasing unfavourable exchange rate. A major factor in the deficiency in the balance of payments is that we cannot deliver the goods which foreigners want to buy from us. That is a major factor—and not only now: it has been a major factor for some time. To the foreigner, Britain is like a department store that has a January sale throughout the whole of the year but has no merchandise on the shelves which it can sell. And, of course, a store of that kind would not last very long. Instead of concentrating on our ability to deliver the goods which people want to buy, we are obsessed with the question of wages and prices; and we are so obsessed with that question that we are caused to do things which further impair our ability to deliver the goods. The three-day week is a very good example.
We ought to be giving top priority to policies which do two things: first, policies which keep people at work and, secondly, policies which encourage investment. A statutory wages policy is the last thing for keeping people at work. The circumstances in industry vary at any point in time very substantially, and it is not possible by Statute to cover all those differences. It is inevitable that any attempt to do so by a statutory wages policy will result in inflexibility; and because there is inflexibility there will be industrial unrest and consequently the kind of circumstances we have at the present time. What the Government should have been pursuing was agreement with the parties concerned for free negotiation, compulsory conciliation, and a final right of appeal before industrial action.
Next, there is a good deal of talk that this country is ungovernable. That I believe is shallow thinking. What the recent past has shown is that the workers of this country can no longer be bulldozed by any Government. But there is no evidence that this country cannot be governed by a Government who are prepared not only to consult but, on occasions, to compromise and show they are genuinely seeking to govern by way of consensus. We on this side of the House believe that that is possible. There is also great confusion of thought in the use of the term "militant", particularly with 698 reference to the miners. Here I can speak with some knowledge and experience. I come from a mining family and I started work in the mines. The miners are militant, but it has very little to do with their politics. Very few of the militant miners are either Communist or fellow-travellers; they are militants for entirely different reasons. The mining industry is one in which there is undue hardship and great danger. The public think of the danger in terms of the disaster following explosion, fallen roof, or flooding. That is not the principal danger. The principal danger in mining is that the men have to work for eight hours a day in an atmosphere which is laden with coal dust—I repeat, that is the principal danger. It is because of conditions of this kind that we get the kind of militancy we know.
I would direct your Lordships' attention to an example given in the Observer last Sunday, stated to be a typical example of what a miner does. He arrives at the pit at 6.15 in the morning. He then gets his helmet, oilskins, respirator and so on. He arrives at 6.15 because that is the commencing time for that shift to go down. Immediately he gets his gear he goes down. The last of the men for that shift get down the pit at 7 a.m. —three-quarters of an hour later. But the wages of the miner do not commence running until 7 a.m. So although he must be there at 6.15, he does not get paid for the first three-quarters of an hour: his wages commence when the last men on that shift reach the bottom at 7 a.m. He then works for 7¼ hours at the coal face. This particular man was a supervisor of the safety of 20 men working at the face. His duties involved travelling a dozen or more times along a passage which was running 2 ft. 9 in. high and was 180 yards in length. He did that for a matter of a dozen times each day. At the end of that shift he comes to the shaft to come up, and the winding up time takes half an hour. He is paid for that. He is paid for one winding up time but not the other. He gets the top rate for a coal face worker, and that is £3.79. The offer which is being made to him is an increase of £2.50, and that is equal to 6.8 per cent. That is why that man is a militant. It has nothing whatever to do with his politics.
§ LORD WINDLESHAM
My Lords, would the noble Lord accept that the 699 offer made by the National Coal Board of £44 million represents 13 per cent. of the weekly wage bill?
§ LORD JACQUES
My Lords, I certainly cannot contradict that, but I am taking the typical case of the man who works on a particular shift and does that kind of job and is offered an increase of 6.8 per cent. No wonder he is militant. He is obviously going to be worse off than he was 12 months ago. That is why he is militant.
It is quite obvious that if a man goes down the pit, he has to come up again. It is quite obvious that there are two winding times, and it is completely illogical that he should be paid for one. If these were normal negotiations, the trade union would start by saying: "There is an anomaly here which we want cleared up to start with", and very likely the employer would agree, and the negotiations would proceed from that point. But because we have statutory control, a very complicated question has to be put to the Pay Board. In the first place, the Pay Board asks, "Is this waiting time by custom and practice part of the working day? If it is part of the working day, do the hours exceed 40 per week? If they do exceed 40 per week has the miner been paid overtime for the excess?" That is the complication, and the miner does not understand that. What the miner understands is that he gets paid for one winding time whereas he does two and ought to be paid for two.
It was suggested that we might say how much more we thought the miner might get. I will try to answer that question. It would appear that whether we like it or not we have a confrontation, and I accept what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth. If there is to be a settlement, once you have this kind of confrontation then both sides have to give way. I accept that that is reasonable, and I would suggest that if the Pay Board say that strictly under the regulations there can be no pay for the waiting time and if, as a result of the consultations that have taken Place to-day there has been no settlement, I suggest that the Government should say to the miners: "If you will accept Phase 3, we will not only have the review which we have spoken 700 about but will also instruct the Coal Board to consult with you immediately as to whether or not there is an anomaly, since you are being paid for only one winding time and there are two periods of winding. If there is an anomaly, then we will be prepared, without further ado, to instruct the Coal Board to put that anomaly right." I believe that that would solve the crisis so far as the miners are concerned.
Sooner or later you will have to pay the miners more, and you will have to do it sooner rather than later. We are losing miners at the rate of 500 or 600 a week. We know the reasons why they are going. There are three streams leaving the mines: the first stream consists of the people who are worn out, some of them long before they are 60 years of age. The second stream consists of those who are able to go into industries such as construction where they can work in the fresh air and get more money than they can down the pits. Then there is the third category of the miner who says, "I have had enough of the hardships and the danger" and he settles for a slightly lower wage in a factory. Those are the reasons why miners leave the industry. The principal way of getting the number of miners we need is to pay them more money.
With regard to the long-term aspect, we must think about this because if we settle the miners' dispute tomorrow there will be further disputes in the pipeline. I believe that the Government should go to the T.U.C. and the C.B.I. and say: "We believe that the great need of this country is that we should be able to deliver the goods which people are willing to buy. This means that we have to follow policies which are designed to encourage people to be at work and to encourage investment. We want your co-operation in getting these policies and they are so important to the nation that we are prepared to pay a reasonable price to get these policies". I believe that after a thorough discussion with the T.U.C. and the C.B.I., provided that the Government were prepared to pay a reasonable price they could get an agreement which would involve free negotiation, compulsory conciliation and a final right of appeal before there was industrial action. That would be of such great benefit to this nation that 701 the Government could afford to pay a substantial price; but I believe they would get it for a reasonable price. However, I believe that one part of the price would necessarily be the abandonment of the Industrial Relations Act, but that would be a very small price to pay for the benefits which would accrue to the nation.
I should like to mention one other matter. A good deal has been made of differentials. There are two points in this connection. I think that at the moment we have it out of perspective; that the first thing we have to do is to get people at work and to get the goods delivered. So I think the second thing we should say to the C.B.I. and the T.U.C. is that once we have dealt with the question of keeping people at work we want also afterwards to discuss with them the question of differentials. I am not really optimistic as to the kind of answer we are likely to get: past experience does not give grounds for optimism. I believe that very largely the question of differentials must be dealt with by way of taxation, 702 not because it is the best way but because it is perhaps the most practical way.
Finally, I should like to leave a question to which I hope the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, may reply tomorrow. I should like to know what percentage of our electricity can at the present time be produced by oil, and also what percentage is being produced by oil; and if there is a difference can we transfer sonic of the crude oil which is going into motor spirits into fuel oil? I think that is a fair question, and I hope that it will be answered tomorrow.
EARL ST. ALDWYN
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Carrington I beg to move that the debate be adjourned until tomorrow.
Moved, That the debate be adjourned until tomorrow.—(Earl St. Aldwyn.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.
§ House adjourned at three minutes before nine o'clock.