§ 2.36 p.m.
§ Debate resumed on the Motion moved yesterday by the Lord Aberdare (on behalf of the Lord Windlesham); namely, That this House takes note of the energy situation, the continuing industrial disputes in the coal industry and on the railways, the introduction of a three-day working week in industry, and their effect on the national economy.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR ENERGY (LORD CARRINGTON)
My Lords, I think that the first thing I should do is to apologise to your Lord-ships for not having been in the House yesterday for longer than the two opening speeches, and for the fact that when the noble Lord opposite sits down it will, be necessary for me once again to miss a great deal of the debate, I hope your Lordships will understand this and acquit me of any discourtesy. To start a new Department concerned with energy at this particular time means a great deal of work, and I hope that your Lordships will agree that my priority should be in getting the new Department of Energy going. On every other occasion, I realise only too well, my first priority is your Lordships' House. I have, however, read most of yesterday's debate, and of course will read what speeches I miss to-day, and I am very conscious that as Minister in charge of the new Department it is my duty to keep your Lordships informed of what is happening. I shall certainly try to do that and be only too ready at any time to deal with any queries or suggestions that your Lordships may have. Secondly, I should like to thank those of your Lordships who were good enough to wish me well, and in particular the Leader of the Opposition. I certainly 704 need those good wishes, for I do not believe that the task which has been given me is an easy one. But I am lucky to have been given such an excellent team of Ministers in another place.
My Lords, I have as of now been Secretary of State for Energy for under two days. It would be silly of me to pretend that I could conceivably have mastered the details of the whole energy problem of this country or indeed at the moment have more than a superficial idea of the problems that confront my colleagues and myself. Nevertheless, I think that your Lordships will expect me to say something about the present emergency and to make some fairly general remarks about the future energy problems of this country.
The problems are, of course, both immediate and long-term, and we discussed the immediate problems yesterday. Immediately, the nation's prosperity and stability are in hazard principally because of the action of the miners. In the long term we, like nearly all the developed countries of the West, face a challenge on a scale not previously envisaged, not only to find the energy resources we need to maintain the economic growth on which our hopes depend, but also to pay for them. But we, more than all but a very few other countries, have an immensely favoured position beyond the next few transitional years. Within a reasonable time-scale, on technology largely known and understood, from resources we know we have for the getting, we can meet the great bulk of our energy requirements ourselves—from a revitalised coal industry, building on the present industry and on the new reserves in Yorkshire; from the North Sea oil and gas, and from our forward position in nuclear power.
Immediately, our position is grim and forbidding. I do not think that anyone now believes that the electricity restrictions were introduced for political reasons and not because they were strictly necessary for operational reasons. The arithmetic set out by my noble friend Lord Aberdare yesterday shows conclusively that the Government were absolutely justified in bringing in the December 13 restrictions designed to achieve the further 20 per cent, saving, and having 705 reached this conclusion it was necessary to act, and act at once. Delay would have meant that the required level of restrictions had to be still greater to achieve the saving in fuel that we needed. On the same day that the decision of the N.U.M. Executive to maintain the overtime ban was made the further restrictions were announced by the Prime Minister.
There has been much concern, and rightly, about the industrial consequences of the restrictions we had to impose, and I acknowledge that it was a pity that the vital need for speed removed the possibility of advance consultations with industry about their form. But to achieve the kind of savings that were necessary, the Government had to find reductions in consumption from industry and commerce as well as from domestic consumers. I do not rule out the possibility of making some changes in the present system. We are exploring possible ways of reducing difficulties caused by the present restrictions without whittling away the fuel savings which they achieve. Indeed, I read the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Bowden, yesterday. Certainly we will take into consideration what he had to say; and I think he is going to write to me about some further ideas he has. The evidence of an open mind are the concessions to the hairdressing trade and the wool textile industry announced last night. But for the present I do not think it would be wise to make any change, not least because we are still not achieving the level of savings at which we are aiming.
The target at which we are aiming is to save 25 per cent. in all compared with the normal demand, allowing for the season and the state of the weather. In the week ending December 23, the first full week after the three-day restriction Order, the total savings were 17 per cent. These included savings from the earlier restrictions on lighting and heating. The following week, ending on December 30, the savings were 20 per cent., and in the week ending January 6 they were 21 per cent. So we have been, so far, on a rising trend. But we are still below our overall target, and there really is no cause for complacency. If we are going to avoid the dislocation which rota cuts would entail, 706 we must save even more than we have saved so far. This is the governing factor in our consideration of proposals for different ways of saving electricity and of requests for exemption from the terms of the restrictions for reasons which, taken on their own, are often very convincing.
The Government are keeping a very close watch on the level of the savings achieved, and I must warn the House that we may yet have to take measures to increase the severity of the restrictions now in force. This could be avoided if consumers—and in particular domestic consumers—saved more than they are doing. It is very easy to start off with good intentions and remember things, but very often, after a time, one tends to forget. I appeal to all consumers to make an even bigger effort than they have been making so far. We must all, in factory and office, but above all at home, do our utmost to reduce consumption to the minimum. One might say that the message to every electricity consumer is, "Switch off some-thing." In considering requests for exemption from the terms of the Order, the Government have no choice but to take a tough line. My Lords, I have heard suggestions in some quarters that there are ways of getting around the restrictions and using more electricity than is the intention of the Order. I appeal to those who may be tempted to search for loopholes to use their ingenuity instead to find ways of maximising their production without the use of extra electricity. Selfish action by a minority, eroding the savings that we are achieving can lead only to the need for further restrictions which must increase the hardships and the difficulties for all of us.
The miners' overtime ban has also caused a severe fall in coking coal supplies to the steel industry, and the need to conserve stocks to protect the coke ovens from damage has meant reducing steel production to about one half. The consequences of this for industry at large are potentially very severe. I should perhaps at this point add a note on the immediate supply position for oil. The prospect is more hopeful than seemed likely a couple of months ago. The decision of the Arab producers in Kuwait on Christmas Day to restore their production in part is welcome, although the effect on our oil imports, of both crude and products, remains to be seen. We have to 707 see what supplies actually arrive. Mean-while, there can be no relaxation of our efforts to maintain strict economy. I do not at present see a need to introduce petrol or Derv rationing, provided that users go on economising as much as possible. Overall, our stock of oil and oil products remains adequate, but for fuel oil, in particular, there is no room whatsoever for complacency. Of course the fuel oil position has its own threatening implications for the electricity situation, which I have already described.
What we really need now (and your Lordships spent most of yesterday discussing this), is an end of the root cause—the overtime ban by the miners. Perhaps the House will expect me to say a few words about this, although it will not be very much because so much has been spoken and the Government's position is very well known, and I have no doubt that my noble friend the Leader of the House will speak on this subject before the end of the debate.
§ LORD AVEBURY
My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves this point I wonder whether he can say a word about the supplies of natural gas—because it is possible at fairly short notice to convert boiler systems based on fuel oil to natural gas. Would consumers be wise to do this as a means of saving fuel oil, and can the Government guarantee that if they did the supplies of natural gas would be available?
§ LORD CARRINGTON
My Lords, I was proposing to say a word later about natural gas in the future, but I will look into that point and let the noble Lord know and see that an announcement is made.
Having drawn up our proposals about Stage 3, and having got the approval of Parliament for them, what we are saying to-day is that they should apply to every-one, and that it is our job as a Government to see that they do. I do not think that that is pig-headed; I think that is fair. I am reinforced in my view by the knowledge that about 4 million workers have already reached settlements within Stage 3. The average of these settlements is about 9 per cent., against the total of 16 per cent. offered to the miners. The miners are important—we all know that—and that is the reason why they 708 have been offered more. But there are other vital groups among those who have settled under Stage 3. There are the local authority manual workers: are they not important? And the hospital workers: are they not important? There are the farm workers, who produce over half of the food that we eat in this country: are they not important? People argue that miners do a tremendously important job—dangerous, demanding, dirty, and increasingly crucial to our economic future—and that is absolutely true, and I totally accept it. But in doing so we should try not to ignore the valuable jobs that are done by other people who have settled for Phase 3 of the Government's policy.
§ LORD BLYTON
My Lords, the noble Lord is talking about an increase of 16 per cent. but that is absolutely untrue. Only 14,000 out of 274,000 would get 13 per cent., because of their productivity agreements, but all the rest would get 6, 7 or 8 per cent. All this talk about 16 per cent. is just nonsense.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
My Lords, I was coming on to say a little about that, because the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, asked me a question. But I shall not say very much, because this subject is extremely complicated and it would take too long to go into detail. The miners have been badly paid in the past and nobody denies that they fell behind very badly in the 1960s. But the Wilberforce settlement pushed them back up the table. Now they are being offered a settlement which would restore the position that they lost after Wilberforce, precisely because that settlement was the signal for a series of inflationary settlements which followed almost immediately afterwards. Their position would be restored under the present Coal Board offer. What is more, that position would be protected, because with Phase 3 in existence there could be no leapfrogging and all the miners would be substantially better off.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, the noble Lord said that Wilberforce put the miners back up the league table, and that the present offer would put them back into the post-Wilberforce position. Can he say how far from the top of the league this would leave them?
§ LORD CARRINGTON
No, my Lords. I am afraid that I cannot do that without 709 notice. But my argument is that the Wilberforce settlement was accepted by the miners and was recognised as being generous. It restored them to the position that they wanted, and this offer would do precisely the same. I see from the Coal Board News that as a result of the pay offer—this is my answer to the noble Lord, Lord Blyton—a quarter of all mineworkers would get at least £6.30 a week more, half of all mineworkers would get at least £3.30 a week more, and only 15 per cent. would get nothing more than the basic pay increases. All these figures exclude the further 3½ per cent. efficiency bonus for production which is available under Phase 3.
The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, asked yesterday whether I could say specifically what the offer means in terms of the various grades in the mining industry. That is not a very easy task to accomplish in a few words, for the pay of any individual depends upon his pattern of working. But the National Coal Board has published quite a large number of figures which illustrate the position and I will see that the noble Lord receives a copy of them.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, will the noble Lord undertake, perhaps by Written Answer, to give us full figures, because my information is very much at variance with that which the noble Lord has given. According to my figures, only 25 per cent. of the entire force will get £6 a week more, although the noble Lord has attributed that increase to a much larger number. If we could have these figures it would make the position much more clear.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
My Lords, I think I gave the same figure. But of course I am prepared to do what the noble Lord has asked, and I will see that the figures are circulated in answer to a Question for Written Answer. The efforts made by the Secretary of State for Employment yesterday showed that the Government are not being inflexible nor, I assure your Lordships, are they spoiling for a showdown. We will do all we can to bring about a settlement.
§ LORD BLYTON
My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that I was with the miners' leaders last night, and they considered yesterday afternoon's meeting with the Secretary of State for Employment a waste of time?
§ LORD CARRINGTON
My Lords, I am very sorry to hear that, because I was talking to the Secretary of State for Employment earlier today and he did not feel that the meeting was a waste of time. He felt that what he had to say had been received by the miners and he was very interested in what the miners had to say. I should have thought there was a great deal to be said for the two sides to be talking, rather than adopting the sort of attitude which it seems to me the noble Lord is adopting. Once the miners return to work, in an industry whose prospects are now better than they have been for a couple of decades, if they grasp the opportunity we shall return to some degree of normality, but nevertheless we face a difficult few years of transition.
I should like to say this to the noble Lord, Lord Blyton. Nobody is more anxious than I am in my new job to meet the National Union of Mineworkers and to talk about the future, because there is a very great future for the coal industry of this country. Nevertheless, we shall still be largely, though decreasingly, dependent on oil imported from abroad at crude oil prices several times what they were last autumn. The posted price for Arab oil on October 1 was a little over three dollars a barrel. By October 16 it was just over five dollars a barrel and the effect already was to add over £400 million to our import bill. By January 1. three months later, the price was 11½ dollars a barrel—almost quadrupled in three months. It is too early to say with any precision what effect this latest increase will have on our import bill, but it will clearly be very large indeed.
It does not take any great knowledge of economics to show that this increase in the cost of one of the materials vital to our whole way of living means that we must either increase our exports to pay for it, or accept a very real decrease in our standard of living. One thing we cannot do is to go on first taking more and more out of the economy to pay for ourselves. It is a process of adjustment to high cost energy that we shall be sharing with our European partners and with other oil consumers across the world. Our industrial patterns will have to change. We shall have to pay increasing attention to fuel economy, and this will certainly be an important aspect 711 of my Department's work. We shall need to export a great deal more to pay for our imports. I do not think that learning to live with the situation will be easy, but there are significant ways in which we are better off than many other Industrialised countries, and better off to a degree which, as your Lordships, will recollect, would have been unimaginable 10 years ago. I have already touched on them, but I should like to deal with them in a little more detail.
First, there is the coal industry, larger than the coal industries of the whole of Western Europe put together. No Government have done as much as we have done to recognise the role which the coal industry can play in supplying the country's future energy needs. The Coal Industry Act provided sums which were large by any standard to check its rundown—£275 million for capital reconstruction, £175 million for writing off the N.C.B.'s deficit, and £695 million in further grants over the next five years. The N.C.B.'s exploration programme has been stepped up. The Board have recently prepared proposals for further investment in production, including development of the great new field discovered near Selby. I hope to begin discussing their proposals with the Board very soon. Clearly there is an immense opportunity for the coal industry and for everyone in it.
Secondly, there is North Sea oil, a major national asset whose importance and value increases almost daily. The policy of the Government has been one of rapid exploitation, and a great deal has already been achieved since the first oilfield was declared commercial only two years ago. The Government have estimated that production in 1980 will be yielding 70 million to 100 million tons, equivalent at the moment to two-thirds or more of our oil needs. But that estimate is currently being revised in the light of last season's drilling results and of a revised assessment of our future oil needs.
§ LORD PARGITER
My Lords, can the noble Lord say that when North Sea oil becomes available we, as a national State, shall have absolute control over it, or whether the Common Market will have some say in both its price and its distribution?
§ LORD CARRINGTON
My Lords, these are some of the matters that I am examining rather urgently, but I think I ought to make it abundantly plain that North Sea oil belongs to us—and that is that.
§ LORD AVEBURY
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord again, but he should make an exception for the Ekofisk oil, which was the first to come ashore in the United Kingdom and which, as he will recall, belongs to Norway; and we have signed a treaty with the Norwegians which allows them to take it back there.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
My Lords. I meant that bit of the North Sea which belongs to us. I thought that was obvious. Of course, my Lords, 1980 seems a long way off, and we want the oil badly. I think it would be wrong to underestimate the very real technological challenges which are being faced, but we intend to get oil out of the North Sea in quantity as fast as possible, and certainly that is my top priority.
Thirdly, there is North Sea gas, about which the noble Lord opposite spoke. Here, unlike oil, we are already benefiting. Ninety per cent. of our gas already comes from the North Sea. Our reserves are being developed more rapidly than has been achieved in substantial off-shore fields elsewhere. The British Gas Corporation have reached agreement for the purchase of gas from the large Frigg field (subject in part to Norwegian Parliamentary consent) and have begun negotiations for associated gas from oilfields in the Northern waters. There are good hopes that further supplies of associated gas will be found, and exploration now beginning in the Celtic Sea may add to our resources. All these developments are being actively encouraged by the Government. They should lead to our natural gas supplies being much more than doubled by 1980.
Fourthly, there is nuclear power. I noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, was rather worried that nuclear power came fourth in my statement the other day. Let me assure him that that is not because I consider it the least important. This of course offers immense possibilities, and in the long term seems likely to be the main source of energy. 713 We have a great knowledge and experience. We also have the industrial capacity. The setting up of the National Nuclear Corporation will provide a single strong design and construction organisation, and a strong base for development. The Nuclear Power Advisory Board is currently preparing advice for Government on which reactor system should be chosen for our next nuclear plant orders. I will take the chair at its future meetings. The Board has already done a great deal of work. As your Lordships know, reactor choice is very complicated and difficult and highly technical, and I shall of course, as I hope your Lordships will realise, approach this with an entirely open mind. But I will ensure that the changes of responsibilities do not hold up our timetable for the important decisions which have to be made. As the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has made clear in another place, the Government intend to reach a decision early this year.
My Lords, in all these four areas we have great potential. They offer a diversity of sources of supply; an increase in security; a defence against very high prices by overseas suppliers; and, overall, an immense improvement in our position so that we can, if necessary, achieve something approaching self-sufficiency by 1980—or, if humanly possible, earlier than that. Speed is the key. In all these areas I shall be looking for action that can speed up our plans and our results. Of course, at the same time we shall be looking at the contributions which other, rather more exotic sources, such as tidal barrages, might make to our total energy resources; and clearly the changing economics of the situation will encourage and make feasible the development of other sources, some of them already well known, some of them perhaps still to be found.
My Lords, so much for production. But as consumers, too, we must learn to live with the fact that energy may be scarce and expensive. If its efficient and economic use is important today, it is hardly less important in the long run. I hope that every consumer has woken up to this fact; and I noticed when I was talking to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, yesterday that he said that he had found it remarkable how much we could save 714 in industry if you really tried. Great changes are needed, and there really is scope for savings. British industry will be failing in its response if every fuel technologist and every manufacturer of fuel-saving equipment is not run off his feet in the next two or three years.
There is also a role for the Government. We were already considering, be-for the present crisis, what further action we could take. Although Britain is relatively favourably placed, we do not intend to go it alone. International collaboration is needed—and I must admit that so far there has been more discussion than effective action. The rapidly developing situation has moved ahead of any practical advances in international co-operation, but I think there is now a much greater recognition among both consumers and producers that cooperation really must come about if we are to solve the problems which have arisen. We need to take advantage of this mood before a new twist in the situation catches the international community once again unprepared, and certainly that is why the Government have very warmly welcomed the imaginative initiative by President Nixon and by Dr. Kissinger. We shall be ready to join very early discussions with other consumer Governments and with the oil producers to see whether jointly we can find a solution to the problems of oil supply and price, and ways in which we can collaborate in developing alternative sources of energy.
My Lords, the new Department of Energy will not be without its problems and its challenges. Immediately, we can hardly escape preoccupation with the electricity restrictions and the oil supply situation, but we have very much in the forefront of our minds the need to get oil out of the North Sea as fast and as much as possible. We shall also be active in seeking to develop international co-operation in European energy. We shall be active in fuel economy; in developing our coal resources to the maximum; in expanding our nuclear power resources, and in anything that holds out a prospect of secure energy resources, their efficient use and the maximum advantage to the British economy. My Lords, I hope that we shall be a Department of Energy by name and by nature.
§ 3.9 p.m.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, I would wish to start off by saying to the Secretary of State for Energy that he has our very best wishes for success in the tremendous task which has been placed before him. That is not a matter of politics, because if he fails we all fail. I therefore hope that from what was said in the debate yesterday and from what will be said to-day he will seek to extract as much as is possible that can be regarded as helpful to him in his task; because while it may perhaps be against the political interests of this side of the House that he should succeed, it is in the interests of every individual that the country should not fail—and if he fails, so long as this Government remain, then we shall all fail with him. So for that reason he has our very best wishes for success.
The noble Lord has made a very wide-ranging speech, as the House would expect in his first statement in his new position of responsibility, and he will forgive me if I do not follow him in that wide field. In my remarks I intend to concentrate on the short-term position, and that must inevitably mean concentrating on the coal position. But before I come on to comment on what the noble Lord has said, I should like to make some reference to yesterday's debate and to the reasons why I am speaking in this debate to-day.
May I first say that, most unusually for me, I am doing something that I intensely dislike doing? I have written down most of what I want to say, and if it turns out a little stilted, the House will forgive me because that is not my normal way of making a speech. But when I was asked to take part in this debate I had mixed feelings. I had hopes of the debate but also I had fears of it. My fears were that there would be merely reiteration of statements already made, a firm adherence to stances taken up at the beginning; or, even worse, the making of speeches which might aggrevate the situation. My hopes were that something constructive would come out of the debate. So far, my Lords, my best hopes have not been realised, but I am grateful to be able to say that my worst fears have not been realised; because I think that of only one speech made yesterday could I say that anything was said that might aggravate the situation.
716 If I may first refer to what I would regard from this side of the House as constructive speeches—I am referring to speeches made from the Government Benches—I read with very great interest, because I did not hear the speeches, the suggestions made by the noble Viscount. Lord Caldecote, and the noble Lord, Lord Harvey of Prestbury. If only something of that kind had been in the speech made yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, how much more hopeful the prospect would be! The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, has been told often enough how highly we on this side of the House regard him. Those are not mere empty words. We do have a very high regard for the noble Lord, and what I am saying now is not offered as any personal criticism of him. May I say that if there was anything wrong I think it was the brief from which he was reading rather than the noble Lord himself? He started off with an assumption that Phase 3 was so absolutely right that any departure from it was unthinkable. He went on to recite all the disasters which must inevitably flow from it. That, of course, is not how he described the consequences but certainly it is how they appeared to me. I was grateful that the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Thorneycroft, was the only one of the kind which I had feared. I hope that at least one part of it does not represent Government thinking, even though the noble Lord is a former Chancellor of the Exchequer in a Conservative Government. When the noble Lord equated the attitude of the miners with that of terrorist bomb-placers he did no service either to this House or to this country. It can help nobody to utter such a slander on the trade union movement.
My Lords, I come now to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. He has given us a very thoughtful, wide-ranging description of the way in which he sees his job. He apologised for the fact that he would be leaving the debate immediately after I finish speaking. We can well understand the reason for that. I had a brief conversation with the noble Lord in the corridor yesterday afternoon. I think that it would not be quite true to say that he did not have a chair on which to place his bottom, but I gathered that he did not have an office in which to place a chair; so 717 perhaps it is reasonable that this afternoon he should be finding a place from which his new Department may operate, and no apology is necessary from the noble Lord on that score.
One thing I found a little surprising, and I hope that to-morrow, when he reads what he has said, the noble Lord will perhaps feel that he went a little further than he ought to have done. He said it would be foolish to pretend that he knew all about the problem and that he had only a superficial idea of it. I am surprised that at this stage in the crisis any member of the Cabinet should be confessing to only a superficial knowledge of the problem. Perhaps that is why the Government are so adamant about not budging from Phase 3, if even the new Secretary of State for Energy has only a superficial knowledge.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
My Lords, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, is being a little less than fair. I was referring to the energy problems of the future. If the noble Lord is so wise about the energy problems of the future and all other subjects with which he may have to deal for the rest of his life he is "a better man than I am, Gunga Din."
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, the noble Lord may well be right in what he says, but if he reads what he said, I think he will see that it was not apparent at that point that his reference to superficial knowledge related to the future. As a matter of fact, in relation to the future, it is a good man, even a Gunga Din, who can have a superficial knowledge of the future. I have no knowledge of the future, I know only of what has taken place and what exists at present. I do not think that anybody, Cabinet member or otherwise, has a knowledge of the future. After all, my Lords, even Old Moore proves more often wrong than right. But I do not wish to be unfair and if I am wrong, and it is quite clear on reading what the noble Lord said that he was referring only to the future, then I apologise. But that was not obvious at the time.
I noticed that throughout his speech the noble Lord referred to "North Sea oil". When the noble Lord, Lord Pargiter intervened the Minister said, "It is British oil, and that is that". May I say how grateful we are for that very 718 firm statement. I hope that the Government will be able to keep to it. Incidentally, when referring to it on television on Monday night the noble Lord did not speak about "North Sea oil", but about "British oil", and we were very glad to hear that; although, as the noble Lord knows, North of the Border we talk about "Scottish oil".
We do not accept that the arithmetic of the situation given yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, is agreed by everybody. I do not think that it would serve any useful purpose to produce contradictory figures, but I have here a statement which seems to indicate that at least the Government are not wholly correct in saying that it is only the limited 16 million tons which was available, and that the difference between that figure and the 37 million is not really helpful to the present situation. If Ministers want me to elaborate on it I can give information, which I have been given, about stocks at particular electricity stations where coal supplies are being turned away; about coal being stocked at stations where it cannot be used because they are oil-fired stations, and so on. But I do not think that that would serve any useful purpose, because I have no doubt that then the Government would say that there are other stations where we ought to have coal and we do not have it, and that it would be uneconomic to move it from point A to point B. So if I do not elaborate on the arithmetic it is not because we agree with it but simply because I do not think that any useful purpose would be served by arguing about it at this stage in the debate.
The noble Lord spoke of the way in which restrictions on electricity are being looked at day by day, and of relaxations being brought in where anomalies can be corrected. He mentioned two in particular, hairdressing and the woollen trade. I saw on television the other night an interview with somebody in the woollen trade who pointed out the tremendous difficulties they were in, and I have no doubt that they will welcome very much the relaxation enabling them to use electricity, I think it is on Sundays, for a limited period. But I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, will acquit me of any personal feelings in the matter when I refer to his bringing in a relaxation for hairdressers as relevant to 719 the tremendous mess in which we are at the present time. What possible effect can that have on the situation? Obviously, if I had a wonderful head of hair like the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Energy I might be more interested in the matter, but it is pathetic that the Government should consider it worth mentioning as an item of relevance to the situation.
In relation to what is being offered to the miners the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, referred to a number of people who had negotiated settlements within Phase 3 and he asked whether it would be fair to them to go beyond Phase 3 for the miners. He referred to certain categories of people—farm workers, hospital workers, local authority employees—all of whom had settled within Phase 3. He asked, were they not important? Of course they are important, my Lords. But it does not in any way diminish the importance that attaches to the tasks that these people do to say that in the situation in which the country finds itself at the present time the miners must be a special case, different from any other kind of case which can be advanced. I am quite certain that if the Government can find it possible to get a solution of the mining problem which gives more than to farm workers, hospital workers, municipal workers and so on, they will have no particular complaint from these people, no demand for the matter to be reopened. In this context may I say that I understand that in another place to-day there is a Private Notice Question to the Prime Minister on the subject of the T.U.C. statement yesterday and the apparent contradiction between what the Prime Minister said in another place yesterday afternoon and what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said at the meeting of the N.E.D.C. almost at the same time. Obviously, it would have been impossible for the Secretary of State for Energy to have said anything about that before it was dealt with in another place, but I hope that when the noble Lord the Leader of the House comes to reply to the debate he will have something to tell your Lordships on that matter.
In that context I think what the Trades Union Congress has said is something the Government ought to be taking seriously 720 into consideration. A document came into my hands a short time ago, and the House might be interested if I were to read from it. This is an issue to the Press from the Trade Union Congress—Mr. Len Murray, General Secretary of the T.U.C., has sent a letter by hand to the Prime Minister this morning repeating the offer made by T.U.C. representatives at the National Economic Development Council meeting yesterday afternoon. This was that—'The General Council accept that there is a distinctive and exceptional situation in the mining industry. If the Government are prepared to give an assurance that they will make possible a settlement between the miners and the National Coal Board other unions will not use that as an argument in negotiations for their own settlements.'That is the end of the quotation. Mr. Murray goes on:This is a responsible and genuine offer by the T.U.C. to get the country out of its difficulties. I am looking for a positive response from the Government.And then the document goes on to give the text of the letter to the Prime Minister:The Industrial Situation and the Three-Day Week: I am writing formally to confirm the text of a statement made by the T.U.C.'s representatives at yesterday's meeting of N.E.D.C. We indicated that the General Council accept that there is a distinctive and exeptional situation in the mining industry. If the Government are prepared to give an assurance that will make possible a settlement between the miners and the National Coal Board other unions will not use that as an argument in negotiations for their own settlements. I am sure that you and your colleagues will wish to give this initiative most careful consideration and I trust that there will be a positive response.I hope that when he comes to reply to this debate the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, will find it possible to make some comment on this particular aspect of the present situation.
If I may return now to what was being said yesterday, in the course of a very thoughtful and helpful speech the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London said of Phase 3—I believe it to be our duty to try to make it work.Phrased that way I think it might be accepted by many people—in fact it might be accepted by most people. Unfortunately, the Government interpretation so far is not to try to make it work but to make it work, and there is a considerable difference. There may, in a situation such as we are in, be a point where despite all 721 the efforts to make it work it still does not work; and in so far as the mining industry is concerned is it not true to say that we have now reached the situation where it is quite obvious that Phase 3 is not going to work if it is to be rigidly enforced as at present interpreted. Surely part of the trying to make it work which the right reverend Prelate advocated is the sort of thing which the noble Viscount. Lord Caldecote, and the noble Lord, Lord Harvey of Prestbury, have done and what the T.U.C. have said in the statement which I have just read.
My Lords, while, obviously, any wage increase in present circumstances has some possibility of an inflationary effect on our economy, have the Government made any calculations—and, if they have, would the noble Lord the Leader of the House give us some information about it—as to what the inflationary effect of the three-day week is going to be on our economy, and the way in which this will escalate if it lasts for a week, or a fortnight or a month or three months? Surely the Government are not seriously contemplating the situation which the Prime Minister is reported to have given to the American Press, that he is prepared to keep a three-day week going until April.
§ LORD HARVEY OF PRESTBURY
My Lords, while I am grateful to the noble Lord for what he said about my-self, I should not like it to go out of this House that I was advocating that the Government should go apart from Stage 3. Would it be helpful to implement what the right reverend Prelate of London the Bishop suggested yesterday, that the Opposition, including the Leader of the Opposition in another place, should bring their influence to bear?
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, so far I have referred only to these two suggestions, and I propose to return to them at the end of my speech, with a suggestion of my own because the spirit in which I entered into this debate was that it would be quite useless if all I did was to criticise what other folk have done without endeavouring to offer some suggestions of my own. Up to the present, a number of suggestions have been made, none of which has taken us out of the difficulty. It may be that a number of other suggestions will be made which will not take us any further, but it is just remotely 722 possible that some people—including the two noble Lords of whom I have spoken—may put forward something which will help to bring the Government and the unions together in arriving at a possible solution. I appreciate that the noble Lord was accepting Phase 3, but I was assuming that he was doing what the right reverend Prelate suggested and was trying to make Phase 3 work.
The noble Lord, Lord Thorneycroft, in his speech said of the present situation (col. 616):It is a challenge to Parliamentary demo cracy, a challenge to the rule of law …",and he went on to suggest that in the last resort the possible solution might be an Election. My Lords, let us examine these views, because undoubtedly there are many more people than the noble Lord, Lord Thorneycroft, who hold them, and they have been widely expressed, particularly in the Press and on television. Phase 3 regulates the way in which wages can be increased at the present time and in the end result lays down maximum figures beyond which an employer may not go. This is inherent prohibition, but, my Lords, there is nothing in the regulations which makes it obligatory in negotiations for a union or employees to accept the figures. If they think, as the miners do, that the figures are quite inadequate, they are acting perfectly legally in adhering to their point of view. They are acting perfectly legally in endeavouring to bring their point of view into effect by industrial action. In what the miners are doing there is no breaking of law; there is no challenge to democracy; there is no challenge to Parliament. The last Government, the Labour Government, learned through bitter experience in trying to work it that a statutory wages policy was unworkable. Before the Election the present Prime Minister said that a statutory wages policy was unworkable and the present Government are repeating the experience of their predecessors in finding that a statutory wages policy is unworkable.
During the last hundred years we in this country have developed a system of fixing wages by negotiation between employers and employed, largely through employers' organisations, on the one hand, and the trade unions, on the other. In a statutory incomes policy, the negotiations go only to the point where the employer 723 says, "This is as much as the Government will allow me to offer." If at that point the union, or the employees, do not accept the Government's limit, the disagreement ceases to be one between the employed and the employers and becomes a disagreement between the employed and the Government. This is the fundamental weakness of a statutory wages policy. It removes the negotiations which have been taking place between two sides of industry and makes the situation one of apparent confrontation between a union and the Government; and so long as the Government maintain a statutory policy this so-called confrontation will arise periodically.
I have been speaking recently at home and have tried to get the views of as many people as possible regarding the present situation. It has been quite obvious that the great majority of ordinary people are worried about a three-day week and about the effect it will have on their incomes while it lasts. Shopkeepers are worried about the effect it will have on their business, and the small shopkeeper is doubtful whether, if this period lasts until April, he will have any business left by then. Yet, at the same time, people just cannot accept that there is anything reasonable in the attitude taken by the Government. The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, stated yesterday that it is a fact of life that we shall be paying more for imported oil than we have done hitherto. I noticed on looking up last year's figures that the cost of our imports of oil was roughly £1,000 million. That was at the price of 11 dollars or more per barrel, and of course we do not know whether that will continue beyond April. However, the cost of an equivalent amount of oil in the present year will be at least £4,000 million. This figure was quoted by the French Finance Minister yesterday when he was referring to the French economy. It is a fairly wimple calculation: 100 million tons of oil imported at nine barrels to the ton, as I understand it, at a cost of approximately 11 dollars per barrel, works out at about £4,000 million as against £1.000 million on the old price. People just do not understand that we must accept this as a fact of life; that we have to find ways and means of paying an extra £3,000 million for oil, yet £44 million is the outside limit we can pay for 724 coal. Even if we doubled our imports of oil to-morrow, it would not bring into operation any of the stations which rely on coal. This is why it is so difficult for the Government's point of view to be understood by the man in the street—that, on the one hand, £3,000 million is taken as inevitable, whereas to go beyond the £44 million is disastrous.
During the 1950's and 1960's, successive Governments progressively reduced the target for coal production in this country and relied more and more on cheap imported oil. The result, I think it is true to say, was that both the Government and the community accepted that the miners should fall down the league wage table; and that is what happened. If the miners themselves did not agree to this, it was certainly forced upon them. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has referred to the reversal of this position, but surely the converse must also be true. If the miner's place in the wages table falls as the importance of his contribution to the economy falls, then surely the miner is correct in saving that as his importance in the economy rises surely his place in the league table should rise. To restore coal to its former importance will call for greater effort than is being shown now, because Phase 3 does not put the miners back to the position they once held. I accept what the noble Lord was saying, that it puts them back to the position they held after Wilberforce: but Wilberforce did not put them back to where they once were when so much of the energy for this country came from coal. I hope the Government will realise that it is wise to go still further along this road.
In the context of yesterday's T.U.C. statement, surely we should be seeking to do the best possible for the miners at the earliest opportunity. I return therefore to the sort of proposal which was made by the two noble Lords and which I have quoted already. What I should like to add is this: let the Government have another look at any immediate way in which the £44 million could be improved upon. I hope that what the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has said will not exclude the possibility of his doing so—perhaps by the lengthening of the day for which the miner is paid. Incidentally, I do not know whether I am a particularly ignorant Member of 725 your Lordships' House, but it was a complete eye-opener to me to learn that a miner was not statutorily paid until he got to the actual coal-face underground, even though he may have clocked in officially 45 minutes before that. I am sure that this piece of information was news to the great majority of people in this country.
If the Government cannot accept that point, let them look at any other way in which the £44 million might be even marginally increased. The negotiations are in relation to a new wages agreement which I understand will operate from March 1. May I suggest that the new arrangement should operate from January 1, but that it be limited to a period of six months? The Government have held out to the miners their proposals for a very much improved future. I suggest that, whether it be by means of a Commission, a working party, or any other kind of body, the Government should start immediately on the task of negotiating this future for the coal industry as we want it to be in the next two or three decades in this country. Do not let us wait for six months to see how we are going to get along with it. Let us make the present offer one of a temporary nature, to last only six months so that during that period proposals for the future of the industry may be formally worked out between the parties concerned. Miners will not be impressed by a big promise of something at some time in the future. Perhaps I might remind your Lordships of the saying of the Scottish farmer who wanted to encourage his horse to start. He said, "Live, horse, and you will get corn." The miners are not interested in that sort of attitude, but if the Government will accept that a new agreed wages policy for mining should be brought in, say, at the end of June, we may see a reversal of the position which has led to the loss of 18,000 men from the coal industry so far in this financial year.
The Secretary of State for Energy has come from a long and distinguished period of office as Secretary of State for Defence. No one knows better than he that the day of gunboat diplomacy has gone so far as foreign affairs are concerned—in fact, our most recent incursion into gunboat diplomacy ended in our withdrawing the gunboats and getting a settlement. The equivalent of a "gunboat" policy is a 726 sterile one of "no surrender". My Lords, nothing could be more disastrous, either for the mining industry or for the country.
§ 3.39 p.m.
§ LORD GLADWYN
My Lords, I must begin with an apology, or perhaps I should call it a possible apology. The Political Committee of the European Parliament is meeting this afternoon in Brussels and I was supposed to be there, but I had to cancel because I was likely to be participating in this debate. However, the meeting is going on to-morrow morning and I therefore said that I would take the ferry tonight to Brussels, via Dunkirk, so that I should get there to-morrow morning. The ferry leaves at 9 o'clock tonight; so that seemed to be all right. If it does, I could no doubt listen to the winding-up speech and not fail in my attendance for the whole of this debate. But it seems that no engine driver is likely to be available to take the ferry down to Dover. Unless therefore—God forbid!—an engineer should be imported from Brussels by air to drive the train down to the coast, it is possible that I shall not be able to take it in which case I shall be able to hear the winding-up speech by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham. I hope so, in some respects, but it is a pity that I should have to forego the possibility of attending the Political Committee meeting to-morrow.
Having said that, my Lords, may I say that on the main issues of this deplorable industrial situation—the miners, the ASLEF go-slow, Stage 3, the three-day week, and so on—the attitude of the Liberal Party has been, rightly or wrongly, made quite clear, both here and in another place. We have not funked any issue, however unpleasant. That cannot be said. We have not said that it was all the fault of the Government and that it was simply up to the Government to get us out of the mess. We have tried to be constructive and to explain the attitude that we should take up if we were in control of the country. My noble friend Lady Seear made a very good and constructive suggestion yesterday as to how we might get out of the mess. In other words, we hope that we have behaved responsibly.
That does not prevent us from thinking that the Government, during the last three and a half years, have been extremely ham-handed and rather addicted to U-turns, and have been 727 largely—though not of course entirely—responsible for the mess in which we find ourselves. That is our view. But I should like to restrict my own brief intervention this afternoon to a rather specialised subject which is perhaps peculiarly my own; namely, the proposed common energy policy of the expanded European Economic Community.
I assume that our new Secretary of State for Energy—whom I congratulate most sincerely on his appointment; after all, we on these Benches think that he is undoubtedly the most energetic Member of the Government—will be responsible for this subject; that is to say, will be responsible for the common energy policy pursued in the European Economic Community. And though he has not been exercising his functions for very long, I hope that after talking to the noble Lord the Leader of the House who will wind up the debate he will be able to give him enough of his views to enable Lord Windlesham to reply to certain questions which I propose to ask the Government. They are short and I shall not therefore bore your Lordships for very long.
The first question relates to the general policy which I suppose we shall pursue from now onwards in the European Economic Community. As I understand it, the first steps towards a common energy policy for the Community are embodied in a document prepared by the Commission which is at this moment before the Committee of Ministers of the European Economic Community. Much importance is attached, particularly by the Germans, to the approval by the Ministers of this project which is now, as we all know, held up, along with the resolution on the second stage of the proposed common monetary policy, because, owing largely to German opposition, we cannot yet induce the Council, in spite of the great efforts made by Sir Alec Douglas-Home, to vote the sums which we think are reasonable for the proposed regional fund. That is a fact. It now seems, in addition, that the French are complicating the issue by making their consent to the three projects to which I have referred dependent on their getting satisfaction regarding the price of beef.
Now we may or may not be justified in holding up agreement on a number of major issues—three, in fact—because 728 we cannot get what we want in regard to the regional fund. I do not want to argue that issue to-day. In any case, it would be out of order. But what I should like the Minister to reveal to us, if he will, is the broad nature of the proposals now in front of the Ministers in regard to the common energy policy of the Community. If it is admitted (as everybody in a recent debate in this House showed that they favoured) that it is important that Parliament should know in advance what kind of legislation is under consideration in Brussels, then surely it would be advisable for Parliament to be informed in good time of the broad nature of the proposal which, if accepted, might start this country off in the direction of a common European energy policy. We should know in principle, though perhaps it is difficult for us to be told in detail, what it is that the Commission are now recommending to the Ministers as regards a common energy policy for the Community. Is it likely, if they can get satisfaction on the regional fund, that the Government will accept these proposals of the Commission? If they do, what are they? I should have thought that it is very important for us to have the information for a start.
My second question concerns the general desirability of a common European energy policy. At the Summit Conference of October, 1972, Ministers, as we all know, agreed in principle that there should be such a policy. At the Copenhagen Summit the other day, they further agreed that the Commission should prepare the document, which is now before the Ministers. The communiqué then issued read as follows:The Heads of States or Government ask the Commission to present by the 31st January, 1974—the 31st January, 1974—proposals on which the Council will be invited to decide as quickly as possible, and in principle before the 28th February, 1974, to ensure the orderly functioning of the common market for energy.That is part of the communiqué issued as a result of the Copenhagen Summit Conference. So it looks as if the Government were convinced of the necessity, in principle, of the establishment of a common energy policy for the Community. And, indeed, if we are to have, as the Government say they want, in only a few years' time, a full-blown monetary policy, a 729 move to monetary union, and a regional policy, it is rather difficult to see how we can avoid having a common energy policy as well.
Naturally, most people agree that this common energy policy should, if possible, be agreed with the Americans. That is exactly what the Commission have suggested for their part recently in Brussels. They suggested that there should not be a common European energy policy which is at loggerheads with any American policy. Therefore, I again ask the Government whether they agree that before entering into a common European energy policy they should try to get agreement with the Americans—as a Community; not as four or five States, but as a Community—on what this common energy policy could possibly be. That is the second question.
The question I should now like to ask therefore is this. Supposing we have a common energy policy, is the idea that there should be, so far as possible, a common price for energy of all kinds within the Community, and that every member of the Community will be able to draw on such energy in so far as their means permit? Is that what is meant by a common energy policy? If not, what is meant by it? Should there be such a concept as security of supply, for instance? Am I right in thinking, further, that if there were a common energy policy it would rule out, in principle, the conclusion of separate deals by member countries with outside nations such as the oil-producing countries of the Middle East? One is now about to be concluded by France, and there are rumours that we are proposing to con-dude a similar deal with Saudi Arabia. Perhaps the Minister will be able to tell us whether that is a fact or not. It is important for us to know. But if the idea is that we can conclude separate deals on energy and oil with outside countries, how is that reconcilable with the idea of a common energy policy for the European Economic Community? I should like a clear answer to that question. I see the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, that great economic expert, nodding his head.
Generally speaking, would the Government agree that, failing some reversion to a siege or war-time economy, there is no point in our hanging on to North Sea 730 oil entirely for our own national use, saying, "This is our oil and nobody else is going to touch it. We are going to have it all to ourselves and be completely self-sufficient! Is there any use, when thinking in terms of the Community, in taking up such a Gaullist or national view?
§ LORD BOOTHBY
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord for a moment? I do not know whether he heard the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, but that is exactly what it was. He said, "The oil is ours, and that is that."
§ LORD GLADWYN
But I am indeed questioning whether that is a reasonable proposition. It may be shared by the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, who comes from Aberdeen. I should have thought that the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, would say, "It is ours; it is Scottish; it is nobody else's." However, if we pursue a purely national line any folly is possible. I would not disagree with that at all.
There is one more aspect of the common energy policy to which I should like to refer. As I understand it, there are two main proposals now for the production in Western Europe of enriched uranium. The diffusion plant system, recommended by France, in association, I believe, with Italy, Belgium and Spain, and the so-called centrifuge system, a totally different method which has not been completely developed at the moment, and which is preferred by us in conjunction with the Germans. The Commission have recommended that both these schemes should proceed together and they should, somehow or other, be co-ordinated—I do not know how. This should be done, the Commission say, within the context of a common European energy policy. Do the Government accept this proposal of the Commission, or do they still hope that there will be general agreement on the utilisation of the Anglo-German method of enriching uranium?
My Lords, I will conclude by saying that it looks as if, in spite of all our efforts, in spite of North Sea oil and everything else, we may be entering a period in which we shall not have all the energy in the next 10 years necessary to fulfil all our present programmes. We were told until last year that it would be inevitable, in 731 accordance with our present programmes, for us to import and use no less than double the amount of oil in this country that we are now using. That may be so in accordance with present programmes, but what are we going to use all this oil for? Are we going to have double the number of motor cars, rising from 15 million to 30 million, in 1980? Are we going to have double the number of super highways carving up Britain into nothing but super highways for 30 million motor cars? Are we going to have an indefinite extension of concrete jungles, enormous numbers of huge uninhabitable flats? Are we going into the indefinite expansion of billions of plastic bags? Is that how we are going to use the oil? If not, how are we going to use it?
What is the point of this vast expansion of growth? What do we want it for? If we are restricted owing to the fact that we cannot afford another £4,000 million on the balance of trade in order to get this additional oil, is that necessarily a disaster? Might not nature be asserting itself in order to tell us to be reasonable, in order for us to go back to a rather better and more effective form of economy than the present one of indefinite expansion and growth? Is that what we are coming to? Do we really want all this oil and all this growth? Do we want this absurd expansion of growth for indefinite purposes in order to transform this country by the end of the century into a concrete parking place emplacement with the inhabitants living in concrete jungles?
Having said that, I would only add that I am sure these enormous problems will be considered by the new Secretary of State for Energy and his extremely competent team. It is probably one of the best teams the Government could have mustered, and I again congratulate them on the appointment of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and his associates, and wish them the best of luck in the carrying out of this extraordinarily difficult assignment.
§ 3.57 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT WATKINSON
My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, is advocating, as I believe he is, some attempt to get an international policy on oil, then I certainly support that. I thought my noble friend Lord Carrington supported strongly the initiative of the 732 American President in drawing together Foreign Ministers not only from Europe but from other countries as well. Perhaps that will be a good first step. I should like to deal at once with some points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, on what I might fairly regard as the T.U.C. intervention. Naturally, I hope the Government will explore this, as indeed I am sure they will explore anything that could get us out of this drastic situation. But it is only fair to say that I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, disposed of the unfairness issue. Those of us in industry who have settled pay agreements under Phase 3 are conscious that it is only fair to the 4 million people who have already agreed to it to make sure that nobody breaches it. Having said that—and I will return to it later in my speech—if the T.U.C. want to be helpful there is a good way in which they could be helpful and which does not entirely contradict what the noble Lord said, particularly at the close of his speech when he was trying to make some constructive proposals. All the T.U.C. have to do is to underwrite a post-Phase 3 settlement, to encourage the miners to settle under Phase 3 and come to a new arrangement for their industry. But to deal with the particular problem, I do not think it disposes of a very gross unfairness to the people who have honourably settled if we were to breach Phase 3.
In speaking to-day I do not wish to cover the ground that I covered in our previous debate. As the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, said, the miners are still the heart of the matter and the solution which I personally am sure the vast majority of people think is fair and reasonable to all concerned is to settle the immediate dispute within the terms of Phase 3, but on the basis of a clear undertaking that the mining industry will then be subjected to an impartial and intensive examination to expand and upgrade it in the light of a totally changed energy situation.
I understand that to be what the Secretary of State for Employment said to them yesterday. If that is so, I hope that the N.U.M. Executive will listen because in my view such an examination must result in the recommendation of not only a better direct reward for mineworkers but also a new look at the industry as a whole, and longer-term commitments to 733 major capital investment. I am aware of the cost provisions in the Coal Industry Act, but I will in a moment endeavour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, in making a practical suggestion here.
First, may I congratulate very sincerely my noble friend Lord Carrington on his appointment to the Department of Energy. I well understand why he has departed. As an Ex-Minister I am very conscious of the vast task which he must have in gearing up his new Department. I believe that most people in the country will think that the Prime Minister has chosen the right man to head this vital assignment. I think all of us in this House, on whichever side we sit, wish my noble friend the best of luck in a very difficult job. May I say, too, my Lords, that in the creation of this new Department, one headed by a very senior Minister, I think there is a considerable assurance to the miners that the Government do intend to do what most people wish them to do; namely, by upgrading the role of coal and nuclear fuel as sources of energy to make us less dependent on the whims and vagaries of world oil supplies. I hope that the National Union of Mineworkers will take note of the suggestion (which I think my right honourable friend made if I heard him correctly) that he himself would like to discuss this problem of the future of the industry with the mineworkers' union at an early date. If that is an incorrect assumption my noble friend who winds up no doubt will correct it, but I hope that this might happen. It is not, my Lords, a matter of getting over the next two or three years until we get British oil from the North Sea. We have to rethink, in fundamental terms, our whole energy policy. However we look at the matter, this still remains to be done. All I can say for the moment, then, about the mineworkers is that I hope this dispute does not go on until relations on all sides are so soured that more profitable arguments of more value to the miners about the long-term future are frustrated. Nobody in your Lordships' House will, I hope, disagree with me in that.
May I here make what I hope is a practical suggestion. I do not think it at all surprising in a declining coalmining industry, an industry that has been told for so long that it is almost on the way out, that promises of a new future are viewed with some incredulity. It would be most 734 surprising if they were not. I noticed what some members of the Executive said about "jam to-morrow". None the less, it is true that this industry must have a different future now, thanks not to any thing we have done, but merely to a changed world situation. So there is some way to be found to show the miners that this is an honest promise, that if they will settle within Phase 3 some really meaningful re-examination can take place. I hope therefore that the Government will consider authorising the Coal Board now to start putting on the table actual figures relating to the sort of money they would be putting towards backing this study of a new future for the industry.
I am well aware that the Coal Industry Act provided fairly substantial sums; but equally I agree with other noble Lords that if you face a £3,000 million deficit on the balance of payments due to the increased price of oil, it is worth while stepping up your investment, and stepping it up now, in the coalmining industry. I would repeat: if the T.U.C. want to play a helpful role in this matter, as I am sure they do—I do not challenge that at all—then I hope that they may come together perhaps with the C.B.I., and support this plan, thereby giving some assurance to the miners that if they settle now in Phase 3 they have a real hard and practical guarantee that their industry is going to be looked at in a forward looking and expansive manner. I hope that this can be done and that there will be an early meeting between the Prime Minister, the T.U.C., and the C.B.I. to discuss the matter. The one thing I think that would be the worst for all of us is that if attitudes harden and nothing happens and we drag on until the atmosphere desired, as I have said on all sides, and a practicable workable solution becomes immensely more difficult. That is all I want to say about our current problems. I very much hope that there is some initiative in what many noble Lords have said here and in what the T.U.C. has proposed. I must repeat that that in my view is a way of getting round Phase 3, not only because it is the law of the land, but for the sake of all those workers who have honourably settled, often at some cost to themselves, within its terms.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Viscount for a moment? He referred to this letter from 735 the T.U.C. I understand that it has been stated that the Prime Minister is meeting the T.U.C. at 6 o'clock to-night. I hope that is a hopeful sign.
§ VISCOUNT WATKINSON
I could not be more pleased, my Lords. I hope that something worth while will come out of that meeting and that the miners will accept what I call a post-Phase 3 plan of action.
May I just add one or two short points on the way out of our present difficulties, for when this is settled there will be a host of pieces to pick up? May I say what is perhaps a rather difficult thing, but I feel that it needs to be said. I think we have underestimated the effect on many moderate and sensible trade unions—and that means 99.9 per cent. of all trade unionists—of two things. One was what happened when the Labour Government, very honestly in my view, introduced their Fair Deal at Work and in the end had to drop it and the legislation that followed. I think many trade unionists felt that, in a way, they had defeated the Government. I believe that in just the same way, after the Conservative Party had introduced their long and complicated Industrial Relations Act and found, when they got it on the Statute Book, that they were unable to make very much use of many sections of it, the trade unionists again felt that they had outmanoeuvred, if not defeated, the Government. At any rate, that is my personal view. I think this has provided grounds for those individuals—I do not call them trade unionists, although many are in membership of trade unions, few in number but active—whose publicly avowed intent is to overthrow our present system of democratic and industrial government. I do not believe the numbers of these people are any larger than they were; I do not believe they are any more important. But they are always there—and we know it—ready to capitalise on a situation like this, and particularly in times when people perhaps begin to believe that industrial action can overthrow actions of Government and laws constitutionally passed by Parliament.
I do not think I am wrong in this, and I think what follows from it is that no Government could possibly give in to this quite unconstitutional pressure. I thought that was the rock on which our 736 system was founded. It was certainly what we all believed, when I was in what was then called the Ministry of Labour many years ago, that however you played the game, however rough it got, you did not transgress the rule which was that you stuck by the laws until you could get them changed. Those who advocate any other course ought, in my view, to be resisted for the sake both of our Parliamentary system and of our industrial system as well. So, the question is: if that be true, how does one pick up the pieces when this is over, and how does one get through the present disputes in a sensible, practical way? I am still attracted by what the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, and others said in our last debate, that if there was some way in which one could broaden the base of support for the constitutional procedures in these matters, it would be a good thing.
But that is of course a matter that can be decided only by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, and I am not able to judge whether there is any way of doing that. So I will confine my remarks to what the Government should promise to do, both in the settlement of current disputes and when the disputes are over.
May I say just this? Employees to-day, whether they work on the shop floor or in management, will no longer accept a status that implies that their employers' responsibilities to them are totally fulfilled just by giving them a job and the rewards for that job. Ever since the war our system of education (the best in the world in my view) has been producing new entrants to industry who are better educated, better trained, better housed, better brought up in social terms, than ever before. Such people cannot be expected to feel that their capabilities are properly fulfilled by merely taking the first job that comes along offering adequate rewards. Quite justifiably, they want today to have more than this: the right to question and to contribute in their industry and, above all, I believe, the right to participate in the actual processes of decision-making. This is what has gone wrong in the railway industry, and perhaps in the coal industry. Perhaps one can go further and say that, despite the understandable allegiance of trade unionists to the processes of 737 collective bargaining, certainly younger people in industry no longer regard collective bargaining as the total answer to getting wider participation in the processes of decision-making in their job. So, if we are to learn a lesson from the painful events of the next few weeks or months, employers and trade unionists must take more account of these new desires, and must offer some hope in the future for their fulfilment. Otherwise, in my view, rightly or wrongly (I do not know whether everyone agrees, but it is my view), if we do not do this, we deliver ourselves to the anarchists and extremists and offer no alternative to continuing and disruptive industrial strife.
We all know that other nations face this problem. West Germany and Holland, for example, have pioneered new ways of meeting it. I personally think that these ways are not entirely appropriate for us, but if we do not accept them, then at least we must do our own pioneering and our own new development of new methods. What we have to do as soon as we get the immediate problem settled was not badly summed up in that part of the Report of the Confederation of British Industry on The Responsibilities of the British Public Company, which dealt with employer/employee relationships. Perhaps I may quote just one sentence:We believe that what is now required is the development of methods allowing a wider degree of participation in the processes of decision-making throughout British industry.This is not the place or the time to pursue this matter further, but it is the place to say that that particular Report was unanimously accepted by the Council of the C.B.I. It has not been, so far as I know, in any way opposed by the trade union movement. I personally am surprised that more notice has not been taken of the trade union movement's own Green Paper on this subject, published by their Industrial Democracy Working Party under Sir Sidney Greene. It is a most interesting and stimulating document. I do not agree with it entirely, but I am surprised it has not had more consideration. I should like to say again that, if we are going to pick up the pieces, then there are indications in documents of this kind of the way that we might go. It must of course be charted by tripartite agreement between the Government, the employers and the trade unionists. It may seem a 738 rather daunting task. It may even seem irrelevant to talk about it at this time. But I do not think anything less than this will in the end defeat those few people—and we know they are there—who wish to see our country broken and disrupted and of no further consequence in Europe or in the world.
My Lords, may I sum up these few remarks by saying this. First, there may be some hope now of getting meaningful negotiations going in the coal-mining industry. They must—they really must, in fairness alone to those who have settled—start by agreement of the miners to a settlement of their present dispute in the terms of Phase 3. Then I hope they will receive some firm guarantees that their industry must now be rated up in terms of pensions, of pay, of capital investment, and in terms of a long-term future. This is necessary for the national interest. I cannot understand now why the Trades Union Congress cannot support this. I believe the C.B.I. would support it; I hope the Government would accept it; and we might then be on the way to returning to some reasonable dialogue. But, even when we have done that, there is still so much to put right if we are to make these young men and women, and older men and women, in industry feel that in the modern world they are part of it and are participating in it. If we do not do that job as well, then we shall come again to these divisive and dreadful confrontations which ruin our country and in the end sometimes provide very little net gain for those who take part in them.
§ 4.16 p.m.
§ LORD LEATHERLAND
My Lords, I have made a discovery: "Life is better under the Conservatives". It was Mr. Heath who told us that, but he told it to us three years ago. Then again, "All our problems are the problems of success"; and that statement was made much more recently. Then again, he told us that what Britain needs is a high-wage economy. But that promise was made three years ago, and he may have altered his mind since then. But only a few weeks ago his great captain of industry, Mr. Peter Walker, was banging the drum and shouting, "Boom, boom, boom!" True, he has lost one or two of the stars on his epaulette since then, but that was 739 the general attitude taken by the Government. So can we pretend that poverty prevents us from finding a few extra millions of pounds to settle the miners' pay on a reasonable basis and get the wheels of British industry turning again? I do not want to see my country plunged into suicide, but every day the three-day week lasts brings us nearer and nearer to the edge of the precipice.
We are told that our factories are overflowing with export orders. Yet down comes Mr. Heath with instructions to managing directors and shop stewards that those export orders are not to be fulfilled; and on top of that he comes along with a knife and slices off £10 a week from the pay packets of millions—it will be millions in a week or two—of British workers. If organised short-time really were necessary, it should have been organised on a more scientific basis so that some preference was given to the industries engaged on export orders, rather than to those who were merely catering for home consumption. Surely those firms which are turning out cars, agricultural machinery and textile machinery for export deserve a bigger share of the valuable electric energy which still exists than those firms which are engaged in making dolls' eyes and fancy panties and luxuries of that kind. We have to bear in mind that if these export orders are lost they will not return.
I have a strong feeling that this three-day week was introduced without sufficient thought and over too wide a range of British industries; and the panicky and brutal way in which it was introduced, without consultation with the employers, on the one hand, and with the organised workers, on the other, makes me believe, as it has made millions of other people believe, that it was introduced not as an economic measure but as a political weapon with which to bludgeon the miners. And this weapon was brought down on the heads of the community at the very moment when we were still exporting coal on the normal basis: nearly a quarter of a million tons exported in October; nearly a quarter of a million tons exported in November; nearly a quarter of a million tons exported even in December. Yet the whole of the Government's case seems to rest on the need for conserving our supplies of coal.
§ THE EARL OF ONSLOW
My Lords, will the noble Lord give way for one moment? Was that exported coal suitable for power stations in this country? I am simply asking for information: I do not know.
§ LORD LEATHERLAND
My Lords, that is a reasonable question. I was taught at school, and I think it is still the fact, that the bulk of the coal we export is steam coal, and what one needs in a power station is also steam coal.
There are also some very mysterious and contradictory figures about the stocks of coal at our power stations. Every speech that is made, every announcement on the wireless, gives a different set of figures, and I have made a note of a few of them. Mr. Heath told the House of Commons on December 18 that in October our stocks at the power stations were 18 million tons. Yet Mr. Boardman made a statement on January 2 saying that on October 27–28 there were 19.6 million tons. Then Mr. Prior broadcast on December 30, saying this:Before we took action on December 13 our stocks were running down one million tons a week.Yet one day later, Mr. Boardman said:Over the five weeks between the start of the miners' overtime ban and the coming into effect of the restrictions announced on December 13 power station stocks fell by 3.6 million tons.My Lords, 3.6 million tons in five weeks represent 700,000 tons weekly, and not the one million tons weekly that we had been previously told about.
So we have contradictions, first about the level of the October stocks and secondly about the rate of the run-down. These suspicious factors give credence to the suggestion which is held in some quarters that the three-day week was a political weapon. If that be so, and if the Government are indulging in class warfare, then the result can only be that there will be countervailing class warfare from some of the extremer members of trade unions. I do not want to see this; I think it would be a disaster. But if it comes about then Mr. Heath will be the man who is mainly responsible. He started it with his Industrial Relations Act. He continued it with his pay freeze and his rent increase legislation; and he has now crowned it all by his stubbornness towards the miners' reasonable claim.
741 Stubbornness is not necessarily strength; it can often reveal a very unhealthy inferiority complex, and no man has done more in this country in recent years to stimulate and strengthen the influence of the Communists and the Trotskyists than Mr. Heath in this controversy over miners' wages. Trade unionists remember that at the time when they were being asked to accept a pay freeze the Government were allowing banks to give overdrafts on a tax-concession basis to speculators so that they could gamble on the Stock Exchange, and with our essential food supplies. These trade unionists remember also that at the very time their rents were being increased the reduction in taxation of the very rich classes in this country was being put forward by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I do not want to indulge in the language of class warfare; I have spent nearly all my life preaching against it. But the fact remains that there is far too much class discrimination in much of the policy of the Conservative Party.
Now, my Lords, let us look at the immediate situation of the miners. The Government have said that they are offering the miners a more generous wage increase than they have offered to other people. That may be so if all the "ifs" and "buts" in the 16½ per cent. are taken into consideration. First you deduct 3½ per cent. because that is hypothetical and problematical, depending upon agreement upon an efficiency scheme; and the miners for years past have been disappointed when efficiency schemes have been under discussion. Then there is the deduction of income tax and other stoppages from the 16½ per cent. suggested increase. Then probably there will be a 10 per cent. inflation in the currency—a 10 per cent. increase in the cost of living.
Perhaps I may give some precise figures, rather than those general observations. We have been given to understand that these miners were going to get very big increases. Yet what do the proposed increases amount to? I quote the figures for the daytime shifts—those people who miss the sunlight in the morning—and they are all for underground workers. The mechanics at the coalface get £2.57 increase; craftsmen (first-class) elsewhere underground get £2.57 increase; the third structure of them, also underground, get £2.57 increase; 742 the underground men, Grade I, get £2.57 increase; the underground men, Grade II, get £2.57 increase; the underground men, Grade III, get £2.57 increase. Those figures are from the National Coal Board as published in the public Press of this country. There are of course higher increases for the men who work on the afternoon and the night shifts, but we must not lose sight of the fact that the men who work on the day shift lose a lot of the sunlight which ordinary mortals manage to enjoy.
The main fact is that the basic level on which these increases are being calculated is already too low and it will still be too low even when the £2.57 increases I have mentioned have been granted; and it will leave these miners earning much lower wages than many comparable grades of workers in the country. So can we wonder at the fact that miners are leaving the pits and are going to work in the factories down the road?
I do not want to go into any great details about differentials: my noble friend Lord Brown knows far more about those than I do. But surely any wage system ought to take special account of those people who render a particularly vital service to the country, and should remunerate them on a more generous scale than the people who are engaged in ordinary occupations which are less vital to the existence of the nation. The history of the last few days has shown that the miners play a vital part in our national affairs, but that fact is not being reflected in the pay they receive now nor in the pay that has been offered to them.
So if there is a wrong, why can it not be righted? The situation can be remedied, but all the efforts to give the miners a fair deal are frustrated by the rigidity of Stage 3 and by the inflated pride of its author. Stage 3 has become the dictatorial master of the State, rather than its servant, and Mr. Heath is picturing himself as a modern St. George, prepared to sacrifice the wellbeing of the whole country if only he can preserve the virginity of Stage 3. It really is time that he stood back and had another look at the broader question, apart from the narrow issue of the miners; otherwise, still more men will be leaving the pits. If he cannot get rid of this obsession of 743 his to beat the miners, there will be unofficial stoppages throughout all the coalfields of this country. They have already started. Irrespective of what the national leaders want, most of the miners will down their picks and come out on strike. Even Napoleon's inflated pride was brought down in the end, and in the interests of the nation it would be a very good thing indeed if Mr. Heath ceased to model his postures on those of Napoleon.
He should bear this in mind, too. When Stage 3 was introduced we were in receipt of unlimited supplies of cheap oil. The position has now changed dramatically, and coal has become more important than ever it was before. I have said that there are solutions to this problem which are open to us. Surely a Government that can afford to spend over £1,000 million on Concorde, and over £1,000 million on Maplin (a scheme, incidentally, which basically I favour, if it is carried out at the right time) can find the extra few million pounds necessary to bring this miners' dispute to an end.
My Lords, there is the question of winding and washing time which I am quite sure can be probed more deeply than it has been. There has been too much of an inclination on the part of the Government and the Pay Board to sweep this point aside without further consideration, just as yesterday Mr. Barber swept aside contemptuously the valuable suggestion put forward by the General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress. Winding time is one thing that could be investigated further. When all is said and done, a factory worker gets paid for walking from one part of the plant to another after he has clocked in at the factory gate. Surely the people in nuclear stations get paid for washing and reclothing themselves after their shift work. Surgeons regard as part of their normal working time the moments taken to assemble their tools, put on their masks and don their gowns. I think it is humbug that miners should be on the plant, walking about collecting helmets and lamps, changing their clothes and so on, all in unpaid time.
My Lords, a suggestion put forward by the Confederation of British Industry a few days ago—namely, that the Pay Board should be allowed to grant licences 744 in what they consider to be exceptional cases for direct negotiations to take place between the two sides—is worthy of consideration. If all these things are swept out of court by the Government, could they not consider paying something of what we will call "danger money" to the men underground to compensate those men for the risk they take? I do not mean only compensate them for the risk of going down and coming up in the cage; not only for the risk of explosions, of roof falls, of collisions between trams and the danger of gas poisoning down below. I mean also compensation for the severe lung disease that many of them contract because every day they are working underground for 7½ hours and breathing in coal dust for every minute of that time.
It has been suggested that if only the miners would accept Stage 3 as it stands at the moment, then the Government would present them with a declaration of intent setting out their good intentions for the future. But the miners have learned from long experience where good intentions lead. Many good intentions have been placed before them in the past right from the days of the Sankey Report. Many of these intentions have not materialised. What the miners would like to see coupled with any declaration of intent, is some firm figures and some firm dates. If Mr. Heath would, at long last, consider this question of paying danger money, I doubt very much whether even the most hidebound Tory—though of course, there is none in this House!—would feel that he had been doublecrossed by his leader.
My Lords, surely at this moment, while the country is confronted with this great peril, it should be the task of the Prime Minister to raise his aims somewhat above the mere ruination of the country. He is dragging the country to ruin now, like Samson pulling down the pillars of the Temple. May be not be mistaken in his policy? He has been mistaken before. He promised to tackle our inflation and keep up the value of our money; yet the value of the pound has been sliding down to its lowest point. His printing presses have been turning out banknotes by the thousands of millions. He has been borrowing thousands of millions of pounds in order to balance his unbalanced budgets. He has been compelling public authorities and local councils to go on their knees to the Gnomes 745 of Zurich to borrow foreign money. The trade balance deficit is now hurtling its way down into the region of £2,000 million a year. The City is in a state of panic as secondary banks collapse. Millions of modest, prudent, middle- and working-class people have seen one third or one half sliced off their whole life savings during recent months, and the pounds that are left are worth only fifteen shillings—a lot less than they were when the Labour Government were in office. The price of food has gone up to the highest figure in history. The cost of living generally has gone up to its highest point in history; rents, mortgages and rates are at their highest point in history. On the other side of the picture, the number of houses built in the past year has been the lowest for 10 or 12 years. All these calamities have been due to the mistaken policies of Mr. Heath, and now he is about to commit a further mistake. I wish he would consider matters again. What he is doing is going to cost this country hundreds of times more than a decent settlement for the miners would cost. He has taken a steam hammer to crack a nut, and is smashing the economy of the country in the process.
My Lords, what we must do is to get the industry of this country running again. I can only leave with the Prime Minister the thoughts of one of those charming American poetesses of the last generation:To change an opinion is but to say, 'I am wiser today than yesterday'.I hope that Mr. Heath is a big enough man to heed that advice.
§ 4.39 p.m.
§ LORD THOMAS
My Lords, one noble Lord who took part in this debate late last night referred to the rather pleasant custom that each speaker should make some reference to the preceding speaker. I should like to follow that philosophy; it is a gentle custom. I am very impressed and fascinated by what the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, has just said, because I find so much in it with which I disagree. It is fascinating from that point of view. I would suggest that it is in very considerable contrast with the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Watkinson, under whose Ministerial guidance I served as a chairman of a nationalised industry years and years ago. He had constructive 746 things to say with which I would very much like to associate myself. As a taxpaying, God-fearing, and I hope law-abiding senior citizen, I should like to contribute one or two pertinent remarks to this debate.
My Lords, no one can possibly gainsay that as a nation we are in a mess. But we have been in trouble before, and we have got out of it by doing something about it, so I, for one, was very glad to learn that Parliament was being recalled in order that the business of governing the country could be given impetus. I am delighted with the restructuring of the Cabinet so that greater emphasis can be placed on the problems of energy. I align myself with those legions of noble Lords who wish the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and his team the best of good fortune and cooperation. I should like to stand up, as Lord Shawcross did the other day, and be counted as one who does not clamour for a snap General Election. There is, admittedly, a tug-of-war for power and for control of our very livelihood going on to-day, but that tug-of-war is between a Government that have been democratically elected by the British public, and, at the other end of the rope, organised factions who, only too clearly, are not quietly inclined to accept the rule of the current Government. If we did have a snap Election and the present Government were confirmed in their position, they would still have to deal with the current problems. If by some chance the present Opposition became the Government, they, too, would still have to deal with the current problems, and on past reckoning and their display when they were in power there could be no guarantee that they could do better or quicker things for the nation.
In times of crisis—and we are in one now as important to our future as were those of the two great wars that have taken place in my lifetime—a very great deal depends on the physical robustness of the leader. Lord Leatherland has referred to Mr. Heath quite frequently; but I put it to you, my Lords, that in our present Prime Minister we have a man who radiates good health, is fearless in his judgment and has an enormous appetite for work. I think we want to keep him working for us as long as we can, and not add the dirty denigrating and 747 vituperative mud-slinging of an electoral campaign with all its disturbances to our acute set of daily difficulties.
I would tell your Lordships that I personally am functionally and executively concerned with about 20 or more engineering plants, mainly in the Midlands, and a round-up this morning on the telephone indicates that although they are all working in a state of seige economy there is no indication that they are up against a stop or will be forced to shut down completely, as is the desire of some ill-wishers. Most of them have got steel stocks for 8 to 10 weeks' work, and so long as some more supplies of steel come along that work will continue. It is very interesting, incidentally, to note that the three-day week has substantially accelerated the rate of output per man, particularly those who are on piece-work, and in at least one factory as much output is being achieved in the three days as is normally achieved in five. In other cases the figure is about 65 per cent. of normality. This is no time for British industry to put up the shutters or succumb to our difficulties.
As has been said before in this House, those difficulties are a confluence and a coincidence of world-wide factors that have culminated in this winter of 1973–74. It has been put to me that their coincidence is part of a grand design inspired by some global " Goldfinger " who engineered the Middle East outbreak of war, succeeded it immediately by creating an economic upset in the supply of Arabian oil, both in price and delivery quotas, a disturbance that intensified global turmoil at the same time as the American Watergate and other Presidential difficulties were weakening the Western World. That grand disruptive design was intended, so I am told, to coincide with our miners' decision to extract less coal by withdrawing overtime, our train drivers' decision to do less driving and our ambulance men and firemen withdrawing their efforts, and so on and so forth. Well, I for one am not prepared to recognise this " Goldfinger " super-Communist bogey.
In my judgment, our situation is topical, even fashionable if you like. It is a malaise that is affecting all parts of the world as a stage in universal human evolution. I believe it is a cyclical surge of exuberant greed. It is symptomatic of a 748 time when stridency in negotiation overcomes common sense, and appeasement will never satisfy that brute appetite. Even those of us with short memories can remember the very ugly riots in Birmingham and other areas when there were difficulties with some of the miners' unions in 1972. In my view, as an industrialist, it is wrong to try to settle a strike or even a threat of a strike too quickly. There is much to be said for either a voluntary or even an involuntary cooling-off period. Some may take the view that so long as talks are going on between two or even more sides it is an insurance that no worsening of the situation can occur. This I do not accept. I think it is worse to have frequent talks that get nowhere and are highly publicised as such than for there to be a period when the ill-effects of industrial inaction are fully assimilated by all parties, so that when they do get round the negotiating table the truth is recognised, that it is work and not words that will cure the situation.
I do not know whether there will be a Division after this debate. We have been told there will not be. If there is, I shall stand on the side of the present Government and let the truth emerge that under Phase 3 offers of increased wages made to the miners at the present moment are reasonable and equitable in a stairway or a step of betterment, especially when viewed in the light of the rises that have been accepted by 4 million other trade union workers. I took great note of what Lord Hughes said. I thought he was working towards saying that the miners must be recognised. We have to recognise that since Phase 3 was drawn up the whole world economic situation has suffered an irreversible change. When we can get the present dispute settled, when public amenities are brought back to the level of reasonable comfort, when punctuality of travel and stability of buying prices has been achieved, then we must very quickly have another close look at Phase 4, or whatever it is called. Phase 3 was decided upon when the main energy supplies were at totally different prices from what they are to-day and from what they will be in the future. Phase 3 was meant to be a powerful lever for moving enormous economic mountains and making them into peaceful plains. But since it was formulated the fulcrum point of its leverage has shifted because of the Middle 749 East upset, and that fact must be taken into account particularly in so far as the future of the mineworkers is concerned. Coal has indeed become black gold, and we must recognise that fact in terms of reward for the muscle power and machine power involved in getting it.
Then, again, as a long-term energy policy, we really ought to have a hard look at overhauling the whole of our industrial wages structure. To me the word "overtime" should become a dirty word and anathema to our industrial code. Over the past half-century the so-called working week has been progressively shortened from 44 to 42 to 40 hours and is now somewhere well below that. The reason generally put forward for this shortening is to increase leisure time for the workers. But in point of actual operational fact the number of hours worked in the average factory have not been reduced all that much. What has happened is that the number of hours worked and paid for at overtime rate has much increased but the total time spent on the job has not significantly decreased to provide workers with more leisure or recreation. In my judgment a factory should be properly manned to be fully productive on the actual hours worked that are paid for at normal, and not overtime, rates.
One last thing that I hope is worthy of mention as a contributory cause of our present malaise is that it is too simple nowadays for people to obtain money in the form of so-called welfare for working hardly at all. No one wants to see families starve, but equally no country can properly afford to pay big money for little or no effort being supplied in return; and the sooner we face up to the fact that the right way to earn high wages is to work adequately hard and not to subsidise withdrawn effort or idle time, then the sooner we shall achieve economic stability, industrial peace and fully worthwhile living.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, does the noble Lord appreciate in his strictures about overtime that what the miners are doing at the present time is acting in complete agreement with him—they are not working overtime?
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ LORD MAIS
My Lords, much has been said about the necessity or otherwise of the three-day week. Personally, I 750 find it very difficult to form an opinion. We have been given a variety of figures of the stocks in the power stations and those at the pits, but whether or not they are accurate, I do not imagine that there is a great deal of difference between one end and the other. But there are two unknown factors which have not been referred to. One of them is that at the moment we have no means of really being able to estimate with any degree of accuracy what effects the various savings and restrictions on the use of power are likely to have. Secondly, the biggest factor of all is that we do not know the duration of the dispute or how long it is likely to last.
With those two factors in mind, I find it difficult to blame anybody for not making an accurate calculation as to whether you should have done one thing or the other. It may not perhaps altogether meet with the approval of some of my noble friends on this side, but I believe that the Government were faced with a choice whether to play safe and go for the three-day week, or to go on and run the risk of a complete shutdown. It may well prove—and I think it probably will in the end—that the three-day week was unnecessary, but I think it was prudent. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, that the decision was taken, so far as I can ascertain, with little or no consultation with industry or with the unions. Had that taken place, then I believe there might have been other ways of spreading this load than in fact reverting to a three-day week, because there are certain industries (particularly the export industries), which, in my view, should have had priority over others even if that meant closing down certain industries altogether.
May I now turn to those who are accused of being the cause of all this trouble, the miners. I have never worked down a pit but I have been down one, and in my life as a civil engineer I have worked in tunnels quite frequently and therefore I know what it is like to work underground. In my book, there are only two compensating factors for working below ground: one is the pay, and the other is the people you meet. Under those conditions there is always an element of risk; and a strange thing about human nature is that where there is an element of risk one tends to recruit the better men. Whatever the disagreement 751 may be, whatever the difficulties may be at this moment, I doubt very much whether there is a single Member of your Lordships' House who would not agree with me that, as a group, you will not find a better body of men than the miners of this country. If one accepts that, I cannot see why a way out of this impasse should not be found without prejudice to Phase 3, and which I believe would be acceptable to the miners. I know perfectly well, as we all do, that the Government have a difficult job and the situation is extremely grave, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, said, we have been there before and we shall probably go there again, and this country has a way of getting out of these difficulties.
At the moment the Government, and all of us, are faced with inflation. If the door is opened to unrestricted wage claims, then the inflation will become galloping inflation, and then we are back at square 1 where we started. Therefore, it is obviously in all our interests that this situation should not be allowed to occur. I would pose a question: does this dispute really fall within the terms of Phase 3? As I see it, it is not a claim for an increased rate per hour, but a claim that the miners shall be paid for the time they spend within the pit area; that is, when they clock on they will clock on at a point near the entrance to the pit, and they will clock off at that point. I know few, if any, industries where that does not apply. I do not know what would happen in my own civil engineering industry if I said to those who work for me that they would not start receiving pay until they reached the top of a 200 foot reactor, or the top span of a steel bridge. I think I would get a slightly dusty answer, and I think I would probably face an industrial dispute almost immediately. But that is not so in the pits. As I understand it at the moment—and many of us have learnt this for the first time, although I must confess that I knew of it some years ago—the miners do not start their pay until they reach their place of work, which almost inevitably is at the bottom of the shaft.
Two nights ago I was listening to a radio programme, and some comedian announced that the Coal Board had carried out an investigation as to what was a reasonable time for the miners to come 752 back to the bottom of the shaft, make their way up (allowing for waiting for the lift), and then across to the pithead baths where they would have to bath, put away their working clothes and their equipment. The time given was nine minutes. If that is the basis upon which negotiations are taking place they are unrealistic, and they are unlikely ever to be agreed to in any shape or form. I cannot believe that it is beyond the wit of man to find a compromise. The principle has in fact been accepted, otherwise the present offer would not have been made. There is only one problem to solve now so far as I can see, and that is how long it takes to come on duty in the morning—get ready to go down the pits, check your equipment, check your lamps, check your helmet—and then do the whole thing in reverse, plus getting the dirt of a long shift in a pit out of your skin and out of your system in a bath. If we are going to talk about 18 or 25 minutes, then we have not very much hope of achieving a solution. I know how long I think that it would take. I doubt very much whether it could be done in the average pit under half an hour in the morning and half an hour at the end of a shift, which is an hour a day. If we take an hour a day over a week, we are possibly getting somewhere near a figure that might be accepted.
Another matter that disturbs me over this whole business is the manner in which the negotiations have taken place. I have sat on many conciliation and dispute panels, and if you do not get somewhere near an agreement before you leave that table, and have to go away and consult bodies such as the Pay Board as to whether they are going to agree with what was discussed round the table—and they, in turn may have to discuss it with the Government of the day as to whether they are able to give that permission—several days have passed. During that time both sides have gone away and thought again; both sides have come under a certain amount of influence from their members; and when you get back to that negotiating table four or five days later, you are back at square one. In fact, you are lucky if you are still in square one. It is a pity that we cannot put these industrial negotiators into a room as we do with a jury, and send food into them at regular intervals and tell them to stop there until they have found 753 an answer. At least we should then remove them from any outside influence and from the effect of militants on both sides who may aggravate the situation. Furthermore, they would soon get fed up with the whole business and come to terms.
The Government are in a desperate situation and, for that matter, so is industry. Industry is coping extremely well and, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, said, there are some extraordinary results, such as producing as much in three days as they were in five days. But this situation cannot go on for ever and the longer the period of dispute the longer will be the period of recovery. I should not like to hazard a guess at the devastating effect of another month's stoppage on industry as a whole. Furthermore, the longer the dispute goes on, the more time there will be for the subversive elements to influence men of good will. We must not attempt to cover up the fact that there are subversive elements around who have at heart the interests of no one but themselves and the people they serve, and who certainly do not have at heart the interests of the people whom some of them pretend to represent. There is much understanding and consideration in your Lordships' House, and that is why it is a pleasant place to be in. Let us hope that some of that understanding and consideration will rub off on those responsible for finding a way out of the present deplorable situation.
May I end by repeating a principle in which I have believed all my working life: that without flexibility and good will no industrial dispute will be solved. For that reason, I welcome the appointment of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, as energy overlord—and may he find a solution where so many have so far failed. Of one thing I am quite certain. The ordinary rank and file of the miners have no wish to continue this dispute, but it is essential that it is approached with a little more generosity and a little more understanding than has been shown up till now.
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ LORD ALPORT
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Mais. During the last year I had the duty of reporting to him regularly in his 754 capacity as Chancellor of the City University, and I know at first hand the enthusiasm and energy which he brought to the two distinguished offices which he occupied during that year, as Lord Mayor of London and as Chancellor of our University. I am delighted that he is now released from those duties and is able to take part in the work of your Lordships' House.
Also, I should like, as other noble Lords have done, to congratulate my noble friend Lord Carrington on his appointment. I see that the newspaper headlines have already hailed him as " Lord North Sea ". No doubt it is only a matter of time before he becomes " Lord Pinta ", after that excellent beverage which has remarkable properties for filling the energy gap. But I must say, as others have done, that his continuance as Chairman of the Conservative Party may turn out to be a serious handicap to the success of his work in the industrial field. It seems to me to indicate that again the Government are blind to the fact that the problem of the coal miners is a political problem as well as, and perhaps more than, a problem of industrial economics. The danger of his position was well illustrated by Wednesday's placards which read, " Carrington says, ' No surrender ' ".
May I interpolate here the experience of a candidate in one of the Northern mining constituencies which I heard about the other day? He said that he had given up reading the hand-outs from his Party, and indeed reading newspapers to any extent, and had had to restudy the history of the first four decades of this century because the political controversies throughout his constituency were centred entirely upon them. To the miners the problem that we are facing is to be seen not only in the context of 1974, or for that matter of 1972, but also in the context of 1926 and 1912, and of those seering disputes of the 19th century. There is a danger that my noble friend Lord Carrington will be seen by the miners not as Secretary of State for Energy, having tremendous responsibilities to our country and to the Government, but as Chairman of the bosses' Party.
It is no longer a question of the miners' standing up to their employers in the Coal Board, or even a question of a struggle 755 with the British Government—and that, Heaven knows!, is bad enough. There is an even greater danger of this dispute appearing to them to be a struggle between the workers and the Party which, to a large number of miners, has a class identification in the Marxist sense. In these circumstances, it will be very difficult to convince the ordinary rank and file, the good men, as the noble Lord, Lord Mais, has said they are, that they are having to deal with a Government which represents " one nation ". It will look to them more like a decision to promote a class confrontation; and, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, has already pointed out, there are plenty of Communists and ill-minded people who will not be slow to exploit such an idea.
Those of your Lordships who heard the speech of my noble friend Lord Aberdare yesterday, and to some extent the speech of my noble friend Lord Carrington to-day, must have been struck by what, to me at any rate, appeared to be a lack of recognition of the fact that, owing to the existence of a statutorily imposed incomes policy, a confrontation in a political sense has been made almost inevitable. There is a very serious danger, whatever may be the effect on the miners, that people generally in industry and in the normal walks of life will begin to believe that the problem of rising prices, of inflation—which is the bugbear of this nation, and of others as well—has taken second place and become of secondary importance to what appear to them to be the more immediate problems of the effects of the three-day week, of unemployment, of unpaid mortgages, of bankruptcies and the manifold personal hardships and discomforts which we are suffering to an increasing extent. They will be seen to be the result of a policy imposed by the Government on a Party political basis arising out of the confrontation which the statutorily imposed incomes policy has created, and as a result it will be the Government and not the miners or the Arabs, or anybody else, who will take the blame.
Many people in this country, including working people, criticise, and to some extent dislike, the miners. But calling on the British public generally to go through an ordeal in order to withstand 756 the wage demands of a section of our nation that is doing what everybody admits is a vital, dirty and dangerous job is very different from making similar sacrifices in order to defeat, let us say, the oil sheikhs of Arabia and saving our economy by undergoing the deprivations which are necessary so that we can save fuel and support our export industries to pay for the fuel that we are able to obtain. In our heart of hearts we know—95 per cent. of us—that were the miners to receive twice the wages which they demand at the present moment, it would never induce us to work in a coalmine.
The British people, I suggest, are realists. They can understand, and they can withstand, pressure from the foreigner, and such pressure produces a sense of national unity. They almost welcome, I would say, on occasion, the challenge which such pressure presents, whether it be in circumstances of peace or in circumstances of war. But the English have developed a sense of nationhood which seeks always, and under Governments of all Parties, to avoid a political situation in which a solution by way of compromise, however unsatisfactory, in the short term, that compromise may apparently be, is rendered impossible.
I can only repeat what I have said on at least two previous occasions in this House. If the Government want to get their economics right, they must first get their politics right. To do this they must get out of what Mr. Enoch Powell, with whom I do not always agree, recently described as " the cul-de-sac of Stage 3 ". They must ensure that the sacrifices demanded of the British people are directed to offsetting the effects of the policies of the oil-producing countries rather than to frustrating the demands of the miners. In his speech, my noble friend Lord Thomas, although he seemed in the first part of it to be following one theme, in the second part made the point quite clearly that the whole situation which was envisaged when Stage 3 was introduced has radically changed. The result is that it no longer has the relevance to the situation here which it had in the autumn of last year: and in those circumstances it now needs both flexibility and imagination on the part of the Government in order to make the changes which I think many of us realised some weeks ago were inevitable.
757 My Lords, the Government must be in a position to allow Mr. Whitelaw to act genuinely as a conciliator. It seemed to me to be astonishing to bring somebody back from an important post—a critical post—in Northern Ireland to use his abilities as a conciliator in the industrial field here and at the same time to place him in a position where he was unable to exercise any form of conciliation at all apart from such personal attributes as he may have. That is the first thing which I believe is necessary.
The Government must allow my noble friend Lord Carrington to have a non-Party political role at the present time as Secretary of State for Energy. They must give to Britain—which, on account of North Sea oil, is regarded internationally at the present time as having, after the United States, the best prospects of achieving and maintaining economic viability in the latter years of the twentieth century—the chance of doing so as a united nation. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said in his speech (and I think I am right in the words that he used) that our coal industry is greater than the coal industries of the other European countries put together. If that is the case, we have an immense advantage. We have an asset which the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, described in glowing terms. The fact of the matter is that we know that we have that asset, and that we must make the best use of it—and so do the miners. They know very well that they are in a position, as opposed to those years of run-down of the coal industry, which is a position of strength; and if we take the back history of the mining industry over the last hundred years, it would be asking more than can be expected of any group of people, especially the miners, to ask them not to take advantage of the position in which they now find themselves.
There is now a chance of something constructive happening. As the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, said in his interruption a moment ago, the Prime Minister has asked the T.U.C. to meet him at No. 10 Downing Street this evening in order to discuss the implications of the letter which Mr. Murray has sent on behalf of the Trades Union Council. I hope and pray, my Lords, that this will give an opportunity (and it is appropriate that it should come from the statesman- 758 like attitudes of the Trades Union Council, of which we all know they are very easily capable and which they have shown on previous occasions), and that this opportunity will not be lost, of trying to extricate the present Government from the position in which we find ourselves and which they created in circumstances which, as Lord Thomas said, were quite different—that is, for dealing with an inflationary situation, whereas now the problem ahead of this country is to deal with the lack of, and the necessity for, adequate energy resources for our country's industry and for our future. I hope that pride on both sides, the sense of reputation, the desire to maintain credibility and the many other human considerations which are always involved in circumstances of this sort, will not allow this opportunity to be lost.
I hope, my Lords, that the Government do not feel themselves so committed ideologically to a statutory incomes policy that they cannot contemplate any compromise or flexibility in the application of Stage 3. As the noble Lord, Lord Mais, said in his speech, flexibility is absolutely essential in all industrial negotiations; and those of us who have had some small part in politics during our lives know that success in politics, and in diplomacy, depends on always being able to retain room for manoeuvre on both the sides concerned in any negotiations. That is precisely what the Government must now regain as a result of the Trades Union Congress initiative in its role of managing the economic and industrial policy of this country.
Both Mr. Heath and, to my surprise, Mr. Wilson, have made use of a phrase which was coined by a small group of Conservative Members of Parliament in the 1950s—a group of which I was one—that is, " One Nation ". Our aim in those days was to find a means through social policy to give to our Party the character of a national Party, divorced from any class basis and acutely sensitive to the social aspirations of all the people in the conduct of their ordinary lives. To some small extent, perhaps, we succeeded. But to-day it is far more essential that a Government drawn from that Party, and including more than one member of that small group, now in high office, should show that it is a national Government 759 able to reconcile and conciliate, and to harness the energies and patriotism of our people in the field of industrial life to help the solution of the immense problems with which recent developments have now faced us. My Lords, unless that can be done, and done quickly, none of the consequences which we fear lie ahead of us, and which will be tragic for us all, will be easily avoided.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ LORD WYNNE-JONES
My Lords, whenever I listen to the noble Lord, Lord Alport, I cannot help feeling that we ought to be sitting on the same Bench. It always seems to me that he is able to put very clearly the essence of the matter on these political problems, and I think that he has done it very well this afternoon. I would not say that I agree with every word he said, but I certainly find in him that sympathy and understanding of the situation which, unfortunately, one does not often hear nowadays. I congratulate the noble Lord on the way in which he has presented this point of view.
It is important to realise that one of the difficulties in the modern world is that the growth of power, the centralisation of power, has meant that big nations, big corporations, powerful Governments, tend to push people about. We have seen that in a country like the United States, which has often done things with the very best motives; and the very good things which they have tried to do have aroused antagonism because of the way in which they have tried to impose them on the rest of the world. And throughout the United States young people have revolted against the rather arbitrary and, surprisingly for a democratic country, the authoritarian methods they have often employed. It reached its climax over the Vietnam business. One finds that this attitude goes right through Governments nowadays, so that a Government says, " Ah, but we know what is best for the people; we lay down the rule and it is up to the people to obey it." My Lords, none of us likes this method of treatment, and trade unionists dislike it as much as the rest of us. Therefore it is vital and essential to understand that this is not the correct way to govern a country. It is not the right way to get people to do the sensible thing. They 760 will do the sensible thing if you can convince them that it is sensible, and is worth their while. They will not do the sensible thing if you tell them that you have introduced a law which forces them to do it. Therefore, my Lords, it is important that Governments should realise that they must win the consent of people and that they cannot order the consent of people. I think that is one of the things which Government in this country now has to begin to appreciate with regard to trying to achieve anything like an incomes policy.
Enough has been said by other speakers about the general political and economic problems which arise at the present time. I wish to be brief and to call attention to certain technical matters. First of all, I would welcome the Government's decision to set up a Ministry of Energy. In debates in this House before Christmas, many of us from both sides of the House pressed the Government to set up such a Ministry. At that time there was reluctance on the part of the Government, but they have acceded to the request and have set up a Ministry of Energy. I regard the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, as an admirable person to be the Minister. But from a political point of view I am surprised that the Government should place the Minister in this House, because it seems to me that, valuable as it may be for us to have him in this House, it can be very objectionable to the other place not to have in that House the head of what should be perhaps the most important Ministry. Therefore I am extremely surprised that the Government should take what I regard politically as the very injudicious step of placing the Minister in this House, excellent man though he is. However, my Lords, the Minister is here, and we shall do our best to encourage him and to help him. We shall give him a warm welcome, even if sometimes that means a " roasting ". We shall do our best to ensure that he is able to do his job and we shall keep on reminding him of the job that he has to do.
I wonder now and again whether the noble Lord will not perhaps regret one or two of the Acts which he introduced before he was Minister of Energy. It was a little over a year ago that he introduced a Bill in this House for taking over the Aldermaston establishment and putting it 761 in the Ministry of Defence. I looked up the speech that he made at the time because I criticised that Bill very strongly and said that I thought it was a most unwise measure. The noble Lord said:I do not believe it is possible to use economically the resources which I have at my disposal at the Ministry of Defence unless I am actually managing all the establishments where there is research and development and production for the Armed Services."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16/11/72; col. 839.]And 20 per cent. of the work at Aldermaston is effectively in the field of civilian energy, as the noble Lord himself admitted. Therefore, instead of having control he will now have to be a suppliant of the Ministry of Defence and ask them to kindly do work for him and his new Ministry. These are some of the unfortunate consequences of past Acts.
My Lords, there is one other matter which was raised in our debates before Christmas. It was a suggestion which came from noble Lords on both sides of the House. It was made from the Liberal Benches by the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw. From these Benches, I remember that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, put it forward. I think I am right in saying that the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, also put forward the idea; certainly it was put forward by the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, and I put it forward myself. We proposed that there should be an Energy Commission as well as a Minister of Energy. The reason is quite simple. It is that the problems of energy and the use of the types of energy that you will need and how you employ them are changing continuously. They need the most expert, the most modern and the most imaginative approach. Unless you have that, you may be quite sure that the problems we are trying to tackle to-day, even if we solve them to-day, will turn up in some more intractable form in a few years' time. It is therefore vital to have a continuous investigation of this matter done in the most expert way.
We may say that this could be done by the Civil Service, but the Civil Service was not set up to do this sort of thing. It can be extremely good at analysing a problem which is put before it, but it was not devised as a body created and set up to try to look into all the various possibilities. Therefore an Energy Commission seems absolutely essential. Such a Commission would not 762 be one which decided policy; it would be the business of the Minister to decide policy and not that of the Commission. But how can a Minister reach decisions without proper advice? The Minister is not a technical expert; he is not meant to be. Your Lordships are not necessarily technical experts and certainly Members of the other House are not technical experts. We require a body which is continually looking at the position, publishing all that it knows and keeping us fully aware of what is going on.
There was an interesting article in The Times two days ago on the consumption of energy in agriculture and the yield from agriculture. It was a quite remarkable analysis which was carried out by some Americans and published in the American journal, Science. The facts come out as follows. You take the energy that is put into the growing of a particular crop. The energy may be in the form of human labour or mechanical labour, or the oil or fuel used, or the various weed killers used or the various fertilisers that are used—all the energy that goes in.
That is one side; the other side is the energy which comes out. That is easily evaluated: it is the yield of the crop, the actual calorific value of the crop. It is not worked out in terms of money, but in terms of energy units, which makes it an absolute comparison and not one dependent on terms of trade. And the interesting result is this. In 1950, the crop in America, which the Americans call corn and which we normally call maize, yielded 3.28 times in energy the energy that was put in in the various ways of cultivation; that is to say, one got back roughly three and a quarter times the amount of energy that one put in. In 1970, as a result of great developments, of more intensive cultivation and better mechanisation, the crop yield was 2.81 times the amount of energy put in. In other words, the marginal return on the extra energy put in was negative; one was getting less crop from more energy. This is a startling result and it shows a waste of energy. It shows that one is putting in something and not getting back the appropriate return. This is something which cannot be observed by someone simply going and costing a crop. It can be observed only by detailed analysis such as has been done in 763 America, and it is important that that type of detailed analysis should be carried out. That is one example.
§ LORD BIRDWOOD
My Lords, does the writer of that article offer any explanation for that deterioration?
§ LORD WYNNE-JONES
He did not actually give an explanation; he stated the facts. But I think the explanation is perfectly clear; that is, that while more energy was used over that 20-year period, the return on that additional energy was less. This is a familiar fact. If you start doing something and first of all put in a certain amount of energy you may get an excellent return, but you then go beyond a certain point and get no increase for the extra energy you put in. That is what was happening there. The extra energy that was being put in was not constructive, and one was therefore wasting energy.
Now, my Lords, one might look at other matters which must be investigated—for example, the coal industry. We know perfectly well that we have vast reserves of coal, but we can win this coal only by spending a very large amount of money over the next ten years. The Coal Board's estimate of the amount required is between £1,000 million and £2,000 million on top of what has already been promised by the Government. This is additional expenditure. The Government, quite rightly, take credit for what they have already promised to do—an excellent thing—but this is additional expenditure that will be needed to open up new pits in order to keep our production going effectively. There will be no point, my Lords, in opening up new pits if we do not have the miners to work them. This is a problem that we have to face. Our future is dependent very much on the good will that is created in the mining industry.
We might look at the position with regard to natural gas. We are now running almost all our gas installations on natural gas—a very excellent thing. One might, however, ask whether there is one other thing that can be done with natural gas, and that is to produce methanol from it. This is something which can be used as a valuable substitute for gasolene. It can be a complete substitute or, alternatively, it can be mixed with gasolene and actually gives an improved performance in an automobile engine.
764 My Lords, it is not my purpose to put before you various suggestions which ought to be carried out. I am trying rather to indicate that there are a large number of problems which are suitable only for investigation by an expert Commission, sitting all the time. It is not for me to investigate these things; I have not the resources, nor has any one of us. Not even a big company has all the resources to do this. But there must be somebody who is doing it; and it ought, in my view, to be done by a permanent expert Commission which would be set up by the Minister and to which people would be appointed for a term of years: experts from universities, from industry, from the various fuel companies and so on. If we did this we should place the whole of our energy situation in a very much better position. We should have a powerful instrument for dealing with the future, and we should know that we have the information on which all of us could make up our minds. I do not believe that experts should be allowed to make up our minds for us. Their job is to give us the precise information on which we can make up our minds. We are faced to-day with the question of what nuclear reactor is to be chosen, and the horrifying situation is that neither the Government nor the Electricity Board nor anybody else knows what should be chosen.
§ LORD PEDDIE
My Lords, I find my noble friend's comments somewhat confusing. Am I right in assuming that originally he stated that it should be the Civil Service who ought to be making the decision, and conducting the inquiry, when he made reference to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington? Now I understand that he thinks people in this House or Government themselves should make the decision. Would he clarify the point he is making?
§ LORD WYNNE-JONES
My Lords, I am sorry that my noble friend misunderstood me. I certainly never said that the Civil Service should make the decision. I say that it is the Minister's responsibility to put forward a policy, but it is the responsibility of Members of both Houses to criticise that policy and to analyse it, and they cannot do this unless they have the facts at their disposal. Unless there is a Commission which is capable of giving expert information and 765 which continuously advises the Government and Parliament, then it seems to me that we are working as blind men and we never really know what we are trying to do. We have a vague idea that we want energy, but no one of us can say—and I was about to go into the question of nuclear reactors—what sort of reactor should be introduced.
We are not even told by the Government whether they will give us the facts before they announce a decision.
This is an astonishing situation, my Lords. We are treated like children and I think it time that Government realised that neither Parliament nor the people like being treated like children. We like to be treated as adults, as though we can understand arguments put before us. This is a matter to which I would beg the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, to give first attention. He has now got this Ministry; let him consider seriously setting up an Energy Commission and let him give the facts so that we are all able to consider what is happening, and are all able to discuss intelligently what our policy should be.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ LORD STRANGE
My Lords, a new custom has come into the House since my day, not only of congratulating maiden speeches, but congratulating the last person who spoke. I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, who has made it impossible for me—but I am a good loser—and to thank him very much.
I think that we in this country have the greatest secret service in the world in this country—it is run by the Russians. However, I do not think that this is a typical Communist strike. It reminds me very much of the great strike that occurred in 1926. There was also an earlier one in 1911—I was rather young then, but I certainly saw the whole effect of the 1926 strike. I had a fast car at the time and I drove it all through the strike. I was then in the theatrical profession and I had a revue going on in South Wales. I went down there and I remember very well that I had never seen anything like it: it was deplorable. Everybody was out of work and they we're all at starvation's door. I did not know that anything like it could happen in any country. The 766 Rhondda Valley was prosperous before. Of course I could understand why they were going on strike: there was no wonder at it. It was the same all over the country; it was a slump.
I do not think that at that time there was a Communist movement behind the strike because, as I say, I drove everywhere. On one occasion I think we went to Horse Guards Parade and a chap came running up and said, " They are all killing themselves down at Whitechapel ". Then this poor man said to me, " Will you take these British Gazette papers down to Whitechapel? " I agreed and I drove down there. There were people shouting at me. What they were trying to do was to buy the papers so that they could sell them and get a good price for them. Later on I think we had an auction and I got about seven shillings for those papers. In the end I gave the money away; but there were these wild rumours going round all over the country. I drove my car all over the country from the beginning to the end of the strike and I never saw any trouble. Everybody was very friendly—I talked to a great many people and they were quite happy.
I do not think there was any Communist element at all in that strike. I do not think there is any real Communist element in this one either; it is just that the world now is in a mess, just as it was before. This time it is not a question of starvation because things are quite good. It is just that people get fed up—most of us get fed up sometimes; in fact I even get fed up myself sometimes. But of course there are Communist strikes from time to time. When Mr. Wilson was Prime Minister, he had to deal with a very interesting strike. That was the seamen's strike, which went on and on and on and really ruined the Merchant Navy. Mr. Wilson told us—and he was in a position to know—that it was a Communist organised strike and that it was deliberately organised by Communists. So there are Communist strikes.
Exactly what the Russians are trying to do, I do not know. I rather like the Russians actually: they have a great sense of humour. I have known many of them in my time. One of them once said to me: " We do not know what our population is, but we do know that we have 20 million people in gaol in Russia." I thought that was quite amusing. So 767 they have that sense of humour, which is nice. They are a nation of chess players, as your Lordships know. They go in for Plans which they understand but no one else does—five-year Plans, ten-year Plans—and then the Plan which will be even better next year, which is a good one. So I fancy there is a plan behind all this. However, I suppose there are quite a lot of Communists in America who have not yet been cleared out. They are all over the world; and at the right time, if they want to, they will be able to create a diversion throughout the Continents which will enable them, presumably, to attack China. Why they should want to attack China I have not the faintest idea, nor have I the faintest idea why China might want to attack Russia; but people have come back fairly recently from that country, and from what they say it is getting towards that way of a war. My Lords, do you not think I have spoken enough?
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF ONSLOW
My Lords, following the example of the noble Lord, Lord Strange, in congratulating the preceding speaker, I think one must congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Strange, because if the world were like his speech it would be a much happier place and there would be none of these rather dreadful things to face.
Yesterday the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, appealed to this side of the House to move in its ideas nearer to his noble friend. I am going to appeal to the noble Lord's noble friends to move more towards consensus policies within their own Party. I do not do this in any way to stir up things but to get a sensible national viewpoint. As has been pointed out already, most Governments since the war have come to the conclusion that an incomes policy is essential. I believe that even Edward III, during the Black Death, and Elizabeth I, during another crisis, came to the same conclusion. The object of all incomes policies has always been the same: to try to avoid inflation and mass unemployment. Sir Stafford Cripps, Mr. Selwyn Lloyd, Mr. Wilson and now, much against their own will, the present Administration have all followed this objective.
In passing, it is worth remembering that before Wilberforce they did have an incomes 768 policy but they did not call it so. It was based on the principle of accepting 1 per cent. less than the previous wage increase. After Wilberforce, as has already been pointed out, the miners stopped there, and in the six months following Wilberforce wage increases doubled over the previous six months. Cost-push inflation was with us with a vengeance, and therefore the statutory wage policy became essential. Wage - cost - push inflation stopped and British inflation became one of the lowest in Europe. Therefore, I appeal to the noble Lords opposite: Can they imagine what the erstwhile second Viscount Stansgate—and that is just as good a name for him as Tony Benn—would be saying if the policy was applied only to the lower paid? I seem to remember reading of the horror expressed in the Labour Party and in the national Press about the nurses not being allowed more than 2½ per cent. by Mr. Selwyn Lloyd. An incomes policy must be for all and not just for some. It cannot work—as all except the great Liberal economist of 1880, Mr. Powell, wanted it to do—unless it applies to everyone. Of course the details must be debated, discussed and amended, if necessary. If the T.U.C. can make Mr. Murray's offer stick, that the special case would apply to the miners only and that no other union will waltz through the hole created, then obviously in my view we must consider it.
There have been several ideas put forward, notably by the noble Viscount, Lord Watkinson, on post-Phase 3 deals for the miners. There was even a suggestion put forward by Mr. Bernard Levin in The Times last week, that one of the ways of withdrawing some of the unhappiness at the coal face would be to make very generous settlements in retribution for industrial injury and pneumoconeosis, so that those concerned would not have to sue the Coal Board, and so on. These are all possible ways out of the difficulty, but if Mr. Wedgwood Benn were in Cabinet now, facing the possibility of a General Election being forced on us and the unlikely possibility of Mr. Wilson forming a Government, it is almost certain, in my view, that a severe incomes policy would come in with the next Labour Government and some of the lads on our side would be making exactly the same noises as those people on the Opposition Benches—not in this 769 House, I may say, but in other places. This would be most unattractive and of no use to the country at all. If the miners do destroy the incomes policy I do not think it is really going to benefit them in any way whatsoever, because Government will have been dealt a very grievous blow.
Yesterday somebody referred to this society—I believe it was the noble Lord, Lord Thorneycroft—as "liberal, fragile and humane". I for one, should not like to live in any other kind of society. It is by far the best because it is more fair and more sensitive to people's demands. Admittedly, I speak as a relatively privileged member of it. This in turn makes it much more difficult to say to the miners, "Accept a pay rise now within Stage 3; accept a wage rise which is a lot lower than my income for doing a job which I would not want to do myself." We are in a very difficult position to say this but I still think that we ought to say it.
May I make a passing reference to the railways? As the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, said yesterday, each evening in the City there are queues of clerks, young married women, and young men, many with inadequate salaries. They are not getting paid "winding home time". They fail to see that drivers sent home for not doing any work is provocative. I feel that they may be under the impression that not to drive trains when asked to and agreed to is marginally provocative.
I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, when he replies to be more forthcoming than was the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, when he spoke yesterday on oil supplies. Last month the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, answered a query of mine on oil shipments from the Gulf loading points and on some periods that I quoted he said they were too small. I now have here some figures for the months of November 1972 and November 1973 from Ras Tannurah which is the Saudi loading point and Mina al Ahmadi which is the Kuwaiti loading point. I would ask you to remember that these are the two greatest cutters-back of oil output. The Saudi dead weight tonnage sailings figure was up from 27.7 million tons to 29.5 million tons, and the Kuwaiti 770 figure was exactly the same, at 9.4 million tons. These figures come from the Lloyd's Register of Shipping and I have the name and tonnage of every vessel that sailed from those two loading points. My shipping contacts tell me that there has been no shopping from one loading point to another and no sailings unfilled except for the two very well publicised cases of the Globtic tankers. Nigerian and Iraqi production of oil has been increased as has that of the Iranians who, incidentally, according to information I got to-day, are charging the Israeli Government 23.40 dollars a barrel for it. It is thought, and I believe it is very well established now, that oil is being used by the oil companies to pay their royalties. Some of that oil is coming into this country, is being refined in this country and sent out again. That does not get entered into the import/export statistics, but is entered as an invisible balance statistic.
What I am trying to get at is this: Could we have from the Government what are the tonnages used, the tonnages needed, the tonnage available and the ideal tonnage that we should have now? United Kingdom refineries all have to keep detailed records and have to inform Her Majesty's Government fully of their plans. But the Government have not been as forthcoming to the British public on oil stocks as they were finally made be on coal stocks.
My Lords, the recent Saudi noises of wrath with the Shah are reputed to come as a result of Mr. Kissinger's pointing out to Sheikh Yamani that American technology when mobilised has an ability to solve problems that other communities do not have. Therefore Saudi Arabia is not keen to make the Americans go in for a really crash programme of shale oil extraction because there are vast reserves of shale oil in the United States and there are vast reserves of oil in Saudi Arabia which they want to go on selling. So it appears that Saudi Arabia is keen that in the long term the oil price should not be more than about 9 dollars a barrel. This has been reflected in the noises recently made about the price of it coming down as a result of the dollar up-valuation. All oil prices, as your Lordships are fully aware, depend on Saudi Arabia, as they can, if they want to, flood the market and therefore force down the price of everybody else's crude oil.
771 As a result of my few remarks, it seems to me that we have a three-phase situation. There is the immediate social and coal problem. Incidentally, what is the answer to importing coal? Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, will comment on that. There is the medium Arab oil problem, which is allied to an acute balance-of-payments problem. Surely this balance of payments can be funded by recycled Arab money. There is a great deal of Arab money coming back into the City at the moment. Finally, we come to a situation where I think there is an element of the Royal Tank Corps motto "Through blood, mud, to the green fields beyond". We are coming to the "green fields " situation of ourselves as the Arabs or sheikhs of Europe sitting on these vast reserves of oil, unless Arab pressure, or too much greed—and I say this as somebody who has great sympathy with the Arabs—to create too much money has forced technology to bring the price of oil down, and then we could have an energy glut within 15 years.
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ BARONESS BURTON OF COVENTRY
My Lords, I want to take a line which is quite different from that taken by any other speakers yesterday or to-day, and I hope that my remarks will not be unacceptable because of that.
Newspaper placards last night carried two main headlines, according to which placard you looked at. One was "No surrender—Carrington". The other was "Railmen—send us home if you dare". There is little wonder that the public is in despair, and it is the public that I want to talk about to-day. I believe that we have reached a stage when only public opinion can work a miracle: with our help, with the help of Parliament. Eight weeks ago we had a debate on the Emergency Powers Act. In common with many other speakers I took part in that debate. As a result, I had some 80 to 90 letters—perhaps a small number, but a lot for me because I had to answer them. Of those 80 to 90 letters only eight were in disagreement with what I had said. Usually, as we all know from long experience, people are moved to write if they disagree, not if they agree. Why the change?—because the writers saw a little hope in that someone had said that Parliament as a whole should 772 be seen to react to this crisis and that Parliamentary government should be upheld.
If the speech of one Back-Bencher can bring a little hope and produce even 80 to 90 letters, I want to ask your Lordships, what could we not achieve if that was done on a large scale? It is hope that people need to-day. At the moment they have no hope. Could Parliament not give it to them? Could the Opposition make a considerable sacrifice?—because it is the Opposition that has a bigger part to play here than the Government. Why? Well, my Lords, the Opposition can talk to the unions. It can talk privately to influence. It can talk publicly to give hope. I realise that to ask the Opposition to help the Government at the moment is to ask a great deal. But then a great deal is at stake, far more than the future of any political Party.
May I start with three obvious points? First, we are all entitled to something better than we are getting to-day: the general public, the unions, the Government. At least there will be unanimity on that. Secondly, we have to start from today. No amount of harping back to the past will help us out of the terrible dilemma in which the country finds itself at present. Thirdly, whether or not there should be enough money available to pay everybody what they ask, the fact remains that there is not. Yesterday the Leader of the Opposition, my noble friend Lord Shackleton, spoke about the need for a greater degree of social justice and social concern. There would be unanimity on that. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said that social justice means something different to everybody. There would be unanimity on that too. But, in some respects, social justice means the same thing to most of us—in Parliament and outside.
I want to ask the House: can it really be accepted by anyone in their right mind, after the way commuters have suffered in the not-too-distant past and are suffering today, that a union leader can get up and say that the Chairman of British Rail is, and I quote, "declaring war on the union"? Is there any person who would not agree that ASLEF has declared war on rail travellers? I should like to hear the Opposition get up and say so, and say so loudly, both in Parliament and outside. Why should anyone expect to be paid if 773 they refuse to work? And to state that if they are not paid when they refuse to work they will go home until not only payment for non-work is made but until their demands are met—no Government could accept that and no Government should. And what is more, the public would not expect any Government to do so, and they would not expect any Opposition to say that they should do so. From what seems evident to-day some drivers have done just that. They object to not being paid for doing nothing. They have gone home. That is industrial anarchy, and I hope Parliament will say so. I hope particularly the Opposition and the other two rail unions will say so too.
In the immediate past I would have hoped that the Government would have done more about prices, about rents, about property speculators and about making taxation fairer to each section of the community; and set in train all these things so that people could see for themselves that action had been taken. Action such as this would at least have made people feel that something was being done on the side of equality. It would have sweetened the atmosphere. Are we in the Opposition never going to stand up and admit that commuters have rights, that people have a right to their trains, their light, their heat and their power, for they pay for all these things? And have we nothing to say about their ambulances?
For the moment never mind the sins of the Government. I always understood that my Party said that it stood for the weak, for the poor and those without means of taking action, of fighting back. I think we should have stood up long ago and said that this type of industrial action, this bullying of innocent people, should cease. I expect everybody saw the letter in The Times on Tuesday from Mr. Smith of the National Union of Mineworkers. Probably everybody noted the one particular sentence in it which I thought described what the nation is going through at the moment and the utter waste of it all. The sentence was, "Fierce and heated debates on who is right—forgetting what is right". I would emphasise "who" and "what". I believe the Government have themselves to blame for much of the present trouble. They were unnecessarily abrasive towards the unions at the beginning of their term of office. But we have not much authority to comment 774 here because we gave way. Anyway, the abrasiveness has reaped very bitter dividends.
What can we do now? What can both Houses of Parliament say to-day so that the country may feel that we are at least dealing with realities? First of all, on the question of the three-day week and the size of the coal stocks, it is time the politicians stopped bickering about this. I think the public has got tired of this bickering, and unless one has inside knowledge I do not think we have anything to add. So far as we know, the Central Electricity Generating Board said this action was necessary, and as I understood what came out of "Neddy" yesterday, it certainly was necessary, and I should like to leave that there.
I come secondly to the miners. In the last debate I told the House that I had worked in the Rhondda Valley in the 1930s. What I forgot to say was that I had lived with an unemployed miner and his family. That experience brought me into the Labour Party. It also gave me a respect, admiration and affection for miners and their families that I shall never lose. If only a little moderation could creep in here on both sides, and if only the miners could accept that, while they do not trust Government promises, something so big is at stake to-day that the country demands or begs, whichever word is preferred, I believe that they would come halfway to help us all. As I see it, miners have been offered as big an increase as there is money available now. Phase 3 was tailored specially to bring more to the miners than to any other workers. I am not saying that the offer is enough, but that it is all that is available now, and that is a very different matter. It must be accepted surely that the future of the mining industry is assured. Could not the more moderate miners, on the Executive and in the pits, stand up and say that they will take the increased offer to-day (large by the standards offered to other workers) if they can be given cast-iron guarantees about the future? Many suggestions are being aired about what form these cast-iron guarantees could take. Are we not talking about an investment of some £1,100 million in the industry? With just a little good will (from the N.U.M., from the Opposition and from the Government) something could be done. I think the 775 nation has a right to demand that something is done by the N.U.M., by the Opposition and by the Government. Is this quite impossible? With an initial investment of £30 million guaranteed by the Government for the development of Selby alone, has all this to be thrown away? Must the extremists always win?
Thirdly, I turn to the railways. For the moment never mind the commuters. But the railways have been guaranteed £49 million for investment in their future, one such as the railways never envisaged in their wildest dreams. Has all this to be thrown away? And thrown away because one of the three unions involved says so? We are told that the other two unions are in favour of negotiation, that they represent nine-tenths of the membership. Why should one-tenth of the membership hold back the others. Is that democracy? Again, must the extremists always win?
Trying to look at this matter dispassionately, I really do not believe anyone can fail to understand that if Government, not only this Government but any Government, continue to give way when the country is held to ransom, then the floodgates will open and we shall have this all over again. I hope very much that the T.U.C. statement of to-day, and the meeting we are told is taking place to-night, will prevent those floodgates opening. My Lords, as I ventured to say eight weeks ago, as I feel more firmly than ever to-day, this question has to be decided, and it has to be decided for the benefit of democracy, for Parliamentary government, and the future of any Government of whatever Party which may be in power. An Election would settle nothing. What is wanted is that Parliament should assert itself as a whole on this industrial matter alone; and that the British people should feel, at last, that even the politicians have united to lead them out of this terrible abyss.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ LORD DAVIES OF LEEK
My Lords, it has been a fascinating debate, and one to which it is very difficult to give a concrete and constructive approach. I have heard speeches from both sides of the House for most of the two days. Very few of them have been provocative, but I must say that the last speech I have 776 just listened to, by the noble Baroness, was completely illogical for a certain point. The noble Baroness asked how we are to question what the coal stocks are; we do not know. Then the next minute she says, referring to the miners' request for an increase in money, under Phase 3, that, "This is all the money we have." How does the noble Baroness know that? How can she make a categorical statement like that, in contrast to the one which she made about the coal stocks at the power stations? As a matter of fact we know the coal stocks. If the noble Baroness will go down to the Labour Party office she will find that there are four sheets of stocks in every station in Britain. Television has been shut down from 10.30 p.m. each night to save one-tenth of a power station's output, and we have 147 power stations. I still say that the Government's action has not been thought out.
Now let us deal with the fulcrum of the problem. The fulcrum of the problem is the miners, as well as the railwaymen. Parliament must assert itself. I lived through the 1926 strike. I was alive when the 1912 and 1921 strikes occurred. I was alive when the troops were sent down to Tonypandy. How does one apply that solution to the commuters?—bless them! they do suffer as well. Are we sending troops in? How does Parliament assert itself? Do we become a corporate State? Why does the noble Baroness assume that these people who have gone on strike are all fanatics? One minute the miners are grand men; and the next minute, when it suits a speaker, they are irresponsible. You cannot have it both ways. If you want to apply Russian or Fascist methods, put in the troops to drive trains and put the troops in the mines in South Wales, as at one time was threatened. But if you do, you will have a hopeless situation. Is that the divisive situation that the noble Baroness wishes to create? It is the only way force can be applied to get the trains going. That is the only way, in the last analysis, and I think it would be the most divisive and unconstructive approach to this very difficult problem.
Now, what are the facts about the miners and the railwaymen? I will not go into it in depth, but I think the Chairman of the Railways Board, Mr. Marsh, 777 made a stupid approach with his statement. It was a hard, tough—allegedly—statement; but it was not clever, it was stupid. The Railways Board are acting, in my estimation, in the same kind of arrogant way as the Prime Minister has been acting in relation to the miners.
§ LORD PEDDIE
My Lords, will my noble friend allow me to make an interjection? I cannot allow him to go unchallenged when he makes the statement that the Chairman of the Railways Board was "stupid" in doing what he should have done long before; that is, making crystal clear that if a person refuses to do a particular job, he should not be paid for that job. It is as simple as that. I am not going to argue at this point whether or not they were right to go on strike. But do not call a man stupid when he does something. The only stupid thing, if there be stupidity, was in the fact that he did not do it a fortnight earlier.
§ LORD DAVIES OF LEEK
The noble Lord agrees with me. That is what I was just going to tell the noble Lord. It was left to this occasion, and there should have been discussion—
§ LORD WIGG
Surely my noble friend will not be led astray by the jejune and childish intervention about the stupidity of Mr. Marsh. Those of us who know him very well know that this was absolutely true to form. He made a remark and he had not the wisdom to calculate what the consequences would be. He may have been quite right to say it, but has he improved the situation or has he made it worse? Of course he has made it infinitely worse, and very much more difficult to settle. That is why he is stupid.
§ LORD DAVIES OF LEEK
This is the point—the consequences. What are the consequences of the speech of my noble friend who has just sat down? How do you apply that?
§ LORD SHINWELL
My Lords, is there anything remarkably wrong or right in describing somebody who used to be a rebel in the Labour Party and who has managed to get £24,000 a year, as stupid or brilliant, or anything of the sort? In any event can we not, in this democratic Assembly, say what we like and think, even if it does not suit some people on this side of the House?
§ LORD DAVIES OF LEEK
I am grateful to the noble Lord, whose experience in the Ministry of Power is great. If I say something is stupid, that does not mean that I have not myself acted stupidly, too—many times. I have done so many times, and so have other noble Lords. But the point is that the consequences of this statement were not weighed before they were uttered. I have done that many a time and been sorry afterwards. There is nothing wrong with making that statement. It does not help; it exacerbates the situation.
Next, I want to look at the position of the miners in relation to Phase 3. We have made Phase 3 the law of the Medes and Persians in a fluid world, and that is nonsense. I was delighted to find that the noble Lord, Lord Alport, put that neatly, succinctly, cogently and potently to this House, so that noble Lords would understand it. Phase 3 should have been made fluid. What was the position of the miners in the 1950s and the early 1960s? Their earnings were 20 per cent. above average earnings of the rest of industry. When we came to power after the 1945 Election, the miner, as a result of the damnable punishment of the 1912, 1921, 1920 strikes of my people, was eightieth on the pay list of Britain. Under the Labour Government we lifted him to first. By 1950, he was between 12 and 20 per cent. (it varied) above average earnings on the job, if he was cutting in a pit. If he was in Ystradgynlais, and was a Rugby player, he would be lucky if he could have five years' of Rugby playing, if he was stone-cutting in arches underground. The noble Lord, Lord Mais, if he were in the Chamber, would know what I am talking about: the punishment to a man's lungs if he was cutting through the rock—never mind the anthracite coal.
By 1970, this differential had disappeared. The historic settlement after the national strike last year went some way towards restoring the differential by October, 1972. The mine workers' average earnings were £38.21, 7 per cent. above the average earnings of the country. This was still much lower than in 1950. The miners have received increases of only 6.6 per cent. and 9.9 per cent. since Wilberforce. This point has not been mentioned in the debate. Wilberforce has been a static situation since then. What justifies their exception? Nobody 779 has given the figures. Output per man shift in the pits is higher now than ever in history. The output of the coalface worker, the man cutting the coal before it is shifted to the bottom of the pit or is shuttled on to the conveyor, is 148.6 cwt. per shift; that is in seven to eight hours; and he is loading that. That is a record O.M.S.—output per man shift. That has been going on since Wilberforce, and full recognition has not been given to this effort of the men at the coal face.
Your Lordships see the unfairness. The Derby miners wanted to put an advertisement in the local Press. It is a little facetious, but it is a picture of a miner. At the top it says:Wanted. 600 underground workers to fill vacancies in North Derbyshire pits. Free dust masks. Free goggles. Ear-muffs for excessive noise from the conveyors. Oilskins when working in water.Some have worked in water up to their necks. My brother, who is an engineer, worked in water when they sunk Natgarw pit. He worked in water for six months and has suffered off and on ever since from rheumatic fever and rheumatoid arthritis, for which he has received nothing. That is the price that skilled men sometimes have to pay before you get to the coal. The advertisement continues:Respirator masks for emergencies. Chest X-rays free. Good bus services from the pits starting at 5 in the morning. Hours of work, 7¼ plus winding time. You will be on the pit 8½ hours. Good canteen before and after your shift. Death benefits if you die in service. Present basic wage: coal face, £36.79—Grade A, £36.79; Grade B, £31."—and so on. Then at the bottom it says:The nation needs coal. Join the dwindling band of those prepared to dig it.Anybody who is willing, who has the strength, if he is muttering about it, can go and try. When one South Wales paper was asked to put in that advertisement they would not do so, because despite the fact that it was meant to be facetious, it was a little more revealing than many of the speeches made in both Houses of Parliament.
My Lords, may I detain the House for just two more minutes. I speak now on a wider note. On Tuesday last week, very quietly, the Government applied their second 20 per cent. tariff cut with the Common Market. It was done quietly. What are the implications of 780 that? It will help to deepen our crisis on the balance of payments. The three-day week is nothing to do with the miners not being prepared to work overtime. What kind of a world is this, that when men refuse to work overtime the rest of the country is unemployed? Everybody thinks that the miners are on strike. All that the boys are doing is having a bit more fresh air. If we want anyone to blame, we can blame both Governments, the Labour Government and the Conservative Government, for shutting the pits down so rapidly and not attracting the manpower to go into them. We have not had the manpower and we have not had a sufficient number of pits. I mentioned this point in the last debate on this subject. When I was a boy there were 60 pits in the Rhondda Valley; there are two now. They are not all uneconomic. Consequently, this problem needs deeper thought.
Another key issue of the day is the level of prices. I have in my hand a list of chairmen of 78 companies. The top one—getting about a quarter of a million pounds a year—is concerned with green stamps. What is the contribution to our economy of the issue of green stamps compared with that of a collier cutting coal? But he is getting a quarter of a million. The Government can find money for that. I can list them. There is enough money there somewhere. Hyams—what have the Government done about it? Why the inactivity? This is creating the two kinds of people in our country. People are bewildered. Prices are unprecedented. We were scoffed at in 1970 and told by Mr. Heath that if Labour got into power we should have the three shilling loaf. We have got it.
So I summarise. We floated—that was a euphemistic term for devaluation of the pound. Someone tried to point out that silly expression of witch doctors of economics about the snake in the tunnel. A more daft expression one has never heard about the realities of finance. The direct consequences of our entering the Common Market, when we were too weak to meet its repercussions, was a 20 per cent. tariff drop and overspending on overseas commitments. And at the same time as we are doing that, we are told in Figaro last week that the Prime Minister of England says that he is going 781 in a joint nuclear effort with the French. The noble Lord, Lord Wigg, and others, have pointed out that you need protection; but do not let us pretend that we can be a great nuclear nation. We want to ensure that we have conventional Forces in the right places at the right time, but we should not pretend that we can play big boys in the nuclear race. And we kicked our friends in the teeth in 1967 because we were preparing to enter the Common Market—and we have since refused to review the trade agreements with Australia. What is wrong with us? Britain is losing its position; losing (I have used the word about four times in this Chamber) its charisma because there is no leadership. We hear daft expressions about "standing up to them" because the locomotive drivers have gone on strike, or because the colliers are not working overtime. What are we going to do about it? Shove soldiers into cutting coal, and put the university boys to driving engines again, as they tried to do in the days when I was being semi-educated?
As to unemployment the real fact is that the three-day week is a subtle way of helping to solve the £2,000 million balance-of-payments problem. We presented the Government, at the price of our popularity, with £1,000 million in the black—I repeat, £1,000 million. We lost our popularity, lost elections, through trying to be fair and trying to stand up to the pressures for increases in wages in relation to our abilities. But this Government have printed money. I cannot go into the problem of Special Drawing Rights, but I shall now go into this. In 1969 we had 7 million days of strikes. Since the Industrial Relations Act we have had 24 million. That is the result of the Industrial Relations Act. It has nothing to do with "vicious members of the trade union movement". It is the repercussions upon them because of rents and everything else. The constructive trade union movement, to which tributes have been paid, when the Government were introducing Phase 3, begged the Prime Minister to do six things. Nothing has been done. One was to restore collective bargaining. The second was to have subsidies to keep prices of foods relative to people's income. We are again getting rickets and caries in teeth among school children. The third was effective price controls. The fourth was a rent moritorium. The 782 fifth was to bring old-age pensions up to £10 or £16. The sixth was to shift the burden towards capital and high-incomes taxation and property speculation. Instead of that, we gave back £300 million to be put in the pockets of the speculators.
Then the Government were presented with this Cabinet Paper: The Future of London as an International Financial Centre. We have lost; and if this goes on under Mr. Heath we shall lose the sterling area. We have lost it. We have thrown away the Commonwealth. I beg noble Lords to get this document, The Future of London as a Financial Centre. It is worth a seminar and a discussion in this House. Paragraph 7 in that document says this:it is sometimes said that, whatever its level of direct exports, the City may be misusing its share of scarce national resources.If my noble friend wants to know why money has to be printed he can look to the City.
There are two arguments here: the first is that other sectors might have used the same resources to make an even greater contribution to the balance of payments; and the second is that the City's successful record as an exporter may have been achieved at the expense of economic growth for the country as a whole. This second opinion might become more fashionable."—when the balance of payments problem is a little less critical than it is now. So this excellent study goes on, and the one person who would not give all the facts—using a personification—was the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street. I thought we had nationalised the old witch.
§ LORD DAVIES OF LEEK
All right, my Lords—bitch. I did not say that; I was more polite. I thought we had taken her into public ownership; but she is a law unto herself, much more than any trade union movement. Summing up, I am not asking for a General Election in the sense of just saying that an Election would solve it. I wish the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, well. He has a great problem on his hands. I have spoken for longer than I usually do, and I apologise; I have been speaking for 20 minutes. I follow the noble Lord, Lord Alport. Although my advice may not be accepted and it may be thought unworthy, I think it would be wise, because the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, is a 783 great gentleman and he has great abilities, if he severed himself from the Chairmanship of the Tory Party at the present moment so that there could be no gibes about Party differences. While I think the gentleman is too noble to introduce cheap Party politics into this difficult situation, it would be a gesture that would show that he meant what he said about making this a non-political approach.
§ LORD WIGG
My Lords, perhaps my noble friend will allow me to say that although he and I have spent many years together in politics, he is making a mistake in thinking that politics is a vice. Of course it is not; it is a virtue to be practised. The reason why I call for a General Election is that if the Government are intent upon seeing their policy through then they and the country must face the consequences, and therefore the people of this country should be given a choice. If they want a statutory wages policy then they must meet the opposition of the miners, and the choice should be not with this House but with the people of this country. It should be the people of this country who decide.
§ LORD DAVIES OF LEEK
My Lords, I was only saying that I was not asking for an Election; I was not saying that there is not a case for it. You must look at the connotation of the phraseology that have used. I am not asking for an Election, but if my noble friend is I will support him, as I shall support him eventually in his Common Market argument. I am trying to be kindly to a Government that are in a hell of a mess. I have lived through all this before. Noble Lords need not laugh about it. I have seen people commit suicide. I spoke with A. J. Cook in 1926 during the General Strike, and in the valleys it was nothing for somebody to drink a bottle of carbolic acid. Indeed, in one village life finished altogether; it got so gloomy that even the coroner did himself in at the end.
I think the debate has been worth while, but the Government must themselves realise that the three-day week will bring Britain to its doom if it is persisted in for as long as some suggest might be the case.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ LORD BIRDWOOD
My Lords, it has occurred to me before now that to harness 784 even a small part of the oratorical power of the noble Lord who has just spoken would go some way towards solving this country's energy crisis! I have listened to most of the speeches during these two days, and I have not heard about the one commodity that we really have run out of, which is time. Even the word "crisis" is misleading, with its implication of an episode with an identified beginning and an identified end, after which things bounce back to normal. The time crisis which this combination of factors has swerved our economy into means that nothing will be quite the same again. Of course, I dare say that a stroll in a Surrey lane in two years' time will not feel much different than it did last summer. There will be a shade less chance of meeting a private car, one or two fewer aeroplane trails in the sky, possibly the need to paint fences will obviously have been put off for another season; but, on the whole, it will take a good eye and a retentive memory to identify the outward signs of zero growth. But a time crisis does not just happen. We are living through the physical symptoms of material shortages, the collapse of money, the physical symptoms of exponential trends when those trends have been running against us for long enough. Here, now, we are standing and looking at the steamroller arithmetic of compound rates.
Let me make a related point, one which I have never seen spelt out, perhaps because it is too naive, too obvious. If one day is removed from a company's production schedule unexpectedly there is no way in which that company's output can be reduced by less than one-third of 1 per cent. in that year. If three days are wiped out in a year a company will lose 1 per cent. of all that it could have produced in a year. I warned your Lordships that it was a simple point, but what this does to growth rates is also just as simple. Lose 15 days in a year and you wipe out a 5 per cent. annual growth rate. Meanwhile, your international trading partners are coasting along on 6 or 7 per cent. growth rates, giving them small but exponential balance of payments advantages, even before your own catastrophic events. These trading partners are only too pleased to supply the capital to buy the bargain bankrupt companies or the capital goods which make products because our 785 machine tool industry has finally disappeared. And so on. Fifteen days is all it takes. The loss of production because of the present situation will be equivalent to 15 days of total inactivity by, I think, next Wednesday. Your Lordships may not appreciate the extent to which our capital investment programmes are being satisfied by imports.
I am afraid that in the next few minutes I must quote an unhealthy number of figures, but I hope your Lordships will bear with me. Between 1963 and 1967 imports as a percentage of the investment went from 18.4 per cent. to 24.6 per cent. This is 6 per cent. on 18 per cent. plus one-third. In the next five years they went from 29.7 per cent.—I am calculating the last nine months of 1972—to 40.3 per cent. This is 10 per cent. on 30 per cent., plus one-third. This is an exponential growth.
I have always disliked the "I told you so" speech when made in this or in the other place, especially if it comes from people in no position to know all the facts, or precious little to change the way things are, but it is tempting and I fall into the temptation. I must refer back to a little over a year and a half ago, when I said some less than happy things about the balance of payments in engineered products. Quite rightly, I was charmingly slapped down by my Front Bench pointing out that each year succeeded the other for record revenues earned by engineered products sold abroad. What I was trying to put over at that time—I failed, but I will try once again—was that this must be so, but there was a point in the future, not too far away at that time, when a critical moment is reached and the balance of payments in these goods starts to dive. These were not fancies, but projections of the simplest kind, using known figures. Of course each year industry exported a little more in cash terms. This is a virtually illusory figure because of the loss of the value of money, but the rate of change of change was against us. It has been for years.
Two further factors were in the mix. I wish to quote again from the NEDO papers which were my sources 18 months ago. We were importing at a value of £3,000 a ton and exporting engineered sector products at a value of £600 a ton. It would be difficult to think of a more 786 vulnerable marketing situation to be in, implying as it does that one's main customers are relatively unsophisticated. Unhappily, unsophisticated customers become sophisticated and are quite soon making their own goods worth £600 a ton. The other factor is that there is a cascade, or what one might call a domino effect in capital goods production and demand relationships. When, for instance, a machine tool maker is wiped out of his export markets there is likely to be a sharp drop in home market demand following shortly after. This country survives by value-adding. When we do this less well than our competitors economically the results are horrible. We are not good at adding value. The figures with regard to machine tools that I gave a moment ago are only one aspect of the problem; it goes much wider and deeper than that.
I am afraid I fall again into the temptation of giving figures. The value added per employee in manufacturing industry for America is 15,500 dollars, for Germany 9,500 dollars, for this country 4,500 dollars. There are two ways of improving the ratio, a higher added value per unit output which is a matter of technology or perhaps of pricing, or lower employment per unit output, that is, higher productivity. We cannot neglect either element. Still on the subject of capital plant, and machine tools in particular, there now exists convincing research which demonstrates that selling price is not the most influential factor in purchasing decisions. The smooth curves of sales in these areas, irrespective of currency evaluations, have always indicated this, but now there is more direct proof. I genuinely did not understand a recent Government announcement that things were healthy in engineering exports because, if I heard it correctly, the tonnage was at a record level. If I understood the statement aright, I did not see how this related to foreign exchange revenue or profitability, or much else, except that we sold heavier goods this year than last.
This country needs more exports than ever before. Currency depreciation is not a critical factor for increased capital goods exports. Prices are relatively less important than performance, service and delivery. I am quoting truisms. Not everyone would agree on which particular aspect of the problem is the main villain of the piece, but perhaps the least controversial 787 troversial of the many possible explanations is in fact the major cause of low productivity. I am referring to low investment. I have another set of comparative statistics which help to demonstrate my point; they are fixed investments as a percentage of Gross National Product. For this country it is 18 per cent., for Germany and France 16 per cent., and for Italy 35 per cent. One should not overstate the significance of these national aggregates because, being averages, they tend to cover up great differences between one sector and another. Furthermore, the problem is not just simply that the quantum of investment is too low in Britain. It is also a question of the directions in which it is employed and its productivity—the marginal efficiency of capital, as Keynes called it. Not only has investment been too low in Britain, but we have not used it efficiently enough in both the public and private sectors. What is more, largely because of the inconsistency of politically-motivated Government policies, our investment rate has been far too variable.
But I am beginning to stray from the Motion, and I want to concentrate for a few minutes on the energy question, because it is here that hugely expensive decisions will be made in the next few months, perhaps even weeks. Let us first consider oil. I think at last the world has got the message that cheap oil has gone forever. The world has another more important message, too, in that cheap everything has gone forever—tin, copper, the historic proteins fish and meat, fossil hydrocarbon fuels, and a lot else. But obviously at this moment the ingenuity of the industrialised nation has to be focused on oil.
The shared crisis in all industrialised countries is a crisis of oil shortage, and rising oil prices. The Middle East producers have reduced oil production, by how much is uncertain, and most industrialised countries have an energy gap, a fundamental constraint on their ability to maintain output levels and patterns. We do not know how long this will persist, but the immediate effect must be damaging to world industrial production and trade. "Slow growth at best" is the realistic economic expectation for the next two years, but it leaves aside the larger question of what the Arabs hope to gain 788 by their actions, or how the strategic relationships between America, Russia and Western Europe may have been affected.
In terms of oil prices, all industrialised countries face massive increases in their import bills and increasing inflationary pressures on internal costs. Apart from their broad agreement that deflationary policies are inappropriate, the industrialised countries have not got a common policy for dealing with the situation. The international monetary and financial machinery is in pretty poor shape for dealing with problems of such unprecedented scale. The reports of bilateral agreements or negotiations between France and Saudi Arabia, Germany and Iran, and ourselves and several Gulf States suggest common policies on oil procurement are pipe-dreams. Each for himself seems to be the order of the day. Perhaps that is realistic. What will the Arabs do with their money? We cannot afford to let such huge amounts of hot money go slopping around the world money markets. It is in this matter, not only in physical supplies of oil, that the industrialised countries need common policies and effective machinery.
In terms of oil quantity we have all had a bad fright, and the hunt for alternatives is now very seriously on, with almost a war priority. I hope that the House will bear with me if I quote in detail some projections by the Hudson Institute for an oil energy programme. Inevitably, most of the items in the programme are especially relevant to American needs and productive capacity, but many of them can be transferred into our own context. I should like to think, for instance, that this country will be a major beneficiary of the development of the Canadian tar sands, which I have not heard mentioned in this debate so far. As your Lordships probably know, between Alberta and Edmonton there is a 19,000 square mile region with tar sand deposits which can be made to yield well over 300,000 million barrels. The acceptable techniques for recovering this are known, as are the production costs. The Canadian Corporation G.C.O.S. opened a 45,000 barrel a day plant six years ago. The immediate allocation of development resources could see a production rate of the order of 1,000 million barrels a year by 1980 at something not very much over 5 dollars a barrel.
789 World-wide total known reserves of crude oil are roughly 600,000 million barrels, two-thirds of which are in the Middle East. For the production rate I have just quoted, massive sums of money are needed, of course, and (again I must acknowledge the Hudson Institute) a full-scale Canadian tar sand programme could absorb investment of the order of 2,000 million dollars at present exchange rates. I am deliberately concentrating on what I might call the rather esoteric side of oil production, because the topic of North Sea oil is, first of all, obvious, and, secondly, has been hammered into the ground in the last two days in this House. One scheme for this is that the sum required should be raised in three equal parts from Europe, Japan and America, with the partners having identical status and guarantees. The central point I am trying to make is that the oil is there but the investment cost is enormous. Resources must be shifted from consumption to investment to accomplish what we need.
So far as oil prices are concerned, the Arabs have done this country a service by calling attention to the value of our North Sea reserves. These, before the end of this decade, and at prices which seem likely to rise further, will give us a real basis for prosperity. I make no bones about it, my Lords: we must at all costs in the shorter term hang on to ownership and control of these supplies and give this development absolute priority in terms of investment—not just physical investment, but in manpower, skills, research and development.
In a framework of OPEC crude stabilising at 7 dollars a barrel or so (in which I find myself disagreeing with my noble friend to the tune of 1½ dollars), at least three sources of hydrocarbon energy become cheap, even with extraction techniques which are known and used at this moment. While still with fossil fuel energy, we in this country are going to have to accept that production and storage must be regarded as a single idea rather than storage being the poor relation of the production/consumption cycle. I can picture storage of oil, coal and gas uprated to five or six times the levels we presently plan at, even acknowledging the adverse finances that would come from carrying such stocks.
790 Still on energy, I should like to switch from getting it from where we know we can to the greater prizes of the energy which we hope to get from where we think we can; and I am now referring to this country's atomic programme. The points I want to make on this are few. Nuclear fission reactors are now in the same cost to output league with conventionally fuelled power stations. Ten per cent. of this country's electricity is nuclear generated, and this fraction looks like rising faster than expected because of recent events. I am entirely convinced that the medium-term fission reactor—that is to say, those to be built eight or ten years from now—will be the high temperature reactor, and I am only sorry that so much money will have to be spent in the intervening years on fission stations whose efficiency we know is technically obsolete.
The hot reactor, producing outlet gas temperatures of 900 degrees or over, will completely alter the role of the fission station in the energy mix. I am indebted to other sources for a list of possible applications, which include the production of hot hydrogen and electricity for nuclear-powered steelworks, production of hydrogen, and a new extraction tool for low grade fossil fuel deposits. In the hot reactor we have a pledge of abundant energy for the time scale from 10 to probably 50 years from now. Coming up over the horizon is also the fusion reactor and all that that promises.
I regret that the effort put into sponsored fusion research is so trifling when, in the longest view, fusion-generated energy must entirely predominate. The annual reports of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority show that even on paper less was spent on the programme in 1971–72 than in 1966–67, the figures being £4,380,000 compared to £4,560,000 five years previously. The cut in the number of scientific staff from 200 to 140 is an even more pointed expression of this or any other Government's priorities. Admittedly, in March of last year it was announced that the activities at Culham were to be boosted over the next three years by £3 million, but this money will be drawn from Euratom, to which this country is only one of several contributors. I know that it is not entirely a fair comparison, but the perspectives of this cash allocation of an extra £1 million 791 a year in that area of research can be ranged against the Post Office commitments under threshold agreements. When these take a grip, the Post Office will be in for an extra £8 million a month.
Turning away from energy and looking, as the terms of the Motion allow me to look, at the impact on industry of the cutbacks in time and materials brought about by the crisis, I find myself deriving some generalisations which again are obvious but also not said out loud often enough. The working man is more important in a capital intensive situation than in a labour intensive one. The employer is much more vulnerable in a capital intensive situation. British Steel, for instance, only breaks even on an 80 per cent. use of capital and goes neatly into loss at 75 per cent. This alone, with steel at 60 per cent. of capacity yesterday, easing lower, will ensure that the Corporation will have to amortise a loss for this year which could be reflected even up to two years from now. Virtually every manufacturing activity is at risk in some way: steel especially so because of the multiplier effects of successive degrees of shutdown.
The noble Lord, Lord Balogh, made the point yesterday that most pay disputes in this country can be traced to questions of differentials. This is a point of view I share, yet the machinery of response to pay claims is still hung in a framework of other, older assumptions. I should like to draw the attention of the House on this subject to some neat proposals made by Lord Brown—Wilfred Brown, that is—for a coherent structure of recognised and continuously agreed differentials. It is a truth that it is much more difficult to redistribute wealth in a static rather than a growth situation, which leads me to another personal conviction which must have showed through everything that I have said so far. We must not abandon the principle of growth. Each tenth of a per cent. lifts our probability of survival. What is adding to our difficulties, of course, is that we are also having to absorb a number of extremely subtle social changes at the same time. Countries cope with social changes in characteristic ways. Ours seems to be to talk incessantly about them and construct laws to pull them into the framework of our national ethos. Most of 792 these laws, if not all, are in response to developments that have not been planned.
When confronted with a situation such as we have now, when every event seems to exacerbate the deterioration, the only course for industries, as well, is a responsive one. A noble Lord yesterday remarked that our economy was now in uncharted waters. I would add to that and say that we have even had to lock away the sailing manual. There are a number of national economic models in existence—I would cite the National Institute, Cambridge, Southampton, London Business School and the Treasury. I hope that these are being used to construct alternative short-term scenarios on which to base plans which shift action from response to initiation at this time.
The fashionable idea of the post-industrial society has generated some very broad views of the possible directions nations can take. Professor Robert Heilbroner makes a case, though, that some basic patterns of existing society may change far less than many expect. He shows that the industrial factory worker represents a little more than a quarter of the total work force of industrial countries, the great movements in labour taking place between agriculture and the service sector. This relatively stable proportion I find encouraging when one considers the need to plan the long-range emphasis of one industrial activity against another. For the present, I have to leave your Lordships though with what I can only express, in the terms of this Motion, as a childish paradox—that things are as bad as they seem, and things are not as bad as they seem.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ BARONESS GAITSKELL
My Lords, I have only a few comments to add to this long debate. If it has done nothing else it has illuminated the curious, troubled times we live in, for we are still suffering from the shock treatment we have been given by the Arab countries. The immediate effect of a sudden, unprecedented price rise in oil is grim and traumatic in itself, but we should not be overwhelmed by this. Already the Secretary of State for Energy has endorsed the more optimistic noises coming from various experts in the energy field about our future energy prospects. Partly our panicky reactions are due to 793 the way the economic crisis was ushered in, with a massive Christmas spending spree. This was immediately followed by the disruption of the three-day working week, ordered without consultation. And the necessity for speedy action (even though this was said by the Secretary of State), does not excuse this lack of consultation. Altogether it is not surprising that many of us feel that something has gone wrong with the Government's steering mechanism. We are also baffled by the kind of self-hypnosis among Government Ministers—the repetition and incantation of Phase 3—while we watch, helpless drifting towards the prospect of 4 million unemployed if the miners' dispute is not settled soon.
The Prime Minister has said that the problems of the miners are not unique, but no-one can deny that at this moment they are very special—and not for sentimental reasons only. We all want a curb on inflation, though no-one can give a guarantee about this. Settling with the miners is surely a first step towards curbing inflation. Surely if the miners' wage claim was settled, and we obtained the coal that we needed, this would more quickly put a curb on inflation. The Government keep harping on the generosity of the offer to the miners—the highest, they say, that has ever been made. Maybe it is the highest offer, but perhaps it is not high enough in present circumstances. This offer might have made sense before the oil débâcle, but not now.
But, my Lords, is the offer really so generous? It is difficult to unravel, from percentages, the exact wages paid in pounds, shillings and pence. Mr. Roy Mason's figures have not been seriously challenged. The new offer brings a married underground worker, working 7½ hours a day, five days a week, just under £30 a week; with take-home pay of £27. And a skilled man at wallface—a dangerous occupation—the Government offer brings him up to just under £40 a week. My Lords, a secretary, or even a girl typist, can command this wage today, so let us not speak about "generous offers".
Mr. Whitelaw, who has a great reputation for the conciliation he displayed in Northern Ireland, where he did a wonderful job, seems to be trapped with his colleagues within Phase 3. A way must 794 be found for Mr. Whitelaw, the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers, to get together in consultation. Mr. Len Murray, the General Secretary of the T.U.C., has opened the door for conciliation and consultation. These are the keystones of industrial negotiations, and this is what industrial negotiations are all about. I hope that the Prime Minister will grasp this opportunity to get out of the impasse. I hope that Mr. Barber will be silent and not seek confrontation, for he might take note that face-saving for the Government will be a very expensive exercise.
Finally, my Lords, we acknowledge the vigour and the ability of our new Secretary of State for Energy. We wish him well in his tough assignment. He will have to conserve his own energy, and I hope that he will not have too many sleepless nights. I do not think that he will be able to relax by counting sheep: I fear he might be kept awake counting the number of miners who have been leaving the mines at a rate of 15,000 a year—a sombre thought.
§ 7.9 p.m.
§ THE LORD BISHOP OF SOUTHWARK
My Lords, if there is an advantage in speaking from this Bench it is that perhaps the Bishops are the only people in this House who, even if they do not represent a constituency, come from some sort of a geographical constituency. I have about 3 million people in South London. This inevitably means that one meets different sorts of people nearly every day. If one goes to South London one finds everything possible from the poorest of the poor to the richest of the rich. One deals personally with a great many people who are on either side of the political fence, and this helps one to remember that they are people. I think that it is very important at this stage not to think of them as groups of pro-trade unionists or anti-trade unionists but as people, most of whom are as patriotic as anybody else.
I am reminded that on Christmas Eve in my own cathedral I was taking the service and the Lord Chancellor was giving the address. I am sure he would be the first to say what a moving occasion that was. We had in the cathedral nearly 1,000 people, many of whom had been very strongly politically divided; but we knew that on that occasion 795 they were all brothers and comrades in the best sense of the words. When I go from, let us say, Deptford to Reigate I ask myself: what is the real problem? I wonder whether, fundamentally, the argument really is about Phase 3 and the demands of the miners and the railwaymen. These are only symptoms of something which goes very much deeper. The argument really falls into two parts: first, what sort of society is our goal; and, secondly, what methods should be used to achieve that society?
Over Christmas I read the second volume of Michael Foot's biography of Aneurin Bevan, and I was deeply impressed when I read again what I heard him so often say when he was one of my dearest friends: that the real test which confronted this country was whether we were to go forward by reason and persuasion and argument on the assumption that we as a nation had come of age and we were mature people; or whether we were to go forward by the methods of dictatorship. That is the question which confronts us to-day. Domestically, we are in a state of emergency which is as grave as any of us have known, and we have to decide, perhaps within a comparatively short time, what will be the method. Are we to do what Aneurin Bevan said and, as mature people, make changes by reason and persuasion, or are we to become desperate and use desperate methods?
We can understand what is happening if we look abroad in relation to the oil crisis. Let us forget all about the Arabs and think about Nigeria, because there the question is pinpointed. That is a country with which, as a churchman, I have been fairly closely associated for 30 years or more. The real question which the Nigerians ask themselves is: "What sort of society is our goal and what sort of society is the goal of the West? Why is it that for so many years we have been helping to prop up the West so that they could have a high standard of living? Why should they live at our expense?" That may be unfairly put, but that is putting the question in shorthand. It is no good being annoyed about it, because that is what some of their best people, people whom we would all greatly respect, are asking. I know that over the years my own 796 Church has contributed thousands of pounds to Nigeria, to help them with education and food, and to improve their standard of living. But they now ask: "Why should we be dependent any more upon charity? If we ran our own businesses efficiently, paying our people a proper wage and improving our own standard of living, we should no longer be dependent upon the charity of the West, and the West really must stand on its own feet without depending upon our cheap labour and our cheap oil." I give that illustration, my Lords, because if we look at the question in that way it may help us to understand the feelings of thousands of people in South London.
It is always rather difficult to carry with one in an argument those who feel that very unfair demands are being made by one section of society. I would therefore beg your Lordships to bear with me and try to see matters from the other point of view. Some of your Lordships will say, "Yes, but since the 1930s there have been immense strides forward and society is so much more just than it was." I began my ministry in the time of the most desperate unemployment, when hundreds of people were out on the streets; and of course conditions have changed. We are now a Welfare State and most of those appalling conditions have gone. Even so, the problem remains of the two nations in one country. If your Lordships question that statement, I ask you to be tolerant and to allow me to mention one or two facts.
First, the richest 7 per cent. of British taxpayers own 84 per cent. of the nation's wealth. The remaining 16 per cent. is scattered among the other 93 per cent. of the population. The gap still widens because the "haves" sink their wealth into land and shares and works of art, all of which will increase in value. But if the "have-nots" can save at all they put their cash into slow-growing savings accounts. Behind this arithmetic lies an unhappy economic landscape. Few are starving, but there are millions of people eking out desperately meagre and under-privileged lives. At one end of the scale there are extravagance, riches and comfort: at the other end there are poverty, hardship and squalor.
There must also be a new look at the accumulation of personal capital wealth, 797 which is so astutely spread among the families of the rich so as to make a mockery of death duties. Let us put ourselves in the position of those who are experiencing poverty and hardship. What could our personal reaction be to a system which allows fortunes to be made by playing around with pieces of paper? What is to be made of the Lonrho affair? If we were homeless, what would be our attitude to Centre Point, to a system which allows a man to keep land neutral and, by so doing, increase his capital from £5 million to £50 million or £55 million? I say without any emotion—I hope as an Englishman and as a Christian—that Centre Point is a cenotaph to materialistic obscenity.
Secondly, not long ago the Plowden Report showed the danger of a two-nation educational system. There are secondary schools where there is a bare 100 to 1 chance of a pupil reaching university But if one can afford £1,000 a year for private education, the chance is over 2 to 1. It is schools such as the latter which still provide Oxford and Cambridge with one-third of their entrants. I ask your Lordships to imagine that you are a child starting your life and being compelled to go to a large secondary school where the conditions are so deplorable that there is a turnover of 100 staff within 12 months—and such a school is known to me within two miles of this place. Contrast that, my Lords, with what happens if you are born into a monied family and your parents can pick any school because they can afford to pay the bill. Is this the sort of justice which is compatible with the ethics of a just society; the sort of society which I believe all of us in this House, irrespective of Party, really want?
Then, thirdly, there is the Health Service. According to a report in a newspaper not long ago, there is in Somerset a girl, now aged 14, who has been on the waiting list for an operation on her tonsils since she was 5–9 years ago. As the doctor says, the operation could be done immediately if she had the cash. In fact, your Lordships see, there is a double standard of treatment, one for the rich and another for the poor. With the rich, it is not only jumping the hospital waiting queues but often getting medical care. When the National Health Service was set up soon after the war the Minister 798 believed that everyone, whatever their income, would get equal rights to good health. This is no longer true, if it ever was true. Nobody knows how many fee-paying patients there are in Britain, though BUPA and the Private Patients' Plan accounts for 3½ million. We clergy should be particularly sensitive to this situation because we have our own nursing home and because, by reason of an historical generosity to the clergy on the part of the medical profession, we often get the benefits of the privileged minority without having to pay for it; and nobody knows that better than myself, who has so often been on the receiving end, having operations.
Then the fourth point is leisure. Last year, eight million Britishers went abroad, spending £7 million: yet I could take your Lordships to a house in Bermondsey where there lives a family who had only a day at Southend by way of holiday. There are three children in this family, and I will call the father "Dick". Dick brings home £21 a week. Now you cannot go even to Benidorm (and who would want to go there?) or to Butlin's on that amount. I know it is only a minority who are in such straightened circumstances, but it does not detract from my argument. I could go on with examples, but I finish with just one—housing. I will give your Lordships just three very brief illustrations. I had a priest who for health reasons had to give up his parish and take a secular job. For this he received £22 a week. I found him last week living in one room, with access to a kitchen, for £15 a week. How in heaven's name do you maintain a family, or even yourself, and clothe yourself, when you have to pay £15 a week for one room? I could give your Lordships that sort of illustration time and time again from my diocese. I mention this one because it concerns a priest who is a member of my own diocese.
Let me take your Lordships to another one. I went into a house in South Lambeth—19 rooms and 19 families! Just imagine what it means! It is so easy for the bishops and the clergy to talk about the sacredness of family life: it is very difficult to work out family life in any sacred sort of way when you are living hugger-mugger, with perhaps seven or ten people in one room. My third example is this. There are people, including 799 Members of your Lordships' House, who are deeply concerned with the homeless. Indeed, it was as the result of the efforts of the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, that I managed to hand over to the society in which she is so interested, and for which she and the late Mr. Iain Macleod did so much, St. Mary's Church at Christmas. I went down to this church, immediately outside the Archbishop's Palace in Lambeth, about two days before Christmas. I do not know exactly how many people were there, but they numbered about 300 or 400. Money poured in; Christmas fare poured in. The noble Baroness's friends ran it, and the support was wonderful. I am sure it was of tremendous help and encouragement. My Lords, I am not just trying to make an emotional appeal, but when I have lain in my comfortable bed in Bishop's House at night during the past fortnight I have said to myself, "Where are all those people now, since this church has had to be closed?" This was merely a five-day event. What we do know is that there are 7,000 to 8,000 people homeless each night in London. This is the society in which we live.
My Lords, I go back to where I started. What sort of a society is our goal, and what methods are to be used to achieve that society? I do not think anything is going to be achieved by blackguarding one another. I am delighted to hear that to-night the T.U.C. is likely to go to Downing Street, If people will meet as people and make up their minds that some of the things which exist in our society simply must go, even if it means that we, who are probably among the privileged, have to accept a lower standard of living, then I think there may be some hope. It so happens that yesterday I made my annual New Year call on the Mayor of Southwark. He said to me, "You know, Bishop, you have been here nearly 15 years and I do not think we have ever given you the arms of the borough". I said, "That is so"; and he said, "We should like to make a present of this to you, from myself and the council". I took it with pleasure. When I got back to my house I looked at it, and underneath the arms there were these words, "United to Serve". I cannot think of any better clarion call than that. People say we 800 want some new great leader to lead this country. I simply do not believe it. People have got to discover the leadership in their own hearts; they have got to follow that which they know to be true. My hope and prayer is that the people of this country, who are basically deep patriots and love their country, will find a way through, to lead us to a better and nobler society, where men can live together in dignity and with hope.
§ 7.27 p.m.
My Lords, my intention is to be extremely brief, Moving about Westminster this morning I kept getting into my mind a sentence in a letter from the then Dean of Salisbury to John Constable, in which he said:At all costs, Constable, avoid anxiety. It works on the stomach worse than arsenic".I almost wonder in fear whether I have anything to say at this point, after this deeply interesting debate; and I realise the acute difficulty which faces anybody. I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, for his straight-looking and clear courage. I think there are at the moment a lot of difficult psychological, but very subtle matters, For instance, directly I heard the phrase about engine drivers "being sent home" if they were not prepared reasonably to drive an engine, I immediately thought that that was brewing for trouble, just by the sheer phraseology of it, almost as if they were schoolchildren. I mean, they do not have to be "sent home". I think these are important points. Then, I think that in Ministerial broadcasts there is perhaps a little too much of the "they" approach—for example, "I am sure that they", meaning the British public, "will appreciate so-and-so", when it is all very much your Lordships, and millions of families in threes and fours at the other end of the camera.
I feel there is much more bewilderment than hopelessness. I am sure there is no hopelessness of any sort. There is a sort of doubt as to who is on the bridge of the ship, and what they actually look like. I very much appreciated the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, especially when he made the point that we do not necessarily want more and more oil. I felt that it was almost potentially a blessing in disguise, and a chance to reappraise ourselves.
801 This is not the time—and this is about my last sentence—to raise issues beyond the black rocks that face our ship, but I feel that one of these is sheer size of population. When I think that all round your Lordships' House here there live literally four times the population of New Zealand, I feel that some very new, imaginative ascendancy of thought is vital, and I am sure we will get it. In conclusion, to quote quickly what I think is a very relevant passage from Emerson's speech in 1847 in the Free Trade Hall at Manchester, which I am sure is well known to some of your Lordships:I feel in regard to this aged England, pressed upon by transitions of trade and competing populations. I see her not dispirited, not weak, but well remembering that she has seen dark days before. Indeed, with a kind of instinct that she sees a little better in a cloudy day, and that in storm of battle and calamity she has a secret vigour and a pulse like cannon".
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
My Lords, I hope that the splendid quotation that we have just heard is still true to-day. I shall not detain your Lordships for long, because much of what I wanted to say has been said. I think, most importantly, that the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, said almost precisely what I wanted to say, and she said it far better than I would have been able to. The noble Viscount, Lord Watkinson, also covered many of the points that I would have put to your Lordships.
I feel that I must take up something that was said by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark. I agree entirely with his sentiments; but while I think that we must all be fully aware of what one might call the current statistics of the people less well privileged within this land, let alone elsewhere, I think also that it is important to view those sort of statistics against what they would have been (shall we say?) 50 years ago, or more especially 80 years ago, and to take into account the fact that they are very much better than they would have been 50 years ago because, on the whole, the country has worked as one unit during the intervening years. Though some people may have prospered more than others, the fact that they have done so has contributed to the prosperity of everybody. I think this is a very difficult balance to work out. When, at any given 802 time, one examines what is exacerbating differences of opinion within our community, one is liable Ito say: "Well, of course, it is wicked that Mr. So-and-So should have done terribly well when there are lots of Mrs. So-and-Sos who have done frightfully badly." And we forget that because Mr. So-and-So has done so well it has helped the Mrs. So-and-Sos to do much better than their grandmothers.
§ BARONESS GAITSKELL
My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord, but may I ask whether he is aware that experts in the matter of poverty have shown that as some people have become richer so the poorer people have become poorer? They have not become richer as the result of the rich becoming richer.
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
My Lords, perhaps I may say to the noble Baroness that within the last fifty years I have not met a beggar in the streets in London such as I used to meet before the war. Then there were beggars who had nothing to fall back on. There are differences, and I think we must acknowledge this. The important thing, the key to it—and here I entirely agree with the right reverend Prelate—is that we should all pull together.
My Lords, to me there are two sad things about this debate. One is that, on the whole, noble Lords opposite have been absolutely emphatic in their view that the problems can all be solved by the Government, if you like, giving in to the miners. Almost without exception this has been the view of noble Lords opposite. Very few, if any, have even suggested that the problems might be solved if the miners were to give in. This is just because it is a sort of confrontation, and I suggest to your Lordships that it is a confrontation which may well have been organised. If it has been organised, it should be just as possible to go the other way. Taking it entirely basically, there is no good reason why the miners should not accept what has been offered to them. It seems to me to be a matter of pride. Perhaps noble Lords will agree with me—this does not go only for the miners; it goes for us all—that a great deal of our troubles stem from pride, and it would be very much better if somehow we could get away from that. However, I find it disappointing 803 that, with the possible exception of the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, with whom I so closely agree, speakers from the Benches opposite do not give consideration to the possibility that if there is to be flexibility it might come from the miners instead of from the Government.
The other thing that disappoints me and which has disappointed me now fox some years—certainly for two years—is that I do not believe the Government have appreciated the distrust which they have created in the minds of trade unionists by the actions which they took some two or three years ago. This was touched on by various speakers, but I think it is not a point which the Government take as seriously as they should. I truly believe that, whatever the rights and wrongs of the case, the fact that, in a sense, they rushed through the Industrial Relations Act was a very grave mistake. I would hasten to add that at the time I agreed with what the Government were doing and I supported them in all that they did. But, looking at it in retrospect, and after talking with trade union friends, I think that though there are certain facets of the Industrial Relations Act, particularly those relating to protecting the position of the individual, which I think most people would agree needed to be enacted, on the whole the main features of the measure called for a change in attitude. It is my experience that when you expect and ask a body of people to change their attitude, whether it be a noble Lord trying to persuade a high financier to change his attitude or whether it be somebody else trying to persuade a trade unionist to change his attitude, it is not something which can be done overnight.
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to interrupt. He regretted that noble Lords on this side of the House had not been as constructive as he thought they might have been. In that I think he is wrong. But when he speaks about the Industrial Relations Act and recalls that he supported it, I hope he will remember that when that measure was before the House, as happened also with the Housing Finance Act, we on these Benches gave serious warnings that the Government 804 were creating the very atmosphere that now exists.
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
Yes, my Lords, indeed. That, of course, is what one would expect noble Lords opposite to do and it is perfectly fair. What I am trying to say to the Government from these Benches is: "Please do not get carried away by the thought that all you have to do is to appear conciliatory in public, and to organise a series of meetings at wherever you organise them in order to get through to the vast majority of the people in this country who are in a working situation. You will have to do a bit more." My Lords, this is neither the time nor the place to put across just what more should be done, but the Government will have to do quite a lot more to gain the people's confidence because there is no doubt—I regret this as much as anyone, because go with this Government in practically all they do; so far as I am concerned practically every act they do is an honourable one with which I agree—that there are large numbers of people who view practically every action of the Government with great suspicion. I think this a very unfortunate situation and one to which a great deal of thought must be given in order that it may be put right. So, my Lords, I ask you to bear these two points in mind. Let us have some flexibility from noble Lords on the Benches opposite in relation to their thinking about the current crisis, and let us have some humility from my noble friends on the Government Front Bench.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ LORD BROCKWAY
My Lords, I like to maintain the traditions of debate, and therefore I should like to make two comments on the very sincere speech by the noble Lord. Lord Mottistone, to which we have just listened. He suggested that the conditions described by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of South-wark, are very different from what they were in the past, bad as they are to-day, and that that change has been due to co-operation between all classes and all Parties in our community. I wish that were true. I have been active for more than 60 years in seeking to end poverty, and of course it is quite true that conditions were very much worse when I first stood as a Socialist candidate for a local council. There was no unemployment 805 benefit, no feeding of hungry school-children; people were working in their homes in sweated trades under conditions which one would find it difficult to describe. Undoubtedly we have made tremendous progress since that time. But, honestly, I think that if you look at the history of the last 60 years you will see that the changes which have taken place have been the result of struggle, political struggle and trade union struggle. Every advance that has been made in the last 60 years has not been made because the rich have co-operated with the poor, or because the Party which represents the Establishment has co-operated with those who have sought better conditions: the change in society over the last 60 years, which I have witnessed and in which I have participated, has been due almost entirely to the fact that those who are poor, those who are in contrast with the very rich, have struggled for their rights and have gained them as the conscience of the community has begun to understand their grievances.
The second point on which I should like to comment in the noble Lord's speech—and it is here that I appreciated tremendously his sincerity and frankness—was his recognition that the Industrial Relations Act had created a psychology which is partly responsible for our present position. It was courageous of him to say that, and one would like to hope—indeed, this debate has shown—that in our present crisis there is a seeking for a truth which is not bound by Party partisan loyalties. I shall have more to say on that subject later, but I cannot begin what I had planned to say without recognising the frankness with which the noble Lord made those statements.
My Lords, it is the tradition and the spirit of this House that when one recognises what is good on the other side of the House one should acknowledge it, and I have tried to do that here on many occasions. Indeed, some of my friends have thought that I have been too kind and courteous to the Government. This applies particularly to the sphere for which the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, has been responsible; and he will be concluding our debate to-night. But I have forthrightly to say that I cannot find a glimmer of hope, in either achievement or promises, in the policy of the Government which we are discussing to-night or one 806 for which one can utter any word of praise. What is now being done seems to me to be more disastrous than anything that has been done since the Governments which were in office in this country in the early 'thirties.
I am going to moderate what I had intended to say because this evening, for the first time, there is some promise of conciliation. We have had the proposal from the Trades Union Congress giving some assurance that the miners' action would not be repeated by other workers laying claims to what the miners might have gained, and the Prime Minister has agreed this evening to meet representatives of the T.U.C. We have had the statement from Mr. Scanlon—regarded as extreme—the leader of the Engineering Union, that his union will not take advantage of any concessions which are given to the miners. Because there is this slight hope to-night that there may be some solution of this problem I shall speak with a little more moderation than I should otherwise have done.
Nevertheless, I think this ought to be said. The Government are asking for national unity. I would say that at this moment there is more division in our society than I have ever known. During the General Strike of 1926 I was editing the T.U.C. paper in the North of England. In that General Strike there was nothing like the bitterness which there is now among our working class. I think the noble Lord who preceded me put his finger on the spot: that bitterness has arisen from the confrontation which began with the Industrial Relations Act and has followed from that Act. I hope that negotiations tonight may change the situation somewhat, but the organised working class of this country now feel that the Government are pursuing policies which are aimed at repressing the working class in their claim to rights for a better standard of living—and for that Her Majesty's Government must assume great responsibility. It is no good suggesting that the unrest in this country is due to a few Communist leaders. There are 27 members of the Miners' Executive: only 6 are Communists, and even the few who belong to the Labour Left on the Executive bring the number only to 11. If the more militant leaders of the miners' union now have influence, it is because there is that feeling among the 807 rank and file of dissatisfaction of conditions in the mining industry.
It is suggested—and it has been suggested also from this side of the House—that the miners and others are now defying Parliament and challenging democracy because they are making demands which go beyond Phase 3. I regret very deeply that I did not hear the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Alport, because I believe he put forward an argument which I am now going to repeat. The miners are acting legally. They are at this moment working five days a week underground. I shall be describing their conditions later, but I shall only say now that anyone who knows those conditions would think that five days a week underground was adequate. The fact that there has been a drop in coal supplies because they are declining to work overtime is an indication of the shortage of the necessary labour in the mining community. Phase 3 is now being treated as though it was another version of the Ten Commandments brought down on a tablet by Moses. Certainly the Code was authorised by the Counter-Inflation Act; but Parliament, which passes legislation, also has the right to amend legislation in differing circumstances. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Alport, argued that we are now facing a situation where Phase 3 should be so amended.
Phase 3 was based on the idea of a great increase of growth in our economy. The Prime Minister and members of the Cabinet, only a few weeks ago, were speaking with optimism of the great opportunities which lay ahead for our economy. Even then there were many who doubted whether that optimism was justified, considering the mounting price of everything and the increase in the deficit on the balance of payments. Following that came the oil crisis, which brought not merely a doubt as to whether there would be sufficient oil but also as to what might still occur—and of course we have to think of the vast increase in the price that will have to be paid for oil in future. At that point, the hope of the Government for the growth of the economy (which was the very basis of Phase 3) disappeared. At that moment, something more was needed if oil supplies were to be restricted, and if we had to pay larger sums for it the coal industry 808 became more important than it had ever been before. We depended on it for energy and we faced the fact not only of the reductions which previous Governments had imposed on the number of pits, but the fact that every week miners were leaving the pits because they could obtain more congenial work at a higher rate of pay than they were able to receive in the mines. When that situation arose—and this is a point I want to emphasise—Phase 3 became absolutely irrelevant. At that point the whole thought and energy of the Government should have been directed towards re-establishing the mining industry and the methods of bringing workers into it. Instead, Phase 3 was used as a means of action against the miners, in resisting their claims to higher wages and doing nothing whatsoever to reconstruct the industry.
It is over sixty years ago that as a young journalist I went down a mine. It was a deep mine in Lancashire and one reached the bottom of the shaft and then for endless yards it was a matter of crawling through a narrow passage, not daring to lift one's head unless one jacked it against the coal above; and at the end of that passage there was a little box three or four feet high, and there was water. That was the coal face—a typical situation where, hundreds of feet below the surface, lonely miners worked at wresting the coal from the mine. I have been deluded—I thought that the mechanisation of the mines meant that those conditions no longer existed. They do exist. I wonder how many of your Lordships read the article by Mary Holland in the Observer last Sunday, describing the conditions of miners in South Wales, who have to work at a coal-face which is 2 ft. 9 ins, in depth and where there is up to 12 ins. of water. Then, in The Times this morning there was that marvellous invitation from a miner to Mr. Edward Heath to go with him into the mines and see the conditions in which men are working. Last year, 64 miners were killed while at work; 454 were seriously maimed; 58,000 were injured so that they had to be off work for three days; and 626 had dust diseases.
In another place I was Member for Slough where there were very many Welsh miners in retirement. The cases of pneumoconiosis which I had there, and 809 the rigidity of a decision as to whether they should have any compensation at all ! The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark referred to one of my great political heroes, Aneurin Bevan. Nye Bevan worked in the mine from when he was 14 years old until he was 20, when the miners' union gave him a scholarship to a Labour college. During those six years as a boy he began to develop pneumoconiosis and it was with him all his life—not severely, but there. When one knows their conditions, how we in this House can begin to look at the miners as though their claims are unjustified I cannot begin to understand.
My Lords, what have been their wages? The National Coal Board figures published today show these facts: almost 60 per cent. of the mining community have less than £40 a week including overtime; and a third of those who are employed in the mining industry receive less than £35 a week, including overtime. There has been some dispute in the debate today as to exactly what they will receive under the offer which has been made by the Coal Board. I say to this House that I cannot think of a wage or salary which is paid to the miners which would not be justified under the conditions in which they work.
There is the fear that if the demands of the miners were to be met there would be subsequent strikes. We have had the trade union assurance to-day. But in the long run the issue of industrial disputes will depend on something deeper than whether one recognises the claims of the miners to-day. It will depend upon the whole pattern of our society; it will depend upon the sense of social justice.
It has been said in this debate, as it has been said outside, that the Labour Party has no constructive policy to deal with these problems. Sometimes perhaps we fail to get our constructive policy across, but both the Labour Party and the Trades Union Congress have declared four policies which would not merely meet the needs of the miners and the workers but would change fundamentally the social pattern of our country, which is the real reason why there are continuing disputes.
First, we would insist upon a redistribution of wealth in this country. I recognise at once that even if the incomes of the 810 rich were distributed over the whole community, the increase for the majority would be small. But we must understand the psychology of this matter. Workers on £25 a week or £30 a week hear of others on £25,000 and £30,000 a year. What is the effect upon their psychology? If we are to get a sense of social justice in the community there must be a redistribution of wealth and of these enormous salaries. How dare millionaires in this House condemn the miners doing this necessary work for the community when they receive the kind of incomes they receive!
Secondly, the Labour Party would seek to keep down basic food prices by subsidies. "Subsidies" is often thought of as a dirty word. I regard "subsidies" as a valuable word because it means that the taxation of the wealthy would be used in order to keep down the cost of living of those who are poor. We would stand for no rent increases and no mortgage increases. We would stand for a great housing programme to deal with the homeless, to whom the right reverend Prelate referred. We would deal with a decent security for old age pensioners. We would extend industrial democracy by public ownership and workers' participation. That is the policy for which Labour stands. It is the alternative to the policy of the Government and it is only as one gets down to these differences between the Conservative Party and what our Party would seek to establish that one really will begin to end the unrest, the disputes, the strikes and the disquiet which are now rife in our society.
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, as always, has made a speech in a style for which I in very many ways envy him. He said at the very outset of his speech that it would not be as forceful as it would otherwise have been had it not been for the fact that there is some attempt at conciliation proceeding at the moment. If I were sitting on the other side, I should hate to meet him in his forceful moods.
I am glad that it does not fall to me to reply to this debate in which there have been so many notable speeches. Like so many other noble Lords, I must congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, on his appointment to this 811 great task. Perhaps I ought to congratulate the country on getting him, because I believe that he has attributes which will be of value in this particular field. While paying special attention to the speech to-day of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, as it deserves having regard to the great responsibilities he has undertaken, I was struck, as always, by the brilliance of his exposition and the high standing which his intellect has secured for him in this House, and obviously, too, within the Government. Going on from that, I thought of most of the others who make up the Government of the day, some in this House and others whom I have watched in other days in the other place, and I concluded that the Government are composed mostly of highly intelligent men. They are a Government of all the talents—individually brilliant but collectively lacking in wisdom. I have long since discovered that intelligence, intellectual brilliance and wisdom do not always go hand in hand.
I remember a friend of mine in the last Government who always impressed me by his brilliance; indeed, it seemed to shine from him, and I was merely blinded by it. But when I left him I often wondered, "Was that really wise? Was there wisdom behind that?" That is why I often doubt and rather suspect brilliant intellect. I look rather for wisdom than for that particular quality, though I am bound to admire it. This Government collectively have led this country in three and a half short years to the brink of disaster. At this point in my speech it had been my intention to itemise the consequences which have flown from the actions of the Government; but it was done in such a factual and robust way by my noble friend Lord Leatherland that I will spare them that and turn immediately from that to today's debate. I notice that my noble friend Lord Brockway did not spare them, and I think he was right not to spare them.
Turning to this debate, I believe it is quite impossible to have at this time any idea as to whether the recall of Parliament and the debates in this and the other House will have any effect on the events which are profoundly disturbing us all. I have listened to almost every word spoken in this debate over these two 812 days. Every speech has been pervaded, and rightly, with a sense of the seriousness and urgency of the situation. If I do not comment at any length on the ASLEF dispute it is because the cause of the trouble is an inter-union dispute in which my own union, the National Union of Railwaymen, is involved. I deplore the imposition on people of the hardships which inevitably flow from industrial action by people who are employed in providing a service.
What little I would say arises from my own memory of a past dispute. Shortly after World War I, on rejoining the railways I found myself very quickly involved in the preparations for a strike. The N.U.R. were proposing to strike against an ultimatum issued by the then controllers of the railways about the wages of all railwaymen except the drivers. The drivers had been bought off, or so it seemed, by a settlement of their wages far in advance of what was being offered to the other grades—to me, as a signalman, and to my colleagues. The N.U.R. declared a strike and, to the credit of ASLEF, they immediately gave notice of their intention to strike, and did strike, in support of the other railway grades. I mention this because ASLEF at that time recognised that railway employment was indivisible between the grades. I hope they will accept the same now.
My noble friend Lady Burton of Coventry appealed to the Opposition to talk to the unions, to say to ASLEF that they are imposing severe hardship on innocent commuters. She asks us roundly to condemn any industrial action which affects people in any way. The noble Baroness, for whom I have considerable respect, seems to be living in a world that simply does not exist. Does she not realise that preaching publicly at trade unionists and their leaders would have the very opposite effect to that which she would wish to achieve? I have had some little position in the trade unions and can estimate what the result would be.
§ BARONESS BURTON OF COVENTRY
My Lords, may I interrupt? I think that the noble Lord, Lord Champion, must have forgotten what I said. I said it was possible for the Opposition to talk privately to the unions to influence them, and to talk publicly to give hope.
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, as I understood the noble Baroness she said it was our function, as the Opposition, to condemn them. I understood that this meant condemn them publicly. The modification she has made, if it is a modification, is a sound one, because a public rebuke would be the very last thing that would have any effect upon the trade unions.
§ BARONESS BURTON OF COVENTRY
My Lords, I said that I had not modified anything. That is what I said in my speech.
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, may I say that the noble Baroness has modified my understanding. I hope she will accept that. I think the noble Baroness was answered, adequately and well, by my noble friend Lord Davies of Leek. I am glad to say I have just heard that ASLEF has made a gesture which may lead to meaningful negotiations. I can only hope that it will have that effect and that we shall soon see an end to this dispute which is causing so much hardship for so many people.
What seems to me to have emerged from the debate is that there are three schools of thought here: first, the hardliners—though their tone was a trifle muted; secondly, those who would stretch the elasticity of Stage 3 up to breaking point, but not beyond; and, thirdly, those who would go beyond that if necessary and settle at almost any price. I would not go so far as settling at any price, but I would certainly go beyond merely stretching Phase 3. In a consideration of all this I must own to a very natural sympathy for the miners, for I am married to the daughter of a miner. During the period between the Autumn and Christmas Recesses I was absent from this House attending the funeral of a brother-in-law whom I had seen coughing up his lungs and whose post-mortem certificate said, "pneumoconiosis". Two next-door neighbours of mine died of "dust", as it is colloquially called. So there is nothing detached or academic about my feelings about mining, 814 which is about the most arduous, dirty, unhealthy and dangerous job that men are called upon to do in this country.
I must admit that for years my only feeling when I heard of a pit closure was one of gladness that there was one less of those black holes to swallow up men—a point so well made by my noble friend Lord Taylor of Mansfield in his moving speech yesterday. I felt that, despite the fact that I knew that in the short term usually the whole community which had grown up around that pit was going to suffer all the devastating consequences of unemployment. Why should men work in underground positions when fuel in two forms, oil and gas, would at man's command come gushing up out of the ground? That is what I felt about it. But recent events have clearly demonstrated that we have to visualise and prepare not only for the continuance of the existing pits but also, if we are to maintain a reasonably high standard of living, the opening up of new seams and new pits. There is already (and this has been said before) an estimated shortfall of 56,000 men in the coal industry, and although there is some sign of a stepping up of recruitment in the mining industry, there is still an annual loss at the rate of 15,000 to be added to the shortfall of 56,000.
The country's short-term problem is to create the conditions which will get the miners to abandon their overtime ban and then to go on as an act of conscious planning to create the conditions in the industry to attract enough men to the mines from other occupations and outlets. That was rightly said by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, to be part of his duties, and I hope that he will pursue it vigorously. When I came into contact with mining conditions in the pre-1914 era, the miner was the aristocrat of labour, certainly in South Wales, He must become again the aristocrat of labour, for we cannot hope to secure our fuel supplies in an economy in which, as a member of the N.U.M. executive has put it, "A man can get more for wrapping Mars bars than for digging coal under the ground". In the short term it is clearly not enough to say, "We stand firmly on Phase 3 of our Incomes and Price Policy," for clearly a solution of our existing problem cannot be found on those terms. The noble Lord, Lord 815 Alport, rightly said that Stage 3 is no longer relevant to the present situation. How right he was.
A right honourable friend of mine in the other place, and my noble friend Lady Wootton, in a letter to The Times on Saturday last, have reminded me of the fact that as long ago as March, 1973, the Pay Board were asked to consider and report on wider pay relativities. Does this not provide an avenue of escape from the present impasse? For no sane group of people—and I would say that the Pay Board are that—even on a cursory examination, could recommend a continuance of conditions in which (and I will not use the example of the man who sweeps the car factory floor) a man on a car assembly line receives earnings so far above those of men engaged in the mining industry.
My Lords, an early report by the Pay Board on relativities, clearly recognising the nature of underground work—as did Wilberforce—would ensure to miners a more substantial pay packet than seems possible under Stage 3. This might provide a face-saver for the Government and a degree of satisfaction for the miners. Who has ever been in negotiations of the character now going on between the Government and the N.U.M. who has not recognised the importance of face-saving, even if it is never explicitly mentioned? It is a factor. How right I think the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, was about face-saving. It matters enormously, and this has to be brought into consideration as one of the psychological factors in all negotiations of this sort.
My Lords, I do not believe that this would be grasping at an insubstantial straw, for it might get us out of our immediate difficulty and take us a step towards the solution of the long-term energy problem. That sort of solution might lead to leap frogging, and recent figures might be quoted. But I would remind the House that,the percentage increase in weekly earnings for all industries between 1938 and 1948 was 114; but for coal it was 206. From 1947 to 1955 miners increased their average earnings by nearly £6 a week, shipbuilders and dockers by £4 10s., railwaymen by £4, cotton workers by £3 10s. and farmworkers by only £2 10s.My Lords, that does not look like leapfrogging. It shows that the rest of the unions, other workers, can really understand something of the nature of the work 816 of the underground men. Added to those facts—
§ THE EARL OF ONSLOW
Would the noble Lord be very kind and give way? Is it not true that after Wilberforce other unions took great encouragement from what was granted to the miners, and that wage increases were double in the six months after Wilberforce what they were in the six months before Wilberforce?
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, did I not say that I recognised that some of this might lead to leapfrogging? I was going on to say that the Trades Union Congress assurance of to-day seems to me to hold out some promise of a hope of restraint by all of its members. It certainly holds out a hope, and it ought not to be lightly ignored or rejected. It is a major step in the right direction. I was delighted to learn that the Prime Minister invited the T.U.C. leaders to meet him this evening. I hope that this will not be for a restatement of previously adopted postures, for if that happens attitudes will continue to harden rather than help us to arrive at a solution and an ending to the dispute.
My Lords, I am not going to run away from anything that I said in a recent debate about trade unions using their great power responsibly. I recognise that the tendency to leapfrogging is there, but the T.U.C. statement is certainly a very encouraging one in relation to the miners' dispute. I also know that it would be very difficult for trade union leaders to hold back when conditions are ripe, reverse their traditional function, and risk the loyalty of their members. But, my Lords, if there is not voluntary restraint by the trade unions, somehow they will have to be checked. The overweening power of the capitalists in the 19th century eventually found a check in the growth of trade unions, and in much the same way will any overweening power by the trade unions have to be met by some check, perhaps not yet devised. Perhaps I am not saying a very popular thing at this moment, but nevertheless these are the facts of the exercise of power. It has always happened in this country that overweening power has eventually found its check. The last thing I wish to see is the Government of this country going down to defeat by any section of the community. To be defeated by the electorate is one thing; to be defeated by a 817 sectional interest is another and for the sake of our Parliamentary democracy to be avoided at almost any cost. In this I agree absolutely with the noble Viscount, Lord Watkinson.
I appeal to the Government to think again about "no surrender" et cetera. I remember a splendid slogan of the miners' strike of 1926, and so does my noble friend Lord Davies of Leek:Not a penny off the pay—not a moment off the day".A marvellous rallying call, my Lords, but the miners were defeated in the long run by the circumstances of the time. That is what beat them, not their courage, not their spirit. If the Government are wise they will recognise that there are times when "no surrender" is the right slogan, and there are also times when such a slogan, and the idea behind it, is simply not capable of realisation. I hope the Government recognise that. In the circumstances, it would be wise for the Government to adopt the idea of conciliation rather than confrontation, as recommended by the noble Lord, Lord Alport, in a speech that I should like to have made. I very much commend it to the Government for their evening reading, and their reading to-morrow.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (LORD WINDLESHAM)
My Lords, the wording of the Motion standing in my name for the debate we have had yesterday and to-day goes very wide. It refers to the energy situation; it refers to the continuing industrial disputes in the coal industry and on the railways, and to the introduction of the three-day working week in industry. In addition to those three factors, it finally contains a reference to the effect of all three on the national economy. The advantage of an omnibus Motion of this kind is that noble Lords can raise almost any aspect of the situation which is facing this country on which they wish to speak. I must say that noble Lords have taken full advantage of that freedom. The disadvantage is that the debate tends to lack cohesiveness; it tends to lack continuity of the kind we can get when we are debating a narrower issue. Yet, as so often, the recall of Parliament earlier than would normally have been the case has been matched, I believe, by the response of this House. 818 Despite the fact that we had a two-day debate, and a very full debate, on the economic and industrial situation only just before the Christmas Recess, on the recall of Parliament more than 40 noble Lords put their names down to speak in this debate and have given us their advice.
We have had a wide variety of speeches, of course: one from the new Secretary of State for Energy himself. I think all of us, irrespective of Party, take pride in his achievements and I should like on his behalf to thank most warmly the noble Lord, Lord Champion, for the tribute he paid at the end of the debate from the Opposition Front Bench, a tribute which was echoed by many others. We have listened to businessmen, the chairmen of great companies, such as the noble Viscount, Lord Watkinson, and the noble Lord, Lord Thorneycroft; to former trade union organisers and leaders—the noble Lord, Lord Champion, comes in that category. I was disappointed, however, that some of the very prominent trade union figures on that side of the House (some of them, I notice, were good enough to come to the House and to listen to the debate) were not able to take part, speaking as they would do with the great authority and knowledge they can bring to a debate of this kind. But we had the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Mansfield, speaking last night from his long and immediate experience in the coalfields. We also had the noble Lord, Lord Balogh; and earlier today the former Lord Mayor of London, Lord Mais. We had former Ministers who sit on the Benches opposite; also my noble friend Lord Alport, speaking with such long experience and great frankness of mind which he always brings to these debates, on our side of the House. Without labouring this point, the general debate has shown once again what a very wide range of interests are represented in this House. We may lack a popularly elected mandate but we can claim to represent, and represent directly sometimes, an exceptionally wide range of relevant interests.
The difficulty I find myself in, not for the first time, and one shared by noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite in summing up a debate of this kind, is that it has nothing which could be described as a central theme. A number of detailed questions were asked, and my noble friends and myself will try to 819 ensure that replies are given subsequently, if not in the course of this winding-up. But in the main I have not thought it was an information-seeking debate. It is fair to say that on both sides of the House, although there have been a number of notable exceptions, most speakers have been rehearsing their set positions. We should not be surprised; it is quite natural in a Parliamentary system with two sides of Parliament opposed to each other, although in this House we have the great benefit of the Cross-Benches.
But outside the walls of the Palace of Westminster I am not sure that this is the mood of the country. I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, was getting rather closer to the subject in another brave and courageous speech to which we all listened with respect. Very many people are genuinely perplexed, genuinely uncertain—but aware of the gravity of the situation facing the country. They know, and most of us in our hearts know too, that there is no obvious way out of what the noble Lord, Lord Mais, called the impasse in which we find ourselves at present. Temporarily we must all hope. If there had been an obvious way out, of course it would have been taken—it would have been taken weeks ago. There are a whole number of strands in the way in which the public look at this subject, and not all of them are reflected in a Parliamentary system, because we debate it in a situation in which the two sides across the Floor of the House are facing each other. But outside there is an important strand of feeling that the cost of the current industrial disputes, particularly of course the miners' dispute, is likely to be so high that it would be better to make the best deal with their representatives that could be achieved, and to do so as quickly as possible. We need to recognise that that point of view exists, and to understand it. But against that there is a widespread conviction that it is inflation which is the real threat to living standards in this country: it is the threat to the living standards of miners, it is the threat to the living standards of miners' families, as much as it is to everyone else. It is only by means of a code of provisions generally accepted and impartially applied that there is any hope of checking the growth of inflation.
820 Of course, it is true that by no means all of the causes of inflation are under our control in this country. The increase in commodity prices across the developed world, so vividly illustrated in a table in the Financial Times on Tuesday, has played a major part. Then there is the truly staggering increase in oil prices—referred to by my noble friend Lord Carrington when he opened to-day-resulting from the Middle East war, and only now and only just beginning to show its effects in the domestic economy. But behind all this, and well understood by the public as a whole, is a realisation that total real incomes cannot rise faster than the rate at which the economy as a whole can expand.
Moreover, there is the uneasiness referred to by my noble friend Lord Watkinson and by other speakers—an uneasiness, an awareness that if industrial power can be used successfully against a policy which has been approved by Parliament in this instance, why cannot it be used again, used by the same group, used by other groups, used for this purpose or used for other purposes? So here is a dilemma, and one clearly evident in public opinion. I do not suppose I am alone in sensing the dichotomy in this debate. What it comes down to in the end is one of the oldest problems, if not the oldest, of politics: how to reconcile the demands of one group whose needs are special—and it is not necessary to argue against the special character and the special quality of the needs in which the miners find themselves—with what are perceived to be the needs of society as a whole. If we are wise, we learn that there is not an answer to that question. It is what politics is all about, and we all have our own answers. But to arrive at a consensus it is necessary to trust each other's motives; and this, if I may say so with all diffidence, I believe to be one of the underlying reasons why the present industrial situation has taken on such an unyielding and, at times, such a distressing complexion.
I suppose that one of the questions that has come up most frequently in the public debate, and in our own debate, is the reason for the introduction of the three-day working week. There has not been a great inclination this afternoon to question the statistics and reasons that 821 the Government have given. The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, in opening for the Opposition to-day, said that he had some figures which cast doubt on those of the Government on coal stocks which led him to wonder about this. My Lords, I also have statistics, in the greatest detail. But at this stage in the debate, and in the mood of the House (promoted very much, if I may say so, by the final remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Champion) I propose, unless some noble Lord wants them, to move on to the next point.
§ LORD DAVIES OF LEEK
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I should like just one statistic if he has it, because it has not been declared in the debate—or I may be wrong. What are we losing per week, in terms of tons of coal, as a result of the miners' not working overtime?
§ LORD WINDLESHAM
It is indeed a fundamental fact. I have a percentage figure at the back of my mind but I do not want to give a misleading figure. I can tell the noble Lord, because I am closely involved in these matters, that it is a figure which has been given publicly. I will check on it again; I will give it to the noble Lord, and I will see that it is the updated figure.
§ LORD WINDLESHAM
My Lords, an official figure has been given of the percentage reduction in coal output since the ban on overtime began. I am sorry that I am not quick enough to pick it out of the papers in front of me.
§ LORD DAVIES OF LEEK
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord. The whole point is this: are the Government now saying that because we are not getting that overtime coal the whole burden of the three-day week is put on the shoulders of the miners?
§ LORD WINDLESHAM
My Lords, I can argue exactly that point; the chain of argument is that the three-day working week was necessary to ensure that supplies 822 of electricity lasted through the worst of the winter. Why was that judgment made? It was made because coal stocks at the power stations were judged by the National Coal Board, by the Central Electricity Generating Board and by the Government to be inadequate to sustain demand unless the restrictions were introduced. I think that argument is one that noble Lords will accept without having the statistical basis read out to them at this stage in the debate.
The only other statistical point that has been raised on a number of occasions is the impact of the offer made by the National Coal Board to the miners in terms of the earnings of individual miners. As we know, the figure of £44 million represents 13 per cent. of the total wage bill; and to that can be added, in certain circumstances, up to 3½ per cent. on productivity agreements. But what does that mean in terms of gross earnings? I am afraid it is necessary to give them as gross earnings because taxes vary, of course, with the individual. In terms of gross earnings (to pick out two categories), an underground craftsman who in October, 1973, had average weekly earnings of £48, would have under the new offer, if accepted, estimated average earnings increased to £55; and that would be for working the same hours and the same conditions. A surface non-craftsman who in October, 1973, had average weekly earnings of £33 would, under the offer, have estimated average earnings of £39. These are figures produced by the National Coal Board; there are obviously other categories, but I think the figures I have given are interesting in translating these percentages into actual figures.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord for one moment, it is important to know, because there is a variation between the different shifts, whether this is the figure for the night shift or for the morning shift?
§ LORD WINDLESHAM
My Lords, the examples I have given refer to men working five or more shifts on a rotation of days—afternoons and nights—and the comparison, I understand, is a fair one. The October figure is related to the figure under the offer. I am always so grateful to the noble Lord the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, for his help in these matters; his intervention has enabled me 823 to find the answer to the question addressed to me by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek. I understand that the result of the ban on overtime is that there has been a reduction in coal output of approximately three-quarters of a million tons of coal per week.
The noble Lord the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party asked me a whole series of questions about the common energy policy of the European Economic Community. He explained to the House and he explained to me before he left that it was necessary for him to go to an important meeting; I hope that the noble Lord sitting on the Liberal Front Bench will tell him that no discourtesy whatever is intended when I say that I have some answers to the questions that he put but I think the House as a whole might prefer it if I sent them direct to the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, rather than giving the benefit of this information to the House at this stage.
§ LORD WINDLESHAM
My Lords, the Bishops' Bench has been well represented in our debate. I was extremely sorry to have missed the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark. I know that my noble friend the Secretary of State for Energy was able to hear at any rate part of the speech. I understand that it was a most powerful speech, and I can assure him that I shall study it in Hansard.
The most topical development in the current situation is the proposal put forward at the National Economic Development Council meeting yesterday by the T.U.C. representatives, and the Government's response to it. The proposal put forward was in the following terms:The General Council accept that there is a distinctive and exceptional situation in the mining industry. If the Government are prepared to give an assurance that they will make possible a settlement between the miners and the National Coal Board other unions will not use that as an argument in negotiations for their own settlements.I have read out the actual words—it is a short statement—because it is important to be clear about just what it was that Mr. Murray was saying. He was not saying that all settlements would be within Stage 824 3—perhaps he would feel that it was outside his power to say anything of that sort—but that the settlement would not be used as an argument. So when the noble Lord, Lord Champion, speaks, as I think he did, of an assurance of restraint, we need to be clear about the limitations which are contained within that statement.
The next step was that the General Secretary of the T.U.C. wrote to the Prime Minister this morning to confirm the text of the statement which I have just read out to your Lordships. The General Secretary had asked that the T.U.C.'s proposals should be given the most careful consideration and he hoped that the Government would make a positive response. Those were the words he used. As your Lordships have heard, the Prime Minister did indeed give a positive response—in fact, he gave more than that: he gave an immediate response, and I am pleased that it was taken up immediately by representatives of the T.U.C., although I believe that Mr. Murray was not able to accompany them. However, certain representatives of the General Council were able to go to No. 10 Downing Street to meet the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Employment this evening. The meeting started at 6 o'clock and I understand that it went en for some two and a quarter hours; it finished at 8.20 approximately and I have not yet heard the outcome.
§ LORD WINDLESHAM
My Lords, I should like to end this debate by referring again—because I believe it is absolutely essential—to what I said earlier about trusting each other's intentions. This is crucial to the British political system, because without it it is quite impossible for any sort of consensus to emerge. People have not been asked to give up their opinions. I have seldom agreed on most things with the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, but I do respect his motives when he speaks, whether on this issue today or on foreign affairs, immigration matters and all the other subjects on which he speaks with such passion. This is what the Prime Minister said on behalf of the Government last night in the House of Commons. Referring to the invitation to the union leaders he 825 said that he had made it—and I quote his words:not in a spirit of confrontation and suspicion, but in a spirit of constructiveness, of moderation and of reason. It is not too late for reason to prevail. It is not too late to discuss and settle all these matters within the framework which Parliament has approved. It is not too late to look to the future and to plot our course together. Indeed, it is in the interests of the whole nation that we should do so, and do so as rapidly as possible."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons; 9/1/74, col. 24.]My Lords, those are the sentiments publicly put on Record by the Government within the last 24 hours, and I cannot believe that they will not command the support of your Lordships' House.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.