Before I call the right hon. Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. Harold Lever), perhaps I might announce that I am in the usual difficulty about this debate. In the debate on the coal industry dispute on 18th January 21 speakers took part, including the Front Bench speakers, between 4 o'clock and 10 o'clock. Today well over 40 hon. Members want to speak. I will do my best to keep a fair balance, geographically and otherwise, but reasonable brevity—timing is not for me—will help, including, with the greatest respect, the Front Bench speakers.
I beg to move,
With that encouragement, Mr. Speaker, I am tempted to move the Motion only formally, but I fear that the grave situation with which we are faced requires more comment from this Dispatch Box. As we warned, the Government's handling of the miners' strike has led to a grave situation. Nevertheless, I hope that no one will expect me to emulate the irresponsibility on labour questions continually shown by the Conservatives when in opposition. But if I do criticise the Government it is not to seek party gain. It is, I hope with the support of men of goodwill on both sides of the House, to examine the errors which have made this strike possible in order to bring the honourable settlement which we so urgently need. I do this also in justice to the miners and their leaders, so that the nation may know where responsibility lies for the even graver dangers which now immediately threaten. I start not without sympathy for the Government's difficulties. I accept that wage questions and inflation are among the most difficult problems that we face, problems to which no Government in any country have found a fully satisfactory answer. I accept, too, that no Government can stand aside indifferently in a case like this but must seek to represent, so far as the can, the wider interests of the whole community. It is from this, I hope not ungenerous, standpoint that I approach the Government's position in relation to the strike. In spite of that, I have to say to the House that the Government's actions from before the strike right up to today present a lamentable catalogue of obstinacy and incompetence. The central wrongdoing has been the way in which the Government have conceived their rôle. Seeking to influence the judgment of the National Coal Board is one thing, but what the Government have done is quite another. They have rendered the Coal Board's judgment quite irrelevant at its vital point and superseded it with their own rigid wage ceiling. In doing so, they have fundamentally disrupted the relations between the men and their employer. The miners' leaders have known throughout the discussion of their grievances and wages problems with the Coal Board that the real power of decision has lain elsewhere. On the vital question of the limits of concession when facing a crucial strike situation, the men have been fobbed off with talks with a powerless under-management. How can there be the relationship that there ought to be between men and their employer when the men know the employer knows that the Government have stripped the employer of the real power to negotiate, to adjust and to compromise? Mr. Derek Ezra has been subjected to criticism, much of it unjust. I know him to be a skilled and devoted public servant with the interests of the coal industry much at heart. But, making all allowances for the recency of his promotion to the chairmanship, I must tell him that, whatever Government are in power, he can never give the leadership to the men and enjoy the respect he needs from them if he allows himself to be a mere agent for Government policy on questions as crucial as this. The Government have aggravated the error of their original rigid ceiling in almost every possible way. First, it is a secret ceiling, agreed in Whitehall and not even fully proclaimed. Secondly, total frankness is essential if the understanding and co-operation of workpeople is to be achieved. Instead of frankness, the Government, having superseded the commercial judgment of the Coal Board by their wage ceiling, have with a continuous display of humbug and disingenuousness sought to pretend that this question is between the men and the Coal Board, with the Government on the sidelines perhaps offering here and there a little disinterested advice. Government power, however, has been continuously present; Government responsibility has been continuously absent. Indeed, the Secretary of State for Employment made no attempt to meet the miners' leaders before the strike and the right hon. Gentleman's shuffling and unconvincing explanation of this is within the recollection of the House. The right hon. Gentleman wanted to meet them, he said, but when his first timid efforts through officials were misunderstood he recoiled in bashful bafflement. Both sides made it plain that this was not good enough. He then gratified what he would have us believe was a pre-existing urge to talk to the miners' leaders by a novel and ingenious device—he asked them to come and see him. He also invited the Coal Board. It was a most valuable encounter. The right hon. Gentleman reported to the House what he had learned. The miners were on strike because they wanted more money than the Coal Board was prepared to pay. Having thus acquired knowledge which was in the possession of every schoolboy in the land, the right hon. Gentleman drew the conclusion that there was nothing useful he could do, and this appears to have been his position ever since—until this morning. This morning, when the right hon. Gentleman knew that he would have to account to the House, a duty sedulously evaded throughout the strike, he decided to call the men to see him, and also to call in the Coal Board. The right hon. Gentleman also took the unprecedented step of announcing in advance that he was going to seek emergency powers. I cannot recall any Government making that sort of statement outside the House before making it in the House. The purpose was plain. This was our Supply Day and our Motion and the right hon. Gentleman was being called to account to the House. He could not very well come shuffling in and make it all too plain by underlining the fact that his move was due to the fact that the Labour Party and this House would not let him rest until he had moved into action. The Government have not even rested content with exercising the power and disclaiming the responsibility. Throughout this matter they have aggravated the difficulties almost every time they have opened their mouths on the subject. They have made it plain that the wage ceiling which they wish to impose on the miners is part of a policy of selective pressure on public servants and public industry, thus giving notice that the workers in this industry are being made the loss leaders in the battle against inflation. Whatever happens to others who produce the things that these workers have to buy, if they seek to better themselves they are put on notice that they will find ruthlessly deployed against them all the purse and power of the State. At every point the Government have been provocative and unconstructive. They have misrepresented the miners' claim for something more than the Coal Board's offer by the pretence, known to be false, that the Government's choice was between standing firm on the Coal Board's last offer or accepting the miners' full demands. Why else do they with tedious dishonesty keep using the argument that a 15 per cent. rise in the price of coal was at stake? As if deliberately bent on mischief, they caused or supported the declaration of the Coal Board that if the miners struck the wage offer would be withdrawn and in future wages would be negotiated on the basis of the losses caused by the strike. Strikes such as this are a great misfortune. They are not a crime, however, and the fundamental right to strike must remain if we are to have any sort of free society. This right is infringed if men are victimised after a strike. But what the Government did was to threaten victimisation even before the strike started. The Government overrode the commercial judgment of the Coal Board. They declared—they still insist—that the financial position of the Coal Board, wrecked by a strike which their own action made inevitable, would in future, as in the past, determine the level of possible wages for miners. At this point I must mention the miners' just case for an amendment of the balance sheet so as to relieve them of the burden of debt, certainly no longer justified if it ever was. This case has never been answered by the Government. It was ignored even when I raised it in our last debate. Here as at many other points the Government have shown not merely deafness but ostentatious deafness to the miners' case. Throughout the strike the Government, in terms of veiled menace, have warned the miners not only that they would be made to pay for the strike by a reduction in the Coal Board's offer but that they would suffer in terms of employment prospects. When I asked whether the Government had taken account of the fact that this was a regional industry and that if ever flexibility of wages could be justified it was here, with a need to pump more buying power into these regions, again there was not even the courtesy of a reply. On Thursday the House will be discussing a Bill to spend £25 million, which the Government hope will provide employment generally by advancing the capital programme of the Central Electricity Generating Board. A fraction of this sum would probably have sufficed to avoid the misery and loss of this strike and protect the employment prospects of the coal industry in these depressed regions. However cleverly chosen may have been the Government's words, behind them lies the use of the threat to the men's future livelihood in regions of high unemployment as a weapon in the Government's plans to beat the miners into submission. What I detest most about the statements of the Government on this subject is the implication that further unemployment in these hard-hit regions is the miners' problem and not the Government's and ours. But it is the Minister's problem—[Interruption.] It is the nation's problem. Is it not shameful that the Government should seek to play in this way on the anxieties of men who have already experienced the tragedy of a declining industry in regions in which it is difficult and sometimes impossible to provide alternative jobs? I will not repeat the details of the miners' case. Everybody except the Government recognises it, and the justified bitterness of men who in recent years have not only lost their relative wage status but, in absolute terms, have in many cases suffered a decline in their actual real standard of life.That this House condemns the rôle of the Government in the coal strike, and its failure to play an active part in seeking to bring about a settlement in a dispute which is causing deep national anxiety and great hardship and damage to the economy.
And under the Labour Government.
Yes, under my Government, too. The difference between the Labour Government and the present one is that in due time, had we been faced with this situation, we would not have approached it with the abrasive, out-of-date doctrines of the Conservatives. As the miners know, we would have approached it with a spirit of some sympathy and understanding, a spirit which has been totally absent from the present Government's reaction.Especially because we have not yet got any real solution to the wages problem, the virtues of fair dealing and common sense are vital in this situation. But instead of candour we have had from the Government disingenuousness and pretence. Instead of tact and friendliness we have had veiled menace and the threat of victimisation. The Government might at some point have shown a sense of common concern for the industry and its workers. They might even have evidenced a desire to make some reparation for the harshness the miners endured before the war or expressed some gratitude for their achievements during and after it. But instead the Government have rubbed in the difficulties of the past in order to exploit the miners' anxieties about the future. Instead of conciliation and compromise, we have had aloofness and inflexibility. This must not go on. I demand that the Government belatedly do their duty to the miners, to the coal industry and to the people of this country so as to avoid the disastrous situation that will otherwise lie ahead. In this, at any rate, I shall do my best to assist the Government. They have already half-heartedly recognised the miners' special case and implied that the offer to the miners could be improved if they could be sure that others would not use the settlement as a bargaining counter to increase their own claims. I recognise the difficulty. Speaking on behalf of the Opposition, I assert that the miners have a special case and I demand that it be met on its merits. It seems to me to follow, however, that I could not regard it as legitimate that any concession the Government make in accepting my proposition should be used as part of a game of industrial leapfrog by anybody else. I have no authority to speak on their behalf, but I am convinced that the view which I have expressed is the conviction of the overwhelming majority of trade unionists and work people throughout the country. Secondly, I want to suggest to the Government that in exploring the possibility of a settlement they should look further into the future than they have done so far. They could seek terms which cover the miners' anxieties, especially their fear of a continuing decline in their status such as they have experienced in recent years. They could cover the miners' anxieties for a longer period ahead than has yet been contemplated. The right kind of longer-term agreement would have many attractions for the miners. There is a question of principle here, too. The Government are, in effect, asking workers in the public sector to abate their wage claims to their own and the country's advantage in the fight against inflation. The Government logically, therefore, should inject into this agreement some protection for these workers if, despite that, they continue to suffer from price rises or wage rises elsewhere. After all, if their words are listened to that would, in effect, be the basis of the deal the Government had done, and it would be cheating on that deal if the Government were to be indifferent thereafter if the conditions had failed to be fulfilled. The Government would thereby also be showing some confidence in their own policies, a not unreasonable pre-condition to any belief in them by others, especially by the workers concerned. I have been compelled to make harsh criticism of the Government, and I would not withdraw a word of it, but I repeat that that is not because of lack of sympathy with their difficulties or that I have a purely negative purpose. The last debate showed that concern for the miners, for the industry and for the country was clear on both sides of the House. When the Government meet the miners—I think it is tomorrow—I do not think they should be hag-ridden by memories of their own misconduct in the past on this issue, otherwise they will feel that any sensible and constructive move is a climb-down, but I should not look at it that way. I should regard it as a response, however belatedly, to the critical needs of the situation and the wishes of the nation. We have solved many of the problems which bedevilled our society in the past, but the solution of those problems, though it has led to a sustained economic advance, has brought into being new and in some ways even more fundamentally challenging problems. One of them is the problem of wages management, inflation and questions associated with them. How are we to meet this problem? In the past we were dealing with a work force which, in hostorical terms, had barely emerged from the worst horrors of the Industrial Revolution, was still cowed and intimidated by poverty and the fear of unemployment and, perhaps even more, in the cant phrase of those days, controlled by "knowing their place"; that is to say, expecting little from life and from society. But all that has changed. The sights of our people are higher and the expectations are greater. Is there anyone here mean-spirited enough to want to see the old conditions back again so that we can control workers more easily? If, faced with the new challenge and the new conditions, we react with the worst attitudes of the past, then we shall not succeed in achieving either economic advance or social peace and, I may add, we shall not deserve either and we shall not get either. I think that we have to meet these new problems and new challenges with new attitudes and not with a return to confrontation and abrasiveness, not with a return to dictatorial attempts to treat the workers as if they were some alien, subservient element in our society. I think that we have to develop new attitudes. We have to develop a greater sense of kinship with the people who do the hard, dirty, dangerous and often the most ill-rewarded work in our society. With that greater kinship there will come a certain feeling that has not always been present in Government for those who have been misunderstood, mistreated and neglected.
The right hon. Gentleman made a most important point about the Opposition's policy in this debate. He said that he was speaking for himself but hoped that an exceptional rise for the miners would not be treated by industry generally as a reason for leap-frogging. Has that view been put by the right hon. Gentleman or by his right hon. Friend to the T.U.C.? If it has, can the right hon. Gentleman give any indication of the T.U.C.'s view of it?
I do not know whether, at this stage of my speech, the hon. Gentleman is seeking to make what he thinks is a useful debating point. I am speaking from this Dispatch Box for all the Parliamentary Labour Party Opposition, and I have made my position clear. The views which I have expressed are the views of the Opposition, and I think that they are all that I am entitled to speak for. I do not carry a mandate from the trade unions or from individual citizens. As the hon. Gentleman ought to know, when one speaks from the Dispatch Box one speaks either for the Government—happily I do not have that unhappy task this afternoon—or for the Opposition. If we find that greater sense of kinship, we shall find with it the urgent sense of social justice which should be the spirit in which we should meet the kind of claims which have been made by the miners and to which they have had so churlish a response so far from the Government.Tonight we shall vote on the Motion. We shall do so because we believe that if a flicker of the spirit which I have evoked had been evidenced by the Government towards the miners at any time during the negotiations we would not now be saddled with this cruel and dangerous strike.
I welcome the spirit of much of what the right hon. Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. Harold Lever) said as strongly as I reject some of the ill-founded charges he has made, but I am grateful to him at least for part of the content of his speech. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would not expect me at this juncture to comment on particular proposals that he made, but we shall give them thought.First, I should like to deal with this question of the Government's decision to ask tomorrow for emergency powers. I want to explain to the House why we thought it was right to let it be known today that we were going to do this, rather than wait in the more normal manner, until tomorrow. [Interruption.] If the House would be patient for a moment. We are going to start talks with both sides tomorrow and we felt—I believed rightly—that if, after the parties had been invited to the talks and perhaps after the talks had begun, it was announced that emergency powers were to be sought this would not be helpful to the conduct of the talks. [An HON. MEMBER: "An excuse!"] This is a reality, and I believe anybody who knows anything about these matters realises it was right, when the parties had had an invitation to come to talk to me tomorrow and to enter into discussions with me, that they should also be fully aware of the decision being taken. Again, we thought it right that they should not know this and should not discover it after they had had, and had accepted, the invitation since they might perhaps then feel that the invitation and its acceptance had been on a false basis. I believe that that was right, and I hope that this House and both the National Union of Mineworkers and the Coal Board will believe that it was. May I turn to why we believe it is necessary tomorrow to ask for the powers? It would not be proper for me at this juncture to go into the policy argument for that will come later; but a coal strike more than most others not only creates an immediate problem while it lasts but also creates an unusually difficult problem as production is got going again and stocks are restored after the strike is over. I want to make clear to the House, therefore, that we, like any Government, have a duty to protect central services and supplies for the community, to protect the life of the community. It is these things which have led us, quite rightly I feel, to put off calling for emergency powers as long as possible, and so long as we felt prudent, but no longer; because to put it off till later than we thought it prudent would have been a failure of our duty. I believe that to announce the calling of emergency powers, perhaps in the middle of discussions, would have been a stupid thing to do and not conducive to the success of the talks I am to hold. The decision which has been made known today, that we are to ask Parliament to grant and approve those powers, does not in any way indicate any belief that this strike must go on for a long time. Far from it. But it is our belief that, because of the aftermath of the strike as well as the position while it is going on, these powers will be necessary. Finally, I want to assure that the powers, once taken, will be used to the absolute minimum extent necessary to safeguard the basic purposes which we as a Government have a duty to safeguard—the basic interests of the community, which we must, above all, put at the top of our line of duty. May I come to the charge in the Motion and in part of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cheetham? Let me assure the House that my first concern is, as it has been from the beginning, to get a resolution of this dispute and an end to this strike as quickly as possible on terms which are fair both to the miners and to the rest of the community. It is no good any of us burking the fact that there are those double interests, that double duty to which I have referred. This is something which we have all to keep in mind. Any Minister holding my office needs broad shoulders and has to be ready to take criticism, however well or ill-founded it may be, as to his handling of a dispute, and to resist the temptation to hit back. What matters is that talks are to take place tomorrow and I do not want to say anything this afternoon in justifica- tion which might jeopardise their success. Therefore, in rebutting the charge of failure to play a properly active part in seeking a settlement of this dispute I will content myself with a very short historical summary of the events as far as my actions to conciliate are concerned. [Interruption.] If the House would be patient, I did not say that that was all I was to say in my speech. I said it was all I would say in rebutting the attacks on my handling of the dispute. First of all, I am blamed because I did not intervene prior to January 6th. I did not do so because until that date the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers were in ready, easy and frequent contact with each other, and genuine negotiations were going on; and they did not break down until, I believe, the evening of Wednesday, January 5th.
I will give way in a moment. I really believe that if the House will look back at the history of conciliation and the whole tradition and history of our system of collective bargaining, it will not be found that it is common or considered helpful by either party to intervene in a situation in which the parties are in easy contact, not sitting behind their fortifications and refusing to talk to each other but genuinely meeting and negotiating. I do not believe there can be any criticism of me for not intervening prior to the breakdown on negotiations on Wednesday, January 5th.
To refer back to what the right hon. Gentleman was saying about intervention and non-intervention by the Government—and this is the real crux of the matter—is it not the fact that the Government have authorised the Chairman of the National Coal Board as to what should be the norm on which he should negotiate, or attempts to negotiate, a settlement? In other words, the Chairman of the National Coal Board is deprived of freedom to negotiate a realistic and justifiable increase with the National Union of Mineworkers.
This is a different point, but I am happy to deal with it. We have as a Government made publicly and repeatedly clear, in this House and in the country, and with no secret about it, that the absolutely urgent priority, from the moment we came into office, was to reduce the level of pay settlements—[Interruption.]—and we have said that where we were the direct employers we would set an example. We have asked all other employers to follow that. We have made no secret of this. I contrast that with the actions and attitude of the Labour Government who gave far more precise and rigid negotiating limits to all employers, including public sector employers, backed with statutory powers.
I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman in a moment. Therefore, there is no question but that, as I have said—and I clearly remember it being said from that bench in the opening of debates on the Prices and Incomes Bills of 1968 and 1969—no Government in the modern age can be indifferent to or lack a policy about the movement of incomes; and I said the previous Conservative Government had not been from 1961 to 1964, and that the next Conservative Government would not be.The great argument between the two sides has always been method. We believe that by assessing the national need, by setting an example where we are employers, as we are in the public service, we are leaving more freedom, not less freedom, to responsible collective bargaining.
We have seen the right hon. Gentleman at work in previous disputes, when he has refused to intervene. Will he confirm or deny that the reason for his non-intervention is that the Government had their own figure which they felt was appropriate for this and other situations, that the Coal Board had reached that figure and were not prepared to negotiate on the basis of going beyond that figure? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that every newspaper in Britain—and not as a result of its own inventions—has carried this story throughout the dispute, just as every newspaper carried the Government's conviction that this would not be a long strike because of the distributed stocks? Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether the Government's reasons for not intervening earlier is that they have a prices and incomes policy but have not the guts to announce the figure in the House?
The right hon. Gentleman's suppositions are wrong. He talks about the Government not having the guts to announce a prices and incomes policy, but when we took office we made publicly clear the need to reduce the level of settlements and said that we did not believe in setting norms. Hon. Members can agree or disagree with that, but they cannot charge the Government with being anything but absolutely frank with the country on the need to reduce settlements and on the methods of doing it. To mention norms publicly and to try to lay down precise criteria would not lead either to economic success or to industrial harmony, just as the Labour Government's policy did not.
I apologise for intervening again, but the right hon. Gentleman is accusing me of being unkinder than I was. I did not say that the right hon. Gentleman did not have the guts to say that the Government needed a wages policy. They have said nothing else in every unemployment debate and on, other occasions. I said that he did not have the guts to say what the figure was. The figure is repeatedly given to the Press by the Government. Will he give it to the House?
The figure is not repeatedly given to the Press by the Government. I cannot tell from where the Press get it. We have never laid down formal norms or formal criteria because, whatever may have been right at some time in the past and whatever might become right at some time in the future, it was clear when we took office that an incomes policy based on formally laid down norms and criteria was in ruins and was utterly rejected by the trade union movement and by almost everybody else.I have explained why I did not intervene prior to 6th January. On 6th January, the day after the final breakdown and before the strike began, I invited both parties to come to the Department and to discuss the situation with officials, so that we could inform ourselves in depth of the parties' respective positions and attitudes. The National Union of Mineworkers, unfortunately—I do not want to press this—felt unable to accept the invitation. I only want to stress to the House—and this can be confirmed by looking at the history—that the method I used on that occasion was the method commonly adopted by my Department in the past. It was a method adopted, for example, with success, only a few weeks earlier in dealing with the Coventry tool room dispute. On both occasions the parties were asked to come to talk with my officials to allow us, by interchange, first seeing one side and then the other, to see what were the facts and attitudes.
What was the norm?
Was it 7 per cent?
On both occasions I deliberately cancelled an engagement out of London so as to be available should those exploratory talks lead to a situation in which my personal intervention could have been helpful. What I did on 6th January was exactly what had been done sucessfully only a few weeks before in dealing with the Coventry tool room dispute and on many previous occasions. It was the common practice of my Department.
The right hon. Gentleman cannot get away with what he said about the National Union of Mineworkers. I am a member of the National Executive of the N.U.M. We had a communication from his Department of a casual nature, very vague. The officials were very busy and said that if the officials of the Department wanted any information they could come to the N.U.M. headquarters and get it. The right hon. Gentleman does great disservice to his cause when he makes such heavy weather of this.
I am not making heavy weather of it. It is hon. Gentlemen opposite who are making heavy weather. My officials, under my instructions, opened contact in an accepted way which, I repeat, had been used successfully only a few weeks before in another important dispute. I am saying no more and no less than that. Of course the meeting had to take place in my Department and not at the headquarters of the N.U.M. Just imagine what the unions would have said if it had been the other way round and we had met on the employers' premises. The tradition of my Depart- ment is that we provide not only conciliation services but what both parties in disputes have come to regard as neutral ground. They are prepared to meet and discuss in my Department when they are not prepared to meet and discuss either in the employers' or the union's premises.
At the beginning of the debate, Mr. Speaker made an appeal for short speeches. More than half my time I have spent in giving way to interruptions. I do not mind giving way, but it takes up an enormous amount of time. If hon. Members would be a little quieter I should be able to reach the end of my speech more quickly.On 21st January, towards the end of the second week of the dispute, I saw both parties. It was absolutely clear from that meeting that at that moment an unbreakable deadlock existed between the parties and there was no chance of a negotiated settlement either by direct negotiation between themselves or indirectly under my chairmanship. The union also made it categorically clear that it would reject any attempt at an independent resolution either by arbitration under the industry's own machinery or through a court of inquiry. I emphasise that the union has a perfect right not to use the industry's machinery, which can be used only with the common consent of both parties. I make no complaints about that. My assessment of that situation was confirmed absolutely by Mr. Victor Feather. We were faced with a situation of deadlock, with both parties in strongly entrenched positions and separated by an enormous gap. It is important for us to understand the reasons for these entrenched positions, because they have to be realised and overcome if a settlement is to be reached. The miners made it absolutely clear that their strongly entrenched attitude arose not only from the dispute about this year's pay claim but from looking at this year's pay claim as a culmination of a number of years in which they had had a growing and deep sense of having been unfairly treated. They believe that they have acted responsibly in accepting new methods of working, new pay structures and the closure of pits. When they look at all that and compare the movement of their pay relative to other pay they believe that reward for what they—and the country—believe to be a responsible attitude has been a poor one. This attitude is not concentrated only in this year. Before the Opposition get too critical, they should realise, as some of the miners' leaders have said quite openly, that the dispute this year is an outburst of the pressure of feelings which has been built up over five or six years during which both parties have formed the Government. It does no good towards an understanding of the dispute of the hope of solving it to try to say that everything has happened since the Conservative Government came into power, because the miners themselves do not make that claim and do not in any way support it. I pass to consider some of the reasons why the National Coal Board is in such a strongly entrenched position. First, there is the belief that its last offer went to the limit of what the Coal Board can afford without jeopardising the future of the industry by having to bring about price increases, which would accelerate a switch to other fuels and, therefore, reduce employment and prosperity in the industry and prejudice the future of the industry. The Coal Board stressed strongly to me, as I am sure it did to the union, that it had gone to what it believed to be the limit and that in going as high as it did, however inadequate other people may have thought that limit was, its offer also took on trust the achievement of an increase in productivity of no fewer than 2 tons—[Interruption.]—2 cwt. per man shift. The Board also made clear to me—this is a difficult thing to say without exacerbating emotions, which I do not want to do, but it must be said if the entrenched position of the Coal Board is to be understood—that it felt strongly that the union was not trying as hard as it could or should to keep its undertaking to maintain safety in the pits during the strike or to maintain the minimum conditions essential for a reasonable and full resumption of work after the strike was over. That is a very strong feeling on the part of the Coal Board and it must be taken into consideration. In this connection I must also report to the House the strong feelings expressed to me personally by the National Association of Colliery Overmen, Deputies and Shotfirers when it met me at its request last Friday, and also by the British Association of Colliery Management. The two unions expressed their strong feelings about the treatment which they said their members were receiving when seeking to go through the picket lines into the pits in accordance with an understanding which the two unions had reached with the N.U.M. before the strike began.
No, I will not give way for the moment.This was in fulfilment of their statutory duty for observing safety in the pits. Their sole objective was to preserve the pits and to ensure the future of not only their jobs but the jobs of the N.U.M. workers. They reported to me that many of their members in some areas, though not all, had been subjected daily to intimidation, to threats of violence; that their wives and children had been abused and their homes damaged. They gave me details of some of their members—a very few—who had been taken into hospital following injuries received as a result of violence. I am sure the House would want to deplore actions of this kind and I am sure that the leadership of the N.U.M. does not wish to see such actions. The House will wish to pay tribute to the great courage and determination of members of these two unions in seeking to fulfil their statutory duties—duties which they had agreed with the N.U.M. should be carried out during the strike. This has to be said because if the talks over the next day, or over whatever period they may take, are to have the best chance of success it is important that we in this House should do all we can to deplore action of the kind I have been describing. It is important that we should condemn it unequivocally and should give our support in unison on all sides of the House to the view of the N.U.M. in this matter. I want to make clear that I am now speaking of representations made to me—I am not talking of picketing generally—by members of N.A.C.O.D.S. and B.A.C.O.M. about their difficulties in seeking to carry out their statutory duties, duties which were agreed with the N.U.M. before the strike took place.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that much more serious picketing is taking place at the Saltley Gasworks in Birmingham, where non-union drivers are crossing the picket lines of both the N.U.M. and the Transport and General Workers Union and this morning injured four policemen in so doing? Is he aware that the pickets regard the keeping open of this gasworks as a deliberate act of provocation? Is he further aware that the Chairman of the West Midlands Gas Board told me this morning—despite the fact that some 1,500 pickets are at the gates, with 500 policemen in attendance, four of whom have been injured—that he believes business is normal?
I note what the hon. Gentleman has said. I shall not reply to a number of statements of that kind on which I have had no opportunity to inform myself.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
No, I am afraid I will not. I have given way a great deal and I want to get on with my speech so that as many hon. Members as possible can take part in the debate.The House must take seriously what those two unions said to me. One of the unions is T.U.C.-affiliated and its general secretary, Mr. Crawford, is a member of the T.U.C. General Council—a man who, with that sort of background, would not speak as he did lightly or without consideration. Therefore, we must take this matter seriously. These are some of the basic factors leading to the strongly entrenched situation on both sides. I urge hon. Members during this debate not to say anything which would cause either side to dig in any further. I believe that it will not lead to a solution of the matter unless we bring into the open, as I believe I have brought into the open, the deep feelings on the miners' side. It is right that the House in considering these matters should also bring out fairly the feeling on the other side. We can have our own views about the rightness or wrongness of those feelings, but the feelings I have reported are deeply felt on both sides. They are factors which must be taken into account. To sweep things under the carpet is not only unfair to the people concerned, but will not serve the cause of the discussions which are taking place to solve the dispute. I appeal not only to the House but beyond it. I believe that the chance of success of the talks which are to begin tomorrow would be increased if the members of N.A.C.O.D.S. and the British Association of Colliery Management could be allowed more freely to go in and do the work which the N.U.M. felt should be done before the strike began, to ensure future production and employment. I believe that a gesture of that kind would in no way weaken the position of the N.U.M. because the two other unions are only seeking to do what the N.U.M. agreed should be done before the strike began. This is seeking to preserve the essential facilities which the public have a right to demand should be preserved and which the mining industry needs to preserve if employment is to be safeguarded.
I am loth to intervene, and let me say at once that I, and I am sure everybody on this side of the House, would support the N.U.M. in keeping discipline and the like, but I am somewhat astonished at the length of time spent by the Minister in dealing with this point. Does he realise the import of what he is saying? He is saying that the chances of getting a fair settlement of the dispute will be enhanced if the dissident and turbulent minority not within the control of the N.U.M. or the police behave better. However, that is the same as saying that if they do not behave better the chances of justice for the great majority of miners in the union will he made worse. I do not understand why the right hon. Gentleman thinks it useful to go on with this scheme.
That is not what I am saying, and I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's intervention, because it gives me an opportunity to deny his implication. I am not saying that. I am saying that this is a real factor in the dispute. We are not threatening anyone. I am expressing a belief, which I do not think can he denied, that when this House expresses in unison a view about a situation it affects the way in which people behave. If the sort of easement about which I am talking could be made apparent, passions might cool and a settlement might be easier. That is all that I am saying.
I suggest that the executive of the National Union of Mineworkers has adopted a responsible attitude towards safety. It has sent circular letters to its members Its national leaders have appeared on television and pointed out to its members that there is no point in seeking wage increases if there are no pits to which they can go back. Equally, the feelings about which he have heard are not held by a turbulent minority which is opposed to members of the National Association of Colliery Overmen, Deputies and Shot-firers turning up 100 per cent. for work when during holiday periods and at weekends there is not a 100 per cent. of deputies attending to safety matters. Normally only three or four are required. This is the reason for the strong feelings among miners. It must not be forgotten that deputies are their fathers and brothers; they are members of the same community. However, the miners feel that the deputies' actions are undermining the effects of the strike. This is not a matter of safety. The deputies are running machines and belts and undermining the strike. This is what all the feeling is about.
I am sure that those who know more about these matters than I do will agree that my appeal is not asking miners to do anything that the N.U.M. has not already asked them to do. I make my appeal for one purpose. I believe that if this House in unison were to make it clear that it agrees with the N.U.M. it would reinforce the N.U.M.'s policy.I want now to put before the House some of the basic facts about the position between the two parties, and I deal first with the National Union of Mineworkers' claim. The right hon. Member for Cheetham made a great deal of the fact that we were speaking as if the union's claim was the only alternative to the National Coal Board's offer. That is not so. It is true to say that we have had indications that the N.U.M. might accept something less than its maximum claim. However, there has been little sign, publicly or privately, about how much less. The only indications that there have been——
Not a penny less.
Listen to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) now. The only indications that there have been have suggested that the union would not consider any sum that was not substantially above the Coal Board's offer.One must look at the implications of the situation. In total the claim amounted to £120 million, or an addition of about 33 per cent. The Coal Board has a wage bill of £365 million for the grades of employees concerned in this negotiation. Therefore, this is an enormous claim, and the gap between £120 million and any sum which the Coal Board could possibly afford is very large. I need say no more about it than that. However, the enormous gap is one of the major reasons why I have not found it fruitful to try to intervene before now and why I cannot be easily optimistic about the result of my intervention tomorrow. The Coal Board raised its offer at least twice, and possibly three times. It did not stick at one level. Its final offer totalled £32 million of its wage bill, which represents an addition of about 7·9 per cent. The effect of this on the wages of individual miners would have been to have raised the lowest basic rate for surface workers to £20 and the range from £20 to £24·45. It would have raised the lowest-paid underground worker to £21, rising to £25·50. It offered another £1·90 to all those under the National Power Loading Agreement, giving them a proposed new rate of £31·90. In addition, the Coal Board had implemented a previous agreement under which 86,000 miners covered by the National Power Loading Agreement should have their pay increased from 1st January by as much as another £2·77 in Scotland, Durham and Wales, with slightly less in some other areas. In addition, the Coal Board offered an extra three days' holiday and immediate discussions on a productivity scheme which would be back-dated if the productivity increase over the year turned out to be 3 cwt. per man shift rather than the 2 cwt. on which the offer of 7·9 per cent. was pitched. The result of the offer would have raised miners from 16th to sixth place in the league table of minimum wages——
How terrible that would have been!
It would have been very good. It would also have provided a minimum of £20, which is the T.U.C.'s target.It is also right that the House should know a little about the movement of miners' pay and earnings relative to those of other people. It is worth recalling that in April last year 44 per cent. of all miners earned more than £30 a week, and 21 per cent. had earnings of more than £35. [HON. MEMBERS: "How many hours?"] The average hours worked were 41·2 compared with 45 in all industries. Between October, 1964, and October, 1970. the average earnings of miners increased by 42 per cent. compared with 55 per cent. for all industries. Between October, 1964, and October, 1970, miners' earnings increased on average by less than that for all industries. The relative percentages were 42 and 55. However, between October, 1970, and October, 1971, the period for which my right hon. Friend and I have to take responsibility, the average earnings of miners increased by 13 per cent., compared with 10·3 per cent. for all industries. In other words, in that latest 12 months the average earnings of miners gained on the average earnings for the whole of industry. Again, we shall all have our views about whether they have gained enough. But when I am answering a censure Motion of the kind that I am today it is fair to point out that in the period for which we have had responsibility the average earnings of miners have improved relative to the average earnings of the male labour force whereas during the six years when the Labour Party was in office they lost relative to other people. The latest figures for October of last year about earnings in all industries, which my Department gathers every October, show that the average earnings of miners have again taken the lead over the average earnings for the rest of manufacturing industry as a whole.
So, before the Coal Board's last offer, which was turned down, there is indisputable evidence that the relative decline of miners compared with the rest of the population had halted and was being reversed. That is a fact which this House, the parties, and the country must take into account.
These are the——
Order. The right hon. Gentleman is not giving way so the hon. Gentlemen must resume their seats.
These are the basic facts and positions of the two parties. There is an enormous gap to be bridged here, even if there were no other constraints at all. But there are other constraints which, in the interests of the whole community, have to be accepted and undertaken by the Government of the day of whichever party. They have to be accepted by this House, by the N.C.B. and by the N.U.M. This presents me with the double duty, of which I have already spoken, of somehow combining a balance between the conflicting interests of the miners and the community as a whole.It is no good pretending that there is no such conflict of interest. Obviously there is. Every time any claim arises there is a conflict of interest. It is not restricted to the miners' claim it is not peculiar to them.
Would the right hon. Gentleman go down the mines for a miner's wage?
The Government must take into account the overall interests of the public at large for a greater degree of price stability. The price of coal has an inevitable effect not only on the future interests of the coal industry but on its future size. It is also basic to many other industrial prices, since it is a prime element in the cost of electricity, steel, and so on.We succeeded in achieving a substantial de-escalation in the rate of price increase in 1971. In the first half of 1971 the Index of Retail Prices was rising at the alarming annual rate of 11 per cent. In the second half of 1971 it was rising at only just over half that rate—at the annual rate of 6 per cent. This is a remarkable deceleration in such a short period. Moreover, the same had been happening—this is the important point for the future—in the movement of wholesale prices. The Index of Wholesale Prices in the second half of 1971 increased by only 1 per cent. In other words, we are now in sight of and have within our grasp a greater degree of price stability than for many years—[An HON. MEMBER: "Nonsense."]—and the duty of this Government, of any Government. in the interests of the whole community is to see that this chance is not thrown away. We can be in no doubt that labour costs are overwhelmingly the largest single element in the final prices of the goods and services bought by consumers. That is agreed between the two sides of the House, because those words are taken from the last White Paper on this subject issued by the Labour Government. Therefore, there can be no doubt that the deceleration in the rate of price increases, of which I have spoken, has been due more than anything else to the success which we have had in lowering the level of pay settlements—[Interruption.] That is absolutely incontestable. When we came to power we were faced with a situation where pay was rising by 12 per cent. and output was rising by a mere 2 per cent. We are now in the position where pay is rising by about 8 per cent. and output is rising by as much as 5 per cent. In other words, instead of the 12 to 2 relationship which we inherited—[Interruption.]
Order. A great many hon. Members wish to speak in the debate. [Interruption.] Order. It will probably be to the benefit of either side to listen to what the other has to say.
Instead of the 12 to 2 relationship between pay and output which we inherited, we now have the transformed relationship of 8 to 5. I believe that the overriding need of this country is for that progress to be continued and maintained.I think that the right hon. Member for Cheatham had this in mind when he talked about the difficulties which this or any Government have to face in this sphere and in what he said about leapfrogging. I welcome what he said. But he then asked, as others asked in the last debate and as we have seen asked in the Press and elsewhere, that the coal industry should be treated as a special case. There are real problems here. If we are to treat this industry as a special case, we have to begin to think over whose heads the miners are to advance and who is to hold back while they go forward. If we want to improve the position of those who are worse off, the rest of us must be prepared to accept a little less. This fact cannot be escaped. Are those who advocate a special case sure that other workers accept that this is more special than their own case? Quite honestly, past history in this sphere is not encouraging. Not only British society but no free society has yet solved the problem of fair relativities between different groups of workers. If comparisons are to be made between different groups of workers in a free society, and if the conclusion is drawn that some groups are from time to time to be treated as special cases, it seems that only the trade union movement as a whole can suggest and provide the remedy. I welcome what was said by the right hon. Member for Cheetham. Although the right hon. Gentleman said that he had no authority, I was interested to hear him commit not only himself but the whole of his party. I was glad to hear that, and I hope that his party will back that commitment in the months and years ahead. However, I have had no sign of any kind from the Trades Union Congress or from the leaders of any unions that they are in any way prepared to consider the miners' case as a special case or to take any lead to hold back in this matter—[Interruption.] I mentioned before, when dealing with the difficult matter of the pay of the manual workers in October, 1970, that I got no response then, and I have had no response since. If they wish to make a response, I am only too ready to meet and to talk to them about it.
We have heard enough.
Did not Mr. Chapple—I did not hear the broadcast—say that he was greatly influenced in the settlement which he reached by a desire to make room for the miners' claim?
I accept from the right hon. Gentlemen that he did say it. I am not arguing about that. If he did, I am glad. But, whilst I welcome that, I must repeat that I believe that we shall need something much more solid than that, better defined and with more weight and commitment behind it.
Would my right hon. Friend make perfectly clear that the Coal Board is operating at a loss, it has large losses forward and that any increase in miners' wages is nothing more than an exercise in deficit financing to be underwritten by this House?
What about Concorde?
My hon. Friend has stated some of the very difficult facts from which we cannot escape, however, much we would wish to do so. While I welcome what the right hon. Gentleman has said about a special case——
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In this debate, Mr. Speaker specifically asked for brevity by Front Bench speakers. The Secretary of State has now been speaking for 52 minutes and has said nothing. Would you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, give us Mr. Speaker's definition of "brevity"?
No, I would not be prepared to do that. But I would be prepared to ask the House to listen with care to whoever speaks. In that way we shall get far more speakers than if hon. Members are constantly interrupting.
I should have finished at least 25 minutes ago had the Opposition been prepared to let me make my speech in the way that this side of the House was prepared to let the right hon. Member for Cheetham make his speech, in spite of what I know he genuinely meant to be very harsh criticisms of the Government.
My right hon. Friend spoke for 20 minutes.
Exactly—because we did not interrupt him. I have been subject to constant interruptions and constant noise.I have given to the House, and, probably to an audience wider than the House, some basic facts which neither the House, nor the Government, nor the Coal Board nor the National Union of Mineworkers can spirit away merely by wishing that these facts did not exist. They do exist. So we have this difficult situation on our hands. The talks will take place tomorrow. I can only assure the House that I shall do my best to discharge the double duty about which I have spoken which the present Government and any Government are elected to discharge—that is the duty to the community as a whole, while within that duty, trying to be fair to the interests of individual sections of it. That is what I shall do tomorrow, and I ask the House to do nothing today to make that task more difficult.
I am very glad to follow the speech of the Secretary of State for Employment. It is customary when making a speech in the House for a Member to declare his interest. I declare mine. My interest in the coalmining industry stems from the fact that I was born, bred and worked in it. I realise that I am not unique in the House in that respect. But we are here, such as we are, such as circumstances have created us, and naturally there comes a time in our lives when we have to decide to act with all the earnestness and intelligence we possess. Whatever else may be speculative, we know that most people are concerned only with results or, rather, with the way that results determine their lives.I want to avoid covering the same ground as that covered by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. Harold Lever) with his usual alacrity of mind and understanding of the situation. I do not wisht to repeat anything said in the previous debate on 18th January. In my early days I read a lecture delivered by Leon Trotsky. Hon. Members should not be alarmed. I shall not start a revolution.
I do not want to be misunderstood. The concluding words of that lecture made an indelible impression on my mind. In appropriate language, Trotsky said:
The full impact of the meaning of those words is bound to be felt by many who are involved in the terrible, innumerable tangling of turmoils and conflicts throughout the world practically, which have a tendency to increase. With problems piling up upon problems, growing wider and ever deeper, that is practically a daily feature of the business of the House. It is even depressing to read daily newspapers, the mailbag of right hon. and hon. Members of this honourable House from constituents who make up the nation. Equally, as we are concentrating our attention primarily upon the situation in the mining industry, it is necessary to look in the face some of the industrial, personal and socially consequences accruing from it. In the industrial world, I make no apology for saying that the bibliography of the winning of coal is a formidable one. Reduced to commonplace by abundance to provide a world of power, heat and light, it has been a long, hard and very difficult uphill road with its tragic history of accidents, with all the hazards to life and health through industrial disease and large-scale disasters resulting in the terrible loss of precious human lives. Today the Coal Board and the miners take a special pride in the methods of mechanisation for producing coal. For the benefit of the right hon. Gentleman, in trying to understand what the circumstances are in coal mines, I quote from the last report of the medical officer of the National Coal Board:"The 20th century is the most disturbed century within the living memory of humanity, the man or woman who wants peace, joy, happiness and comfort before everything else, then believe me, they have chosen the wrong time to be born."
This is why so many men in industry are finding that their health is absolutely ruined before they reach middle-age. Not one Member of the House would be prepared to go down the mines and work under those conditions—I would not do it for double the salary—and that includes all the ink-spillers and pen-pushers of the Civil Service who are trying to put forward the strategy of what we call controlling inflation and keeping down the norm. The struggles and strife within such a stable industry are symbolic of the battle between capital and labour. There have been many disputes in the industry that steadily developed into the great struggles of the twentieth century on a widely extended front. Because of the miners' work, an unpleasant, arduous and dangerous occupation, in the records of the struggles, and why they were so the motives always honestly disclosed. Complaints against coal owners and men alike date back 200 years, when each side presented its humble memorials or explanations to Parliament and the public. Seeing that I am a Tynesider, I might mention that when the export of coal from Newcastle to London reached 190,000 tons a year the first Act of Parliament dealing with pitmen provided:"Men in their early twenties are now contracting pneumoconiosis because of the sophisticated machinery that is being used in the coal mines. The increase in mechanisation from day to day is producing more dust."
Under that Act, masters and owners were given the power"If colliers should leave their masters without consent, they would be esteemed reported and held as thieves of themselves, and of cowardice for leaving such masters."
That was how they became known as bondmen. Relentlessly driven, sometimes first-class political issues arose and subsided on the strife around coal. To conserve space for one's own memory and profound impressions, the last miners' national strike deprived me of obtaining my first-ever employment until I was over 18 years of age. I am the last one who would like to see that happen again to the children of miners on strike. That strike was made inevitable because the Miners' Federation at the time was unanimously of the opinion that it was not prepared to accept a uniform reduction of 13⅓ per cent. of the standard wage—and that conditional upon the extension of the working day. As a consequence they refused to be called upon to surrender any of their inadequate wages and conditions. Looking back on that history of the coalmining industry, a reflection of the social and industrial history of Britain, I cannot avoid the temptation to inflict another quotation on the House, this time borrowing the language of Oscar Wilde:"… to lay hold of all vagabonds and sturdy beggars and compel them to work in the pits."
The orientation of those words instinctively influences me to confess to having some emotion of ideal that can be applied through the collective inheritance of the industry. In my day, working with pick and shovel, with some of the most courageous men this country has ever known, who served in the Durham Light Infantry——"Man's emotion is stirred much more quickly than his intelligence."
—who fought in the slaughter of the Somme and of the Dardanelles, time and time again I contravened the Coal Mines Act, taking desperate risks to try to earn a few bob above the minimum wage of 6s. 6½d. a day. Even the management side knew what was going on but had the good sense to shut its eyes to it because what it wanted was more output. But, thank the Lord and all His saints, that is now buried in the dustbin of history.It is no exaggeration, but a sober statement of fact, to say that the mining industry has a whole terminology of its own. Hours of explanation would be required before it was clearly understood. It is very difficult to sit back and take a calm survey of the present situation, evoked under this chequer-board of strife, and especially when one has had a lifetime of contact with the industry. It is only in such circumstances that one acquires a vivid conception of the many human issues. It is the nature of the vision which it brings into being that one cannot forget the pathos and the humorous life in mining communities. We have all been issued with circulars from the National Coal Board. We read quite a lot about Coal Board officials decrying the fact that coalfaces have been lost and thousands of pounds' worth of equipment abandoned. But what about the losses in the past acceleration of pit closures—a deliberate and calculated contraction of the industry, creating an industrial reserve army at the cost of social and human unhappiness, and even, I am sorry to say, under a Labour Gov- ernment? When one considers the miles and miles of steel roadways, the thousands and thousands of tons of steel supports, the haulage equipment, water pumps and miles and miles of electric cable, from which scrap dealers would have made a fortune if only they could have got their hands on it to extract the copper, and all kinds of machinery, which were left in the pits that were closed never to see daylight again, all at the cost of public investment, with never a squeak from a Coal Board official, to me that was nothing less than a national, shameful scandal. Whatever inherent loyalty is implied in the immediate dispute, there can be no mistaking its import in the deeper aspect of the struggle. In reality there have been, as is well known, many strikes in organised forces in civilisation, but whatever the motive involved there have been many that existed as a single industry and short of the full capacity to sacrifice have often been found to have weaknesses in one place or another. Therefore, I want to emphasise to the right hon. Gentleman that in this strike in the coalmining industry at one end of the scale, instead of being reduced to insignificance, the magnitude of the position shows no sign of collapse whatsoever. Is it not therefore crystal-clear, when there is the most strenuous resistance in such a deadlocked situation, that it will not be allowed to evaporate as a nine-days' wonder of industrial unrest? The picture is all the more vivid when it is realised that the problem is more far-reaching than any other industrial problems we are encountering. So long as this is the attitude of the men, in the absence of any practical proposals from the Coal Board designed to meet the circumstances of the industry, it can only lead to further unemployment and depressed standards. This strike is now in its fifth week. We know what it is costing the miners. We know that the Coal Board and the nation are losing a great deal of money through lost output. There will undoubtedly be greater hardship when the remaining stocks of coal and coke are exhausted. I will not deal with pickets or blacklegs but I would point out that the National Union of Mineworkers has requested trade unions, professional associations and Ministries concerned to remind their members of the priority groups such as hospitals, old-age pensioners, the sick, the infirm and families with young babies. As a classical example of morality, in my own village the strikers are not standing idly by. They are purchasing from the Forestry Commission pine trees that have been blown down, sawing them into logs and delivering them in bags to old people to ensure that they are kept warm. Such an act of thoughtfulness proves the good qualities of heart that these men possess. They deserve every credit due to them for the way in which they concern themselves about the old people in the village. However I am afraid that the National Executive of the union will not allow any thing to take place which will undermine the wishes and desires of the men. What has infuriated the men as much as anything is that they have given of their best, striving hard to establish good relationships with the Coal Board. They have been patient in their long years of co-operation, reasonableness and loyalty, trying to work in harmony to save the industry. One of the laws of motion is that every action produces an equal and opposite reaction. The N.U.M. has worked admirably with the Coal Board in co-operating as best they could, even during the worrying years, in facing their heavy responsibilities of colliery closures and various transfers of men to relieve the pressure, during a time when fuel policies had disastrous effects upon the industry. It is not difficult to fathom the mood of the men as further pit closures are predicted by the Chairman of the National Coal Board following the strike. This strike is a measure of the miners' anger over the way they have been treated in the last 10 years. Looking at the industrial battlefield nothing can obscure the fact that very few industrial workers have been as conciliatory as the miners. No group of workers has been clobbered harder than the miners, by both Governments. The threat of more closures is not a matter of great gravity when viewed against what the men say, which is that if the industry cannot afford to pay a decent wage in the same way as other industries, then the best thing to do is to let the grass grow over the pulley wheels. After years of loyalty there has come the realisation that the only way they can be recognised in wage negotiations is to strike and to let the consequences flow. Another truth is that this strike is rapidly moving over the brink and it will gather momentum. Even if a settlement were reached it would take many more weeks before there could be anything like a recovery. I do not want to look upon the industry in too gloomy a fashion. If it were a question of Nature's resources failing, of inadequate technical skill, we would have no alternative but to endure. There are probably few people who would disagree that muscles and lives are the essential materials for producing coal. It is about time that the black clouds looming over people in the mining districts were lifted. This affects not only miners but the non-mining communities whose livelihood also depends upon the miners' pay packets. What can be done to avoid disastrous consequences? The Government have decided to intervene rather late in the day. They should be more forthcoming about precisely how they are bridling and saddling the Coal Board with their policies. The longer the strike is prolonged the more harsh and universal will its effects be. The Government should stop bandying the miners about like bingo numbers. They work in terrible conditions and it is about time that something was done to reach a quick settlement. The solution must be based upon broad agreement among the Government, the Coal Board and the N.U.M. It does not matter what sort of emergency powers the Government adopt, none of them will produce more coke or coal. This Government might as well try to freeze the Persian Gulf.
I do not have the coal mining experience of the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. Woof) or of any of his hon. Friends. Nor do I have the emotional attitude toward these problems which in some cases goes back to the 1926 strike, as was the case with the hon. Member. In some cases this attitude derives from a deliberate attempt to work up emotions rather than being something that comes from experience. But I do have thousands of miners and their families in my constituency and I am as concerned as anyone about their future standing of living and their jobs.I do not want to dwell too long on the history of the matter. No one will "win" the strike, whether it is seen as a struggle between the Coal Board and the N.U.M. or between the Government and the trade union movement. Certainly the people of this country will not benefit since when and if a better offer is made and accepted miners will be paid for not mining the coal while those pits that can be brought into operation are recovered. This will push up the price of coal still further. I accept that the strike is legitimate in the sense that it is about wages and in the sense that negotiating procedures have been gone through, a ballot has been held according to the N.U.M. constitution and a sufficient majority was found. Although I regret the fact that the N.U.M. refused to go to arbitration, at least this was not a binding agreement. Nevertheless, this strike is approaching industrial suicide. The picture has become increasingly clear over the last five years. Coal's share of total energy consumption has dropped from nearly 60 per cent. to only 45 per cent. This is partly because the retail price of coal has gone up very much faster than the price of competitive fuels. Coal and coke have risen in price by nearly a half, as opposed to a rise of only a fifth for gas and electricity and little over a quarter for oil. So coal is losing out competitively in the retail market.
Does the hon. Gentleman not realise that 70 per cent. or more of our electricity is generated from coal, that world oil prices are now escalating much more quickly than world coal prices and that we are importing coal at an average price at the port of entry of £10·10, excluding transport charges, against an average of £5·84 in the British coalfields?
I am, of course, aware that electricity depends largely on coal, but why have the generating boards been asking to go over to oil? Why are they so concerned to use nuclear power? It is because the price of coal has escalated to such an extent. Last year they burned 20 per cent. more oil and 7 per cent. less coal. So the trend is clearly there. If we want further evidence, one knows from one's own friends and what they are burning domestically that they are swinging to oil and away from coal where they can.I do not say that the miner does not deserve a fair wage, he certainly does, but what is "fair"? The higher claim, if it results in a higher settlement, means a greater certainty of further closure of uneconomic pits. That is why I refer to this as one part of an industrial suicide attempt. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. Harold Lever) said that the Government were beating the miners into submission through the unemployment threat. But it is the miners themselves who are causing their own threat of unemployment in the future. The other part of this industrial suicide tendency is the efforts in many areas positively to ensure that faces and pits cannot be worked again. Thank heaven, in my constituency my miners have a moderate and sensible attitude——
The hon. Member who preceded me in my constituency has gone into print saying that thousands of miners and their wives voted Conservative, so I might legitimately call them "my" miners. I represent them whatever party they voted for.The miners in my constituency voted nearly two to one against taking strike action, but they are rightly expressing union solidarity in coming out. They are showing full reasonableness in allowing deputies and others to carry out necessary safety and maintenance work. But it is not enough, and we are experiencing some deterioration in our pits. I had reports this morning that we are experiencing the first sign of loss of faces through jamming of hydraulic supports. That maintenance work is being done so far as possible by the deputies, but there is evidence at one of my pits of more militant action introduced by miners from neighbouring collieries who moved in and tried to stop our deputies carrying out their necessary safety and maintenance work. It is no good to tell me that they were militants not within the control of the union, because my branch of the N.U.M. finally agreed with the N.U.M. branch in South Derbyshire that picket lines would be kept to the local branch, and there has been no further trouble. That is evidence for what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said.
Do I understand that the hon. Member is a member of the National Union of Mineworkers, since he refers to "his" branch?
The hon. Member knows perfectly well that I am not. If I am to give way, I will do so only if I think the intervention will be reasonable.Up to now there has been little prospect of a settlement. The Government have not been standing idly by, but the difference between what has been offered and what has been claimed is too great for any settlement. Several interventions by hon. Members here today have shown that they still want to go for the full amount claimed. If that is the general attitude of the union, which I doubt, we shall get nowhere. This week becomes crucial. Public sympathy is vital to the miners' cause and it will start to shift away as power cuts come. On the other hand, one cannot rely on public sympathy to settle a strike, or indeed on lack of public sympathy. I am sure that the union will continue this suicidal struggle unless a different offer is forthcoming. Contrary to the views of some hon. Members opposite, my Government and I do not wish the N.U.M. to eat dirt at the end of four or six weeks of further struggle. Equally, the Coal Board and the industry just cannot afford a significant increase on what has been offered already, for the reasons I have given. It would be right to negotiate a longer-term agreement, possibly for two years, certainly for 18 months. The right hon. Member for Cheetham hinted at this as a possible solution, and I agree with him. It would be right for the Coal Board to improve on its offer if it could be certain of a longer-term agreement. This is what I should like to suggest. If the union executive will not accept any such offer, at least it might be prepared to recommend it for a ballot. If not, the Secretary of State would have to consider using powers given under the Industrial Relations Act to call for a ballot. [Laughter.] That is exactly the reaction which one expects from hon. Members opposite. They do not look for the democratic solution. Under the Industrial Relations Act my right hon. Friend can call for a ballot.
They had one.
As the hon. Member knows very well, the original ballot was not taken on the Coal Board's final offer. If an improved, offer based on a longer-term agreement, were forthcoming, I believe that, in view of the small margin originally in favour of strike action and knowing the feeling in my constituency, a majority of miners would accept the improved offer——
The hon. Member would be wrong.
As the hon. Member knows, my constituency adjoins his. Has he not found that "his" miners, as he calls them, are now so determined to get a better offer that they would rather see pits close than go back on the wrong terms? That is the kind of determination which Warwickshire and Leicestershire miners are showing, even in the hon. Gentleman's constituency.
What I am trying to show the hon. Gentleman is that miners in my constituency are determined that pits shall not close. The hon. Gentleman knows that deputies from Leicestershire have been coming into Warwickshire to save Newdigate Colliery.
Because they cannot get enough of my deputies down.
On my information, the deputies in Warwickshire are trying to save this pit.What I am trying to make clear is that under the Industrial Relations Act the Secretary of State has power to call for a ballot, and in the event of one being called I can reasonably expect a majority to come out in favour of a settlement. If the ballot were to go against an improved offer, I am certain that public sympathy would be totally alienated. If the miners voted in favour of a settlement, which I expect they would, that would provide a democratic and acceptable solution to an increasingly tragic situation.
I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Adam Butler). I think that the hon. Gentleman has some sympathy for the miners, but it falls far short of what is required. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that the Minister can impose a ballot upon 290,000 miners, I can only tell him that he is out of touch with the miners. There is no possible chance of any Minister or any Government forcing such a large number of people, against their will, to hold a ballot which will determine whether they carry on.I listened with a feeling of deep concern to the Secretary of State for Employment. In the face of a censure Motion and in the fifth week of a national strike, I have never known a Ministerial reply which was as disgraceful as the Minister's. It consisted of a bare catalogue of non-essential matters, with a peroration that was almost designed to provoke the miners yet again. Indeed, towards the end of his speech one wondered why the right hon. Gentleman had called the miners to see him tomorrow morning. The Government and hon. Gentlemen on their side of the House who represent mining constituencies must accept their share of responsibility for this strike. The Government by their policies and by a series of premeditated acts, had inflamed the feelings of the miners and the union long before the strike began. One Government decision was to import coal and 5 million tons has been imported since the party opposite came to office. The Government decided to step up opencast mining from 4 million to 7 million tons now and to increase that figure to 10 million tons. They have converted coal-burning power stations to oil and caused the mining industry a permanent loss of a market of 2½ million tons. In total, therefore, 12½ million tons of coal has been taken away from the mining industry and 25,000 jobs are in jeopardy. On top of that the Government embarked upon a policy of hiving off the profitable ancillary undertakings of the board, there- by threatening the board with a loss of profit amounting to £12 million a year. The Government have adopted a shortsighted, stupid, doctrinaire and provocative policy. That was seen prior to the strike as a direct and frontal attack against the mining industry, and it is against that background that the strike began.
Is it not a fact that when the right hon. Gentleman was in office he approved the conversion of the Hams Hall power station in Warwickshire to burn natural gas?
If the hon. Gentleman wants to intervene he should get his facts right. In October, 1969, I replied to a Question saying that the experiment at Hams Hall had been a success but that I was not going to give it permission to be converted, and I never did.
Mine is not a parochial point. Is it not a fact that the C.E.G.B. is contemplating no further building of power stations to burn coal, for the very good reason that coal is the most expensive fuel it uses?
I think that the hon. Gentleman must be aware of his Government's position in this matter. They and the Minister—who is now acting as the Minister for Power—have the right to give consent or not to the building of power stations. The Minister can withhold his consent if he wishes to do so and he can stop the C.E.G.B. from going nuclear all the way, oil all the way or North Sea gas all the way. It is incumbent upon the Government to determine whether another coal-fired power station should be built. The hon. Gentleman knows that we sanctioned Drax 2.A declaration of emergency is imminent but coal stocks will continue to run down because no coal is being produced. At present 142 coal-fired stations are responsible for more than 70 per cent. of the electricity being generated. Those stations will gradually grind to a halt. That is becoming more and more inevitable. The Government know, as does the National Coal Board, that power stations have about two weeks' supplies left. Undistributed stocks dare not be moved. I warn the Government not to bring in the Army to move these stocks unless they wish to provoke open warfare between the miners and the Services. Bearing in mind the time that it will take to produce coal again after the strike is over, undistributed stocks will have to be used to keep the power stations ticking over until production is back to normal. A declaration of emergency will not save the coal industry, and that is what is at risk now. The industry is slowly being strangled. It is incurring crippling financial debts. Expensive coalface machinery is being permanently damaged. Roadways and faces are in a state of collapse, and we must not forget that the board will have to face severe losses even after the strike is over. There will be total overheads with full labour costs but very little production for at least four weeks. The crippling cost to the board cannot be ignored. Prior to the strike the board had an accumulated deficit of £34 million. It lost a further £20 million during the 10-week overtime ban, and there is already an estimated loss of revenue of £50 million because of the strike. Between £5 million and £10 million worth of expensive machinery has been damaged, and in addition there are the losses of roads and coalfaces. It must be remembered too, that further losses will be incurred when the strike is over. The strike is the most colossal financial miscalculation ever made by a Government in collusion with a major industry. Meanwhile unemployment is being exacerbated. Workers are being laid off in every region, and steel plants blast furnaces, paper mills and textile plants are being closed. By the end of this week British Railways will have lost nearly £10 million in revenue. The social consequences of the strike are growing. Scores of schools are closing and thousands of children are being affected. Bitterness is growing in local communities and hatreds are developing between middle management of the mines and picketing miners. Relations between miners and the police are becoming strained. Approaches are being made to every mining Member from the area of the Yorkshire coalfield and by picketing squads from every coalfield in Britain. The North Staffordshire pickets too have been making approaches to Members of the House. In Birmingham yesterday the Home Secretary and the Secre- tary of State for Trade and Industry were warned that an uneasy situation was developing. So far 21 miners have been arrested and physical difficulties have arisen between the two sides. A warning has been given that plant should have been closed today and it is likely that an ugly situation will develop. The Government should realise that in this kind of situation, where there are large coke or coal dumps, and because of the feeling, the bitterness and the hostility of the miners against the Government, it is incumbent upon the Government to use sense, to have just the same sense of responsibility that the miners and the police have been trying to exercise so far and allow the lorries to go through for hospitals and needy cases but to halt the rest. When this strike is at an end, the bitterness will be long-lasting. It will be in the mining communities themselves as well, between the miners and some of their middle management colleagues in the villages. It will carry on for a long time between the miners and the police, and that should be abhorred by all. I think that this will be the last major convulsion of the mining industry. I think it is the miners' last stand. Their economic bargaining power has weakened and it will weaken further as the years roll on. It is crucial to the argument to realise that the miners know this and are conditioned to the fact and that no argument about pit closures and their own future has any impact on them. This salient and vital point must be recognised by the Government. There is no chink in the coalfields. The men are prepared to lose their mines and their jobs rather than work for the proposed rates of pay. If this fact is grasped with all its consequences, a method must urgently be found to save the coalmining industry, 285 pits and 142 power stations generating most of our electricity. We need this coal industry of ours. We shall need coal and we shall need coal miners well beyond the year 2000. Even the possibility of the new indigenous fuel policy for Britain, based on coal, nuclear power, North Sea gas and North Sea oil, is now in jeopardy. Our chance gradually to free the nation from the whims and idiosyncrasies of the sheikhs, potentates and dictators of the Middle East is slipping away. Above all there is the frightening prospect that if the coal industry is permanently damaged and output severely cut back, the Government will be faced with the considerable foreign exchange costs of importing large quantities of oil while the major programme of conversion in our power stations from coal to other fuels takes place. I honestly wonder whether the Government are really aware of the miners' resolve and determination and whether they have really thought this issue through to its possible appalling end. I address myself now to the Secretary of State for Employment, and I am sorry that he is not present. What a paradox of a title he holds! Employment? He has had a disastrous time in office. Never has one Minister in such a short time inflicted so much pain and suffering on so many working-class people. Unemployment and the loss of production from strikes are unequalled in post-war years. But I am aware of the right hon. Gentleman's dilemma. I am aware of the cards he has to play. I am aware that. having cast his ace through personal intervention, he knows that he must succeed. But there seem to be three possibilities and I stress that all three in his talks tomorrow should be informally discussed with the parties concerned. The first is the old system of a reference tribunal, where the Minister by agreement with the parties concerned, would agree to the composition and the terms of reference. Secondly there is another well-tried method, that of a court of inquiry. I am aware that the Secretary of State could if he wished, because of the national emergency, impose this from above on both parties irrespective of whether they agreed. That would be disastrous. But even if a court of inquiry is agreed to by the conflicting parties, there must not be any reference to prevailing economic circumstances or to the Government's wage restraint policy. There must be no strings. There must be an honest appraisal of the miners' task, its dangers and what should be its just rewards. Thirdly there is the argument described as the special case. The right hon. Gentleman, disgraceful as he was today at the Dispatch Box, said that he had received no encouragement for the special case. Yet he himself has not had any discussion with the T.U.C. to get its reaction to the concept of a special case for the miners. I think that the special case is twofold. First, hon. Members glibly throw out figures, as does the National Coal Board, about average earnings. Forget average earnings. It is the basic rate of pay that matters, because one of the reasons why the miners have suffered is that the union and the board, co-operating for industrial peace, have been cutting out piece rates and bonus rates. They have been getting day wages—basic rates—in order to cut out piece work and its consequences on danger underground. In this way they have cut out pit squabbles and industrial disputes. They have managed all that and we do not want to go back to those days. The average earnings in manufacturing industry have been quoted alongside average earnings underground. But men work in manufacturing industry in relative comfort and in relative safety; men work underground in great stress and danger. Let us not equate the average earnings in manufacturing industry with the average earnings of miners. It is the basic rate of pay that matters. Secondly there is constant danger underground. These are men who work in water. in constant dust, in gas conditions. These are men who are battling with the hazards of nature underground. There is no other industry in Britain that has an allied preponderance of danger, dust and industrial disease. I draw the Secretary of State's attention to the statistics in the report of the National Coal Board for 1970–71. They showed 92 miners dead. 598 seriously injured and 82,213 reported accidents all in one year. The latest figures I could receive from the Department of Health and Social Security showed that in 1969 417 miners were diagnosed as having pneumoconiosis; 40,000 were being paid benefit for this industrial disease and 673 died of it. That is one year of disease, death and accident in the coalmining industry—765 miners killed or dead from industrial disease. In addition 417 were diseased for life, 598 were seriously maimed, 82,000 were slightly injured and 40,000 on industrial disease benefits were destined to die an early death. That is one year in the British coalmining industry. Those are the hazards and there is the special case. That case cannot be equated with manufacturing industry. On that special case, the Secretary of State should understand that the situation will necessitate a reconstruction of the finances of the National Coal Board to ease its financial position. He should consider public dividend capital for the Board as is done for B.O.A.C. and the British Steel Corporation. It is subject to fluctuating returns and is being penalised through interest debts. A case for public dividend capital can be made out. The Secretary of State must also recognise that there is no going back and that the mining industry will be severely damaged beyond repair unless there is a fresh cash offer. Finally, I agree with the hon. Member for Bosworth that there must on this occasion be a two to three year agreement on a long-term productivity deal. That is the special case. I repeat that I know that the Secretary of State must be careful and that, when his last ace is played and he has met the conflicting parties and has determined a course, his trick has to be secured. Otherwise the most serious economic consequences will befall the nation, consequences perhaps unparalleled in our industrial history, because within three weeks from now the powering of British industry will cease. Light and heat will be cut off leaving a cold, bitter and helpless nation. The Government and the right hon. Gentleman know that all this is possible if they do not act. I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman is inevitably in a cleft stick situation. He must be careful. This is a situation that necessitates thought but it is about time that he acted. If tomorrow the right hon. Gentleman meets the Board and the miners and indicates an interest in the special case, he will be supporting the board—it wants to be let off the hook, too—and the mineworkers, because they are in need of a cash offer and there is no end to this strike without one, and I am satisfied that he will not exacerbate relations with the T.U.C.
The right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) made a provocative attack on my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment both for his speech and for his actions.This must, of course, be a subjective view, but I thought that my right hon. Friend's speech was a studiously careful and restrained explanation of his position. In view of what will take place tomorrow, one could hardly expect anything else from him. I look forward with complete confidence to my right hon. Friend discharging his responsibilities tomorrow with good sense and moderation. The right hon. Member for Barnsley also made an attack on the Government—or was it on the National Coal Board?—over a wide front. I will take the points he made in turn. First, he attacked the Government—or was it the N.C.B.?—for concentrating on opencast coal production. I have no doubt that, with his vast experience of these matters, he has glanced at the accounts of the N.C.B., If so, he should agree that the answer is not hard to find. On page 7 of the N.C.B.'s accounts one sees that, apart from the first year of opencast activities, this sector of mining has been profitable every year, by contrast with most of the board's other divisions. Indeed, the greater part of the board's profit in the last year was comprised of the £16 million contributed by the opencast activities. [Interruption.] I can only refer to the accounts, which I recommend hon. Gentlemen opposite to do, and derive what comfort I can from them. In any event, I would have thought that these facts offer a reasonable explanation for the concentration on opencast activities. The right hon. Member for Barnsley then attacked the Government in regard to power stations going over to oil. I defer to his greater experience as a former Minister of Power, but I draw my experience from the happenings at Richborough Power Station in Kent. Largely at the prompting of my Conservative predecessor, Sir John Arbuthnot, this station was designed and built to take coal from the local mines. However, it is now moving over to oil because there is a ready market for East Kent coal for coking purposes in the steel industry. I would have thought, therefore, that on commercial and social grounds this changeover was desirable. The right hon. Member for Barnsley then attacked the Government—this is a hoary old chestnut—over the hiving-off of certain collateral activities of the N.C.B. Again I refer to page 7 of the board's accounts where there is reference to the brickworks. In the past five years the brickworks have been in the red. Would it not be a sound commercial decision on the part of the N.C.B. to sell off this and other of its loss-making subsidiaries?
The hon. Gentleman must be unaware of the losses that are being made in this field. Hon. Gentlemen opposite who, like me, were members of the Committee which discussed the Coal Industry Bill upstairs will appreciate the force of my remarks. It is not true to say that all the collateral activities are in profit.
To whom would the hon. and learned Gentleman sell them?
There are certain people in private enterprise who can turn loss-making activities into a profit. [Interruption.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite may care to ask Mr. Slater about that. Instead of these N.C.B. activities being allowed to make a loss year after year, they should be sold off to people who think they can turn them to profit. But I do not want to be sidetracked into long explanations on subjects other than those with which I had intended to deal.My final words about the speech of the right hon. Member for Barnsley are that it is to be regretted that his remarks were so inflammatory and that they did not contain any constructive solutions, particularly at a time when hon. Members in all parts of the House want to see a constructive solution to this strike. By contrast with the right hon. Member for Barnsley, the right hon. Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. Harold Lever) made some characteristically graceful expressions of sympathy towards the Government in their difficulty. I in turn wish to make some expressions of sympathy and concern for the individual miner. It is customary on these occasions, particularly when the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is in his place, to be told that one is weeping crocodile tears, but let us at least today keep the debate on a level which does justice to the seriousness of the situation. One does not need to have a bad conscience, like the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Raphael Tuck) who has left the Chamber, because one has not cut coal, to know that coalmining is a dirty, rough and dangerous occupation. We appreciate that to the full, just as we appreciate the long memories of those who have worked in the industry. I have read and studied the speeches of, for example, the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie), whose views and feelings about this industry I know well. Any of us who have made comparisons with rates of pay at Dagenham, Lynwood or even the Port of London recognise that there are anomalies here——
Or even with the Bar.
The Bar has particular responsibilities, and I assure that hon. Gentleman that we are a highly competitive profession. [Interruption.] We have not been feather-bedded by this Government or the previous Labour Administration.It is not for those of us who do not bear the responsibility of management or Government merely to offer ineffectual expressions of sympathy. The country expects emotion from us but also good sense and possibly some constructive suggestions. Any analysis of the problem must start with an examination of the N.C.B.'s accounts, and this is why I carry them with me when I am expecting to discuss the coal industry, and from them it is easy to see the Coal Board's predicament. The N.C.B. carries an accumulated deficit of about £33 million. Although it made a profit last year of £30 million, for which all credit is due to those who work in the industry at every level, there are also interest charges of about £30 million. [Interruption.] If hon. Gentlemen opposite want those interest charges to be written off, I must remind them, if it is necessary for me to do so, that £415 million of Government loan money has already been written off; and under the various coal industry Acts the redundancy schemes will demand the injection of about £30 million of public money. What is the cost of the N.U.M. claim likely to be? No firm figures have been advanced by hon. Gentlemen opposite, but my right hon. Friend costed it out at £120 million and his figure was not challenged by hon. Gentlemen opposite. Indeed, the hon. Member for Bolsover said "Not one penny less". How, then, is the board to find that money? In other words, how is the resultant bill to be met? I offer four possible ways of meeting the Bill, for it is right that if sympathy is to be engendered for the N.U.M.'s claim—and I recognise that there is a great deal of sympathy in the country for it—the country should also realise what is at stake and how the claim can be met. First, it could be met by a rise in the cost of coal. We know that the industry is one of those commanding heights of the economy which hon. Gentlemen opposite were anxious to capture. But what happens on most commanding heights affects us in the plains below. Do we have an assurance from hon. Gentlemen opposite that the Questions which they regularly table in Parliament about the relative value of the £ now compared with what it was on 18th June, 1970, will cease to be tabled? I wonder whether the concern of hon. Gentlemen opposite would not ring hollow if the solution which they are proposing turned out to be a rise in the cost of coal? The next possible solution is a further closing of uneconomic pits. I am desperately concerned about this in East Kent, although I hope that the pits there, from the point of view of their future, have turned the corner. As I have explained, there is a big demand for the coking coal which they produce. There has been a rundown in this industry in many parts of the country since the war, and this is partly the reason for the moderation of the leaders of the N.U.M. up to now. They have obviously realised the difficulty in which the N.C.B. has been placed and have wanted to slow down pit closures. This has obviously been one of the reasons, and I sympathise with them. So this is something which we must face if we are to present to the Coal Board a solution which they cannot economically bear. The third solution is to ask the taxpayers of this country to underwrite this Bill. If so we must spell out the details and remind taxpayers that already £415 million of public money has been written off and we will be called on to contribute at least £30 million to redundancy schemes and a great deal more to re-equip pits; and as those hon. Members opposite who have worked in coal-mining will know, massive capital investment will still be required to put the pits on a proper and viable basis. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about Concorde?"] I am not prepared to compare the relative merits of Concorde or the pits but I am concentrating on the dilemma that is facing the Coal Board. With respect to the right hon. Member for Barnsley, I like the idea of equity capital in all the nationalised industries and of the equity being offered eventually to the public, although after some of the statements from hon. Gentlemen opposite I doubt whether the public will want to take up equity capital in the National Coal Board. That is something to which to look forward but it is a long-term solution. The final solution that I would propound is an increase in productivity, which is the one really constructive point put forward by the right hon. Gentleman, a productivity agreement which could perhaps be fixed for two or three years. Can productivity he increased? Again—and this is all in the accounts—between 1947 and 1970 productivity was nearly doubled from about 21·5 cwt. per man-shift to 44·2 cwt., a very impressive achievement reflecting great credit on all who work in the industry and on the far-sighted investment by the Coal Board, because there have already been massive increases in capital equipment.
And the co-operation of the men.
Of course. I am prepared to pay tribute to them, and I prefaced my remarks by doing so.The introduction of powered supports has made a tremendous difference in East Kent; and what concerns me particularly about this strike is the risk at which the underground equipment is being put. I wish to reiterte my tribute to the members of N.A.C.O.D. and the management, who in conditions of great difficulty are trying to maintain it. The National Union of Mineworkers must realise that if it does now allow such maintenance it is playing Samson in the Temple and pulling down the whole structure of the industry.
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman not realise that because of the Government's attitude in saying that the coal mining industry shall be run as a commercial unit miners today are greatly worried about who is to pay the cost of the under-officials and the office staff throughout the industry during the period of the strike? If they are to be saddled with that cost as well as the many other costs that have been outlined in the debate it means that they will not be able to reach a proper settlement and that there will be a tremendous loss. Why do the Government not say something about the cost of what is going on now so that we can get a better relationship between the mine workers and the deputies' union.
The hon. Gentleman is showing a curious concern. Of course the overmen and management must be paid during this period. They can hardly he turned away and told there is no work and there are no wages for them. Payment must be made to them; but I do not see why in equity or good sense the Government should be asked to underwrite that at this point in time. Of course I wants to see the industry on a comercial basis. Without anticipating my conclusion, I must say that only if the industry is put on a commercial basis can the people in it be paid a commercial wage, and only then can they start to compare with workers at Lynwood or Dagenham.I offer those possible solutions. On the question of productivity I am certainly in no position to say how far increases in productivity can be achieved. Clearly, this must be explored by experts, and as it is something which my right hon. Friend the Minister for Employment will no doubt be exploring tomorrow with those directly concerned, it would be presumptuous of me to offer advice in this particular regard. It would not be right for me to conclude without saying to the leaders of the National Union of Mineworkers that I feel they are playing their hand about as ineptly as they could. Criticism is levelled from time to time at commanders of the British Army on the Western Front during the first world war. Their handling of the Western Front was a miracle of finesse compared with the handling by the National Union of Mineworkers of this strike, whether through malelovence or ineptitude I do not know. I am concerned that the union should not alienate the general public from the very real difficulties of the people for whom it is responsible. First, there is the question of picketing. The leaders of the National Union of Mineworkers are exposing their members to physical and legal risks.
How the hell do you know?
I know a little about the law on this but I would prefer the Law Officers to state categorically what the law on this, but I would prefer the Law man knows it, why does he not communicate it to his friends outside who are flagrantly breaching it? [An HON. MEMBER: "And advocating violence himself."] If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to deploy my case he will see that I am not so unsympathetic on the question of picketing.As I understand the law, a person is entitled to picket peacefully and to communicate information or to seek to dissuade people from working. On what basis, then, can pickets outside power stations be justified? Is it to communicate to the people within or to those bringing coal that members of the National Union of Mineworkers are on strike? They would need to be blind and deaf not to know that. Is it to dissuade those who are driving lorries or working in power stations not to work? But there is no dispute between them and the Coal Board. There is a place for peaceful picketing, but this has been far overstepped, and incidents of this kind only alienate the general public from the miners and the general case they have to present.
You wan; to break the strike.
I do not want to break the strike. I am merely concerned. No doubt the hon. Gentleman will have a chance to make his contribution on the question of peaceful picketing in due course, if I am to be allowed to finish. Despite the generous words of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Employment, I believe that the leaders of the National Union of Mineworkers were quite wrong to refuse to use the National Reference Tribunal on the ground that it was biassed. I seem to recall that a year or so ago they were quite content for the case of the clerk's hours to go to that particular tribunal.Finally, I believe that they have made a classic error of tactics in projecting this strike as a struggle against the Government. In doing so they have acquired some curious bedfellows. In my part of the world the International Marxist Group, students of Essex university and the Kent Communist Party have lined up beside the National Union of Mineworkers. They must make extremely uncomfortable allies. If the Government are to be involved in every major industrial dispute, that is bound to affect not only the industrial but also the political life of the country. More than that, others besides those in the industries concerned will suffer. I wish to see this dispute solved—and do not we all? I want to see the position of the miner improved, but not, as I am sure they do not, at the expense of the community as a whole. I want to see, above all, a modicum of good sense and good will from the leaders of the National Union of Mineworkers. I want to see a constructive, not a destructive, approach to this great industry on which the prosperity of this country still depends.
The speech of the hon. and learned Member for Dover (Mr. Peter Rees) has in no way enhanced our debate. Any hon. Gentleman on the Government side of the House who has the temerity to talk about the strategy and finesse of the National Union of Mineworkers in relation to the strike has got a cheek. As Robert Burns would say:
Hon. Gentlemen from the benches opposite have said that the Government's attitude should be to try to starve the men, women and children. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, an hon. Gentleman has said that the Government should take away the social security provision for wives and dependants. An hon. Gentleman said that we should not worry much about power cuts, that they should he confined mainly to the mining areas. The hon. and learned Member for Dover had a cheek to mention strategy when the speeches of some of his hon. Friends have done so much damage to public opinion. But public opinion is not as stupid as some hon. Members think. The hon. and learned Gentleman brought in the subject of hiving-off, but in Committee he was thrashed by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) to such an extent that some of his hon. Friends had not the stomach to support the Government all the way through."Ye hypocrites! Are these your pranks? To murder men and give God thanks? Desist for shame! proceed no further! God won't accept your thanks for murther!"
Since the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) has taken up this point, I remind him that I was answering the point made by his right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason).
The hon. and learned Gentleman did not answer it very adequately, did he?The hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Adam Butler) put forward some solutions. I wish he had studied the facts. He spoke of invoking the Industrial Relations Act and taking ballot votes. I have here the facts which I am sure he will want to know. The fact is that it is seven months since the N.U.M. opened discussions in this dispute. During that seven months there have been two ballot votes, and a month's strike notice was introduced. Who are we to say that the way to solve this dispute is to invoke the Industrial Relations Act? In the light of these facts it is ridiculous to say that the panacea is to invoke the Industrial Relations Act and have a ballot and a cooling-off period. Here we are discussing a serious situation, yet the miners do not even have an offer before them. I speak as a member of the National Executive of the N.U.M. The day after the Chairman of the National Coal Board, Mr. Derek Ezra, met us, and the rank and file members were told that we as trade unionists could not accept the offer with any self-respect, he informed the public at large that the offer had been withdrawn. I have been told to stand by tomorrow afternoon in the hope that the Secretary of State for Employment will be able to reach a settlement; but we do not even have an offer before us. I wonder whether the general public are aware of that. I do not think the speech of the Secretary of State for Employment was helpful in reaching a negotiated settlement. When he meets the Coal Board and the N.U.M. tomorrow I hope he will realise the urgency and seriousness of the situation. We may talk about the wage claim made by the N.U.M. costing £130 million, but the strike is costing the National Coal Board £13 million. If there is no more cash for the miners and the strike continues, untold misery and suffering will be caused. Make no mistake about it, there will be power cuts. The Secretary of State said that the Government were introducing a state of emergency because the miners' picketing had become very effective. It will become more effective every day the strike continues. My right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) spoke of this being the miners' last stand. I do not know whether it will be, but if the Government think they can starve or frighten the miners into submission they have another think coming. During the week-end I was in the picket lines from 7.30 a.m. to 10.30 at night. About 9,000 miners do shift work on the picket lines every day. The people I met were solid in saying that they would not go down that hole in the ground until they had a reasonable cash offer. In the past miners have been men of moderation, but now they are determined to stay out because they think they have an unanswerable case, and nobody will ever break the spirit of the miners. At the week-end I spoke at about 10 meetings, and all the miners were concerned about the old people. Bunches of lads were sawing up old railway sleepers and every bit of wood that was available to make sure that old Mr. and Mrs. Smith should be looked after. In this they showed concern and compassion for the old people. I wish the Government showed as much concern and compassion. It is hypocrisy for the Government to talk about being concerned for old people when they give them such a miserable pension. At Portobello power station in Scotland there have been incidents with pickets. I have documented evidence here about lorries driving through the picket lines with what looked like the co-operation of the police. I wish the Home Secretary were here. On Thursday night my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. Kelley) said that it was not proper for lorries to drive through picket lines, and this seemed to surprise hon. Gentlemen on the benches opposite. If lorries continue to drive through picket lines, sooner or later someone will be killed. At Cockenzie power station at the beginning of the week five women who were picketing nearly lost their lives as a result of lorries driving through, This may be an emotional subject, but if any of our women folk in the picket lines are killed by those lorries there will be throughout the country a revulsion against the Government, because the Government have a responsibility for ending the strike. I do not want to attack the police; some have been good, but some have been pursuing duties on picket lines that are directly against the law. The upholders of the law sometimes have been lawbreakers. They have been denying us our rights, the right of peaceful picketing and the right to talk to lorry drivers. They have tried to persuade the lorry drivers not to go past the pickets. There have been occasions when the police have prevented our people from carrying out their task properly. It is as well to get these matters on record since, as I have said, five of our women were nearly killed last week and it was only by the grace of God that they were not. Two of our members were nearly killed quite recently, and the lorry concerned is still "blacked" at Cockenzie power station, and the lorry driver had to be smuggled out in secret by the police. There is another side of the coin. In some areas there has been co-operation between the police and the men. Inspector Brown came to Cockenzie power station and congratulated our lads on saving the life of a policeman. He said that if it had not been for our lads that police constable would have been killed in the picket line. I regret that the Lord Advocate and the Secretary of State for Scotland are not now in their places on the Government Front Bench. The matter of peaceful picketing and any increase in violence in the picket lines is the responsibility of the Lord Advocate and the Secretary of State for Scotland. The miners will be lobbying Parliament next Tuesday, and I hope that the Secretary of State for Employment will have this well in mind. It will be a quite different kind of lobby. Not only will the miners be coming down, but the miners' wives will be paying us a visit. This will probably be one of the biggest lobbies we have every experienced in this country. I do not know whether violence will take place in that lobby. I will say this much: unless there are some movements in the strike, next Tuesday's lobby will be an angry one because the miners are convinced that they have an unanswerable case.
No, I cannot give way to the hon. Gentleman. I want to make my case.
Does the hon. Gentleman want violence?
No. I will deal with that matter in a moment if the hon. Member will allow me to do so. I said that this will he an angry lobby, but in case hon. Members opposite become fearful about the fact that next Tuesday thousands of miners will come to Parliament determined to try to impress upon the present Government what they regard an answerable case as to why the strike should be settled, let us take hope from the fact that those miners have chosen to lobby Parliament. The time to be afraid is when miners or industrial workers anywhere say "We are not coming to Parliament because it is not worth while doing so because parliamentary democracy is in disrepute and Governments do not listen to what we say." Therefore, the lobby next Tuesday is very important since it demonstrates that the miners have faith in parliamentary democracy and believe they can influence people to see the justice of their case.I only hope that when tomorrow the Secretary of State for Employment takes part in the negotiations he will realise the gravity of the situation and bear in mind that the miners believe they have an unanswerable case. I hope he will also have in mind that if the strike is not settled innocent people—the old and the sick—may suffer. It will not be our fault. If we cannot settle this dispute, then our parliamentary institutions and our democracy may well be in danger because of the disillusionment and revulsion which will spread throughout the country.
The hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) spoke with considerable emotion, which seemed to build up within him as he progressed through his speech. I was somewhat alarmed to hear him refer, as he carried himself away towards the end of his remarks, to the possibility of violence and extra-parliamentary activities, which he then immediately disowned.There is a tendency in debates and exchanges on these subjects for not only the hon. Member for Midlothian but many of his hon. Friends to become somewhat carried away. I hope they realise what they are doing at a time when this industrial dispute is moving towards a settlement. It reminds me of the expressions of horror by Sunday newspapers in their researches into pornography. There is a double-edged tint to the references to extremism into which some hon. Members opposite whip themselves up in discussions on this subject. The hon. Member for Midlothian is a member of the National Executive of the National Union of Mineworkers. I hope he realises that tomorrow a heavy responsibility will rest not only on the Secretary of State and the Coal Board but also on the hon. Gentleman himself and his colleagues to be a shade more conciliatory than he was prepared to be a few moments ago. I hope that, having given vent to what I accept are deeply felt emotions, he will tomorrow give more thought to the possibility of compromise and settlement of this dispute. I hope that he will agree with hon. Members on this side of the House that it is urgently necessary that the dispute should be settled comparatively quickly. I begin my speech by welcoming—and I only wish that some hon. Members opposite had begun their speeches on this note—my right hon. Friend's initiative in taking the step of intervening tomorrow by calling together both parties in the dispute. Althought I am an admirer of my right hon. Friend's cool nerve and sense of timing, I believe that this intervention has come not a moment to soon. There is no point in my right hon. Friend's intervention unless there is some prospect of success, and I hope that all parties have taken notice of what I hope is an intention of moving towards a settlement tomorrow. Purely exploratory talks would not be sufficient. Though I accept that it would be asking too much for the three parties to reach agreement tomorrow, I hope that it is the intention of each of the three parties—the Government, the Coal Board and the trade unions—to make a genuine attempt to move towards a compromise in their discussions. I hope that the N.U.M. realises that the public believe that there should be some corresponding gesture from the union side now that the Secretary of State has intervened. It is not asking to much that the N.U.M. should show a little more flexibility in its position and should not just make bland assertions about a cash offer and nothing more to end the dispute without having a specific amount in mind. This would also be an appropriate stage for the N.U.M. to try to bring more order into the activities of its pickets. It is undeniable that in a few cases—and I accept that it is in only a few cases—picketing in the dispute has got out of hand. I believe that this is also a stage in the dispute where the union could do something to facilitate safety work in the mines to stop the strike taking on an aura of industrial suicide. It is worth remembering how little there was between the parties before the strike started. The President of the N.U.M., Mr. Gormley, made it clear in public that so far as he was concerned when the negotiations broke down the essential difference was whether the extra payment for increased productivity was to be paid retrospectively in November or now in advance.
That is not true.
That is what the President gave the impression of saying in public. That was the main nub of the difference between the parties. Surely the ideas which have been thrown out from both sides of this House about a long-term agreement based on increased productivity represent the sort of settlement which should be looked for by the N.U.M. tomorrow. I hope that the union will show a flexibility of response.I hope the union will realise that there are other matters to which it must give some thought. Surely it must recognise that the Government have a duty to continue the fight against price inflation. It will be folly, given the advances which we have made in the last six months, when the rate of inflation has been halved, to cast aside all the elements of wage restraint in any settlement. Secondly, the union must accept that its members work in an industry which is extremely price sensitive and competitive with other fuels. As the leaders of the mine workers, they have to look for a settlement which still gives the coal industry a realistic future. Thirdly, the N.U.M. has the duty, now that talks are starting, to try to get its members to realise their position. Again it is worth remembering that this is a strike where we now have 100 per cent. solidarity. I accept what was said earlier about a ballot today producing a large majority for the strike. However, before hon. Gentlemen opposite get carried along too much by that, they should remember how narrow the margin was when the strike first started——
Miners in Rushcliffe can tell the hon. Gentleman.
I trust that they will read my words——
The hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain) made a great many silly interruptions during the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Peter Rees), and the hon. Gentleman's last contribution to a debate on the coal dispute in this House was inane and fatuous. For those reasons, I shall not give way to him.
That is cowardice.
When the original ballot was held, the majority was 58·8 per cent. The others did not want strike action on what was the Coal Board's first offer to them. In Nottinghamshire the majority was a very small one in favour of strike action, but it has not been building up over the years to the extent claimed by some hon. Members opposite. In the ballot last year, 70 per cent. of Nottinghamshire miners voted against strike action. The 100 per cent. solidarity that we see today is loyalty. It is not complete commitment by the mine workers to the fanatical extremism which I feel sure the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East is about to represent.
May I inform the hon. Gentleman that I was on the picket line with miners from his constituency this morning? They were talking on a completely rational plane. They were saying this morning that any offer which might have been acceptable the week before the strike is totally unacceptable today, because they are not getting the support of this hypocritical Government which are supposed to represent them and everyone else in the country.
I have to accept the accuracy of what the hon. Gentleman says about feelings in my constituency. It bears out my own experience of miners' views. But the N.U.M. should remind its members how near they were to a settlement before. One of the strange features of this strike is that, with the solidarity of it, the mine workers have carried on optimistically putting up the level at which they believe it should settle. I hope that the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East pointed out to my constituents that this may be a very unreal approach to negotiations.While I accept the way that feelings have built up during the strike, given that we are now in an atmosphere where negotiation seems to be the order of the day, followed, one hopes, by conciliation, I trust that some sense will be brought to bear on safety matters. Traditionally, Nottinghamshire is a nonmilitant area. In the past it had a history of non-unionism and of Spencer unionism. Today it is the scene of militant action. In Nottinghamshire some of our most modern collieries are affected by the refusal to do safety work. This is in part the attitude which has been voiced from the benches opposite, that some miners feel that they would rather not have an industry than an industry without an adequate level of pay. But it is not really that. The collieries in Nottinghamshire where safety work is being done least of all are among the most modern, highly mechanised and profitable in the country. The attitude encouraged by some N.U.M. members is that they are so profitable and successful that warnings about faces collapsing and the like can be ignored because the Coal Board will have to re-open the collieries since the profitability of the area depends upon them. There are comparatively few mines in Nottinghamshire where there are difficulties in working. There is one on the edge of my constituency whose future has been threatened because it is difficult to work for geological reasons. But a certain level of safety work is being carried out there. The militant attitude being adopted elsewhere is absent because the miners concerned do not feel so confident about the security of that pit. I should like to see it pointed out by some hon. Members representing constituencies in Durham, Scotland and South Wales, where there are marginal collieries, that Nottinghamshire miners who feel confident that their mechanised mines will be put back into action may be fairly safe in their jobs but that by imposing such a heavy financial penalty on the Coal Board and so increasing the cost of putting to rights the results of the strike they are threatening the continued future of the jobs of miners who work in marginal and struggling collieries, who are bound to be driven out of employment if the Coal Board has to settle the strike and then accept appalling financial conditions. I hope that those warning notes will be heard by some hon. Members opposite and by the union. I accept what has been said about solidarity. I accept that, given what has happened in the first four weeks, the strike could go on for months if the N.U.M. goes on appealing to the loyalty of its members. But surely there is a duty on both sides to accept that no one can be the victor if it goes on for months—not the Government, not the Coal Board, not the union, and certainly not the public. The emergency powers which the Government propose to take should bring us all to realise—before power cuts begin to strike and we have the deaths and difficulties that they cause and before public anger has been roused to the full—the dangers which lie ahead. Both sides have tested their strength and neither side looks like breaking. Now is the time for common sense to prevail, for my right hon. Friend's suggestion in intervening and opening talks to be responded to both by the Coal Board and by the union, and for a fair settlement to be reached in the next few days.
I shall not take up any of the points raised by the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Kenneth Clarke). I know that many hon. Members wish to take part in the debate and I shall try to make my remarks as briefly as I can.The responsibility for this Motion of censure lies heavily on the Government. It is obvious that they miscalculated the temper and spirit of the miners. What is more, they misled the general public. There were supposed to be mountains of coal. It was said that no one would suffer, that the miners could he stupid and withhold their labour but that gradually they would be compelled to return to work because no one would notice the effect of their being out on strike. The story is vastly different today and the Government are having to introduce emergency powers in order to save their faces. They cannot hide from the public any longer how very serious and damaging to the nation this strike is becoming, and they cannot absolve themselves from all blame. The Government know that if there is any body of workers which has been socially responsible throughout the postwar years it is the miners. There was a time when coal was as precious as jobs are today. The miners never took advantage of their power to squeeze from the consumer or the country what market forces would have enabled them to do. They held back. They were responsible. No body of men has ever stood by and seen an industry run down as rapidly as the miners without any sit-ins and great industrial upheaval. Therefore, it is a poor tribute to what the miners have done in this respect for the Government to act so bluntly, harshly and indefensibly. Of course, the miners cannot contract out. The Government were determined to put shackles on those who were responsible for the negotiations, and that has led to the dispute. Is it not indefensible that a strike which started in the motor car industry at the same time as the mineworkers' strike has been settled this week on the terms which the miners wanted before starting their strike? If the miners could have had what the motor car workers are getting this week, there would not have been a strike. But the Government has no power to interfere with the motor car workers' settlement. They had to leave free enterprise to its own devices. In consequence the Chrysler workers—good luck to them—have been awarded a wage increase twice as big as that offered to the miners by the Coal Board. Nobody can defend that on the basis of comparing the arduous nature of the work, the risks involved or how essential the industry is in the interests of the nation. On my next point, I should make it clear that I speak also for my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) who would have liked to take part in the debate but, like others, knows full well that it will not be possible in the limited time available for him to make his comments. Therefore, I said that I would raise this point as we are both interested in it. I should like the Minister, when he replies, to make clear to me and to the House whether any secret instructions were sent out to the Supplementary Benefits Commission regarding payments to strikers. There is a feeling in mining areas that the Government are so bitter and annoyed by the miners' action that they have issued instructions that they are to be treated less fair and just in their applications for supplementary benefits than ordinary citizens. Were any special instructions sent out? In Jarrow and South Shields there is a strike claimants' committee which has done a remarkable job looking after and advising claimants who were unable to make adequate representations. That committee has made some discoveries. For instance, why was a limit put on the amount of rent benefit that a striker could claim when such a limit did not apply to other applicants? Why were single miners treated less generously than other single men who of necessity had to apply for benefit? What are the secret regulations? If the Minister will tell me that they are too long to read out but that he will publish them tomorrow in HANSARD, that will satisfy me. However, there is the deep-seated feeling that somebody with authority is so prejudiced and bitter towards the miners that he is determined to make them go through the experience of 1926 by harsher, less generous treatment through the Supplementary Benefits Commission than other applicants. I hope that we will get an answer to that point tonight. Naturally I hope, as does everyone else, that the talks tomorrow will lead to a successful conclusion and allow the pits to reopen. However, I should like to make it perfectly clear that the miners will not go back for less than what they believe to be justice. They will stay out week after week, month after month, with all the consequences that may mean to them, but, more so, with all the consequences that it will mean to the future of the nation. The Minister will have tremendous responsibilities resting on his shoulders tomorrow. I hope that history will be able to say of him that he was big enough for the responsibilities which he carried.
I did not intend to intervene in the debate, but I have listened carefully, I hope with an open mind, to every speech which has been made on both sides of the House. Most speeches from the other side of the House have been made by hon. Members who have great knowledge of the coal industry, and I respect them. A number of speeches have been emotive, and I make no complaint about that. One or two, unfortunately, have been somewhat inflammatory. I do not include in that category the speech by the right hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough), who made a helpful contribution to the debate.I hope that I can be regarded as a reasonable and fair-minded man. I am very worried about the increasing turbulence we find now and again in the House of Commons at the present time. I am convinced that the nation is also worried. I do not think that hon. Members on this side of the House are to blame, but perhaps the House of Commons reflects the turbulent atmosphere which is steadily growing in the country. I am conscious that nothing should be said in this debate which will make what is undoubtedly a bad situation even worse, and nothing must be said to stir up trouble. So far everyone who has spoken on this side has tried to urge the two sides to get together. Everyone has made sympathetic remarks about the miners' case and everyone has put forward constructive points. I am sure that public opinion is still largely on the side of the miners, and has been from the beginning of the strike. However, I am equally sure that the miners are beginning to lose, and will continue to lose, the support of the people if the violence which is taking place in the picket lines increases. This is a serious fundamental issue—it has been touched on earlier—which goes to the root of law and order in our country. That is why I asked during Business Questions last Thursday whether someone in the debate would spell out precisely and carefully the legal position affecting picketing. I believe this to be tremendously important. I took part in the debates on the Industrial Relations Bill regarding picketing. I do not think that we changed the law very much. We made it illegal to picket a person's house—if I am wrong. I hope someone will correct me—but the law of picketing remains very much as before. I do not think that until this dispute, anybody was deeply worried about the situation. It is fair for a miner who feels as strongly as hon. Gentlemen opposite to go to the power stations and try to persuade drivers not to take in supplies, be it hydrogen or anything else. But many miners have gone beyond the point of persuasion and argument. We are now seeing duress, violence, and intimidation, and no one in this House ought to support that. I implore the Minister to spell out in clear precise terms when he winds up—it would be better for a Law Officer to do this—exactly what the legal position is. One thing we can say about the miners—I speak as a lawyer—is that they may not like lawyers but they respect the law. I am sure that they do not want to create a situation where the law is held in contempt. Part of the trouble is that individual pickets do not know where the legal line is drawn. They do not know how far they are entitled to go. Therefore, they are acting with a certain amount of ignorance of the law. It is the Government's duty to tell them precisely what their legal position is.
I am sure the hon. Gentleman does not want to mislead the House or give the wrong impression to the country at large. Does he appreciate that in the Northumberland and Durham coalfields there has been only one example of excessive picketing? This example can be applied throughout every coalfield in the country. There has been a very small amount of over-exuberant picketing. So, for God's sake, do not try to make out that all miners are lunatics.
The hon. Gentleman gives an example of coalfields of which he has special knowledge. I do not question him when he tells the House about that. I accept it. But all right hon. and hon. Members in the Chamber know that that is not the position throughout the counry. We have seen on television—on which the news can be seen by millions—what happens when people become too angry, cease to be peaceful and move towards a situation of mob violence. If this tendency grew, there would be far greater trouble, far more bitterness, and law and order would be threatened.
I know the hon. Gentleman is fair and wants to keep this matter in perspective. I have some information about picketing which will be of interest to him and the House. For example, 1,000 picket lines have been in operation throughout Britain over the last four weeks. There have been only about a dozen incidents of violence. About 9,000 miners per day are on constant picket duty, but only 48 arrests have been made. That is a very small number.
I may be talking about a minority, and when the hon. Gentleman speaks in such a reasonable way from the Opposition Front Bench I accept that from him. But one or two earlier speeches revealed a rather different view.As I said, this turbulent situation is increasing day by day. Unless the miners are told precisely where the law is, the situation will deteriorate. I put this forward as a constructive point. I do not want more bitterness. I want the dispute to be settled as quickly as possible.
When you, Mr. Speaker, allowed your unpremeditated eye to roam around the Chamber, I was not aware that you were a Chinese reader and that you were reading your list from the bottom to the top. However, I am obliged to you for calling me to take part in a debate on a subject in which I am vitally involved.The country is now in a deteriorating state of public order as a result of this conflict. There are skirmishes between police and pickets. I have had news today from my constituency about an area which was peacefully picketed up to today but where relations between police and the pickets have deteriorated seriously. We have had reports of what has happened in Birmingham and it appears that a hard line is being taken by both sides. For my people I am sorry about this, because as a militant trade unionist in 1926, I believe that there could develop out of this situation something which cannot be contained within the concept of what we in Britain call civil order. Ugly scenes have been witnessed outside a Birmingham coke depôt because the reserves of fuel deposited there—estimated at about 100,000 tons—are not being prescribed for essential services. There is some evidence that this particular exercise will escalate into a confrontation between the police and the pickets. There is a genuine feeling among certain people that this is the desire of those who are organising the police, be it the Home Office or the chief constable of that particular area. At Thorpe Marsh, where there have been amicable arrangements between police and pickets over a number of weeks, there has been evidence this morning of police action which is contrary to the kind of thing we are entitled to expect. According to a telephone message I received this morning, the police have gone in with the boot and have injured three men. They have torn the clothing of a number of other people and generally they have declared war upon the picket line at Thorpe Marsh. This is evidence of the kind of thing that is likely to lead to an irreversible position on the part of the miners. This is a very serious situation for us tonight. The House should ask itself why these men, who have been so patient and have made such monumental sacrifices in the past in the interests of their country, are now so firmly in conflict with the elected Government of the day. Why has it come about? The hon. Member for Belper (Mr. Stewart-Smith), in a pamphlet which he produces and which I shall not name, has written about the political influences that are at play. There are political influences at play. The answer to the question is simply that this is not a conflict which the miners chose. It was a conflict which was forced upon the mining industry and the mining fraternity by the Government's policy. The Government's policy was firmly declared. It was that the industry should mark time on a 7 to 8 per cent. spot while the rest of industry and private enterprise could solve their problems in their own way. It is precisely because the miners have been marking time for so long that they are now so poorly paid in comparison with other industrial workers. It is 46 years since there was a national strike in the mining industry. I was a militant trade unionist in 1926. I hope that I am still militantly on the side of those who are fighting this battle. No industry has suffered as many social and economic changes on such a massive scale yet retained a sense of political balance as the British mining community. This should be to the credit of a great industry. But the miners' reward has been a mouthful of stones. In 1947 more than 700,000 miners were employed in this great industry. There are now fewer than 300,000. Out of 958 pits in 1947, we now have 292 operational units, as they are called in the parlance of modern industry. Each pit represents a community which has been built, brick by brick, with the bare hands of generations of people associated with the mining industry. From an output of 58·4 cwt. per man-shift at the coal face in 1947, by the efforts of these so-called evil men who now have an output of 143·5 cwt. per man-shift. When the pits were working we had that output, and if they are allowed to start again the output will not be a great deal lower than that. Is that the kind of performance that one would expect from an irascible section of our people? Is that the kind of service to the nation that requires men to fight on the streets for bread? That is what they are fighting for. Last weekend in the village of Armthorpe 505 signatures were secured from women out shopping to a petition which said
Those women know the consequences of defeat. They are supporting their husbands in the battle because they know that the future of their families depends on the miners' success in the conflict. The old Tory story that women do not like strikes is controverted by the evidence of the 100 per cent. support of the women in the mining villages for their husbands The women are not only miners' wives The vast majority are miners' daughters as well. They have seen the ravages of the industry on those they love. I remember some 18 years ago going to see the father of the lad who was killed while picketing at Keadby last Thursday, the boy who was buried today. I went as the branch secretary to take his father a little comfort that the branch had paid for. The boy's father Jim Matthews, was lying on his deathbed, gasping for breath, reaching out with his wasted hands, trying to clutch the air that his lungs could not take, the tough, well-muscled body that I knew wasted to a shadow of what it had been. He was dying in a humble miner's cottage with his children around him, their mother weeping with a silence that hurt. Freddie Matthews, the boy who was buried today, was one of those children. Nellie Matthews, the wife of the friend I worked with who died in that terrible, distorted fashion, the man who had become something different from what lie was, has said since her son's death, "I know the price of coal. My husband and son died to get it out of the ground, and yet the miners are not worth a rise, we keep being told. All I hope now is that my son's death strengthens our lads' resolve. They cannot give in. Fred would not have that. The only good that could come from his death is for the miners to get just what they ask for, what they deserve." She is a woman who bred five sons, who all worked in the pits. Perhaps some of them will die. We have to weep over broken bones and bruised bodies as part of the price we pay for belonging to a mining community. Nellie Matthews, an old woman now, faces that as part of the price for belonging to such a community. Therefore, it is not hard to find the reason for the present bitterness. It would be difficult to understand anything different. The men and women in our colliery villages are determined people. They have no intention of being driven back on to their knees. They want no more than fair play; justice is all they ask for. The Government have created the present situation and they alone can end it. Derek Ezra said last week that he would welcome the intervention of a third party. Whom does he mean? I do not suppose he means "Opportunity Knocks" or anything like that. The only people who can intervene in the dispute are the Government. The condition of our pits is gradually becoming serious. There is no need to produce bogus pictures to prove that. We who have worked in the industry most of our lives know that conditions do not remain static in a pit that is not being worked. Millions of pounds worth of valuable capital equipment is being destroyed in the conflict between the Government and our people, and every day that the conflict continues hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of damage is being added to that. Unless the Government are prepared to get off their high horse and discuss with the National Coal Board how the money is to be found to provide the miners with a 14 per cent. or 15 per cent increase—a reasonable figure, which almost every responsible newspaper and organ of public opinion supports—this great public asset will wither away. It is not possible to recover something destroyed by a thousand million tons of earth. Those are the facts of the situation. I ask the Secretary of State for Employ- ment to discuss with his right hon. Friends, even before the debate ends, what can be done. Cannot an announcement he made now that the Government intend to take positive steps? I do not mean a tribunal. The miners are too old-fashioned to wear that idea. They will not fall for it. What they say is, "Two of them and one of us, and on a democratic vote we lose the argument. It's a case of 'Heads you win, tails I lose'." We want the Government to tell the Chairman of the Coal Board, who is a creature of their creation, "We are prepared to find the money to give the miners a 14 per cent. or 15 per cent. wage increase. We will leave it to the board and the National Union of Mineworkers to negotiate over adjusting the figures." That is the cry from the heart of the coalfields asking the Government to do something positive to end this conflict which is destroying the economic strength of the nation and destroying too the faith of those who have laboured, often at great sacrifice, to make the country strong. Give them the hope that in future they will be protected, whatever Government may be in power. The Government have the right to do this; they can do it tomorrow morning and I hope they will."We, the undersigned miners' wives, are in full support of our husbands in this dispute with the Coal Board."
The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. Kelley) delivered what was a cry from the heart of the coalfields. When one understands his background one appreciates that kind of speech. The House always appreciates a speech which comes from the heart of a man who has lived in a mining community.What reasonable, decent people in this country are asking when they hear about the coal strike is: Is it possible for this strike to be settled without harming the mining community, the Coal Board and the community in general? I think it is possible. What is disappointing about today's debate is how little there has been of a real search for the middle ground. Without the middle ground we may as well face the fact that this strike will go on and everyone will suffer. The mining industry will obviously suffer. I have the greatest possible sympathy for the miners in this dispute, and yet they are on to a loser in their own community. I can understand the forces behind them that impel them to this cause. The Secretary of State was right when he pointed out that the leap-frogging from which the mining community suffered took place to a large extent under a Labour Government. If it were not for the fact that the mining community has traditionally been loyal to the Labour Party and Socialism it would have struck in the days of the Labour Government. While valid, that point in no way diminishes the fact that the mining community generally feels a concentrated frustration as a result of years of leap-frogging by others who have taken a much more militant view. We should not underestimate the considerable amount of sympathy and understanding for the miners throughout the country. The public recollect that they have not struck since 1926——
They did not strike; it was a lock-out.
It was a dispute of grave proportions. The public recognise that the miners work in difficult conditions. I have been down the pit many times. I remember the first time I went down to see a ripping machine at Gresford Colliery. I was advising the Coal Board. To see a ripping machine in the sketches and photographs is one thing, but to see it in practice——
And the dust.
—is quite another. I was investigating an incident when a man had been torn to bits by this machine. It was a new machine then, called a middle-jib ripping machine. I was always impressed by the effect it made on me. The public are aware of all this, and feel that the miners have had a raw deal. It is largely the fault of the Labour Government, and it is no use hon. Members on this side of the House burking the issue. Miners had a larger rise last year than for years. It was the loyalty of members of the mining community to the Labour Government which prevented a strike earlier. That does not remove the miners' proper grievance, that in the scale of things they have been left behind. The public understand this and have great sympathy.If the strike continues, what happens to the Coal Board? It is losing all the time. It cannot hope to gain from any prolongation of the strike. It is common knowledge that when a strike is perpetuated feelings are exacerbated. There is much greater bitterness in the House today than there was in the debate a fortnight or three weeks ago. The people thoroughly understand this. I entirely disagree with the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Awdry) here. People in picket lines understand what the law is; people driving lorries up to picket lines understand what the law is. But the truth is that various individuals, for a variety of reasons connected with personality and character, behave in different ways, and there is a time when a situation can get out of hand. Feelings harden, and the longer this dispute goes on the worse it will become and the greater will be the cost to the community. Hon. Members have already mentioned the different ways in which the community will suffer. Suppose there is large-scale unemployment, suppose miners are cutting their own throats. What will happen if there are large redundancy payments, unemployment pay, further depressed areas? There are very good reasons why a decent community such as the mining community has always been, with a responsible leadership, should reach some settlement. The fact that this is a constitutional strike and that over 50 per cent. voted to strike shows the depth of feeling. The leaders and the men have reason for compromise. The Coal Board represents a major industry, which was the major source of energy for British industry over many years, the foundation of the industrial wealth of Britain—a cheap source of energy. The Coal Board has not been assisted by any Government which had a proper fuel policy or an appreciation of the part the industry should play in the fuel requirements of the country. The board has every reason to compromise, and so have the Government, in the interests of the public. The public do not want to see a prolonged battle and people taking up entrenched positions.
While I appreciate the pathological hatred which the hon. and learned Gentleman's party has towards nationalisation, would he not agree that the bringing into force of a state of emergency is a strike-breaking method on the part of the Government which will enable the Central Electricity Generating Board to generate insufficient power to meet the needs of the people and thus arouse public feeling?
The hon. Member is diverting me from the real point of my speech. A state of emergency by its very name introduces considerations that would not normally be accepted in a civilised and democratic society such as ours.I do not share the view that has been expressed from this side of the House about the Secretary of State. Although I have disagreed with him on some subjects, he is one of the sincerest members of the Government Front Bench. But I must say that he is very much to blame for having allowed a state of emergency to arise before calling the representatives of the miners and the Coal Board to talks. How can it possibly be conducive to a settlement when one has to announce beforehand that a state of emergency is imminent? I understand the right hon. Gentleman's reasoning, that if he is going to ask for a state of emergency to be declared it is only right and proper that he should be frank with those who are negotiating. But he should not have allowed matters to drift to this situation before trying to seek the middle ground. If we are to have a settlement, that middle ground has to be found. Surely it is in the interests of the miners' Members to ensure that the miners are prepared to compromise, and it is in the interests of the Coal Board to compromise. The Government, representing the people of this country who will suffer from a prolonged strike must understand that the public expect them to compromise and help find that middle ground.
I should apologise for my absence from the debate while back benchers have been speaking, but my presence was required in a Select Committee. Otherwise I should have been able to benefit from their views at this fateful time. But I heard the two Front Bench speakers, I know the stand which is taken on each side in this debate.I have been deeply concerned by one aspect of the two debates on unemployment in the last 10 days as well as of this debate. To inject party political considerations into these important subjects does the House no credit in the country. On the other hand, some hon. Members have expressed themselves emotionally and intensely. With my own roots in industry, I fully respect their feelings. Fortunately—in one sense—there have never been coal mines in my constituency. But I am not one of those who might be tempted to pontificate on this subject after only academic study of a highly realistic industry. I have been down mines many times—not to work, but at least to get to know the conditions. I understand how deeply miners can feel about the conditions underground and the pay they get. I do not underestimate the depth of feeling in the industry on occasions like this. I have detected, during the last 20 years, when I have gone down mines, two disturbing developments. The first is the increased feeling of remoteness among the miners from those who direct the work. The second is a decline in the attitude of realism about the nature and purpose of work. On my last but one visit down a mine an elderly coal miner said to me, "I am not against nationalisation, but conditions have greatly changed. Today we have pit baths, canteens, and a host of services. I welcome them. But one thing we had under private enterprise, and for which there is no substitute, is the identity of the boss." The boss to whom he referred was a very hard-headed Lancastrian, Sir George Burrows, of Lancashire Associated Collieries. He said, "That was a man with whom we could talk. We could hit hard and we knew that he would hit back hard, but at the end of the day we both had to live together and supply coal. If he could not produce coal at the right price, both of us would be out of business." This decline of realism does not apply only to the coal industry. Far too big an area of British industry fondly imagines that the customers will always be there regardless of wages, conditions and productivity. That is not true, and the sooner British industry wakes up to this fact the better for the community and the workers. I know from my own experience of negotiations that most who are concerned in negotiating wages or conditions believe that a strike is a major disaster both for the employer and for the employees. One contributory factor is irresponsibility. This is not exclusively the prerogative of trade union leaders. It can and does apply in more cases than one—in many cases—to both parties. There can be no satisfactory solution when there is a clash of personalities. Over-exposure of negotiations by television and the Press severely handicaps their effectiveness. Another factor is the introduction of party politics, which I deeply deplore. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members opposite would be only too ready to interject that this can apply to Conservatives as much as to Socialists. I am not being partisan when I say that, because accusations have been made from both sides. I will not accuse any party to this dispute of having been responsible under any of the categories that I have listed. We shall not help the outcome of these negotiations if we try in an open forum to analyse and then try to find a workable solution on the merits of the case. However, I find it extremely difficult to understand why the N.U.M. failed on this occasion to accept arbitration. I mention this more as a question than a comment, and I will say nothing further about it. One point in the negotiations particularly worries me. This is the use that is made frequently nowadays of the statistical average wage. This is obviously a mathematical computation which takes in the high and the low. I find it difficult to understand the way in which that statistical average wage—we are told that it is £28—is coupled with the presentation of an argument which is more akin to a case for trying to raise the level of earnings of the lower paid. I find from my experience of industrial negotiating that this technique, which is used by union negotiators, is a little bizarre and unfortunate——
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the question of arbitration, may I ask him to cast his mind back to the occasion when Jack Scamp arbitrated in a dispute and the Tory Government of the day condemned him out of hand? The miners used to have a system of arbitration, but they kicked it into touch when on one occasion—I was in the pits at the time—we were awarded 7d. a day. If that is the sort of arbitration the hon. Gentleman has in mind, I assure him that the miners will wear it no longer.
It is totally unrealistic to talk in 1972 of an arbitration formula relating to 1936—[Interruption.]—or 1940 or any other bygone era.
What about Jack Scamp?
I have no doubt that the arbitrators, whether involved with Jack Scamp or anyone else, would carry out their duties according to their terms of reference and would be heavily influenced by the realities of the situation and certainly not by thinking back to what happened in the past.The arguments which the N.U.M. has adduced in support of its claim are not realistic in the sense that they emphasise low earnings, and I accept the figures that are given in this respect. There are some excessively unreasonably low earnings among a section of the mineworking community. My trade union colleagues with whom I discuss matters across the negotiating table tell me that in conditions such as these one should introduce a flat-rate advance and not a percentage formula. There are fashions in industrial negotiating just as there are in every sphere of human activity. In some instances it is fashionable to press for flat-rate advances. In other cases negotiators concentrate on overtime payments, plant bargaining or bonuses of various types. This House should be under no delusion about the fact that the pressure and demand for higher earnings in this dispute is coming not from those low paid earners, although they feel intense and bitter about it, but from the higher paid. [Interruption.] If hon. Gentlemen opposite have facts to prove me wrong I shall be glad to receive them; all the evidence which industrial negotiators have studied indicates that the demand generally comes from higher earners. Thus, if the higher paid are to earn still more, let us be clear of the effect of this whatever its dimensions, on the industry. To begin with, those earning higher wages will have to pay higher taxes.
This is a fact which is beyond question.Next, fewer working hours will be the order of the day, and anyone who doubts this is deceiving himself.
I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's assertion, without proof, that the push for wage increases by the miners comes from the higher rather than from the lower paid. Has he studied the history of recent years during which, we are told by the Financial Times, alone among workers the miners had their own incomes policy? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the miners have made efforts unique in our industrial history to assist the lower paid? The better paid have held back to let them catch up. Even workers in rich coalfields like Nottingham have agreed to have their wages held back to allow lower-paid workers in more difficult coalfields to catch up. There is not another group of work people in British industrial history who have behaved in this way.
I am not concentrating exclusively on the N.U.M. members—[Interruption.]—but the evidence is clearly on the record to show that in practice the pressure comes from the higher earners, and those who doubt this do not appreciate the realities of the situation. In any event, if there is deep concern for the lower paid, why has not the N.U.M. concentrated on demanding a flat-rate advance, which is the unique and only formula which contributes most to the lower paid?Many hon. Members have said that the price will have to be paid eventually in the form of higher coal prices. I make this comment not to argue against it but simply to remind hon. Members of what will be the outcome of a wage advance. [Interruption.] We in this House know, the miners know and the nation knows that higher earnings are always followed by a reduction in working hours by higher wage earners. This is absolutely irrefutable. With this in mind, I make an appeal to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. A major contribution which the Government could make to the miners and a large section of British industry would be to continue progressively, but at added speed, to cut direct taxation on earnings. This would greatly help the miners, just as it would the rest of industry. High taxation at the wage-earner level is a great obstacle in the path of increased productivity. I conclude by making three appeals. The first is to the Secretary of State for Employment. I accept that the miners must be paid an increase in wages. That cannot be questioned. However, to make a wage advance substantially or markedly in excess of that which is commonly becoming accepted would be irresponsible and detrimental to the community as a whole and to the industry. The second is for it to be accepted that those who are demanding an award should reconsider the form in which they are making it. They should aim at phrasing it in terms which will give a substantial improvement to those in the industry whose wages are way behind the general level. I refer to the low paid and, of course, to a flat-rate advance. My third appeal is to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I hope that he will progressively take steps to cut the application of P.A.Y.E. on wages.
On a point of order. May I, Mr. Deputy Speaker, remind you of some remarks that were made by Mr. Speaker at the beginning of the debate about the need for hon. Members to keep their speeches short? There are many of us with a number of pits in our constituencies, and we therefore represent many thousands of miners. If I fail to catch your eye, this will be the fourth coalmining debate in which I have not been called. I am sure that I speak for many hon. Members in raising this point with you.
I am sure that the hon. Member realises that the Chair has no control, except by its demeanour, over the length of speeches. I hope that I am showing by my demeanour, that I would like speeches to be as short as possible.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall respect your appeal for brevity.I was struck by the appeal of the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Normanton) to keep party politics out of this dispute. He ought to direct it to his Government, because this dispute has been motivated directly by the most partisan Government policy that we have seen in decades. The Government are pursuing a vicious policy, and the hon. Gentleman's appeal was addressed to the wrong quarter. It was directed to our side of the House, but it should have been made to his own. This dispute is nearing the crunch. In the next few weeks we shall see a situation in which either the mining industry or the miners will be paralysed. I do not believe that it will be the miners who will be paralysed, because the Government are miscalculating in thinking that the miners can be crushed. It is a grave and gross miscalculation to think that they can be beaten. The fact that we are approaching the crunch in this dispute is a scandalous reflection on the Conservative Government. I represent the moderate miners of Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire. They were unenthusiastic about taking part in this dispute, but today they are very bitter, indeed. They are bitter because the Government's policy has made moderation irrelevant. Miners, not only in Stoke but throughout the country have co-operated in modernising the pits, in reducing manpower and in productivity deals, but as a result of their moderation they now find that they are being penalised. If anyone doubts the moderation of the miners, let me tell the House that the instruction which has gone out from the mineworkers' union and been accepted by the miners is that old-age pensioners, hospitals, chair-bound, bed-fast, physically handicapped and needy cases should be given first priority in the allocation of coal. The miners are fighting for their livelihood, but at the same time they are putting first the wants of those most in need. That shows how responsible they are. The miners are also bitter because some of the management at various pits has been reactionary and discredited. Not only the management, but the police are beginning to cause trouble. I am not making a general accusation, but at some pits the police are beginning to behave in a fashion that is causing concern. My hon. Friend the Member for New castle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) has received a complaint from the branch secretary, John Austin, of Silverdale Colliery, that yesterday he was kicked by the police while on picket duty in Birmingham. I do not want to condemn the police as a whole but if miners are to be moderate, moderation is needed from the Government, from the board and from the police as well. It is very important that the mood of moderation should be echoed on all sides. The miners feel that they are being penalised because, in the last decade, they have shown that they are prepared to co-operate with the board. They feel that they are being penalised because of their co-operation in increasing productivity. They feel that they are being exploited for exercising moderation. They fear that they are being sacrificed to Sea gas. They fear that they are being disregarded by an arrogant Government. The bitterness of the miners has been exacerbated by the clumsy and misguided handling of the dispute by Derek Ezra and his colleagues at the board. The withdrawal of the original offer by the board was a provocative and stupid gesture. It showed the board's failure to appreciate the special nature of the miners' case. The board was unable to understand the depth of feeling of the miners and it gravely miscalculated their mood. The House should be under no illusion about the depth of feeling of the miners. If the Government try to grind the faces of the miners in the coal dust there could be calamitous consequences, because the scars of this dispute are as deep and as black as the coalface itself. Industrial relations are like human relations. In human relations, as in industrial relations, there can be bitterness, arguments and conflict, but there can come a point of no return. In some industrial relations I believe that we are reaching the point of no return in this dispute. What can Derek Ezra and his colleagues do? First, Mr. Ezra can recognise his responsibility to the miners as well as to his political masters. I appreciate the economic problems of the board and the pressures on it from the Government, but I believe that Derek Ezra should act like a man and not a blancmange. He should stand up to the Government and fight for the miners, because the miners are as much his responsibility as are the mines themselves. He must refuse to preside over an industry which has miners living in poverty. He must refuse to be bullied by the Government who are discriminating against public industry. Derek Ezra must demand freedom to negotiate in a meaningful way. He must demand that the Government reconsider the interest on the capital debt payment of the mining industry and that they reconsider, too, their rigid pricing policy. If Derek Ezra cannot do that, he should resign and leave the way clear for a man who can really fight for the mining industry and for the miners. The Government should recognise that until they have a fuel policy in which miners are recognised as being vital to Britain they are jeopardising the whole of our industrial relations. I hope that the Government will announce a restructuring of the finances of the board and see this dispute and the miners' case as a very special issue. That is the only way to resolve the dispute. The only way in which this dispute can be solved is by providing more cash. Cash to the miners means more than just money. Cash is a symbol of the Government's obligation to the miners and also a practical expression of our responsibility to the miners themselves.
It is always a privilege to listen to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley). No one in the House puts a forceful case with more moderation and charm. There was much in his speech with which I agree but I hope he will forgive me if I do not pick up the points he made because I want to obey the Chair's injunction to be brief.I was on the telephone this morning to someone in my constituency who is involved in this dispute. He concluded the conversation by saying, "Do your best for us this afternoon. We are fed up." Those were the words of a man who has spent a lifetime in the industry. They were words of frustration and disillusion. I think that, certainly in my constituency, these are now the prevailing feelings. Although most people are fed up, however, they are still adamant that their cause is a just one and they feel, however unreasonably, that nothing has happened and that no one seems to want to know. Their annoyance is directed mainly at the Government. There is no point in evading that fact. They are also to some extent—certainly many of those who have written or spoken to me—annoyed with what they consider to be an intransigent attitude on the part of the National Union of Mineworkers because they feel that it should not have been quite so determined in its refusal to talk. Another constituent of mine told me this morning, "It is heartbreaking. So much of what we fought for seems to be floating into thin air". These are bewildered men talking. They are saying, "Why cannot someone get us round the table?" I agree, because only from talking will anything emerge. This is why I am glad and relieved that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced today that he is to have talks tomorrow. It is not before time. I think it is after time and I certainly hope that he will not be satisfied with a brief preliminary chat. I hope sincerely that he will try and make sure that the talks carry on because, in the words of my mining constituents, while people are talking there is a chance of a settlement and when they are not talking there is no chance at all. This is terribly important. I was greatly struck today by the speech of the right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) and I am sorry that he is not here at the moment. It was an interesting and powerful speech. Obviously there were points in it with which I did not agree but I agreed with a great deal of it. I felt that he was right in saying that it does not particularly matter—this was the tenor of his remarks—how a settlement is achieved as long as the settlement is achieved. I can appreciate the Government's overriding duty to the nation to keep inflation down. We are all in this House continually exercised about the needs of the old-age pensioners, of those on small fixed incomes and of the lower-paid in all industries and not just in mining. These are the people who suffer most from inflation. But the talks tomorrow must not break. Last week I wrote to my right hon. Friend and urged him to consider the setting up of a court of inquiry. Whether a settlement is reached through a court of inquiry or as a result of a direct intervention by my right hon. Friend does not really matter. The essential thing is that there should be no real preconditions, save that the national interest must obviously be served. But, of course, the national interest is not served either by an inflationary settlement or by losing £13 million to £15 million a week while the pits are closed and the men are on strike. We have to balance these things. I want to put one or two thoughts at random which I hope might be helpful. I think it extremely important that out of the negotiations which are held and in any settlement which is reached there should be an agreed minimum wage for the miners. Again I echo the words of the right hon. Member for Barnsley, who talked in terms of a two- or three-year agreement. It is very important that there should be an agreement which the miners feel will give a genuine prospect of industrial peace and of material advance for them for two or three years ahead. I would also like to think that there can be a new incentive scheme and that the benefits of increased productivity can be directly given to the men who produce. And I make no apology for repeating something that I said in our last debate three weeks ago. I suggested then that, out of the global sum immediately made available, appreciating that it cannot be significantly above what has been talked of, the lower-paid should have a very large slice of the cake. I can well understand that I am not putting forward a perfect formula, but at least these are things that can be talked about in the negotiations. This great industry is stagnating; conditions are worsening; a real fear of unemployment faces the men in my constituency, particularly those who work in one pit, where over 50 per cent. of the labour force is over 50 years of age. If they have no jobs to go to at the end of the dispute, these men will not find it easy to pick up other jobs. I am very concerned about them and they themselves are rightly concerned about their own future. There is a genuine fear for their jobs and it comes through in their correspondence and in conversations I have had with them. As yet in Cannock there is no real bitterness. There is a tradition of moderation in Staffordshire which does not only apply to North Staffordshire We have had no ugly scenes with picketing. I pay tribute to the fact that everyone concerned has acted with good sense and moderation. The police have done their duty splendidly. But human tragedies are emerging already. I had a letter today from the wife of a constituent who is gravely ill. Having referred to various other problems, she says:
Such cases will multiply and the situation will become more terrible in its effects if we have power cuts and a cold spell arrives. In my constituency there is beginning to emerge a feeling of frustration among the general public which was illustrated very well in a letter to my local newspaper two weeks ago from a curate at a local church who urged the miners to do what they could to come to terms, to accept a reasonable increase and get back to work. No one knows hardship more than the miners and I hope that they will not allow an atmosphere of hostility to develop and to poison local feeling, producing a cancer in local community life. There is no future in this conflict. An industrial war, like any other war, cannot have a victor. I say to my right hon. Friend that it is vitally important that, when the sides sit down tomorrow, they should not break off their talks until a settlement has been reached or the dispute is referred to a court of inquiry. I would consider the Government were certainly doing less than their duty if they did not do everything within their power to make sure that the chink of light now visible becomes a real ray of hope and leads to a proper settlement."We are now having difficulty with getting coal. Social Services have sent out an urgent order to our local merchant, but on Friday he called to say the miners would not allow the lorry through to the pit to get it, so now we have no fire and no one seems to be able to do anything about it."
In accordance with your injunction, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall attempt to be brief, partly because of what the hon. Member for Cannock (Mr. Cormack) has said. I agree with him on the last sentiment he expressed and certainly with his reference to my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason). No one who listened to that speech tonight could but feel as I am feeling now that anything I now say is quite irrelevant to what was said in one of the most excellent speeches I have heard from the Front Benches for a very long time. With many of my right hon. and hon. Friends I have sat through debate after debate on the mining industry. Representing a mining industry, although I am not myself a miner, it is perfectly natural that one's interests are with the miners whom one represents, in my case some 4,000 to 5,000 and their families at the present time and many more when I entered Parliament.I should like to put forward some new points to show the background to the present crisis in the mining industry. In 1955 the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd) was Minister of Fuel and Power. I had just come into the House. He indicated to the country on behalf of the Government the fuel requirements as that Government saw them for the next few decades up to the 1980s. It is to that basis of that statement which was before the House in 1955 that many of the troubles now facing the coal industry are due because it was indicated in reports then presented to the House that the National Coal Board would be expected to produce, and that it would be incumbent on it to produce, 250 million tons of coal in 1970. That was the figure given by that Government. There was also an indication of what should be done in the nuclear energy industry. Hundreds of millions of pounds were sunk in the nuclear energy industry, as anyone who has attended the Select Committees on Estimates and Public Accounts will know. The excuse given for that expenditure was that in the foreseeable future nuclear energy would be produced at the mythical cost of less than ·5d. per thermal unit. Year after year I and my hon. Friends have heard that the nuclear power stations are to produce energy at this mythical figure but they have never approached production at anything like that cost. The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, in the debate preceding the last one on the coal industry, made the same prognostication that within a short space of time we should get nuclear energy at a mythical unit cost, making it highly competitive. We have geared the country's fuel policy to those prognostications of so-called fuel experts. Despite what the hon. and learned Member for Mongomery (Mr. Hooson) thinks I meant when referring to the last Labour Government, he will recall that time and time again when I was sitting on the other side of the House, I criticised the then Government for their fuel policy, on one occasion at one o'clock in the morning. But I did not criticise their treatment of the miners. I believe that the Labour Government's treatment of the miners, in redundancy payments and the writing-off of hundreds of millions of pounds of capital, was exceptional; and the miners are well aware of it. Coming back to the figure of 250 million tons which the industry was geared to produce in 1970, hundreds of millions of pounds in capital investment was required to comply with the Government's intentions. If I may be facetious, on the question of fuel policy I and many of my hon. Friends on this side take the view—and this applies to both Governments—that so-called fuel experts have led Governments up the garden path time and time again. To refer to another bête noire of mine. I believe that town planning consultants are in the same category. If we were to consider exporting these so-called experts to some of our competitors I believe we could soon do very well. The country is facing a very serious fuel crisis and it is not only the mining communities that will suffer. Let Ministers be under no illusion. I come from a militant area. When I was going to school I saw a hundred policemen protecting one blackleg going to a pit. That is a memory which is fixed indelibly in my mind. But these people are the most responsible trade unionists in the country. I attended a meeting of a strike committee a week or two ago when the strike was starting. It was trying, in conjunction with the local medical officer of health and local authorities, to help old-age pensioners, knowing full well that many others would come in on all this and indulge in it for other purposes. The social costs which are now facing my constituency in South Wales are enormous. I spent last Friday from 9.30 in the morning telephoning London, to the Department for Social Services, the Welsh Office and other Departments, trying to rescue my medical officer of health from his predicament in trying to produce heating appliances for 24 old-age pensioners who might possibly die of lack of heat if they did not get them. At the present time there are 70,000 schoolchildren not going to school in Wales. For many it does not matter—it is a holiday; but many thousands will soon be facing their O-levels and their A-levels. The solution is a simple one. The hon. Member for Cannock has indicated it to his Front Bench. I believe the Government's continued insistence on the danger of granting the miners a just wage because of its effect on inflation is absolute nonsense. They should realise what will happen to the country if they do not give the miners a just wage. In my opinion the person who is responsible—and I have some regard for what my hon. Friends have said of the Minister for Employment, despite the million unemployed at the present time—and the chief culprit is the Prime Minister. He can say tonight to his Minister, "Get a settlement tomorrow. Give them the money", and it would be settled tomorrow and the country would be saved from the disaster that is facing it, and not just the miners, in a very short space of time. I have dealt with the suicidal policy of previous Governments since 1955 and the last Labour Government in dealing with indigenous fuel, the wealth we have in the country. I believe the country is slowly coming to realise the way this great wealth we have has been neglected by Government after Government, including my own. Time and time again many hon. Members on this side, and perhaps some on the other side of the House, have asked responsible Ministers what is the cost to our balance of payments of importing oil. We have never had any figure, precise or rough, from the Government of this cost. The hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) talks of the economic cost of coal and of introducing oil into this country but this has never been assessed. Some years ago, I had a figure from a reputable oil company that in a short space of time the cost to this country to our balance of payments, for oil imports would be over £300 million. I do not want to stop the importation of oil, because we need it; but I do not want to destroy the wealth we have in our indigenous fuel. I repeat that the Prime Minister can stop this nonsense tonight by instructing his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, when he goes to the meeting tomorrow, to do what his hon. Friend has asked him to do—that is, negotiate an increased offer to the miners and get a solution to this problem quickly.
This debate is about responsibility and deciding where our priorities of responsibility lie, and that was the substance of our last debate on the coal mining dispute. I cannot go all the way with the view expressed by the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Probert) that the Prime Minister should direct the Secretary of State tomorrow to give the miners the money and settle the dispute. Neither can I accept what the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. Kelley) said, that to preserve the economic structure of the country we should think of an award to the miners of between 14 and 15 per cent.The sentiment is right, and the whole House is speaking with sympathy for the miners, not just because they do a dirty and dangerous job, but because we sympathise with the miners in their efforts to get a proper, fair and just reward in the economic conditions of today. But it is not wholly responsible to say that the solution is one-sided and can only be found by "giving them the cash". We have to think of the economic consequences of any decision that is made tomorrow. We have to think of the economic consequences for the low paid, the old-age pensioners and people with fixed incomes. We have to think of the economic consequences of our basic fuel being increased in price and so affecting steel, industry right across the board and our cost of living. What are the Government trying to do today? They are, I am sure, being responsible. Perhaps because of their determined efforts to be responsible there may be some truth in the criticisms made in a Financial Times article this morning, that "unfair" could be applied to the Government. Are the Government trying to operate a prices and incomes policy? I believe they are, but it is a hidden policy. It is there for all to see, but it is not there for all to follow. Even with the disadvantages of a voluntary incomes policy and the greater disadvantages of a statutory incomes policy, it is better for us to have guide lines, a code of practice, for prices and incomes, in the same way as my right hon. Friend has found this to be of value in industrial relations. At least with guide lines we should know where the Government in their economic wisdom feel we can go and beyond which we should not go. I will confine myself to the problem we face today, before the negotiations tomorrow. The National Coal Board is a nationalised industry, and it has the problem of achieving good management. It cannot be left to us in the House to debate this question every two or three weeks. It is up to the N.C.B. to achieve good management, and good management requires the N.C.B. to consider a new wages policy. It may require the N.C.B. to consider better pay now for the miners, the lower paid and the higher paid. Better management might require the N.C.B. to consider the need to preserve and develop the industry. But the N.C.B. has to forget such fundamental considerations because of certain other factors which is has to take into account in its present decision. I should like to know what the N.C.B. thinks is a proper wages policy. Discussions have been going on over the years to determine the proper wage structure of the industry. There are two major considerations for management governing a wage settlement. First, the wage settlement must produce a fair reward and a just wage. Secondly, the wage settlement must not produce a condition which would price the product out of the market. There are other forces at work—moral, social and other pressures. Such conditions exist in all the nationalised industries; that is why they are nationalised. Nationalised industries are required to provide a product or a service that is determined not always by market pressure but by general economic and social pressures. The N.C.B is forgetting some of the precepts of good management. Some pressures working on the N.C.B. are encouraging it to try to win a victory which the industry cannot afford. It is not true to say that the N.C.B. cannot afford to pay the miners more. It would be more correct to say that it cannot afford to allow the industry to lose production, to lose markets, to close pits and to allow the industry to go into decline. That is what I want Mr. Ezra to think about, and it is what all the nationalised industries should be made to think about. It is the duty of my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench to give the nationalised industries a code of practice and some guide lines; otherwise this type of problem will occur again and again. Is it then the fault of the N.C.B. that we have this impasse, this dispute of four weeks' duration? Its offer, I maintain, was based on the Government's hidden incomes policy or, perhaps more correctly, on the C.B.I.'s 5 per cent. price limitation requirement. The N.C.B. should be allowed to look at its wage policy in the context of a just wage and the preservation and development of the industry to match a fuel policy about which it must be told. When my right hon. Friend enters these negotiations tomorrow I hope he will see that the negotiations are kept open, to consider not only the fair wage and the just reward but the future of the industry. That is the light at the end of the tunnel. Miners, like other workers, do not work for bread alone. They work for the good of their industry, and they know that they produce the most valuable product needed in industry today—power. Has the National Coal Board behaved as well and as correctly as employers are expected to behave in line with my right hon. Friend's new Code of Industrial Relations Practice? In the past has there been full consultation with, and full information given to, the miners? This is what would lead to an understanding on both sides as to what is a just demand. Such consultation might have prevented the N.U.M. coming up with a vastly inflationary demand. This is the old-fashioned way of approaching industrial relations solutions. It is not the way in which my right hon. Friend is thinking. I have great faith in the Secretary of State for Employment. He has great compassion and, above all, an understanding of what goes to make up harmony in industry. I believe he will do everything in his power to achieve that, and I hope he does so when he meets both sides tomorrow. It has been said by more than one speaker—and I have said this on other occasions—that the miners by staying on strike are in danger of committing suicide. There are elements of a Greek tragedy in this dispute. But the miners are not the only leading players. The National Coal Board is on the stage with them, and it is going into this last act knowing that it also may die. We cannot afford to lose this industry. We may have to afford higher costs if it means saving the industry. We cannot afford to lose the miners or them to lose their jobs.
The hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) made an interesting and helpful speech. The only matter on which I take serious issue with him is his faith in the Secretary of State for Employment. Such a mental process smacks more of credulity than faith.The right hon. Gentleman in his speech this afternoon said that he had made no intervention in the dispute before 5th January because negotiations were taking place between the Coal Board and the N.U.M., but he gave the House no satisfactory explanation why he had not intervened since then. This has been a ruinous strike which is now going into its fifth week. We have heard from the National Coal Board that it has already cost £60 million, and this sum would have gone a long way to satisfy the wage requirements which are in dispute. We also know that serious damage has been done to the equipment in the industry as a result of which some mines will not open again. Those of us who have had experience of miners also know the terrible damage which has been done to labour relations as between the miners and the Coal Board. This is a serious charge to put to the Secretary of State. We must ask why the right hon. Gentleman has not on an earlier occasion taken effective action of the sort he promises to take tomorrow. He gave as a reason for not taking action earlier that both parties in dispute are in entrenched positions, separated by an enormous gap. He is continuing to adopt the posture of an honest broker between two separate parties when, in fact, this is a straight dispute between the Government and the miners. Everybody knows that the Chairman and the members of the Coal Board are, in effect, Government agents. The Under-Secretary of State who is at present on the Front Bench knows quite well that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry could sack every member of the Coal Board. Therefore, it is a farce to pretend that this is a dispute between two separate bodies, with the Government trying to conciliate. I repeat that this is a straight dispute between the miners and the Government. There has been general agreement on both sides of the House that the miners have a strong case for a much larger increase than the last offer made by the National Coal Board. This is the feeling of the general public at large. Even the Daily Express is strongly in favour of the miners' case. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree that when the Daily Express speaks against the Government, the Government are on very shaky ground indeed. There are numerous figures which can be quoted to show that the miners have dropped badly behind other industries. I should like to quote from the "Industrial Relations Review and Report". This shows that average weekly earnings in the manufacturing industry in 1967 were £21·13. Coal miners were then earning an average of £22·60. But last year wages in manufacturing industry went up to £30·20, and coal miners lagged behind with an average of £28·10. In the spring of this year the average in manufacturing industry will go up to about £33 a week. From that it is clear that miners will require a very substantial increase simply to maintain the position that they enjoyed a few years ago. Many of us feel that they should not only maintain their position but be in a much better position than a few years ago. After all, in countries like the United States and the Soviet Union miners are privileged members of the community. They enjoy a high standard of living there——
As good as that of doctors.
—so why should they be in an inferior position in this country?The figures that I have just quoted indicate that miners are having unfavourable treatment. But the situation is much more unfavourable to miners than the figures suggest. A miner's total wages come mostly from his basic rate. In production earnings, only about 67 per cent. comes from basic rates, whereas in the mining industry 79 per cent. of earnings comes from basic rates. Any attempt to give miners an increase based on a general norm for the whole of industry obviously is unfair and obviously will cause a progressive deterioration in the standard of living of miners. Today the miners face a decrease in their standard of living. At the same time, they are in the exasperating position of having done a great deal to help the very industry into which the Government are injecting an element of discord and pressure. Over the last 10 years, miners have achieved a 5 per cent. increase in productivity every year. What other industry can match that? The miners have agreed to a rundown of the labour force and to pit closures bringing the number of pits down from 958 to 292. What other trade union would have sat back so patiently and accepted such a situation? We know the discomfort and the disagreeable conditions under which miners work. One cannot quantify these matters. I do not go down pits very frequenity but every time I do I am astonished how people can work day after day in such appalling conditions. However, one can quantify the dangers. Last year 92 miners were killed and 82,000 were injured. Last year another 624 miners were certified as suffering from that slow killer, peneumoconiosis, joining the 42,000 who have it already. The case for giving the miners a substantial increase must be overwhelming. But the Secretary of State said today that there must be certain constraints. He went on to say that a higher wage offer would increase prices and reduce the demand for coal. I do not think that contention is justified. Over the last three years coal has kept roughly in step with the increase in the price of fuel oil, which is its only serious competitor. We know that there will be an enormous increase shortly in the international price of fuel oil. We no longer have a situation where fuel oil is coming cheaply into the country. There are some very astute bargainers in the oil business, from the Shah of Persia downwards. They will ensure that the price of fuel oil goes up steadily. So to suggest that if there were an increase in the price of coal it would to some extent price itself out of the market is entirely wrong. The Secretary of State pointed to the recent decrease in the demand for coal. I suggest that this decrease has been due to special factors which will not continue to operate. At least, one hopes that they will not continue to operate. There is the unduly slow growth of the economy, the recession in the steel industry, the reduction in the use of coal for conversion to gas, the reduction in the purchasing power of wages, the special coal imports ordered in the autumn of 1970, and the more efficient use of coal in power stations. All those factors which have brought down the consumption of coal in recent years are of a temporary nature. Therefore, there will be no danger to the coal industry if there is a substantial increase in the price of coal. I suggest to the Under-Secretary that there is a strong case for improving productivity in the distribution of coal. We know that coal is sold by the National Coal Board at an average of £5·84 per ton, but that it is being sold on to the consumer at between £15 and £20 per ton. Therefore, an increase in productivity in the distribution of coal would of itself probably save as much as the wage increase would demand. The most important aspect of the finances of the coal industry at the moment is the crushing burden of capital debt. It is totally absurd that the National Coal Board has to earn £100 million a year before it can produce a profit. That £100 million is swallowed up by servicing enormous debts on the capital cost of mines which no longer exist and on the capital cost of machinery and equipment which went out of action years ago. Surely this is a situation which no businessman would tolerate, and it certainly would not be tolerated in any other industry. In private enterprise circumstances there would have been negotiations with creditors, or a sale of assets, or the companies concerned would have gone into liquidation. There would certainly have been a capital reconstruction. In 1965 there was a partial capital reconstruction. I suggest that the time has come for a more extentive capital reconstruction to take this massive debt off the shoulders of the coal industry. It is wrong that the miners should be asked to carry that debt exclusively by having a reduced standard of living. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite may sugest that all this would involve massive injections of public money into the coal industry, but I ask them to reflect that over the last four years the transport industry has received £634 million and manufacturing industry has received £635 million from regional employment premiums and £1,700 million in investment grants. These staggering sums have been paid to other industries. Why is the coal industry the Cinderella? Is there some built-in prejudice on the part of the Government against the coal industry? The situation is obviously inequitable. I will cut short my speech, because other hon. Members still wish to intervene. However, I should point out to the Under-Secretary that I have spent a lot of time with my mining constituents over the last few weeks. I have been with them every weekend. I have been impressed by the absolute determination and solidarity of all the miners to whom I have spoken, the Leicestershire and South Derbyshire miners, their wives, families, and other dependants. So I warn the Minister that this strike cannot be settled easily. It can be settled only by a substantial increase in the miners' standard of living. Therefore, the only settlement which can be achieved will cost a lot of money. I hope the Government will accept the real responsibilities facing them and end this tragic and catastrophic strike as quickly as possible.
How fitting that I should follow the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin), because the miners who work in his pits live in my constituency and, by some curious parallel, his conclusions are almost identical with my own.The crux of the matter is the failure of the Government and the National Coal Board to make an adequate offer in the first place. We are not all guilty of the blindness which the right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) says that we on this side of the House have. I myself, right back in November, demanded that the offer should be increased from 7 per cent. to 10 per cent. I was pooh-poohed by Ministers, who told me I was ridiculous, but subsequent events have shown how right one was. I get no pleasure from this, but the Coal Board has already lost £75 million and what I was recommending would easily have been covered by that amount. Alas, the N.U.M. refuses to go to arbitration as a bridge of the abyss created by the deterioration in the relations between the two sides, but I must tell Ministers and all who are concerned with bridging this abyss that in addition to the loss of production by the Coal Board the miners have lost £23 million in pay. This is a most sobering figure. It will take years for them to recover from this loss of pay. Moreover, skilled miners, fitters and engineers, are leaving the industry. There is a sort of haemorrhage going on, having an appalling effect, and it will take time to recover from it. The national economy is suffering, and there are workers in allied industries dependent on coal who want to work and who will not be able to work. I must stress the seriousness of the situation we face when power cuts take place. Schools are already closing down, old age pensioners are suffering—and think of those who live in all-electric flats. Think also of the terrible legacy of the effect on the industrial relations in this great industry. Another factor which the Government must bear in mind is the time lag. Even if they settled tonight it would take weeks before production could pick up again. One must be honest and say that, the power workers having settled, the chances of great sympathy strikes in sympathy with the miners are remote, but I fear there will be a loss of public sympathy as time goes by. Perhaps even more of a strategical sadness is that the industry has been so weakened that we shall not be in a position to exploit the advantages of our entry into Europe and meet the increased demands for power. However, what horrified me most tonight was the way in which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment said he could not see a special case for the miners. I found this terribly sad, because some of the most moving and most poignant speeches have been on the agony and the suffering of men in this great but dangerous industry. The other thing which my right hon. Friend seems to have missed is not only that the miners have a special case, but that they are men of a special breed. They have a curious solidarity and fraternity. One sees this in their almost military-like discipline in maintaining their pickets 24 hours a day. This would do credit to an infantry battalion. They have a great union, they have a history and traditions which are extremely powerful, and they live in close-knit communities. The humiliation which 1926 fostered has not diminished this at all. The moderates, I will reaffirm, have become militants in my area. Their attitude has become, "One may as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb". In some cases their attitude has taken on that of a curious death wish. They say, "We will get a living wage out of this employment or put the lid on it"—as they say in South Derbyshire. This is most serious. I would recommend that the Government use with extreme caution the emergency powers which they take when dealing with the mining community. I would also draw to the attention of those hon. Friends of mine who may think that the miners are waxing fat on social security and supplementary benefits that, if they think so, they are wrong. The miners are not sponging off the State. I had a case only on Saturday of a single man whose wife died and who has two apprentice children who have started work; and because they were working he did not get a single halfpenny out of the Government. On his pay slip was £2·70 for a week to keep his family, from his income tax rebate. That gives some idea of the suffering that is taking place. If it is of any interest to anyone, that man spends his time delivering concessionary coal for no pay. One wonders who is more ill advised, the Minister who will not take notice of back benchers who know the psychology of miners, or the N.U.M. which will not go to arbitration. My previous appeal that the National Executive of the N.U.M. should go to arbiitration was ignored. It has a suspicion of arbitration. But if it had gone in past weeks, the miners would already be enjoying an award substantially higher than the board has offered.
The Government would have fixed it.
No, that is far too simple a way out. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would be unwise to rush into premature, imposed arbitration, because if that failed the last state may be worse than the first. But I hope that he presses on with all speed in the initiative he announced today.Some hon. Members have not taken notice of the fundamental fact that we are now faced with an utterly new, different situation from when we last debated this matter. Further increases in wages cannot be paid out of the industry's profits, because they are not there. If they are not there, where will the money come from? If the N.U.M. is absolutely determined to have a high wage industry it can have it, but it may have it at a most terrible cost in contraction. My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) touched on that aspect. Is the N.U.M. aware of the consequences of what it is demanding? If it wants that—as will happen—what is doubly cruel is that the unprofitable pits will be closed. Unfortunately, those are in the development areas, where there is not much alternative employment. The profitable pits in the Midlands, near my constituency, will remain. This is very dangerous. Is that what the N.U.M. wants? We have to strike a balance between the two. Another important point is that if this massive contraction takes place, it will affect all levels of management throughout the industry, including N.A.C.O.D.S., the B.A.C.M., and the men who have so loyally kept the pits going throughout the strike. Any streamlining which takes place will have to affect what is already a top-heavy management structure. We have to face the question of a breakdown in confidence between the two sides. I recommend that we go to arbitration. Mercifully the Coal Board has agreed that it should be handled by a third party. The Government should take the initiative in sweetening a very sour attitude. I want the Government to make a commitment. I hope that the Minister will make a commitment to review the entire question of the capital structure of the industry, for reasons which have been ably described and which I shall not repeat. There has been contraction in the past, and there will inevitably be contraction now and in the future. It is intolerable that the industry should have to bear this great burden of debt when so much money is being funnelled into other industries. It is curious that some free enterprise organisations are not regarded as lame ducks and receive large sums of money but the poor mining industry carries this great burden, which is unjust. If the Government even imply that they will give a little on that point, the N.U.M. will perhaps say that it can give a little on this side. The Coal Board must make a higher cash offer. That is the way out of this impasse. I am certain that in the future the miners, for their part, will give an increase in productivity. If the Government maintain their present attitude and think that they can browbeat the miners by using emergency powers, they do not know what the mining industry is all about. They are in for one most almighty shock. They had better carefully weigh up the consequences of not granting more cash. Those consequences could be catastrophic for the nation. The losses would be almost incalculable. If the Government make another misjudgment, they could trigger off a most serious national industrial crisis. A refusal to make concessions could drive the miners, perhaps against their better judgment and against their will, into believing that they can extract a living wage only by prolonging the strike, no matter what the cost to themselves and the nation. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry will give assurances that he will take very positive steps to prevent such a situation ever arising.
The hon. Member for Belper (Mr. Stewart-Smith) will forgive me if I do not follow up what he said, but I do not have much time.I was born among miners and their families in my constituency, in Scotswood, which is now a heavily urbanised area but was then a village on the outskirts of the City of Newcastle. There were then seven collieries in my constituency, but there is not now a colliery left working. There were no sit-ins by the workers; all the collieries were closed with the active co-operation of the men who lost their jobs as a result. That is the type of co-operation the N.U.M. has extended to the Coal Board ever since nationalisation. Although I have no collieries working in my constituency I still represent many thousands of working miners and, regrettably, many more thousands of redundant miners. One of my earliest and most vivid recollections is of watching, as a very small boy of three years of age, a wall of water pouring down a bankside from the Low Montagu Colliery, which was close to where I live. The date was 30th March, 1925, when 38 men and boys were drowned like rats in that colliery by an inrush of water from an old mine-working. My family was one of the very few in Scotswood that was not intimately connected with bereavement. I well remember the mass funeral on the Saturday afternoon in torrents of rain, when many thousands of people from the whole area turned out to see the interment of those brave men and boys who lost their lives in the old Low Monty Colliery. Hon. Members may ask what that has to do with the present strike. No one can deny that it is very relevant to the present dispute, because I see the Low Monty disaster, the mutilated bodies brought out of the Low Monty 40-odd years ago, as the price of coal, something which the Secretary of State for Employment must recognise puts miners in a very special category, or should do so. No other class of worker in the country—and there are many risky occupations—is faced with the hazards of mining. The lungs of the men who work on the high-speed rippers that tear the coal out cannot stand up to a very long working life. They are clapped out while still relatively young men. Few people have to put up with such conditions. That is why there is a special case to be pleaded for miners. I hope the Secretary of State bears that in mind tomorrow when the talks are held. My experience in the past five weekends in my constituency has been that there was not a great gap between the N.C.B. and the N.U.M. when the strike started. But the gap has widened every week. I was at a function with many miners and their wives last weekend and I found that the real militancy now is not so much with the miners as with their wives. There is not a miner in my constituency who would dare suggest returning to work in face of the pressure from his wife. The wives have said, "We are suffering and are prepared to suffer to the bitter end to win this struggle." The longer this struggle goes on the more determined the miners and their wives become. Perhaps the reason for tomorrow's talks is that the Government realise the truth of that. Perhaps they realise that if the strike continues to the end of the second month the March unemployment figures will be 1½ million, because of the devastating effect the strike will have on industry generally. I do not want to say anything too inflammatory, but, even if this is the reason, I hope that tomorrow's talks will be successful, that the men can go back to work with a fair settlement and with dignity and that this Government have at last realised that it would be a criminal error to try to drive them back on their knees.
I have heard all except three speeches in the debate. The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Bob Brown) spoke about winning; but I do not think that there can be a victory for the Coal Board, the miners or the country.The hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. Woof) said that the 1926 strike had left him without a job until the age of 18. I wish to take up this and the point made by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. Harold Lever) about this being a special case. The right hon. Gentleman said that he was speaking for his hon. Friends who feld that if a larger increase were granted to the miners it would not become a platform for leapfrogging. There were no substantial cheers for him when he sat down——
There will be none for the hon. Gentleman.
The right hon. Member cannot tell. If the right hon. Member for Manchester, Cheetham had been able to back up his statement with some words from Mr. Scanlon, Mr. Jones and others it might have carried more conviction. The mineworkers had the sympathy of the public because it was felt that this was dirty and dangerous work. This sympathy is being dissipated. In Harrow we have nearly 1,000 employees of the Coal Board, not directly mineworkers, and I can tell hon. Gentlemen that the sympathy is ebbing away.
The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. Kelley) said that we were approaching civil disorder and that the police were declaring war on the picket line. These words, especially from someone who made such a moving speech, were a warning to the country and the miners. The violence in the picket lines will dissipate even further the sympathy of those not involved. Tomorrow there will be a state of emergency, and if there are power cuts this sympathy will be dissipated once more. If there is a big lobby next Tuesday it will not be a lobby of Members of Parliament because Members with coal mining interests know the facts, as do all other hon. Members. I believe that this is a lobby for the television. If there are public violence, inflammatory speeches and action against the police, this will be dangerous for the mine workers and little will be gained from it.I hope that we shall reach a settlement soon. The longer the strike goes on, the worse it will be for all concerned—but most of all for the mine workers themselves.
I was speaking this morning by telephone to some of the leaders of the National Union of Mineworkers of the South Wales area. They asked me to make one point clearly on their behalf. I make it also on behalf of the many thousands of miners in my constituency who are at the moment holding a general meeting to decide future strategy in the strike. Their message is a simple and clear one, which they ask should be given to this House, and, through this House, to the nation in quiet and sober terms—that nothing will shake the solidarity of the miners in this fight.I have lived in a coalfield all my life, having been born in the Merthyr Valley at Aberfan and living now in the biggest coalfield left in Wales, in the Rhondda Valley. I remember strikes back to the 1921 strike. I have been on the picket lines in this strike and have met strike committees. Never, even in the 1926 strike, which I remember only too vividly because of the scars it left, have I known a stronger determination to achieve justice than there is among the miners now. Without wanting to be snide, I must say that if some of the speeches of hon. Members opposite today had been made in the 1922 Committee and at Tory Party meetings, and if their whole weight had been brought to bear on the Government Front Bench, we might have avoided this tragedy. One of the best summings-up that I have seen of the attitude of the miners was in a most perceptive article in The Guardian by Jacky Gillott on 2nd February. She summed up the philosophy of the miner and the strength of feeling which he has developed as the strike has progressed. The strike has laid bare more clearly than any other industrial dispute of recent years the essential exploiting nature of the industry and its hostility towards the men who enable it to function. Superficially, and justly, the miners are fighting for more pay. Over 12 years, having agreed to the running down of their work force in the name of greater efficiency and profitability—a pro- fitability which they have not shared and an efficiency which may be translated most charitably as the best use of the least men—by letting the pits face closure, the miners are expressing their feelings about a system of which they have been the most shameful victims. The Conservative Party must bear the responsibility. At every point there has been muddled thinking, muddled action. It has used the public sector of industry as a whipping boy to try to force through its fight against so-called wage-cost inflation. It does not seem to have occurred to the Secretary of State that this strike is itself inflationary. As stocks of coal run out, as manufacturers find that their output is interrupted and they have to pay wages for work that cannot be done because of lack of energy supplies, and these costs are then passed on in unit costs to the consumer, this in itself can be a considerable inflationary force. The next mistake that the Government made was completely to under-estimate the solidarity not only of the miners but of their families; wives have been picketing in their hundreds to prevent workers from getting into the administrative headquarters of the Coal Board. Although the pickets have been going about their duties quietly and peacefully and there have been few incidents—in my constituency they have been on duty at lonely desolate outposts on hillsides where there are dumps of coal but there has not been one incident—it is clear from speaking to the men that they are determined to win. The miners say that if their industry is to be sentenced to death they would rather have a quick than a slow death. They say, "If you want to saddle yourselves with coal imports and all the costs that go with that, and if you want our industry to die, then face up to the consequences and take the decision". The decision is for the Government. I hope that tomorrow they will show that they are willing to reach an accommodation.
Because time is short I shall be brief, and I am grateful for this opportunity to contribute to the debate.It is necessary for hon. Members to be aware of what is happening in the coalfields, and today there have been many moving references to tragedies of the past. It is easy to recall them because there are many from which to select. The House should be aware that we are at present seeing the birth of a new disaster. Unless the Government take great care there will be an appalling responsibility in terms of social consequences for the nation to face. The men of the area I represent have been traditionally moderate. Militancy has never been the fashion in South Yorkshire, but the miners of this area have exploded in the face of events of recent weeks, events which have taken many of us by surprise. Time allows me to give only one example. A miner in my constituency, a skilled man, received for a full week's work the net sum of £14·90 after deduction of rent. It is not surprising that nothing was deducted for savings. He applied for Government retraining but was refused on the ground that he was a skilled miner. It is not surprising that he and thousands like him believe that they are imprisoned in a cheap labour system from which there is no escape. The miners have been offered many promises and have been the victims of a foolish and mistaken campaign waged by the N.C.B. to remove public sympathy from them. But the miners have that sympathy and I hope that they will hang on to it. Many of us urge them to remain cool. If the Government continue with the indifference which they have shown since the dispute started, they will make the task even more difficult and life in the mining communities will become almost intolerable.
During this debate hon. Members have related up-to-date accounts of what is taking place in the coalfields.It remains largely true that the majority of miners are represented by hon. Members on this side of the House although we have had a few muted sympathies from the benches opposite. Indeed, in three cases—those of the hon. Member for Belper (Mr. Stewart-Smith), the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) and the hon. Member for Cannock (Mr. Cormack)—the remarks have been more than muted and I hope that the Government, and particularly the Secretary of State for Employment, have noted their comments. Like many of my hon. Friends, I was able last weekend to talk to miners in my constituency about the dispute. I, too, can report that their determination to win a fair wage is as strong as ever. When, three weeks ago, we warned the Government that the longer this strike lasted the more difficult and hard the situation would become, it was clear that we were right. Our warnings have been confirmed, and that is the reason for the announcement of the state of emergency by the Secretary of State. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) is right when he says that he does not come from a militant area but that over the last few weeks he has seen moderate men become very bitter. We have had evidence of the miners' bitterness in every speech from this side of the House, and as the strike goes into its fifth week what is emerging more and more is that the public are sympathetic towards the miners. It is that sympathy—which I think will last—which is helping to sustain the miners. The attitude of the public is the result, to some extent, of anthropological expeditions by journalists into the coalfields. For the first time the vast majority of the British people are coming to know what life in a pit is like and the physical conditions under which the men work. Above all, they are beginning to learn that miners do not get a decent wage for doing that work. Public sympathy has spilled over into the national Press, as many of my hon. Friends have said. There is hardly a national newspaper which during the last four weeks has not had a leading article calling for an improved offer and a decent wage for the miners. Only yesterday the leading article in the Daily Express said:
It is quite clear where the newspapers believe the responsibility lies. They do not direct their appeals to the National Coal Board. It is at the Government, and at the Secretary of State for Employment in particular, that they point their finger. A leading article in The Times last week appealed to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to organise and foster a margin of tolerance and create a band of give and take, and during the last week the Daily Mail and the Daily Express have called on the Secretary of State to set up a court of inquiry. What is crystal clear is that the Government never bargained for the solidarity of the miners and the widespread public sympathy which they now enjoy. The main thing that is emerging is that for a month now the Government have tried to maintain what I regard as the silly pretence that this is a private fight between the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers. That pretence is now shown to be a complete sham. When the strike was debated in another place last week Lord Drumalbyn, the Minister without Portfolio, played the Secretary of State's charade when he said:"All they ask is a decent wage. They deserve it. They should have it. Let's end the strike. Let the community pay its debt to the miners."
We know that that is not true, because last week Mr. Derek Ezra gave the game away. At a news conference last Thursday, as reported in the Daily Telegraph of 4th February, he pleaded for"The Board freely negotiated without Government constraints."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 31st January, 1972; Vol. 327, c. 655.]
by some third party. If we want to know who the third party is, we can look to one of Mr. Derek Ezra's colleagues on the board for that information, to Mr. Jack Peel, a part-time member of the board who was reappointed by the Government and who, I assume, has been involved in the negotiations and certainly in the discussions which have taken place within the board. He said:"some new intervention at an early date"
I do not know why the Secretary of State should find this particularly amusing. Mr. Jack Peel is a responsible member of the board. He has been involved in the negotiations, and on television he said that the strike was the Government's responsiblity. I must tell the Secretary of State that if we are to take him seriously on this matter his talks tomorrow must be absolutely meaningful. Let us get away from pretence. Let the Government face their responsibilities, because the newspapers, the public and the National Coat Board all say that they want the Government to provide elbow room for manoeuvre. The Government did not count on the solidarity which existed in the coalfields. We were told that stocks were sufficient, that they would not run out, that there was 12 weeks' supply and the rest. But they are not playing with paper miners. This is a strike by determined men, sustained by public sympathy and by a desire for justice. Above all, it is a strike which the people want settled. There has been a lot of talk about the damage the strike is doing to the long-term future of the coal industry. A lot of it has been deliberately exaggerated in attempts to scare the miners back down the pits. Obviously there is some truth in it. We know that damage is being done to the industry. The miners fully understand that damage is being done. But when we talk to them in our constituencies and put it to them we get the reply, "Are we expected on our own to sustain a coalmining industry which makes huge profit out of our work but which, because of bookkeeping, wipes out the profit? Are we to be expected to accent an offer in a situation like this which does not even compensate for the increase in the cost of living?" That fairly summarises their reaction. I hope, therefore, that the Minister for Industry will not repeat the lecture about damage to the mining industry. The miners throughout Britain are saying, "Does anyone care about the damage to us?" It is essential that these talks should be conducted in a realistic and responsible way with the Government facing their responsibilities. For example, we are told that the strike and the overtime ban have already lost £75 million, if the Financial Times is anything to go by. That £75 million is lost for ever as far as I can see. If the Government had not been so pigheaded, how far would that £75 million have gone to help in making an improved offer? But it has been lost and much more will be lost. What is emerging more and more from this disastrous dispute is that the Government have given the impression that they are prepared to sacrifice the miners for their discredited and discriminatory incomes policy. In our last debate on the strike, the Secretary of State said that his wages policy was fair to both the private sector and the public sector and he said much the same again today. When the comparative figures in refutation were given by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) the Secretary of State muttered "The figures do not sustain it". But every piece of evidence we can get hold of shows that Government policy is directed specifically against those in the publicly-owned industries. That is what the strike is all about. That is why the public points the finger at the Government. The situation is made clear by the latest report of Incomes Data Services. Its survey published only three days ago covers wage deals in the last quarter of 1971 and makes no bones about what is happening. It says:"We must have a little bit more elbow room from the Government."
"The public sector did badly in percentage terms compared with the private sector. All increases in minimum rates in the public sector were less than the previous increases and all except the British Airports Authority failed to keep up with the rise in the cost of living between settlements … This reflects the Government's strategy of reducing pay settlements in the public sector, no doubt hoping that the private sector will follow … national agreements in the private sector are providing bigger increases than they are in the public sector."
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will look at the weekly wage rate data put out by my Department. This is a well-established series of indices and 80 per cent. of the input consists of private sector settlements. He will see that the charge he is making is not supported by the facts.
I was quoting from Incomes Data Services which did the survey, but if this is so I wonder what the Secretary of State has to say about Chrysler. If he is saying that this is absolutely right and that this policy is equally effective in the private and public sectors, does Chrysler come into that category? In this kind of free-for-all atmosphere I do not really blame the Chrysler workers for extracting as much as they can in this situation; but certainly when we compare what is happening throughout the public sector with what is happening at Chrysler everyone knows that the Government's case cannot be sustained.The Government have a grossly discriminatory incomes policy and the right hon. Gentleman knows it. The Government are so obsessed with trying to maintain that discriminatory incomes policy that they are really concealing from the public the massive damage which I believe their stubborness is bringing about. Of course it will not be concealed when we get a state of emergency, when the floodlights on the Houses of Parliament and the National Gallery and the lighting of shop windows are turned off. In fact, the shutters are going up all over Britain and we have not been told how serious the situation is. The Cabinet Emergency Committee must know. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. Probert) and my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) mentioned that schools are closed in Wales, as they are in Lancashire, Northumberland, Durham, Staffordshire and the West Riding. Production in the British Steel Corporation has been seriously affected. We are told that at Scunthorpe output has been cut by 40 per cent. In Wales iron and steel production at the stripmill division has been reduced. At Corby two blast furnaces have been taken out of operation. One thousand men have been laid off and 600 are on short time. In the Stanton and Staveley group which operates in Thaveley, in my constituency, pig iron production has been cut by 40 per cent.; a blast furnace has been taken out of production and 2,200 workers have been put on a four-day week. Not only steel workers are being laid off. At 12 Courtaulds factories in the North of England 2,400 workers have been laid off. At the Celanese factory at Spondon, Derby, 2,400 are on short-time working. At George Fisher Castings, Bedford, overtime and weekend working has been cut for about 1,000 men. Five paper mills with a work force of 1,000 have shut down. The Mather and Smith Foundry at Ashford and a foundry in Stirlingshire has been shut down. The Council of the Iron Founding Association describes the situation as extremely serious. At the Dunlop factory at Manchester 200 workers have been laid off and 12 Lancashire mills have closed down. There is a whole catalogue but all this has been concealed from the House. The North West Regional Committee of the Coal Merchants' Federation wrote to the Prime Minister—[Interruption.]
A lot of good that will do.
The Committee told the Prime Minister that there was a critical solid fuel supply position in the North-West, and the position has now been reached that extreme hardship and distress will be caused to the industry's customers. This is all very important and there is much more to come, all a direct result of the Government's intransigence because in trying to beat the miners the Government have completely lost sight of their own economic strategy——
What is it?
—such as it is. But it has not escaped the attention of Patrick Hutber, City Editor of the Sunday Telegraph, who said this of economic strategy in relation to the miners' strike:
That is absolutely true, and the same was said only a few days ago in the Daily Express. The policy of reviving our economy will fail unless there is a thriving economy. The hon. Member for Belper spoke of the time when the strike comes to an end. The Cabinet Emergency Committee must have these facts before it. When the strike ends it will take weeks of work to bring some of the pits back into full production and to get the distributive system moving again. The impact of the dispute on the economy will be felt long after the dispute is over. The Government began by misjudging the economic impact of the strike and the determination of the miners. My hon. Friends and I warned the Government three weeks ago that, if they did not act, feelings would become hard and the longer the strike went on the harder and more embittered would feelings become. When we debated this subject three weeks ago the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry said that the strike had received the support of only 58·8 per cent. of the miners. The same point was made by the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Kenneth Clarke). That is true, but nobody would now deny that the strike is 100 per cent. solid. Not only are the miners 100 per cent. solid, but the miners' wives are, too, and the determination to go on with the strike is strongest in those areas which were most heavily against striking. There was no great enthusiasm in the Midlands, in North Staffordshire, for the strike when it started but the miners are now absolutely solid and there is no weakening. I warn the Government that they will not break the miners. The spirit of these men is proud and springs from a consciousness that they are fighting not for some vainglorious victory but for simple social justice. The strike has already gone on for too long, and the miners will not give in unless they receive justice. They will go back only with their heads held high and the Government, for their own sake, should learn this lesson quickly. I hone that the talks which are to commence tomorrow will be meaningful. The British people overwhelmingly desire the strike to come to an end. Let the Government drop the pretence that it is only a fight between the N.C.B. and the N.U.M. Let them take positive action now to bring it to an end."… barring a very rapid settlement indeed, the miners' strike is going to have some very serious effects on the British economy the unemployment trend, which is still upwards, will be slower to reverse itself, and the recovery in output which was beginning to be felt at the turn of the year, will be postponed."
The closing words of the speech of the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley) gave expression to one of the themes of our debate. Two important and significant themes have stood out clearly from the speeches of hon. Members. First, there has been a genuine and heartfelt desire that the strike should end as quickly as possible. Secondly, there has been a welcome throughout the House for the action of my right hon. Friend in inviting the two parties to the dispute to see him tomorrow.It has also been widely recognised in all parts of the House that the miners now on strike are expressing much more than opposition to a particular wage offer. I shall have something to say later about the pay claim itself, but, clearly, the strike has its origins in earlier frustrations and experiences. Looking back over the course of events, there seems to have been a certain sad inevitability about the succession of steps which have led to this unnecessary and damaging action. There is no doubt that the high level of pit closures, particularly in 1968 and 1969, and the strain this imposed on the men's co-operation in helping to strengthen their industry have contributed to the present mood. It is also probably more than likely that in some areas the dislike of the effects of the National Power Loading Agreement have also helped to bring about this situation. Perhaps dominating all the feelings by the men in the industry is the belief that they have been losing ground relative to the other unions. It did not come altogether as a surprise that, following the change of the union rules in July, there was a vote in favour of authority to call a strike. The hon. Member for Chesterfield gave the percentage figures and said that we had made great play with this matter. It is right to recognise that this was not an overwhelming vote giving authority to call a strike at that time. It is also right to recognise that more than 40 per cent. of the miners then voted against it. Then the National Coal Board's offer stood at 7 per cent. Subsequently, the offer was increased twice to the final amount of about 8 per cent. Many hon. Members have spoken in support of the claim that the mineworkers have a special case, and I recognise the force of many of the points which have been made. My right hon. Friend drew attention to the fact that the process in which miners have been, as it were, moving down the ladder has already been reversed. Between October, 1970, and October, 1971, average earnings in the coal industry rose by some 13 per cent., whereas the average earnings in all industry rose by 10·3 per cent. Clearly, this is a reversal of what had been the trend before 1970. It indicates that they were moving back up the ladder, and there is little doubt that the final offer of the Coal Board would have carried that process a stage further. It is as well to recollect what the offer comprised. There was a proposal that 130,000 of the lowest-paid workers should have an increase of £2 a week and that there should be an extra £1·90 for all others. As for the lower paid, 34,000 of those who are surface workers would have had a fairly substantial increase in remuneration over the two-year period. Their minimum weekly wage would have become £20 and in the two years 1969–71 on the basis of the Coal Board's last offer, they would have experienced a rise of pay of 33⅓, per cent. Over that time, contrary to the view put forward by the hon. Member for Chesterfield, the retail price index went up by half that amount, by 17 per cent. In addition to the actual money offer which was made, there was also the proposal that there should be five extra days holiday a year, three of them to be taken before 1st November of this year——
This is the same speech.
That would have cost a total of at least £31 million, which is a substantial package coming on top of the parity arrangements which would have brought men at the coal face to £30 a week.
Come on. Tell us what you are doing.
In addition to that, there was a proposal to have a productivity experiment with the prospect of extra payment for an additional 1 cwt of output.
Is the Minister aware that the effect of the increase might inveigle people into what is now known as a wage trap? While the global figure that he has quoted is substantial, for the industry it would mean very little and for the individual miner it would mean probably a reduction in income.
I do not altogether accept that. It would have meant an extra £2 a week to the lowest paid in the industry. That is quite substantial. If that offer had been accepted, this is what they would now be getting.Regrettably, the offer was rejected. Today we face this lamentable strike which is now in its fifth week. In this situation, obviously, the Government have a duty to take the precaution of seeking emergency powers, especially since we must now look to the post-strike situation and the likely length of any recovery period that we shall experience. Obviously, the nature of the emergency powers will be kept to the absolute minimum necessary——
Just enough to break the strike.
The hon. Member for Chesterfield invited me not to talk about damage being done to the industry. I take his point, just as I take the point made by a number of hon. Members from both sides about the attitude of men which is enabling them to witness this sort of damage being done to many of the pits where they have been working. But I think that it is wise to have full regard to the views of the members of N.A.C.O.D.S. and of the British Association of Colliery Management and the need in the coming few days to do everything possible to secure the safety of pits and help to preserve jobs to which men in the coal mining industry can return.
Does not the Minister realise that when miners in my constituency are told about the dangers to pits they say, "So what?" They have got into an extremely pessimistic state, and the Government must act to get them out of it.
I realise exactly what the hon. Gentleman says, and I said that this point had been well and truly represented by hon. Members during the debate. There is no doubt that men are in a state where they would readily witness the destruction and disruption of their own pits. This is a very serious factor.The right hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Ferneyhough) asked me——
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I will in a moment. The right hon. Member for Jarrow asked me whether any special instructions had been given about the payment of social service benefits in the strike situation. I assure him that nothing of the kind has been done at all. I have made inquiries since the right hon. Gentleman raised this matter and I can assure him that no special instructions of any kind have been given. These strikers are being treated in exactly the same way as strikers in any other industry would be treated.
I am wondering why the hon. Gentleman thinks it useful to tell the miners that they have been showing indifference to the damage to their industry during the last month or so. Why does not the same charge of being indifferent to the damage to the industry lie against the Government with a fraction only of the justification that there is in the case of the miners?
The right hon. Gentlemen started with the wrong proposition I was not telling the miners anything of the kind. It was hon. Gentlemen who were speaking on behalf of the miners, not least the right hon. Member for Jarrow, who made this point clear to me. I was acknowledging the depth of feeling which has led the miners to take this kind of action.My hon. Friends the Members for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) and Chippenham (Mr. Awdry) asked about the law of picketing. The law of picketing is clear. Peaceful picketing is within the law. It is the duty of the police to ensure that those who wish to picket peacefully are able to do so. It is also the duty of the police to ensure that those who wish to go on working can go on, despite the peaceful persuasion of pickets. Nothing in the law relating to picketing gives anyone immunity against charges based on obstruction of a police officer in the course of his duties. The general practice of the police is to ensure that anyone who wishes to cross the picket lines—for example, a lorry driver—can be spoken to by a picket and can then make up his mind whether he wishes to go on or go back.
Will the Minister give way?
I will in a moment.
Will the Minister give way?