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Industrial Democracy (Coal Industry)

Volume 929: debated on Monday 28 March 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Energy what progress has been made in the discussions, referred to in his answer to the hon. Member for Consett on 2nd February, between the mining unions and the National Coal Board on industrial democracy.

I understand that the Board has put proposals to the mining unions for colliery policy committees at each pit. The unions and the Board have had detailed and fruitful discussions on the constitution and responsibilities of these committees, which are continuing.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Does he agree that the best way forward might be through the application of common ownership principles of management in the coal industry? Irrespective of whether he agrees with that view, will he draw it to the attention of the Board and of the unions?

I know what my hon. Friend is saying, but common ownership of the mining industry in a sense was achieved in 1946. What is now being considered is the possibility of committees at each pit, presided over by the manager, at which the unions—the colliery managers, NACODS and the NUM—would be represented. I strongly believe—and I think my hon. Friend accepts—that industrial democracy has to grow out of the experience and desires of those concerned.

Will the arrangement be on the lines of the majority Bullock Report? If so, will it be discussed with the Shadow Liberal Minister?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government have not reached their final conclusion about the handling of the Bullock recommendations. In any case, industrial democracy in the public sector was being looked at in parallel with that. Since I have been Secretary of State, I have been engaged in the development of greater mechanisms of industrial democracy that do not require legislation.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there are varying opinions about what should happen in industrial democracy? No matter what we believe, it is vital to have the good will of the trade union movement and of management to ensure that industrial democracy works. If the trade union movement does not agree wholeheartedly, proposals for industrial democracy cannot succeed.

If, as the Minister has said, common ownership of the coal industry was established in 1946, how is it that in the past 30 years no member of the public has had the slightest effect on the price of the product they are forced to buy?

There is an old phrase that the hon. and learned Gentleman may remember—there is not blood on the coal as there was in the years of private ownership.