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Coal Industry (Productivity Agreements)

Volume 932: debated on Monday 16 May 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Energy what assessment his Department has made in conjunction with others of the effect on productivity in the mines that might be achieved through the signing of pit-by-pit productivity agreements.

A number of variations are possible and unless and until a particular scheme is agreed it is impossible to estimate what effects it might have on productivity.

Does the Minister agree that we shall need a lot more coal and nuclear power if we are to overcome the energy gap for some years to come? Will he therefore give full support to a pit-by-pit productivity deal and explain how the increase in wages of about £20 a week would be incorporated into any future pay deal?

The House has previously endorsed the Government's policies on the question that there should be more coal production in this country and that the industry has a very vital and powerful rôle to play.

We have already introduced support for an incentive scheme in the shape of the report of the tripartite inquiry in 1974, which the unions themselves agreed upon. As to a particular scheme. we have said that that is a matter for the unions to negotiate themselves, because there has been a working party meeting on the subject.

I agree that production is of great importance, but will my hon. Friend say whether he has discussed this with the inspectorate? Production may be a matter for the board and the unions, but safety is also important. If he has not met the inspectorate will he do so at an early date?

I have not met the inspectorate recently, but in my regular pit visits I meet the mines inspectors. Safety in the mining industry is of paramount importance not only to the inspectorate but to the unions and the people who work in the mining industry.

Will the hon Gentleman now consider showing to the House and to the country the profit and loss records for each mine? I believe that this would make all these matters much easier to discuss than they are at the moment.

I have not those figures, but I shall certainly consider what the right hon. Gentleman has said. It may be of help to the House to know that last year, 1976–77, productivity in terms of output per man-shift, in the mines, was 43·6 cwt. Recently it has been around 46 cwt. Therefore, there has been some improvement.

Does my hon. Friend agree that while we all, miners included, want to reduce unit costs—that is to say, increase productivity—the dog-eat-dog pit against pit system, as advocated by the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam), could be extremely counter-productive both in terms of industrial cost and industrial safety? Does he recall that after the 1966 power loading agreement, which gave a stable wage round the country, there was an 8 per cent. increase in productivity?

I have a very personal experience in this. If putting forward an incentive scheme would mean a return to the old piece-rate system I am certain that the unions themselves would have no part in it, and neither would the men. But the proposition that has been put forward, as I understand it, is not for a return to the old piece-rate scheme; it is a different proposition entirely. Incidentally, the agreement or understanding has been reached as a result of a joint working party between the unions themselves.

Does the Minister agree that the existing scheme has been a failure, that payment has been made only on one occasion, and that if we are to raise productivity in the mining industry there has to be a solid cash incentive, which can come only from a re-drawn incentive scheme?

It is generally accepted that the existing scheme has not been very satisfactory, but the working party was set up for the purpose of discussing an incentive scheme that would be acceptable to the men and to the unions, and there would be a necessary financial reward as a consequence of it.