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Clause 12

Volume 933: debated on Friday 24 June 1977

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I beg to move Amendment No. 10, in page 9, line 16, leave out 'subsection' and insert 'subsections'.

No. 11, in page 9, line 22, at end insert—

'(IB) Regulations shall be made for providing pensions in favour of persons aged between 55 and 65 years employed by the Board who wish to retire, and who have—
  • (a) worked not less than twenty years underground in the coal industry, or
  • (b) worked less than twenty years under ground in the coal industry, but who have been compelled to work above ground owing to an injury or disability contracted whilst working underground
  • and the level of pension shall be equivalent to the wage earned (excluding overtime) by a Board employee of identical grade, skill or job, but aged under 55.'

    No. 12, in page 9, line 22, at end insert—

    '(1B) Regulations shall be made for adequate concessionary coal to be provided for life in favour of miners permanently incapacitated for work as a result of an industrial accident or an industrial disease and in favour of any dependents, and for those whom illness has prevented their continuing to work as a miner after a period of at least twenty years in the industry.'

    No. 13, in page 9, line 22, at end insert—

    '(1B) Regulations shall be made for providing a pension in favour of—
  • (a) pneumoconiosis sufferers employed in the coal industry before 5th July 1948 or their dependents who are not now entitled to benefits under the National Insurance Acts, Workmen's Compensation Acts, or the Pneumoconiosis, Byssinosis and Miscel laneous Disease Benefit Scheme because workmen's compensation payments have commuted;
  • (b) pneumoconiosis sufferers employed in the coal industry before 5th July 1948 or their dependents who are not entitled to benefits in the Scheme specified in paragraph (a) above because they elected to sue an employer for negligence in the civil court and subsequently received damages;
  • Amendment No. 10 is designed to trigger off the other three amendments which we are considering with it. As the House will realise, all these matters are under discussion elsewhere, but I thought that it would be a good idea to take advantage of the Bill to have a discussion of them on the Floor of the House.

    All the amendments are concerned with creating an industry that is more attractive, especially for young people. We have a number of right hon. and hon. Members in the House today who have considerably more experience of the industry and of course of working underground than I have. But everyone with any experience at all of the industry knows how often parents advise their sons never to go underground.

    That need not be so. One of the reasons why that advice is so often given is that the industry has not a very good record from what might be termed the humanitarian point of view. Miners today are becoming more aware that they are having a raw deal, and merely increasing their wages does not alleviate the situation sufficiently. The wage of a miner could be increased to £200 a week, but I would never go underground in the conditions that exist at present. The unattractive nature of the industry is a matter that is quite separate from the question of wages. Therefore one must be concerned with the welfare of miners and their dependants.

    As those hon. Members who have been miners know, conditions often abuse the body and the health of the miner, quite apart from the accidents and disasters that occur underground from time to time. There is no proper light and no fresh air, sometimes conditions are very wet, and so on. The NCB, which runs a nationalised industry, and the Government must prove themselves to be the most humane of masters.

    Amendment No. 11 deals with pensions. On looking into the matter one finds to one's surprise that other countries do much better than Britain in this regard. In West Germany miners normally retire at 60 on full pension if they have paid contributions continuously for 25 years, and for every year worked underground after the fifth year they receive a supplement to their pension. In France miners may retire at 55 after 30 years' service, or at 50 if 20 years have been spent underground. In Belgium surface workers may retire at 60, and underground workers at 55, or at any age on normal pension provided that they worked underground for 20 years. Even under the old Franco regime in Spain, coalface workers could retire on pension at 55. Moreover, every Eastern European country, I believe, has a better record than we have on miners' pensions.

    This is very sad. It is good that miners are very much alive to the matter now, it has been discussed, and the situation has been improved. I believe that a retirement age of 62 will be introduced very shortly.

    I turn now to what happens when mines close. We in Wales have had great experience of mine closures. In the six years from 1964 to 1970, one mine closed every seven weeks, on average. There will be more closures in future. Whenever mines close, the NCB tries, when possible, to persuade miners to go to another pit, because there is a shortage of labour at many of the big pits. They may have to travel many miles. It is not unusual for them to have to travel as much as 20 miles to work at another pit when a mine closes.

    It would be very good if mine could be told at the age of 55 that instead of having to go to another pit and having to start out at 4 or 4.30 a.m., or some other ridiculous hour when some of us are only just going to bed, they had the opportunity to retire on full pension. It is a terribly long and impossibly wearing day. At 55 one cannot do that sort of thing very well and can become more accident-prone. There must be a much swifter movement towards early retirement in such circumstances, and the Government must face their financial responsibility.

    I turn next to the question of concessionary coal, which also is under discussion at present. I wish to draw particular attention to a matter which, I suspect, is not being discussed very much, if at all, namely, the situation of miners who may have been working underground for 20 or 30 years and who then experience bad health, perhaps suffering a heart attack and being unable to go back underground or perhaps to do any work at all. It is bad that men who have given such service should not be given even a ton of coal a year as an acknowledgement of their service. They are a special class of people, and this should be looked at. A general scheme should be organised by the Government, who should accept the financial responsibility.

    2.15 p.m.

    I turn lastly to the question of pneumoconiosis. I have spoken about this subject before, and many hon. Members know the situation better than I do. But I know very well the situation in the anthracite coalfield, where it is possibly worse than it is anywhere else in Britain. The average incidence of industrial disease and accidents in the Welsh coalfield is twice that for the whole of Britain.

    The pneumoconiosis situation is still scandalous. There are still gaping holes to be filled in the scheme. It is extraordinary that this should still be so after 30 years of nationalisation. What has happened to the Royal Commission on Civil Liability and Compensation for Personal Injuries, set up in 1972? I do not know when the Commission was due to report. I assume that it is discussing this matter. I am not sure. I hope that the Minister will tell us. In any case, it is time we had that report, and time that justice was done to these few groups covered by the amendment.

    The numbers in the pre-1948 class are rapidly diminishing. Surely they can be helped now, when there are not many of them left. The same is true of the dependants of victims of pneumoconiosis who died before 1970, who were given such a disgracefully small pittance. It is a disgrace that they were given only £300, which is one week's pay for many people. This must be looked at again. I appeal to the Government for more rapid action to end this scandal.

    While I welcome the amendments, I sincerely hope that the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) will withdraw them. I welcome the nationalist parties' help for Wales and, I hope, also for Scotland, although I do not see any evidence of Scottish National Members here today. I welcome—and no doubt every mine worker will welcome—the belated assistance that the Scottish and Welsh national parties are prepared to give to the miners of this country. However, I would be churlish if I did not agree with some of the hon. Gentleman's submissions.

    In Amendment No. 11 the hon. Gentleman has merely copied submissions that have been made by miners from several areas of the British coalfields to the National Union of Mineworkers' headquarters. These have been under active consideration, with the co-operation of this Labour Government, and are almost on the point of fruition. There has been a belated recognition of the fact that British miners have been treated shabbily on the question of retirement when compared with miners in European countries.

    I would have had some sympathy with the amendment if it had said that there should be compulsory and not voluntary retirement at 50, with a good or a more than good living wage. Since I am somewhat opposed to British membership of the EEC, it is with some reluctance that I say that I now want our miners to have parity with EEC miners. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend the Minister will take cognisance of my argument and do everything in his power to assist the mine-workers in achieving early compulsory retirement with a good living wage, commensurate with the service that they have given to the economy and to the people of this country.

    I shall be deliberately brief and not prolong the argument. I do not think that there is much of an argument in Amendment No. 12, which deals with concesionary coal. I suggest that that amendment be withdrawn. It is a very touchy subject at the moment, on which a national ballot is taking place. It is an argument on which I would not presume an MP would take sides about whether the agreement should be accepted.

    It is not so long since the mines were nationalised. We have had many Labour Governments during that time, with big enough majorities to carry through the Socialist measures that we would wish to be carried through, some of which are contained in the amendments. But the amendment dealing with concessionary coal makes no mention of delivery charges, geographical conditions and distances. Who will pay for the delivery? I suggest that the national ballot now being conducted should be entirely left alone by the House.

    Amendment No. 12 also makes no reference to cash in lieu. It mentions only concessionary coal. We live in a country which is increasingly aware of environmental conditions, where more smoke controlled areas spring up week by week and day by day, where coal is being misused to the extent that it is being burned raw and where people will in future use coal in a different form. It is therefore important that any agreement on concesionary coal should include a section dealing with cash in lieu for mineworkers and their dependants.

    While I know that my hon. Friend will look sympathetically at this amendment, I hope that he will ask for it to be withdrawn in order to allow the proper people to look into the situation. Those people can only be the members of the NUM, associated unions and the NCB. I hope that when their submissions come to the House for agreement it will be a Labour Government who will consider them and that we shall have belated help from the nationalist parties, particularly the Scottish National Party, which until this moment has shown no interest in the coal industry. The whole case of the SNP hinges on 15 to 20 years of a small dribble of oil from the North Sea.

    I turn to Amendment No. 13. This was a sore point with miners' groups even before I came to the House. It deals with the principle of commuted cases. I do not need to remind the hon. Member for Carmarthen that the principal villains of the piece were the ex-coal-owners. They were the people who starved the miners and persuaded them to sign their pittance away with miserly sums of one, two or three bob a week. They forced the miners into submission to sign away their rights so that in the future they could not renew their claim for damages at common law. That is what we are fighting. Do not let us blame anyone other than the ex-coalowners, aided and abetted by their political allies, the Tory Party. No one in this House, not even the four Conservative Members present, can refute the misery that was caused to all those people and their children.

    I hope that my hon. Friend, who is fully aware of all these things, will talk to the Government in the hope that legis- lation can be passed to allow commuted cases a fair share of the recently negotiated pneumoconiosis scheme.

    With those few words, I plead with my hon. Friend, that in particular he looks more closely at the question of commuted cases so that when economic conditions improve the necessary law and regulations are altered in order to enable the people concerned to benefit.

    I shall not detain the House very long, but it is important to make several other points in relation to the amendments. First, it ill becomes the Welsh nationalists—who tell me that they have a proud political record—to start engaging in activities very much akin to the way in which the Liberals operate. I refer to the operation of what is loosely known as "community politics". The idea is to discover something which is about to happen, and which will reach fruition at an early date, and introduce the theme either in the House of Commons or outside. That roughly applies to Amendments Nos. 11 and 12.

    As is well known, the early retirement scheme is being balloted upon. There has been some degree of success. Presumably its operation will begin this year. I hope that miners on the surface will be included. If they are not, there is likely to be trouble. The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) is fully aware of all these matters, and, therefore, to a great extent what he has said is a little superfluous.

    I agree with the hon. Gentleman's general sentiments. He has probably held them for a long time. The unions, which have also been arguing these issues for a long time, are pleased to note that there has at last been some movement. I also make the point that we cannot accept amendments that are defective. In any case they are not relevant to the schedule in question, which deals only with pit closures. As it happens, we are concerned with the wider generalities of this question.

    I remind the House that the NUM conference starts in the first week in July. All these matters are on the conference agenda. I believe that that conference would regard it as a liberty if we started introducing into the Bill measures that would not be applicable in all the circumstances. This is another area where, in my view, we should leave the negotiations to those who are more closely involved.

    The hon. Member for Carmarthen referred to miners being given a ton of coal. I do not know whether he is au fait with what has happened with the concessionary coal agreement. It will be applicable nationally—internationally with regard to Wales—with eight tons for the people who produce the coal and five tons for all those who have left the industry and for widows and so on. It also includes the widows of those who have been killed in an industrial accident. I think that that agreement is more comprehensive than the references made in the amendment dealing with concessionary coal.

    2.30 p.m.

    It would be folly for us to pass the first two amendments. We agree with their general sentiments, but we should be making fools of ourselves if we passed them. They are not as comprehensive as the current negotiations, and their provisions on concessionary coal fall well short of what the union is likely to achieve if the ballot goes the way that most people expect.

    In Wales, it is likely that the concessionary coal agreement will have a more beneficial effect for the people to whom the hon. Gentleman referred and will mean more coal for them and for the people of Scotland than the hon. Gentleman recommended in his speech. We should not get too involved in these areas or we shall end up doing someone a bad turn when the amendments are seeking to do people good turns.

    The hon. Member for Carmarthen was right to use the question of pneumoconiosis. It needs raising and we have raised it on every coal Bill. I remind my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary that we are raising it not for the good of our health but because of the health of those in the industry and on behalf of the widows whose husbands used to work in the industry. We know that there will have to be a massive contribution by the State to top up the pneumoconiosis scheme, but there is unanimity on this issue among hon. Members closely connected with the industry.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) and a few other hon. Members badgered, cajoled and finally persuaded my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services to introduce special measures for children who have suffered as a result of certain vaccines. We accept the Secretary of State's rationale in accepting that idea and we say to him that a similar argument should apply to these widows. That sentiment should extent beyond the Secretary of State for Social Services and his civil servants to those involved in energy.

    We forced the bridge-head for pneumoconiosis sufferers. The parents of thalidomide children followed us through, and the parents of children who suffer from these vaccines will be next. We need to widen that bridge-head to include the widows of miners. I trust that this appeal will not fall on deaf ears.

    The representations by hon. Members are important and should be heeded. I hope that the Minister will divert attention towards them. I know that there are problems. When I say that I do not accept the reasons that are given for our economy being in difficulties, everyone will know why I make that point. However, even if there are restraints— which I do not accept—priorities must be established and the pneumoconiosis scheme must be one of those priorities.

    The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) said that he felt there was a humanitarian need for the amendments. No one would argue that they do not have humanitarian objectives, but, as my hon. Friends have said, steps have been taken on early retirement and action is on the way. Concessionary coal is a matter for the NUM conference and negotiations between the NUM, associated unions and the NCB. There could be dangers if the House were to intervene unnecessarily in some of these areas.

    Many of us have discussed the problems of widows and commuted cases. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has raised them again, because the more often the issue is debated in the House the better. There can be no political division on these matters, and no one suggests that the hon. Member for Carmarthen is seeking to make political capital out of them. Any chance that his party had of making political capital was destroyed when it joined the Tories in the vote of confidence against the Government. The miners and the people of Wales know that if we are to have any of the objectives to which the hon. Gentleman referred me must maintain a Labour Government in office.

    Action is needed on the matters included in the amendments, but I am sure that, on reflection, the hon. Member for Carmarthen will agree with our view that work on them rightly lies outside the House. I hope that he will seek to withdraw the amendment.

    At the risk of upsetting the Minister and the Assistant Whip, I wish to say to the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) that if any other hon. Member opposite had introduced these amendments we might have doubted his motives. It is because of the respect that the House has for the hon. Gentleman that we have been kinder to him.

    The debate has shown that the hon. Gentleman was right to compare how little British miners ask in comparison with miners in Europe, right across the Continent from East Europe and the Communist countries through to Franco's Spain and the democracies in the centre. We are often told how much our miners are asking for, but compared with those in Europe and throughout the world they ask for very little.

    The hon. Member for Carmarthen should be in no doubt that the aims behind the amendments have support in all parts of the House, but things are on the move, quite apart from the negotiations that my hon. Friends have mentioned. On Tuesday, a social security order dealing with pneumoconiosis, byssinosis and miscellaneous diseases comes up for review by a Commons Committee. It is proposed that the term of 10 years in the principal scheme should be replaced by a term of five years. Therefore, even here progress is being made.

    We all support the intention of the amendments, but support should be given to the negotiations between the union, the NCB, the Government and Back Benchers.

    The matters mentioned in the amendments, namely, voluntary early retirement, concessionary coal and com- pensation for men suffering from pneumoconiosis, are traditionally subjects for negotiation between the National Coal Board and the unions in the industry, and it is right and proper that they should remain so rather than be the subject of statutory regulation. The Board already has all the powers necessary to make appropriate provisions in all these fields, as may be agreed with the unions. These arrangements have been working very well and I doubt very much whether the unions would welcome the sort of changes that the hon. Gentleman proposes. I endorse what my hon. Friends said and I see no reason why these arrangements should be changed.

    The Board already has sufficient powers to make early retirement schemes. After prolonged negotiation with the NUM, a scheme has been drafted which will be implemented as soon as pay policy permits. This will allow men who have reached 62 years of age and who have 20 years underground service to volunteer for early retirement. The age of retirement will be reduced by one year at a time to 60. Men who volunteer will receive a lump sum of £500 and a weekly payment of two-thirds of their previous pay until they reach 65 years of age. Thereafter, they will receive their miners' pension plus the ordinary State pension. This is a most generous scheme in many respects, and it fully recognises the arduous nature of mining. It is estimated that it will cost about £12 million in the financial year to March 1978 and £45 million a year once it has been settled. It is also estimated that to allow men to retire on full pay at 60 would cost £720 million over the first five years and £235 million a year thereafter.

    The Board already has the necessary powers to make schemes for the provision of concessionary coal. The proposed national agreement, which has been negotiated with the NUM, has been recommended for acceptance by the national executive committee of the union and is now the subject of a ballot, to which reference has been made. The scheme provides that if a man has to cease work due to industrial injury or disease he will receive concessionary coal as a beneficiary for life, with a continuing entitlement for his widow.

    Is the Minister saying that the scheme includes not only those who get concessionary coal because they were injured underground, but those whose health compelled them to leave after, say, 20 or 30 years' service?

    The hon. Gentleman knows, because he is knowledgeable, that if they qualify under the scheme the answer is "Yes". The Board already has the necessary powers to make pneumoconiosis compensation schemes. The hon. Gentleman will recollect that, after long negotiations with the unions, such a scheme was established in September 1974.

    The up-to-date information is that 63,000 claims have been met under the scheme to date at a cost of £124 million, and the Government have contributed £100 million to the cost of the scheme. Men who commuted their benefits indemnified their employers against further claims for damages, and men who sued and obtained damages have recovered satisfaction.

    The disease is slow to develop and the 10-year service rule was adopted in the scheme on medical advice and with the agreement of the unions. Because both the DHSS and the NCB destroy their records of pneumoconiosis five years after death, the necessary information no longer exists to allow compensation paid to the widows of men who died before January 1970 to be calculated in the same way as that paid to widows whose husbands died after that date. It is for this reason that the widows of men who died before January 1970 receive a fixed lump sum.

    It is estimated that to admit these extra categories, despite the legal and administrative difficulties, would cost an extra £50 million. As I told the House in answer to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Mr. Roberts) on 15th January 1976, by any standards the Government's contribution of £100 million must be regarded as extremely generous and, candidly, there is no possibility in the current climate of increasing it.

    Some of my hon. Friends have expressed their gratitude to the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) for raising these matters. He has given us the opportunity to think about them. At one stage I found myself beginning to think about them. Those who have experience in the industry will always welcome those who come to the House and make speeches with the understanding and compassion displayed by the hon. Gentleman. I welcome the opportunity that he has given to air these matters, about which some of us feel very strongly. I hope that, having been given the opportunity to air these matters, he will accept in good faith what my hon. Friends and I have said about the consequences of the amendment being pressed to a Division. I hope, therefore, that he will seek leave to withdraw it.

    2.45 p.m.

    The Minister has replied with his characteristic kindness and sympathy. However, I am a little disappointed about one point. One Government supporter said that these matters were not relevant to the Bill, but can that be said of any measure which is concerned with the expenditure of thousands of millions of pounds? I have pleaded that more of the enormous sums involved should be devoted to humanitarian ends. I wish that more could be done more quickly to remove the anomalies which everyone has admitted exist with regard to pneumoconiosis.

    I am glad to have had the Minister's answer on concessionary coal for people who suffer from ill health, not just those who suffer some accident underground or whose ill health has been caused by that service.

    The reason for moving the amendment has been justified by the answers that have been given. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    2.47 p.m.

    I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

    We can, I think, claim—and claim with some justice—that we have given very thorough consideration to the Coal Industry Bill. For myself, I have done my best to answer every major point made either in debate or in individual letters to Members. It is, of course, a Bill to which the Opposition gave a general welcome on Second Reading and for which they indicated a general support in Committee. But that agreement on the value and importance of the Bill has in no way meant that it has received only a halfhearted scrutiny. Twenty-seven Members spoke on Second Reading and, since then, there have been 11 sittings of the Committee. That underlines the fact that this is an important Bill, and one that the whole House realises will have a profound effect on the future of our coal industry.

    Hon. Members on the Opposition Benches have said that they are not opposed in principle to Clauses 9 and 10. The hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), during the Committee's eighth sitting, said:
    "One does not need to have more than a superficial understanding of the energy situation to know the importance that coal is likely to play in the future energy scene and its importance as a feedstock in petroleum and chemical derivatives."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 28th April 1977; c. 315–16.]
    At the end of our discussion in Committee on Clause 10, he said:
    "It is reasonable that the Board should be able to exploit anything in which it becomes involved in the course of its mining."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 10th May 1977; c. 392.]
    On Clauses 9 and 10 it has been more a matter of differences of opinion on the scope and drafting of the clauses. Most of these differences have been due, I think, to misunderstandings on the part of Opposition Members, and I have done my best to dispel these misunderstandings.

    Clause 11 has been the subject of a more fundamental opposition by hon. Members opposite. But I think that they should be able to take some comfort from the controls specified in subsection (4) of the clause.

    We believe that our great nationalised industries should not be too heavily circumscribed in what they can do. We believe that they should certainly concentrate chiefly on their main statutory duties, but that they should also be able to diversify where such diversification makes commercial sense and where it flows naturally from their basic functions.

    In proposing the new powers for the National Coal Board we are affirming our belief that it has a legitimate interest in petrochemicals, because of the vital importance of coal as a chemical feedstock in the future; that it has a legitimate claim to the opportunity of developing other minerals which come to light through its own efforts; and that it is not only to its commercial advantage, but to that of our vital mining machinery industry that the Board should have powers to operate overseas.

    In framing these powers widely we have recognised that it is not wise to put a straitjacket on the coal industry's development. It is better, we think, to rely on the Board's technical and commercial judgment, together with the overall control exercised by the Government on its capital expenditure, and, in the case of Clause 11, the specific authorisation by the Secretary of State required in that clause.

    But it is important to remember that while much of our debate in Committee has concerned these wider powers they are only one aspect of this vital Bill. The Bill also, with the borrowing powers proposed, provides the necessary framework for the development of the coal industry during the crucial period of its build-up under "Plan for Coal". It also re-enacts powers for essential operating and social grants. It is, in other words, a comprehensive Bill—one that underwrites our commitment to a strong coal industry. I hope that it is one that the House will continue to support.

    2.51 p.m.

    The Minister has given a fair outline of the proceedings on the Bill so far. I wish to correct him on only one point. The Opposition voted against Clauses 9 and 10 standing part of the Bill, but the reason was that the hon. Gentleman did not find it possible to accept our amendments aimed at improving those clauses. We felt that we must register our dissent in that way.

    However, I agree with what the hon. Gentleman said about the Bill in principle. Basically it is a good Bill. It received widespread support on Second Reading and in Committee. I do not think that I have served on a more pleasant Committee since I have been a Member. All the debates were constructive. Our only regret was that the Minister was unable to accept more of our proposals to improve the Bill.

    The clauses relating to the borrowing powers were fully discussed, and the amendments that we moved then—all of a probing nature—enabled the Minister to tell us in great detail just how he saw them working. The clauses relating to social grants were generally welcomed by Conservative Members on the Committee. The Bill in general is now considerably improved compared with the Bill that was originally introduced.

    Great concern has been expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House about the future of jobs in the mining industry. As we mentioned during the discussions on Clause 11, that was one of our main reservations about allowing the Board to operate to such an extent overseas. We feel that its principal object should be the continued supply of coal at home, and we thought that that might be put at risk if too much attention was diverted to overseas activities.

    Clauses 9 and 10 considerably extend the Board's powers. We had reservations about that, but some of them were removed by statements by the Minister. There is a great deal on the record now which will help to reassure people outside who also had great reservations about their own industries.

    I do not wish to prolong the debate. We have had a long session this week. I welcome the Bill. I hope that it will be considered in detail again in another place. It may be that we shall later be asked to consider amendments made there. In the meantime, I am glad that we have managed to conclude our proceedings on a reasonable basis. I think that the Bill is to the benefit of the coal industry in general and of the British public in particular.

    2.56 p.m.

    Like my hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray), I broadly welcome the Bill. But I think that on its Third Reading it is reasonable to ask whether it passes the two esential tests of a Bill of this sort—namely, will it really be of benefit to the industry and, perhaps more important, will it play a real part in the wider aspects of the energy debate which is going on all around us?

    In order to be able to decide whether those two tests have been met one must look at the background against which the Bill will leave us today. We have seen the breakdown of the North-South dialogue between the rich and poor countries, the oil producers making up a substantial number of those poor countries. We have also seen the Carter Administration in the United States taking the whole question of energy much more seriously than it has been taken in that country in the past. But we also find that here in Britain a dangerous com-placancy is once again growing, with the belief that there is no shortage of energy and that the coal industry can go back to where it was in the past, as an industry that can once again easily become the poor relation.

    That is a matter on which the Bill can help us. As the Minister pointed out, one of its purposes is to provide more money for investment. That we welcome. At the same time, we must recognise that it will not alone solve the problems that the coal industry faces. This is where the Bill clearly has missed out. For a successful industry, we must look to the production of coal at commercial prices and in the right quantities.

    It is in this area of productivity that the Bill has done nothing for the industry. We look forward, therefore, to the Minister and his colleagues, with those involved in the Board and in the National Union of Mineworkers, urgently finding an answer to this productivity problem and producing a scheme which creates real incentives.

    In the Bill we have tried to look at the opportunities of new markets for coal. Again, I fear that the test has not been fully met. We find only today in our attempt to bolster up markets for the industry, not only in electricity or steel, that there is an unwillingness to take the necessary action.

    If we are to make the coal industry as important as we are constantly told it should be, we must leave no stone unturned, whether in the export markets, which are now regrettably almost lost to us, or in persuading industry in this country to use coal on a much wider scale. It was for that reason that I was depressed by the kind letter the Minister sent me about the plans for the new fluidised-bed project at Grimethorpe, where only part of the project is to be properly used and the secondary effects of using the exhaust gases are to be left on one side for the time being.

    The Bill marks an important milestone for the industry, and to that extent we welcome it. Certainly we shall never return to the world which so many Labour Members seem to live in—that of the bad old days. I do not think that we need worry about "Not a penny off the pay, not a minute off the day". It will not be that sort of coal industry, but it will be judged on its ability to produce the right fuel at the right moment.

    The oil producers are already talking confidently of raising prices again. I can see the $25-$30 barrel of oil being well within sight. We shall not satisfy the oil producers by merely doing as Mr. Carter and others are doing—saying that we shall conserve oil by putting more tax on it. The producers will want to see the money in their own pockets. This will necessarily mean that prices will rise, and it gives an unequalled opportunity to the coal industry to take advantage of a host of opportunities that it never had before. The liquefaction of coal becomes a real possibility. At a time when North Sea oil is averaging a premium price of $14 a barrel it is obvious that if that price rises to $25 or $30 liquefaction of coal will become more than a dream.

    This Bill leaves the House with a broad welcome, but recognising that we have still not solved the major problems of this extraction industry—to extract with speed and security this valuable raw material from the land without drifting back into the sort of unhappy situation that we have heard so much of in our debates. We must give the industry the opportunity to stand on all fours with the oil and gas industries and ensure that it is not just a Cinderella to be propped up by taxpayers' money year after year after year.

    There is no need for that situation. We now have an opportunity. Everything is working in our favour and we must not let it pass.

    3.0 p.m.

    The closing remarks of the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) would have seemed absolutely impossible coming from a Conservative 13 years ago, when I first came to this House. I would never have expected that amount of agreement. There is still a problem to be solved, but it will not be solved in any legislation. While the Conservatives vary in their enthusiasm for this Bill, the hon Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray) was right to congratulate the Minister on his caring Committee. We had a most constructive Committee stage on this Bill and in the proceedings, both before and after Committee, there was also considerable good will. A great deal of knowledge has been displayed on the detailed points, even though there has been some disagreement on some of them.

    I make some claims for the Bill, though not as many as some people outside. It will help to create a framework for the National Coal Board and the British coal industry to equip, produce, expand and compete in the international coal industry, and in all the other fuel and power industries.

    The industry will be viable and expanding, not only for the last 20 years of this century but well into the year 2000. We have helped to create a new Coal Board and a new British coal industry. How much people use that machinery and the opportunities depends to a large degree on those outside the House.

    I hope that the two hon. Members representing the Scottish and Welsh national parties will recognise that this is a Bill for the British coal industry. Just as the coal industry of Lancashire and the North-West would be hard pressed to survive another day without Government aid, that applies almost equally to the coal industries of Scotland and Wales. The fact is that this is a unifying Bill, even though that may be anathema to the hon. Gentlemen. It is a British Bill for a British industry, and is all the better for that.

    I hope that this will be noted in Tynemouth from 4th July onwards, when the National Union of Mineworkers holds its national conference. I hope that it will not go unnoticed, and that in that conference someone will stand up and say that in this Bill, if in nothing else, the Labour Government have delivered their share of the bargain with their supporters. The Bill alone is our part of that deal between the Government and the trade unions. This is our commitment and we are delivering it. Now it is for the British miners—whether it be the National Executive, the local branch committee or the lad at the coal face or the pit top—to deliver their share of the bargain, because this is a two-way thing. That means producing—and it is not wrong just because a Conservative Member said it—the right amounts of coal of the right quality and delivering them at the right time in the right place.

    While wage negotiations are important, it should not be beyond the wit of man to produce a scheme to make it possible for people who want to work and produce coal to do so to their own advantage and that of the country without affecting the price of coal to any major degree so that demand falls and we are worse off.

    This is a good Bill, which will help to create a good industry, and people outside must use the opportunity that we have helped to provide.

    3.5 p.m.

    Unlike the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden), I regard the Bill as being applicable to the Scottish coal industry as well as to the energy resources of the world. The hon. Member was unnecessarily narrow in his consideration of the Bill.

    Did the hon. Gentleman say that he, unlike me, regarded this as a Bill applicable to the Scottish coal industry? Either he was not listening or he has cloth ears. I made the very opposite point.

    Order. If we are to have apologies for misunderstandings, we shall be spending much time on those apologies for misunderstandings.

    I am surprised at the hon. Member for West Derby. His temper seems to have been affected by the late nights that we have had this week. I was saying that I regard the Bill as affecting world energy resources as well as Scottish energy resources. The hon. Member would have found, if he had given me time to complete my remarks, that I place the same amount of emphasis on the United Kingdom aspect as he seemed to place, for what I suspect were purely narrow political reasons—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody), who has, I suspect, come in for a debate on other European matters, will refrain from making interventions from a seated position, perhaps I can continue.

    All that the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) needed to say in response was that he believed, as all of us believe, that the coal industry cannot be run on a narrow nationalistic basis. The fact that the hon. Gentleman could not find it in his heart to say that graciously is a condemnation of the Scottish National Party and not of an hon. Member who made a seated interjection in his speech.

    I cannot understand the hon. Lady's attitude. I had intended, before being caught up in this contretemps, to make some remarks about the Bill. I follow the remarks of the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) and say that at present the coal industry is cast over with a cloud in relation to productivity. These problems will not be easily resolved at a time of wage restraint and difficulties about the introduction of bonus schemes and productivity agreements. I believe that these are intermediate problems, because the coal industry—regardless of whether it is in England, in Wales, in Scotland or in Europe—is bound to have a good future ahead of it. This is the fact that arises from the approaching energy crisis.

    What we have tried to do—I use the word "we" collectively in this Chamber —is, as the hon. Member for West Derby said—I give him some credit for this— to adopt a financial framework in which some investment work can be done to secure the better development of the industry. If we were not prepared to do that at this stage, the ability of the coal industry to grow and to change its character would be limited.

    As we all agree that the world price of oil is likely to double within the next 10 years or so, we must be ready for that time. It is then that King Coal will begin to come into his own once more.

    I will not go into the whole energy setup now, because we are to have a debate on that next week. I still have some reservations about Clause 11. I have been thinking about this carefully since the Committee proceedings. Although the National Union of Mineworkers has not taken exception to the overseas activities of the Board, which may be expanded by the Bill, I am not sure that we have not left a Trojan horse here and that commercial pressures may not cause the Board to take a stand in relation to certain types of coal that are not being produced in great quantity at present and prevent from being developed resources that otherwise might be developed in future.

    This is a nagging worry that I have. I will not go into it further now. I shall want to have a closer look at the Board's overseas activities. One of the great advantages that the coal industry gives to Britain, quite apart from its contribution to our energy resources, is the employment that it provides, which is so vitally important in many parts of the country.

    The Bill is concerned not only with coal but with men and with the social problems of areas that in the past have relied on coal. I give it my blessing.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.