Skip to main content

National Coal Board

Volume 78: debated on Monday 29 April 1985

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.


asked the Secretary of State for Energy what topics will be discussed when he next meets the chairman of the National Coal Board.

I meet the chairman of the National Coal Board regularly to discuss all aspects of the coal industry.

When the Secretary of State next meets Mr. MacGregor, will he call into question Mr. MacGregor's view that while running a decentralised operation there should be massive anomalies in the treatment of the labour force from one area to another? Will the Secretary of State ask Mr. MacGregor to explain why it is that miners in Scotland who have been dismissed because of activities outwith the NCB during the dispute have not been considered in terms of the conciliation procedure within the board?

While we in Scotland expect to be treated differently on occasions, we are not prepared to be treated worse by a Scot who should be sent back to America.

Obviously, Mr. MacGregor meets his regional leaders frequently and has discussions with them. I know that there is a constant exchange of views between them.

Perhaps greater examination of dismissals before the dismissals took place was made in Scotland than in any part of the country. There was a time when other regions were complaining that the speed with which people were being sacked in those regions was far greater than in Scotland, where cases were being looked at carefully.

Will my right hon. Friend ask the chairman of the NCB to make sure that when the plans for the vast new south Warwickshire coalfield are announced in the not too distant future there will be the widest possible local consultation and a full explanation of the NCB's case?

Is the Secretary of State aware that in a large number of Yorkshire collieries industrial relations are now at rock bottom and rotten? Is he further aware that in the past 20 years, by custom and practice, and by general agreement between management and men, the trade union branch secretary has been allowed three days on the surface of the mine to look after miners', widows', pensioners' and disabled miners' problems, as well as his own trade union work? The management has now stopped that and is making him work five days a week underground. Apart from the sour and bitter relations that exist at those pits at present, the people who most need his services are being denied it because of the board's action. There is a suggestion that it is by diktat of the chairman of the NCB. What are the Secretary of State's observations about that? Will he ensure that when he next meets the board he will raise that issue?

I shall certainly convey the views expressed by the right hon. Gentleman on that issue. Nobody has previously conveyed any complaint to me, about that issue. Obviously, we shall look into the matter and see whether there is any reason to make a change.

Will my right hon. Friend be able to reassure the chairman that extra resources will be made available for the coal conversion scheme?

Resources are available for the coal conversion scheme. I am glad to report that there are many applications for it. The success of the scheme depends on the degree to which industry can be confirmed in the view that there will be a security of supply.

Will the Secretary of State discuss with the chairman of the NCB the management of the Coal Board now that the industrial dispute is over? Does he agree that it would be better if a method of reconciliation could be found, and if all the members of the Coal Board, all the staff and the work force, could be involved in discussions and participate in the new decentralised structure?

A great deal has already been done in the new executive, which is advising and acting in this area and which has a wide range of good top managers. The return to good production figures in many of the pits is encouraging.

Will my right hon. Friend discuss with the chairman more capital investment in the midlands, where industrial relations are extremely good and where the work force clearly works harder and is more reliable than any other?

The Coal Board has a whole range of potential investment areas. It will certainly be noted that high productivity is an encouragement to investment.

Would it be right for a man found not guilty by the courts to be ruled guilty by the NCB?

If the matter was not taken up by the courts, or if there were other reasons for doing so, if anyone from the Coal Board is wrongfully dismissed, he has considerable rights against wrongful dismissal.

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the Coal Board has taken proper steps to safeguard from harassment from their colleagues the miners who worked during the strike?

Yes, the management has been firm in taking action against anybody in the industry who has been guilty of harassment. When it has received evidence of harassment, it has taken swift, decisive action.

In view of the latest demonstration of the evils of apartheid—the shooting of innocent unarmed workers—will the Secretary of State give Mr. MacGregor a categorical statement that under no circumstances must he import coal from South Africa?

As far as I know, no coal is being imported from South Africa. However, I shall convey the hon. Gentleman's views.

As 11,903 miners left the industry between 10 March 1984 and 9 March 1985, what steps will my right hon. Friend take to protect working miners who are still being harassed and intimidated and who need the support of the country?

Obviously, I have been told of a number of individual cases, which I conveyed immediately to the Coal Board. In my judgment, the board has dealt effectively with every case that it has examined and has been reported to me to date. That is the board's intention.

When the Secretary of State next meets the chairman of the NCB, will he ask him to expedite the work of the new review body and to give the numbers of closures required before colliery closures take place, not afterwards?

I believe that a meeting on that subject is taking place tomorrow and I hope that quick progress will be made. Those miners who have taken voluntary redundancy have done so because it was the majority view of the miners that that was necessary, not because the NCB laid down some policy. With his considerable knowledge of the mining industry, the hon. Gentleman will recognise that if miners have to choose between a pit without a future, transfer to another pit, voluntary redundancy or being sent home for four or five months, they may well vote that way. I hope that, in the aftermath of the strike, it will be recognised that it is in the interests of miners to come to such a decision.

Will my right hon. Friend convey to the NCB the congratulations of the House on the work of the mining research and development establishment at Stanhope-Bretby; which has just received its fouth Queen's award for technology for its work on dust? Does my right hon. Friend agree that that work has so eradicated the dust problem underground that pnumoconiosis should be a disease of the past and that mining in future will be cleaner and safer?

I think that both sides of the House will applaud the work of that establishment.

I share the Secretary of State's hope that the NACODS agreement will be introduced and operated as from tomorrow, but will he inform the NCB that if it wants to reduce the distrust and suspicion that remains prevalent in the industry, that step tomorrow would be the most useful that it could take?

I cannot say what everybody will be demanding tomorrow, because a number of delegations are involved, not just those from NACODS. I can only say that I want the principles of that agreement enforced as quickly as possible, and I know that that is the view of the NCB. The hon. Gentleman talks about suspicions and so forth, but I hope it will be recognised that a number of decisions made to date have been made not by the NCB working against the interests of the miners but as a result of the consensus of miners.

Does the Secretary of State agree that if the NACODS agreement had been fully implemented there would be no need for the ballot that is now taking place so that its members can decide whether to take industrial action? When the right hon. Gentleman sees the chairman of the NCB, will he ask him to explain why there are such wide discrepancies about reinstatement in different areas? Why is Scotland so different from, say, south Wales, or other areas? Why is the Coal Board carrying out a vendetta against certain people?

There is no truth or substance in that allegation. I have no evidence of that, and if I did I would take action. There is no such evidence. No procedures have taken place for men to take voluntary redundancy, and so on, which have not been on the basis of what the miners themselves wanted.