Clause 1. — (Finance for Revenue Deficit.)

Part of Orders of the Day — Coal Industry Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 4th December 1961.

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Photo of Mr James Griffiths Mr James Griffiths , Llanelli 12:00 am, 4th December 1961

By rising now I do not wish it to be taken as a sign that the debate should end. Before you took the Chair, Sir Herbert, the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) ranged far and wide in moving the Amendment. He raised the question whether the coal mining industry should be publicly or privately owned in future. At this stage, I do not intend to trespass upon your kindness to discuss that, except to say, since the hon. Member mentioned it, that I would be very happy if the House could debate this question on a Motion that was acceptable.

I have spent a good part of my life in the mining industry. At the end of two wars we have had to face the problem of its future organisation. At the end of the First World War we had the Coalition Government, composed of members of the party opposite and some liberals. In those days I was an officer of the National Union of Mineworkers, at local level, and the Government told us "We will submit this matter to a Royal Commission. You can give evidence, and everybody else concerned can give evidence, and the Commission can recommend what the future of the industry should be." The Royal Comcission recommended nationalisation, but this recommendation was rejected by the then Government. Looking back on my life, I believe that one of the greatest disasters in our industrial history was the rejection of the Sankey Report.

I now come to modern times. During the Second World War we were again confronted with the question of the future of the coalmining industry. The industry, under private enterprise, had then been in the doldrums for twenty-five years. Very few pits had been sunk. More than 500,000 men had left the industry. The country found itself confronted with the challenge of war and desperately short of coal. The then Government, again a Coalition Government which this time included members of my own party, set up a committee to look at the technical position of the mining industry after twenty-five years of depression.

I invite the right hon. Gentleman to re-read the Report. This is where we began. This is where my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) began when he became Minister of Fuel and Power. The first thing which was put on his table was the Reid Report, showing that, technically, the coal industry was near bankruptcy; that under private ownership there was no hope of finding the necessary resources or the skill to rebuild the industry. I say, therefore, that had it not been for the action of the Labour Government, and of my right hon. Friend, in 1947, we should not now be discussing the industry in this quiet atmosphere. We should have had fifteen years of turmoil and strife which would have brought the industry to ruin.

I speak as one who, for many years, had the privilege of sharing responsibility with my colleagues. I say to the hon. Member for Kidderminster and to other hon. Members, that if they wish to debate whether the industry should remain nationalised or not, by all means let them do so. Let us have such a debate. But I am certain that the industry has no future, except as a publicly-owned industry.

Governments of the party opposite have been in power for ten years and have fought three elections. If hon. Members opposite are convinced that the answer to the problems of the mining industry is that it should return to private ownership, why do not they put that in their election programme? They put the denationalising of the steel industry in their programme, and they carried it out. Why do they not do the same with regard to the coal industry? The answer is, they know that, if they did, no one would "buy", because of the position in which the industry was left under private ownership during the twenty-five years in which I had experience of it.

The Minister has made an important statement. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman has carried the pay pause further than any other Minister—[HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] I am expressing my own view. I do not want to misrepresent the Minister. He said that he had conveyed the view of the Government to Lord Robens, Chairman of the National Coal Board. The chairman is to be asked by the National Union of Mineworkers, in accordance with its agreement, to discuss wages. As we understand it, the view of the Government is that it is undesirable, that it would be against their wishes, for the chairman of the Board to offer, or to give, any increase in wages and salaries to the mine workers, even though this were justified by an increase in productivity.

That is what the Minister said today. I do not recall the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the author of the pay pause, putting forward such a view. This is the first time that we have heard it. Let us get this thing right. What is the policy of the Government? Is it that when the Minister conveys the view of the Government regarding wages to Lord Robens, he will say, "the view of the Government is that it would be very undesirable and wrong for you to offer any increase in wages at all to the miners, even though output and productivity has increased." Is that the advice to be given to Lord Robens?

I declare my interest in this matter. I am a member of the National Union of Mineworkers. As Lord Robens has said to the Minister, if the right hon. Gentleman gives him directions, he will have to tell the N.U.M. But if the Minister gives advice to the Chairman, let us get clear what is to be the advice. I think that Lord Robens, also, is under a moral obligation to tell the National Union of Mineworkers what is the advice of the Government. Suppose that in putting forward their case the representatives of the union tell Lord Robens, "We ask for this increase in wages for the reason, first, that productivity has increased." They will call in evidence of that, as has been said both by the Minister and by the Parliamentary Secretary. In the last four or five weeks the output of the coal miners has been as high as it was—I believe that it has been higher—in the comparable period of last year; and that with 24,000 fewer men in the industry.

I ask the Minister: what other industry, private or public, can equal that record? Let us get the facts and figures. Here we have an industry, in which there are 24,000 fewer men than last year, which is producing more. If every industry in the country could say the same, the Chancellor would not have to bother about imposing a pay pause or about an economic crisis. If the mine-workers argue that they are entitled to an increase, and put forward a claim because of the increase in productivity, is the advice of the Minister to Lord Robens to be, "Do not give it"?

That is what I understood the Minister to say; that if the miners were entitled to a wage increase because of a productivity increase they should not be given an increase. As I understood Government policy—with which I do not agree—it is that earnings and wages should increase in proportion to productivity. But the Minister has said that even though productivity increase in this industry, there must not be an increase in wages—