I beg to move,
That this House views with concern the situation in the coal-mining industry created by the alarming rate of pit closures and, therefore, calls for a further slowing down of such closures, an independent examination of the relative costs of coal and nuclear power, a comprehensive review of fuel policy including a detailed appraisal of the social costs involved in any fuel policy and its alternatives, and an urgent examination of measures required to stimulate employment of males in those areas likely to be affected by pit closures, including a programme for the establishment with Government aid of industrial sites in advance of the closures.
I can think of no better way of introducing this debate than by paying tribute to the members of the mining industry and the union to which they belong—the National Union of Mineworkers. We shall be arguing today whether they are the victims of inevitable technological processes and scientific discoveries or of mistaken fuel policies, but what there cannot be any argument about is the courage end self-restraint that they have shown as they have seen their industry crumble, their pits close, at the rate of one every five days in 1968, and their jobs disappear and the security of their families threatened.
To those of us who live in coalfield areas this has been a particularly painful period. It is not easy to watch miners, who are traditionally proud and loyal, become cynical and often without hope. It is not easy to watch men who have believed passionately in Socialism as the road to a brighter future become disillusioned and look upon themselves as having been betrayed by the cause to which they gave their faith. It is not easy to live with men who have seen the pit in which they have worked for years die, who have been deployed to another pit, only to find in a short while that that pit, too, has been condemned to death, so that they have to leave again.
A typical example in my constituency is the colliery at Groesfaen, which closed just before Christmas, leaving a labour force of 680 men to be deployed, to work on salvage or to become redundant. Some were deployed to Penallta, a colliery employing 1,100 men, but a few weeks ago this colliery, too, was placed on the jeopardy list, and should it close in a couple of months' time further deployments will take place, and so the heart-breaking sequence will continue until many men finally reach the point of no return and become redundant.
The Government's scheme for redundant miners is generous, and was conceived in real humanitarianism, but it is not a substitute for the pride of being a workman. The result has been a great lowering of morale, the growth of persistent absenteeism, and a seeking for employment in any other field than coal mining. The flight of manpower from the industry could well be a disastrous threat to even the limited rôle accorded to coal in the Government White Paper of November, 1967.
In 1968, 70 pits—about one-sixth of the industry's total production units—closed. It is obvious that fewer pits will close in 1969 and subsequently, otherwise there would be none left by 1975. The National Coal Board and the Government have announced that about 40 will close this year. The significant point is not the smaller number—40 out of 330, as compared with 70 out of 400 in 1968—but the fact that the average manpower employed in pits closed in 1968 was a little over 500, whereas the average manpower in pits left open was just under 1,000. Each new closure, therefore, will have a more severe impact upon a more limited labour force.
The manpower drop in 1968 was 57,257, an increase of over 25,000 over the 1967 level, and 20,000—or 64 per cent.—more than the figure of 35,000 which, in the Government's White Paper, was regarded as an acceptable level of annual decline. Last Tuesday, speaking of this situation, Lord Robens said:
I am of the opinion that a manpower run-down of 10 per cent. per annum is the maximum that can be sustained without a fatal crumbling of morale, a disastrous numbering of the resolution to achieve.
Can the Government now give an assurance that the decline in manpower in 1969 and subsequently will fall within this 10 per cent. ceiling?
Redundancies in 1968 reached the colossal total of over 25,000, or nearly 18,000 more than the 1967 figure—a 350 per cent. increase. Recruitment fell by 9,000 and juvenile recruitment by 3,000—that is 42 per cent. Over the 13 weeks to 22nd February, 1969, it can be shown that the net manpower loss in the first two months of this year was about half that of 1968. This is not surprising as the 1968 rate was phenomenally high, averaging over 1,600 men per week between 3rd February, when pit closures restarted, and the end of the first quarter.
What is alarming is the redundancies have not fallen in anything like the same proportion as the net manpower loss. The voluntary wastage is running at a higher rate in 1969 than in the same period last year. This wastage is from a much smaller labour force.
There is one redeeming feature in this picture, and it is that recruitment has recovered from its abyssmally poor showing in 1968. Maybe some people would argue that the coal industry is now over the hump, that it will never again see the kind of run-down it experienced in 1968. What must be understood is that a rate of 40 per cent. for closures and 10,000 to 15,000 redundancies are completely unacceptable to the men in the industry and the National Union of Mineworkers.
They are concerned about the future of their industry and the trends embodied in the fuel policy White Paper. If investment in nuclear capacity, in the exploitation of natural gas, proceeds at a given rate, the room for the coal industry to improve its position is obviously limited, even though productivity costs and real coal prices might drop.
What is required in the view of the National Union of Mineworkers and many others is an official change in fuel policy. Following the Sunningdale conference in November, 1968, the Government set up four working groups with representatives of the nationalised industries upon them to study the recent trends in the coal industry, the balance of payments implications for increased oil imports, the policy of power station conversion and the rate of absorption of natural gas into the economy. Arising from those reports it is to be hoped that the Government will reappraise their fuel policy for 1975 and beyond, giving to coal the kind of opportunity to prove itself which in the interests of the nation it ought to have.
In this situation one thing which the Government have not been short is advice. Following the publication of the White Paper there were a spate of suggestions. We had the Brookings Report, and Canadian and American economists investigated the British fuel industry. It was found that the nuclear power programme was proceeding at too fast a rate for the coal industry. We have had the publication of the Economist Intelligence Unit report, which for the first time tried to do a total sum and added up the social and economic costs of different kinds of fuel policies, and came down on the side of a mixed policy which accorded to coal a target of 144 million tons in 1975, as compared with 120 million tons output in the Government's White Paper.
We have had the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries which cast doubts upon the future of North Sea gas and again emphasised the rôle that coal had to play. We have had the Report of the Public Accounts Committee, which dealt with the royalty payments on Magnox and advanced gas-cooled reactor stations. We have had the Report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, which asked for an inquiry into the relative costs of coal and nuclear power.
Aneurin Bevan, in this House, once described Britain as an island made of coal. Are we now to say now that a large part of this natural resource will be of no use in the future, that it will be sterilised and will be useless either as fuel or raw material? If we do this and are proved wrong we shall be committing future generations to huge capital investments to regain access to coal seams. In this context I should like to examine the relationship of coal to the other fuels.
I will begin with oil. Lord Robens, in his speech last Tuesday, said this about the part that coal has to play in the 1970s:
With the vast potential that lies in the coal industry in terms of better machine
utilisation and face outputs; with the new developments in the combustion field; with the delay in production of cheap electricity from nuclear power; with a more reasonable natural gas target for the mid-1970s; we believe it would be economically prudent to keep a big coal industry going—135 million tons as a minimum in 1975.
He went on:
The only alternative would be an unacceptable rise in the import of petroleum. A fuel policy that seeks to use oil to fill the gap at the expense of home-produced coal, would be the policy of an economic madhouse. The nation cannot afford to pay the price, much less pay the bill.
I need add little to that, other than that there is no one in the House who does not realise the catastrophic effect on the balance of payments which could be produced if oil does not come up to expectations in the way outlined in the Government's White Paper. If it is maintained at anything like the growth over the past few years then added imports would create a difficult situation.
Among the assumptions of the White Paper was that North Sea gas would be coming in at the rate of 4,000 cubic feet per day in 1975. Since then the Minister has told the Institute of Fuel that the gas may run out earlier than expected, and that there may be less of it available each year. He said that the 1975 figure might be only 3,000 cubic feet a day, a difference which would represent 12,500 million tons of coal or its equivalent in some other form of fuel. A similar kind of comment appeared in the Report of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, published last September. The Committee made it clear that North Sea gas would not be the answer to Britain's long-term fuel needs, that in 25 years' time Britain would again need substantial quantities of coal, when supplies of gas began to be exhausted.
If we go on closing pits at the present rate there will be none left to provide the alternative. Certainly, the mining labour force will have been dispersed and it will be practically impossible to reassemble it. We have had experience of what happens when mining forces have been dispersed. We know that mining is almost a traditional way of life in families. Once the continuity from father to son is broken, getting the necessary labour force is extremely difficult. Regaining access to coal seams would call for a colossal capital investment which the nation might be unwilling or unable to meet. If there were doubts about the availability or gas beyond 25 years or so, there must be very serious doubts about the demand for it.
The conversion to natural gas, in terms of networks and the conversion of domestic appliances, will cost the nation £1,600 million. On top of that, about £300 million of equipment which will become obsolete will be written off. About 12 million houses are fitted for gas services, and the cost for conversion of a house is already £5 above the original estimate, thus adding another £60 to the fantastically high bill.
Meeting these costs is bound to be reflected in the charges paid for the gas. The gas authority, therefore, aims to treble its sales by 1975, but 1968, the yardstick on which the trebling was based, was already a record year for sales by the Gas Council and I beg leave to doubt whether a 300 per cent. increase is within the Council's capacity.
When natural gas was first discovered, extravagant forecasts were made about its fantastic cheapness. Gas Council spokesmen talked of reductions of up to one-third in householders' expenses for the supply. That was a pipe dream, and it has vanished. We no longer hear talk of that kind. I believe that, because of its expense, less gas will be bought than was expected at the time of the White Paper in 1967.
We must, therefore, ask a very serious question: what will take the place of that gas if it is not used? The alternatives are oil and coal. It would be unthinkable for us to import still more oil with the consequential effect on the balance of payments. Coal is the only fuel which costs nothing in terms of foreign exchange. We have to import uranium for our nuclear power stations and, because many of the companies involved in the exploitation of North Sea gas are foreign-owned, it has been estimated that as much as 50 per cent. of the ultimate cost of North Sea gas may be in foreign exchange.
All our oil has to be imported, some of it from strategically uncertain areas. In his speech last Tuesday the Chairman of the National Coal Board pointed out that North Sea gas leads to nothing but its own exhaustion and that at present estimates, without further discoveries, that would occur in about 25 years or so. The use of some of the investment which will go into the exploitation to make viable some of the collieries which it is proposed to close in the next few years could be a significant national fuel lifeline in time of emergency.
I now come to one of the most important parts of this debate, with which I will not deal at considerable length because I know that many of my right hon. and hon. Friends will want to deal with it in detail—the position of coal in relation to nuclear power. An independent inquiry into the relative costs of nuclear power and coal as fuels has often been called for, but the request has consistently been rejected by the Ministry of Power. In his speech last Tuesday, Lord Robens paid considerable and detailed attention to this subject.
The arguments are cogent and certainly need to be answered, particularly as it appears to be suspected in some quarters that the Central Electricity Generating Board is deliberately distorting the cost comparisons between nuclear power and coal as fuels. The nuclear power programme has a history of faulty estimates and delays. For example, it was recently claimed that the cost of Dungeness B, the first commercial station based on the advanced gas-cooled reactor, would be 0·57d. a unit. That is an increase of 25 per cent. over the original estimate, which means that Dungeness B will not produce as cheaply as will the best coal-fired station, thus postponing once again the day when nuclear power can compete with coal.
The way in which coal can be made to compete in highly developed pits can be illustrated from a colliery in my constituency, one of the very few, I feel, which will still be open in a year or two. It is the Trelewis Drift colliery, which, during the week ending 1st March, smashed all productivity records in the South Wales mining industry. Output per man shift compared very favourably even with the United States mining industry. With a labour force of 303 men overall, output per man shift was 104·1 cwt. compared with the Coal Board's national figure of 44 cwt. The output per man shift at the coal face was an incredible 566·2 cwt. Most of the coal was produced for the Central Electricity Generating Board.
Undoubtedly, my right hon. Friend will reverse that argument for his own purposes, but the point which is being made is that if nuclear power costs fall, so will those of coal with the technological advances which made this great performance possible in the Trelewis Drift, so that coal would remain in a position to compete favourably with nuclear power.
It is not my view that there should be no activity at all in nuclear power, but many people hold the view that the second nuclear power programme should be cut back and that its size should be limited to what is technologically necessary to achieve the fast breeder reactor by the 1980s.
It is generally accepted that the cost of the first nuclear power programme was greater than that of a programme along conventional lines. It is in the national interest, therefore, that every precaution should be taken, and seen to be taken to prevent, such a mistake from being made again. Even if it is argued that the Ministry of Power is itself independent and that no other independent body is necessary, and that an investigation would not help the coal industry, I still claim that it would do no harm to have a second opinion, that we should have an inquiry into the relative costs of coal and nuclear power and that an independent body of nuclear and coal experts could be created as easily outside the Ministry as inside the Ministry. Even if the investigation proves unfavourable to coal, it is still in the national interest that it should be carried out.
This view is reinforced by the fact that the Select Committee on Science and Technology asked for a similar inquiry in October, 1967. It is reinforced by the fact that the House of Commons Select Committee on Public Accounts said on royalty payments on Magnox and A.G.R. stations:
In the arrangements, both for the waiver of royalties on all Magnox stations and on the royalties to be paid on A.G.R. stations, too little weight was given to the interests of the taxpayer and too much to those of the Electricity Boards and the electricity consumer.
I will not pursue that now, as I know that many of my hon. Friends want to take it much further.
I make my concluding point on this issue—that about alternative employment. I am sure that this will be extensively dealt with in the debate. Let me at once pay the utmost tribute to the massive steps which the Government have taken and are taking through industrial development certificates, through the designation of development and special development areas and through the inducements offered to industrialists to come to these areas. Certainly, the effects of these measures are visible wherever one goes in Wales. In Wales, we express our gratitude to the Government for this programme.
At the same time, however, we must express fears about whether the scale and timing of Government action are matching the pace of the run-down in the coal industry. In my constituency, once almost exclusively a mining area, there are two large urban authorities. Each is a travel-to-work area and in one the unemployment figure is 7·8 per cent. and in the other it is 7·6 per cent. That was the position at the end of February. On 10th February the national average for Wales was 4·2 per cent. and for Great Britain as a whole it was 2·5 per cent.
Little alternative industry is coming to this Welsh valley. To effect a difficult marriage between the bringing in alternative work and running down the coal industry is an enormously complicated task to which I ask the Government to pay particular attention. Time is short. In view of the attitude that has been expressed by the Opposition towards development areas, the concept of development and special areas will probably be attacked if a Conservative Government are returned. It is, therefore, a matter of urgency that the present Government get on with this job as fast as possible.
Figures of unemployment such as those I have quoted are totally unacceptable in a civilised society. One colliery employing over 1,000 men is now in jeopardy and is likely to close in a couple of months. Another, employing 750 men, is likely to be placed on the jeopardy list in the next few weeks. The need for male employment is desperate.
The activity rate for women is very low, but it is a tradition in this part of Wales that the man is the workman and is the head of the household. It is an offence not only to his dignity, but to his moral standing as the head of the home to be unemployed; and the preservation of family life in our present society is extremely important.
The communities of the Welsh valleys are hard working, intelligent and they have a culture and way of life distinctly their own. They wish to remain in their environment, to have the dignity of work and the integrity of taking home a weekly wage packet. It would be a tragedy if they were forced to migrate in pursuit of jobs. I ask the Government to give them hope.
I must begin by declaring an interest. First, I have a pit in my constituency, and, secondly, I am associated with an advertising agency which is responsible for promoting coal for the National Coal Board. I am pleased to announce that duality of interest.
I apologise to the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Fred Evans) and the House for arriving late. I was waiting for information from the N.C.B. about a pit in my constituency, Chislet Colliery, which was placed on the jeopardy list as of 10th December last. The rule laid down by the N.C.B. was that this pit would have to reach a target of an average of 8,000 tons of saleable coal per week.
In December of last year the colliery had failed to reach that target. Indeed, only 2,000 tons were produced and the outlook before Christmas was bleak indeed. I sought an interview with the chairman of the N.C.B. to discuss the situation and, at short notice, we met on Christmas Eve. I was then able to tell the 900 miners at Chislet that they would have to work harder to achieve a much increased output. It should be remembered that they were working in difficult geological conditions, although I agree that they were losing a lot of money in a pit that had been expensively modernised.
Output figures for this pit have been published by the N.C.B., and particularly the production figures for the last three months, towards hitting the target of 8,000 tons of saleable coal a week. I am happy to announce that for the week ended 1st March the miners had increased their output from 2,000 tons to 8,900 tons a week. And in the week ending 8th March the total had been raised to 10,100 tons a week. When I spoke to the N.C.B. at Dover this morning I was told that up to last night the miners had hit 7,637 tons and were running at an average output of 2,098 tons a day. By tonight they will have reached a figure in excess of 8,000 tons.
The miners at this pit have achieved an example which the rest of industry can view with pride and energy. They have not only doubled their output per man shift, but have doubled their productivity and reached an all-time record for this pit of 46·2 cwt. per man shift. Last December the figure had fallen to less than 23 cwt. per man shift.
I will not embarrass the Minister by demanding to know—I appreciate that the answer must come from the N.C.B.—whether the jeopardy notice can be removed from this colliery. It is right that the N.C.B. should work to economic figures and hon. Members concerned with coal and coal mining will agree that it is wrong to extract coal which we cannot sell or take coal out of the ground merely to place it on the surface. That is not in the national interest.
Something has emerged from this example of which we should take careful note. It is something which was told to me by the N.C.B. this morning. I asked, "What is the reason for this achievement at Chislet?" I asked that question because it was clear to me when I visited the pit some time ago—I visit it regularly—that the fall in production up to last December was due to geological structure circumstances. The miners had run into rider seam coal and were spending most of their time trying to keep the roof up, because of these geological difficulties, rather than taking out coal.
The answer I was given this morning was that their morale was high and that the men were putting more effort into it. Production had gone up because they were able to advance the face faster. They were, therefore, overcoming the geological difficulties because their morale was higher. Why did their morale get so low that they produced such small quantities of coal? I believe that it was due the talk of new targets and forecasts for coal in the mid-seventies as stated in the White Paper on Fuel Policy.
I know from my visits to the pit that their morale was extremely low. Last summer when I visited the pit I realised that they were running into difficulties. Following an extensive tour underground, I asked the colliery manager on reaching the surface, "Now may I meet the miners going down for the next shift?" He replied, "I would not advise that." He thought that, as their Parliamentary representative, it might be embarrassing for me to find the men in such a low state of morale. I do not know what he thought would have been my fate, but I said that, in any case, I wanted to see them.
I went to the pithead baths, where I met the men who were supposed to be so depressed. I admit that they did not exactly have their tails up, but they were not entirely disspirited. These are very intelligent men. They are well aware of economic forecasts, targets, and so on, and they knew that their output at that time was likely to put the pit in jeopardy and so threaten their employment.
How important it is in some mining areas for a man to find that he is to be put out of work by the Coal Board? In some areas it might not be so difficult to find another job, but in East Kent our only heavy industry is coal mining, in which about 5,000 men are employed. The majority of them live in the Isle of Thanet. That is outside my constituency, I know, but many of them live in the villages in between.
The Isle of Thanet is the Margate-Ramsgate area, and the unemployment rate is steady at 7 or 8 per cent. It is a depressed area. There is no employment there. There is no industry in the whole of that area of East Kent. We have horticulture and farming, and what little light industry there is can offer very little employment, and none largely comparable in wage with that of the miner, whether he is at the pit face or on the surface. Therefore, the threat of closure, even though it is only a suspected threat, an anticipated threat and not a real threat, can lower not only the morale of the men, but production itself.
The hon. Member has spoken very wise words, and I congratulate him. He spoke fairly. He did not speak dogmatically, and, in an old-fashioned way, seek to defend the industry by saying that we must produce coal for its own sake. I agree with him. I am very interested in our overall fuel industry. I class myself as one concerned within modern industry and with modernising the structure of our industry. I realise that we have a four-fuel economy, and I know the conflicts that arise between those industries.
If I were to look ahead 100 years, I would see a pattern in which nuclear energy would play the greatest part in providing our power. But I look ahead not 100 years, but certainly 30 years. I am disappointed, as the Chairman of the National Coal Board is disappointed, by the low extraction target given in the White Paper. We are bemused by the arrival of North Sea gas, but, at the very most, the life expectancy of North Sea gas is 25 years, and one of the major oil companies has given me a figure of 17 years, without further discoveries. I have been impressed by the opportunities provided by North Sea gas, but we must not let this source override our feelings about the coal mining industry.
The East Kent pits are modern and modernised. They are fortunate in being non-gaseous. Under the surface—and they are deep pits—we can operate electric machinery and trains, all flashing, sparking away. It is a very efficient coalfield and the conditions of work are good. We have had hon. Members on both sides say that we should not encourage men to work underground, but should look to a future when everyone can be employed in better conditions.
That is a laudable objective, but with the modern approach, with the modernisation we are now achieving in the industry, and with modern equipment we can use, we can not only increase output but can make conditions of work safer, better, more economic and productive. There is still a great deal to be done for safety, and for economic development under ground, and we should not write off too quickly the opportunities for seeking this source of power.
Pit closures are the kernel of all consideration of the coal industry and its place in our power supply, and we must not be over quick in considering them. The forecast, as it is called, of 120 million tons a year by 1975 is much too low. The chairman of the Coal Board has mentioned a figure of 135 million tons, but even that is low. The threat of pit closure can so depress the men that not only morale, but production and productivity go down. What those in the industry want today is encouragement to believe that they have a sound and good employment future. With that belief in front of them, we shall get the productivity.
I had spent a lot of my working life in the chemical industry before coming to the House. I have seen something of the motor car industry, as well. I can honestly say that in all my experience I have never seen a better attitude to work than that of the miners whom I know in Kent. I do not say this to please them, as my constituents, but as an observant person noting the results of good management-worker relations. If the country wants an example of good management-worker relations, that example can be found in the pits of Kent. When there is a problem at my pit, I deal with the miners and with their unions. I also deal with management. I can get access to the management, whether it be the local colliery manager, the local coalfield manager or the Chairman of the N.C.B. himself—I have never yet failed to have an interview with him, and discuss problems as I see them.
I strongly support the Motion not out of any emotional feeling, but because I believe that there is still great life left in our coal industry; that we have a great source of power underground, and that it is not wrong for us to promote the extraction of coal. We should do so willingly, and let the industry know that we mean it.
I will try to respond to your request to be brief, Mr. Speaker, in following the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch).
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Fred Evans) on his choice of a Motion relating to vitally important matters that affect the economic and social life of many of our constituents. His Motion has been deliberately framed to draw attention to the need of planned industrial development following the closing down of coal mines, and this development must, in the main, turn on economic and social considerations.
It should go without saying that any informed observer of such disruptive forces as have flowed in a tidal wave over whole communities cannot remain altogether unconscious of this fact. Therefore, no doubt the House will accept that this debate is of fundamental importance. It should enable us to probe much more deeply into the inner meaning of things.
It may be argued that our economic and social progress constitute the highest phase in the history of life, but nowadays we know that life for many seems a perpetual trial. Ever deeper grows the contrast between the world in which we live and the world of our dreams. With the dark shades of economy everywhere, hope itself sometimes appears to be gasping for breath.
In discussing the backlash of pit closures, I must say that for many years it was a policy of restriction carried out by Tory Governments. The mining industry suffers badly. I was just as vitriolic as anyone against the wicked Tories, but this is worse now than ever. It is cutting back production and sacking men by the thousands.
1 have no need to quote the figures. They have been clearly illustrated by my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly. If the acceleration of the run-down in manpower continues, such pressure on the industry could produce even more serious economic and social problems in having to maintain men who cannot find work. They will be a liability to the nation at a tremendous cost. What it means in human terms is that it is becoming more and more difficult for men and their families to find jobs whether in mining or elsewhere.
We realise, of course, that the Government are in a position to argue that redundancy payment schemes alleviate social consequences, but, to be frank, I am convinced that no redundancy scheme will ever solve the real problem. That can be solved only when adequate and suitable employment is provided for the men who are displaced from the industry for evermore.
To see things objectively, I take my constituency as an example—and who can blame me? Pit closures in the constituency mark the end of an incomparable area. The constituency has had a mauling. Whether or not little observais made, we are forced to face a great many human problems which have become accentuated in the painful process of disintegration. What is wanted is security of the means of livelihood and protection from the miseries and tragedies of unemployment. Of course, no one wants anyone to work in the bowels of the earth longer than is necessary, but it is equally important to recognise that many jobs for young people have completely vanished with pit closures and that recruitment is now in the dustbin of history, especially in the area which I represent.
Of the leading facts in this connection none proves more challenging than that of the increasing regiment of school leavers. Responsibility for their protection and finding employment for them will always be with us. This must play a substantial part in the scheme of things, but we cannot confidentedly say, now that mining in the Blaydon area is practically non-existent, that there is enough employment waiting for them to fulfil their aspirations and expectations.
If there is any teaching in facts, we should remember that it is some time since Durham County Education Committee realised that the major shift of the coal industry inevitably involved the need for a new structure of employment in industry, commerce and administration. As a consequence, like other responsible authorities, it has recently spent £1,656,000 on new secondary modern schools and extension of grammar schools in the Blaydon area to cater for the bulk of scholars. But the range of jobs is very limited and because of the failure to achieve a proper distribution of new industry some new thinking is clearly needed about the ways and means of encouraging reasonable ambition.
In giving details of difficulties which are upsetting the Blaydon area at present, we must acknowledge that while trying to make the best of things as they are, being unemployed for any length of time, whether through pit closures or other factors, is no surer way to the gates of hell. There is nothing more devastating to the human soul than to find that one is not wanted when one is healthy, strong and anxious to gain an honest livelihood. Irritated in the very depths of their being and reflecting on their disappointments leaves men plenty of room to lament the lack of security of their existence. The inadequate infrastructure inherited from the older industrial period in which communities were strictly based and have outgrown their size, means that the only treatment and cure is to start all over again.
That is the gloomy side, but there is another picture facing us. The population in the constituency has reached 50,000 and consolation can be gained by looking at the new surge of redevelopment. This emanates from the slogan adopted by the previous Administration, "Think ahead, think big and get cracking." That was the slogan which was given a blaze of publicity. It was part of a programme to offset the dramatic effect of the contraction of the mining industry, to create employment in time to prevent the majority of miners affected having to go on the dole for any lengthy period.
Determined not to be a depressed area, but to create a sound economic structure, this is what Durham County Council and Blaydon authority are trying to do—rebuilding the communications network in and around Blaydon, rejuvenating the area by obliterating the old buildings at a cost of £3 million to Blaydon Council with an additional £1 million invested by private enterprise.
The entire town centre of Blaydon and major road improvements will link the town with all parts of Tyneside and the proposed major roads network for the region as a whole at a cost of £3 million to Durham County Council. This is a tremendous task, unprecedented in the history of Blaydon.
It could prove to be the axis upon which future employment could be based, carefully planned and controlled with the highest standard of design and this development will be a source of considerable pride in years to come. A transformation on such a scale is difficult fully to appreciate at this point of time, but, as new roads and new houses are built so we shall be able to visualise the new Blaydon. The scheme has arisen from a combination of circumstances and it is welcomed for the reason that while such a flourishing coal producing area of the past was vital to the existence of interdependent communities it seemed natural enough that, in the conditions, the internal structure would mould social relations of human life.
But let us not overlook the fact that, with this redevelopment, we look also for modern industrial development. New roads, houses and shopping centres are all desirable, but so also are the means to work. It is to be hoped that this will come. Indeed, we must work with this objective in mind, because the disproportion of opportunity for employment must be judged by the absence of any development for the opening of new employment.
Important as it is to improve the environment and adapt ourselves energetically to changed conditions, we need to set a pattern and policy which will produce a new industrial structure to replace what we have actually lost through pit closures. I appreciate the magnitude of the task, as my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly has outlined. We do not under-estimate the Government's policy of positive discrimination in favour of such areas, with the highest-ever level of financial inducement to industrial firms which wish to expand there.
Having said that, and living in obedience to the relation of things, it is not astonishing that some of us who represent areas which are experiencing the ravages of such industrial misfortune are a bit fed up with being accused of not making enough noise in the House. We are charged with not speaking up in an effort to remedy the initial weakness of industrial reconstruction and advancing material benefit. What can we expect when people are helpless on a weak economic foundation? The thirst for material things is the criterion that blazes the trail and is an aspect which, I suppose, we must regard as being a characteristic of modern times.
On the matter of pit closures and the need for new industries, we have tried by every device to obtain information that is of vital importance to the future development of such areas and have tried to persuade the Government to attract new industry to remove the fears which perpetually besiege us. Without flouting common sense, what more can we do to bring about changes in the quality of economic health and all the things which touch upon the prestige of personal happiness?
At a time like the present, while advertising the fact that we are very worried about the run-down of the mining industry, we wonder where it is all going to end. If the miners are limited in their ability to produce extra wealth—the experience of the last few years does not encourage the view that jobs on a scale required will emerge in time—it carries the risk of increasing social costs.
One of the principal points in my hon. Friend's Motion is the appeal for
an urgent examination of measures required to stimulate employment of males in those areas likely to be affected by pit closures".
The Government are on record as having previously promised to encourage the development of new industry in areas affected by pit closures. Therefore, the Motion is a clear reminder. It is a direct appeal, meaning, in effect, that factories should be established.
I know that my hon. Friends representing mining areas will acknowledge that, before factories can be finally located, among the chief problems of the controllers of industry is that of deciding what forms of production shall take place. Together with this and other matters that are of crucial importance to the conduct of successful business, it is essential to find the means and the markets in which to sell the goods that factories are capable of producing.
I agree that the business of running an industrial economy is formidably complex. It is more than an exercise in public relations. We accept that there is no foolproof solution to our economic difficulties. I personally fully acknowledge that the Government have been overtaken by external events outside their control—the fears and meaning of continual pressure on the £ sterling, rising high Bank Rate making industrialists reluctant to borrow for investment, thus retarding employment, and the meaning of liquidity getting less and less, thereby hampering trade.
If the Government would only say, "Sorry, old boy. Staggering from one financial crisis to another, in which we ask people to make greater sacrifices, we cannot guarantee full employment until we surmount our difficulties", we might not react so despondently. I suppose that we act according to our different temperaments. Fortunately, one might expect the scope of self-help that is being brought about by Durham County Council and the Blaydon authority, to which I have referred, to reap reward within a few years.
By looking forward expectantly to the future, the idea of promoting improved communications to attract industry within travelling distance of communities affected by pit closures is something that we should not solely rely on. My hon. Friend's Motion also asks for
a programme for the establishment with Government aid of industrial sites".
I go further and remind the House that it has been suggested several times that the Government should use their order book as an instrument. Government contracts should be given to suitable firms on conditions that they are prepared to expand in development areas.
In the circumstances, and in the event of any absence of reliance on private industrial growth, particularly within the Blaydon area, I wish to make an outright appeal for public investment by Government Departments, which will lay a new foundation. It will give new hope, in that constituents will not feel that they have been isolated. What they really want is a chance to satisfy their impulses for work, compatible with their happiness, and we look for such support from the Government.
I intend to be brief, not because I do not have a coal mine in my constituency—in fact, there is the largest oil refinery in Western Europe—but because the debate is about something even more fundamental than coal. It is about the whole concept of the fuel and power structure which Britain must create and get right if we are to be able to compete in the trades of the world and to ensure that the situation outlined by the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. Woof) does not overtake us again.
We all know that energy forecasts, however closely drawn, tend to be based on assumptions and extrapolations. The results of energy forecasts which have been made in the past leave much to be desired. It would be a very wise man—indeed, a very rash man—who would care to predict the exact pattern of energy even ten years ahead. Ten years ago the gas industry had been practically written off. Today the debate, I fear, will not be about the general areas of fuel policy.
This debate rather reminds me of the debate which took place in November, 1965, when we wrote off £415 million worth of capital debt. The Ministers have changed, but the content of the debate will remain the same. This is not perhaps unnatural, because the running down of any industry creates major social problems, and also this is an extremely emotive subject. But the fact is that in a world of changing rôles when Britain's rôle in the world has changed and when in this year it is hoped to get two men on the moon, it is not unreasonable that in the areas of energy production, changes are also taking place.
I would regard the most important parameter in the construction of any energy policy as demand. If we are able to satisfy energy demand in various ways, we must not be afraid when we see that some of the traditional suppliers of energy are shrinking.
What the hon. Gentleman says is quite correct. He is, no doubt, thinking in terms of a natural gas supply, which may be much more limited than present predictions would give us cause to feel.
But I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree that the same would apply to the supply of an indigenous fuel such as coal which can be won easily and commercially. It is no good trying to escape from this word "commercial". If we are to create the energy pattern which allows us to produce goods cheaply and efficiently, we must provide ourselves with energy at the right price.
I should like to concentrate for a moment on this aspect of today's debate. I believe that the coal industry has a longterm future in Britain. I do not think anybody who is in the House would dispute that. What we might dispute is the future size of the industry. It cannot be right continually to run coal production at a loss in certain areas—not because it is wrong to do this from a social aspect, although if it is using up Government money which could be used at other levels, then, in the long term, even the social aspect is not being catered for.
When we look at the demand for coal we should not put figures to it at all. We should not say 135 million tons, 125 million tons, or, as used to be the target, 200 million tons. Coal should be produced so long as there is a demand for it and so long as it is competitive with other fuels. I know that is hard, but it has to be said. We have done more damage to the morale of the mining industry by the establishment of targets on pieces of paper than in any other way.
My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) pointed out what had happened in his own constituency. Coal was produced efficiently. That was not because of any particular demand forecast by the Minister of Power; it was merely because the coal which was being produced had a guaranteed outlet. It cannot be right to produce coal un-economically, for which there is no demand. There are about 26 million tons of undistributed stocks of coal at the moment. I do not want to argue whether or not it is too much, but I do not think that it should be any higher at the moment.
I should like to ask the Minister to deal with the question of raising coal more economically. This industry has passed some expensive milestones in its day. I think of the £15 million spent at Cynheidre, the dreams of Bevercotes as the manless pit, the Collins miner, the self-stoker and the R.O.L.F. process. Some of these have been successful, while others have never been heard of again. I should like the Minister to tell the House exactly how far ahead we are getting with the use of machinery-automation, if you like—in the cutting and raising of coal.
The hon. Gentleman has mentioned some of the experiments which have been made and have been proved not to be successful. Can he mention any industry which has not had its failures? Does he not remember the Brabazon aircraft, for instance?
I was not really pouring cold water on the various things which I have mentioned. I have seen R.O.L.F. working in a test seam and it was doing very well. But when it comes to a seam where there are uneven floor conditions, or where the roof is unsatisfactory, such things let it down. All I want is information from the Minister on how these processes are developing—whether, in fact, the concept of the manless pit is ever likely to be within our reach. I hope so, because, like the hon. Member for Blaydon, I do not want people to be kept underground unnecessarily.
I should like the Minister to tell us also what are his predictions for the increase in the output per man shift. This is central to the future of the industry. I should also like to hear something if possible, since the debate has been widely drawn, about the fears which have been expressed by some Members about the lifetime of natural gas. This could alter our whole reading of the energy policy. Coal has a place; there is no question of that. I believe that it should have a place in fuel policy which states simply that the ability of a fuel to compete economically without a subsidy is what we should aim for. I know this sounds very hard, but if we are to tackle the underlying problems of industry we cannot leave energy on one side.
I know this will create social problems, and I am among the first to congratulate the Government on what they are doing in retraining and in the replacement of jobs where pit closures have taken place. I realise that men's work is important and that the arrival of Smith's Watches in part of the Swansea Valley, employing women, is probably not enough, but I think that the Government are on the right track. But we must establish a policy for fuel where competition and the ability to compete is central because, as the stewards of the public money, so to speak, we have to think of the people, the taxpayers and the consumers. It would be wrong of any of us to try to keep in being areas of the coal industry merely because they are traditional. Let us look at it as a social problem and deal with it accordingly.
The alternative to this is to hang on to an industry which is not required, which, because it is uneconomical, is not able to give the right sort of service. I want to see it accept that challenge of change. I believe that it can do this and that the future of the industry can be very bright indeed.
I wish to take the opportunity to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Fred Evans) not only on his success in the Ballot, but on bringing forward a Motion which is so important to the mining communities of the country. I also congratulate him on the way in which he presented his case.
I can understand my hon. Friend's reasons for his introducing such a Motion, because he represents a constituency where there is a high rate of unemployment due to pit closures, with all their attendant social consequences. There are some other constituencies represented here today in which the percentage of unemployment is still higher. In one area of my constituency, for example, the unemployment rate is 9 per cent., a very serious situation. No doubt, what can be said about Bedwellty can be said by others of my hon. Friends about their constituencies if they have opportunity to speak.
We have reached a point now when some of us dread to hear the news in the morning because we fear that it will reveal that another pit is to close, that more men will be unemployed, and that the social consequences will become more severe. Just as Members of Parliament feel that, of course, so do the men in the industry and their families. They dread to hear the news of a pit which is "in the red", or at which there are prospects of negotiations regarding forthcoming closure. All this creates uncertainty in the mining industry as a whole. Even in my own area, in the County of Monmouth, the level of employment in mining has declined by 40 per cent. during the last six years. That is a serious decline, and the situation gives us cause for great concern.
But matters do not stop there. In many cases, men are, rightly, encouraged to take work in another pit. They are asked to go a few more miles to an adjacent colliery where, it is said, for the moment the prospects are brighter. They go there, but, after they have been there for three or four months, they are told that that pit, too, is to close. This is the trouble. There is no planning in these arrangements. Men are transferred from one pit to another, the other pit closes down, and so they lose heart and become depressed. The whole future of the industry turns to uncertainty, and they begin to look for work elsewhere.
The hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) said, and we all agree, that there is a long-term future for coal mining and, that, although it will be a contracted industry, it will remain and employ large numbers of men. That is true, but if we travel further as we are travelling now there will not be sufficient manpower in the industry to work those pits which are thought to have a long-term productive life. Manpower is going out. Whenever a young man can find a job somewhere else now, he takes it. I speak here with experience in the sense that I talk to colliery managers and agents, men who have been in the industry for years, and in an area where productivity is high. I agree with the hon. Gentleman when he says that the productivity at some pits is very high indeed. But men are leaving the industry and the managers have a headache in the good pits.
I have in my own constituency model collieries with a fine record of productivity. What does the manager say when I ask him what the prospects are for the future?—"For the pit itself the prospects are bright. We are producing the coal and there is a demand for our coal. But we are losing men. They are leaving the industry". In these circumstances, in a few years we shall have few men to work the pits. We shall be seriously short of coal.
A lot is said about oil, gas and nuclear power, but the argument about a fuel policy has all along been that there should be a choice, that people cannot be compelled to take coal or gas. It is a question of choice, but there will be no choice. We shall be driven entirely to gas, to oil, and to nuclear power in years to come. We shall be seriously short of coal, an indigenous fuel which can still continue to make a valuable contribution to industry and the nation's economy.
My right hon. Friend the Minister has wide experience in the industry. He has been in the industry himself. Today, he has a golden opportunity to declare that the pit closures will stop. Let him give a sense of security to those who remain in the industry. As an experienced miner, he has a great chance to create confidence among those who are still in coal mining. They are doing what they can. They have increased productivity. They are delivering the goods.
In the mining industry, we are not troubled by internal union difficulties. We have one union, and it speaks with one voice. There is co-operation between the Coal Board management and the men. That is not the trouble. The trouble lies in the lack of a coherent policy or plan to deal with the situation, and I urge my right hon. Friend to give an assurance today that he will deal with it.
As the pit closures continue, there must be some sort of plan. I am pleased that the Prime Minister, some time ago, agreed that the Economic Planning Council, or, speaking from the Welsh point of view, the Council for Wales and its planning board, would have before it from time to time the Coal Board's policy on pit closures so that it would know what the future prospects of the various pits were and could consider the social consequences which would flow from a closure.
I regarded that as a sensible way to deal with the problem of pit closures. We must know what the social consequences will be in the event of a closure. In some instances—we have had this experience in South Wales—a pit can close without creating undue hardship. Men find employment elsewhere, and there is sometimes little difficulty. In another area, however, where there have already been a number of closures, the closure of yet another pit is disastrous for the community. This is the problem.
It is, therefore, the duty of the planning board or the Council for Wales—whatever body it may be—to consider the situation and recommend to the Minister its view of the situation and the social consequences arising from it. That is what we must have. I understand that this is being done to some extent, but we do not know anything certain about it. The Economic Planning Council or other appropriate planning authority meets behind closed doors, discusses the situation and sends a message to my right hon. Friend. But we know nothing about it. We do not know what its views are about a pit closure in some part of the Welsh coalfield. Perhaps it says to the Minister, "Hold off for the time being until we have a chance to find employment for the men", but we do not know.
Above everything else, we as Members of Parliament and the public, too, ought to know exactly what the Council for Wales or the other appropriate planning authority is recommending to the Minister about a pit closure. I hope that my right hon. Friend will assure us not only that the Coal Board is informing the planning authority of its proposals, but that he, in his turn, seriously considers any recommendations which are put to him by that body. If he will look at the problem in that way, he will give some certainty to the mining workers.
Like other hon. Members who have spoken, I am very pleased with the action which is being taken to bring new industry into the mining areas, particularly to the valleys of South Wales. Hardly a day goes by without new industry coming into the area. But the pit closures are continuing at too fast a rate for us to cope effectively with the situation. This is the problem. It cannot be beyond the Government, the Ministry of Power and the planning authorities concerned to see that there is an effective plan to ensure that only the minimum hardship arises from pit closures. Otherwise, depression and dissatisfaction will grow still further in our mining valleys.
I hope, therefore, that my right hon. Friend will give us good assurances on the question of planning and will tell us how long the pit closures are to continue.
I shall try to be as brief as the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch), with whom I agree about the fear and uncertainty over pit closures. Such constant worry is one of the major issues among miners.
I have been involved in the problem of pit closures throughout my membership of the House. It has been the major economic problem in my constituency. Ten years ago the closure of the major colliery there was never contemplated by anyone. We thought that we would have a mining industry for as far ahead as anyone could see. Five years ago, amber lights were perhaps beginning to flash, and that is why, as soon as I became a Member of Parliament, I took an interest in colliery closures and the problems that result.
When the red light came on, three years ago, there was extreme concern, particularly when the closure procedure was put into operation. The inevitability of the serious loss of jobs that had previously seemed absolutely secure caused a feeling of great depression among miners in the district. They made a supreme effort. Their output per man shift was quite exceptional, but still the mine closed.
The closure procedure still has too much uncertainty in it. When a pit goes on the jeopardy list no one—often not even the Member of Parliament—is absolutely certain where a colliery stands. That is one of the points the Minister could be thinking about. When the final decision is taken and the closure date is announced it is a very grim period for the district and everyone in the community. It was a particularly severe blow in my constituency, in an area where 60 per cent. of the male employment was in the colliery. This was at Fauldhead, in Dumfrieshire.
A year ago, before the colliery closed, unemployment was 10 per cent. Immediately on closure it jumped to over 23 per cent., and it remains at that figure today. Hon. Members who live in coal mining areas know just what such a high unemployment rate means to the people living there.
I should like to look at the problem in two ways: first, the problems of the miners; and, second, the attraction of new industry. When I talk of uncertainty this particularly applies to redundancy payments. I have encountered a number of problems in this regard, particularly where, in the case of Fauld-head, miners were offered jobs by the Coal Board about 20 miles away in South Ayrshire, in Barony and Killoch. It is not clear to a miner, despite the advice he receives, nor is it clear to me, what exactly—in the words of the Act—"a reasonable distance" is. Is 20 miles over a difficult road, often covered with snow and ice in winter, a reasonable distance for miners to travel to work every day?
The answer is not really found until a large number of cases have been taken to the tribunal, but this is many months later. The miner really wants to know when he is offered the alternative job, at the time of closure, whether he is likely to get the redundancy payment if he declines to accept a job 20 miles away, or whether he should take it and accept the hardship of travelling day in and day out. There should be some attempt by the Coal Board or the Government to help ease the difficulty of making a decision at the moment of pit closure.
I hope that the Coal Board will be in a position, though perhaps it is not, to interpret the Redundancy Payments Act with a little more flexibility. I have had many very borderline cases of hardship. There are particularly many borderline cases in regard to ill-health, where there is often a very marginal decision, and in cases of broken employment. I should have liked to see generous treatment, but the decision has frequently come down rather on the other side.
We must not underestimate the serious effect on an area where a pit closes. The position steadily deteriorates towards the end of the six months' period when the wage-related benefits cease. The colliery in my constituency closed in July, and so the miners there have had a particularly worrying time recently.
But we must look at the brighter side as well. The attraction of industry will alleviate the hardship in these desperately worrying circumstances. When the last Conservative Government were in power there were the development districts, and because of the nature of coal mining areas many of them—certainly in Scotland—were in the development districts. There was a differential in Scotland to attract industry to those areas, but they temporarily lost it when the whole of Scotland became a development area.
The position has been restored by the special development areas for the areas of pit closures, and this has been most valuable. But that does not mean that it is easy to bring jobs for men to areas of high unemployment. Advance factories have been built by both the present and previous Governments, and I pay my tribute to the Board of Trade, particularly the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade and the Secretary of State for Scotland, for their very genuine efforts to attract industry to this area. But economic circumstances are very difficult at present, and the high Bank Rate does not help to bring new industry to these areas.
However, I am sure that the incentives exist, and I am glad that they are available to industry. The special development areas can also do a great deal to help themselves in a co-operative effort, with the county councils, town councils, district councils and water boards getting together to play their part. The key moment is the initial contact with a new industry that is considering developing in a special development area. But once contact has been made there must be the maximum effort to remove all possible delays and any red tape. This is what modern industry wants. We must make speedy decisions, give instant help over planning permission and make certain that services are available. All this is important locally, and we must be ready for action at once.
Local initiative must move in parallel with the Board of Trade and, in Scotland, with the Secretary of State. In this context of pit closures, we must think of ways in which we can reduce the delays in the system, both in relation to industry and Government. We must not always say that delay is caused by Government Departments. Sometimes industry takes a long time to make up its mind and we must try to help it to do so more quickly, without putting on pressures, but making certain that there are no paper work delays affecting industry. I am glad that, in my constituency, in this area of very high unemployment, these efforts by local authorities have borne fruit. We have a tenant for one advance factory and a new development which will be for male employment.
What a joy it is to see the change in morale instantly when the unemployed miners in the district hear the good news that something at least is on the way. Of course, we have some way to go, but the hope and the expectation are there and, perhaps in a few weeks' time, we shall have begun to see construction of the factory. But I hope that the Coal Board realises—as it surely must because of the pressure brought by hon. Members on both sides about pit closures—the devastating effect that such closures have. To see the misery in a situation of no jobs is something which all of us want to resolve as quickly as possible.
Every month that the Board can give in delaying a pit closure is so important, because it means that one is one month nearer bringing in new industry. I hope, as I have said, that, in the period between closure and the coming of new industry, redundancy payments will be treated in as humane and flexible a way as possible. I have been very worried by cases which have come to me personally.
But when a pit closure is inevitable, all our efforts must be turned towards bringing new jobs to those areas. I have given some views on how instant services must be available by local authorities and by the Government to industry to help make the decisions quickly. We must work towards a much more buoyant economy. We in this House must strive towards finding ways of reducing the period of unemployment between closure and the provision of new jobs.
I, too, pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Fred Evans) not only on bringing forward this Motion, but on the deep humanity with which he moved it. He brought into close contact with each other not only economic and industrial problems of the mining industry, but the problems of the mining communities as well.
The hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) talked about some of the new changes and techniques introduced into the coal industry over the past few years and which have disappeared from our ken.
The hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) spoke about morale. In my view, in many cases the loss of morale in the industry is not due to the contraction of the industry itself, but to some of the sunshine talk that we have had from the National Coal Board and sometimes from the Ministry of Power on the question of successes likely to be achieved by this venture, and if we could get a better balance, better planning and a better assessment of the industry's future, linked up with a development district programme, then we would have a greater chance of success.
Although this debate has concentrated on coal, it is, of course, associated with other industrial development as well. This is not, therefore, simply a cry from the heart on the part of the coal industry or those of us from the mining communities, because, unless the Government harness the manpower and resources available in the mining communities and transfer that manpower and resources to new industries in the areas where contraction is taking place, the long-term problems of the economy as a whole and of industry will not be solved.
The hon. Member for Canterbury said that he must declare an interest. I, too, declare an interest—an interest in 62,500 of my constituents who are being vitally affected and will be even more so by the Government's success in dealing with this problem. I am sorry that the hon. Member is not in his place. I know as well as anyone else the difficulties which arise on a Friday. But when he talked about his interest in the mining industry being on the advertising side, it crossed my mind that advertising is doing better out of the coal industry at the moment than are those working at the pit face or elsewhere in the industry.
The background has been adequately filled in by my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly—the development district policy and the alternative industries needed to reduce the enormously high unemployment rate that persists. As my right hon. Friend knows, this week Blyth has had the news of a further closure affecting nearly 800 men. This adds to an already big burden on the town and the community. Like others, I want to pay tribute to what has been done by Government Departments in attracting new industries, but in doing so we must also spotlight the fact that, even though an enormous job in this respect has been done, it is still totally inadequate to deal with the problems with which the mining communities are confronted.
Only last year, in the corner of South-East Northumberland represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. Will Owen) and myself, with the attraction of new industry about 800 to 1,000 jobs were created. But one single pit closure has, quite apart from other problems, almost eliminated the advantages gained by that industrial intake.
When talking of interests, too, we must not forget the contribution which the mining communities have made not only to the country's economic and industrial life, but also to the Labour and Socialist movement. I have referred to South-East Northumberland. From that corner of the county came not only the first mining representative to sit in this House, Thomas Burt, but the first coalface miner, in the person of Charles Fenwick, to come direct from the coalface to Westminster.
When one adds people like Bob Smillie and Boy Taylor and others who came from the mining industry and represented that area, one realises, as my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly said, that we are not merely dealing with cold, hard industrial statistics but with communities and their future and, possibly more important, with restoring community life by providing the opportunity for new industries.
The future for that part of the country need not be bleak. I say this not because these people are my constituents, but because of the experience of the industrialists and firms who have moved to South-East Northumberland and Blyth constituency in the last four or five years. Their labour force has included a large percentage of miners. Without exception, those who have employed former miners have said that they are more adaptable than workers transferred from other industries. The Government must harness this adaptability to transfer from one industry to another, or we shall lose not only the opportunity, but hope for the future.
I want now to refer to the task ahead and the assessment by the Department of Economic Affairs of how things are going. The kernel of the argument of the second National Plan is a 3·5 per cent. national growth rate. That is not enough. When I asked the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs to agree to a higher national growth rate, he said that the present rate was that needed to give us expansion in the development districts. But the figure of 3·5 per cent. is a national figure and in areas like my constituency the average of unemployment has remained double the national average. Unless we eliminate that distinction by reducing the unemployment rate in the development districts, the problems which I have mentioned will not be solved.
I know that Ministers and others have engagements elsewhere on a Friday, but I should have been happier about the successful outcome of the debate if Ministers responsible for attracting new industries to the regions, in addition to the Minister of Power, had been present during the debate. I am not being over-critical, because I know that my right hon. Friend will convey what we have said to those Ministers, but time is not on our side any longer in the coal mining areas and development districts.
I should like to be associated with the congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Fred Evans) on having initiated the debate. Miners everywhere will be very appreciative of his action.
I regard this as a debate for the attention of miners, the nation and the Government. Time and time again some of us, particularly from the Labour benches, have echoed the miners' point of view of the concept of the White Paper, the concept which accelerated pit closures, the concept of calculations of output and targets. As one who came practically straight from the coal-face to Parliament, two or three years ago, I can speak with some authority about how miners feel about the coal industry and pit closures.
We resent the argument, which is advanced in the White Paper and in the Press, that coal is too dear and that, therefore, the mining industry must inevitably contract. Alongside that argument we are told that pit work is dirty and unhealthy. It is a dishonest argument. Its logic is that if the pits were deemed to be profitable and the tests of profitability were applied, it would not matter if the pits were unhealthy and dirty, for miners would still be required to work in them. I hope that my right hon. Friend will confess that these calculations have been proved wrong in many important respects. We are entitled to be told how they have gone wrong and precisely where my right hon. Friend proposes to make changes.
The debate is of vital importance to the nation, which is entitled to be told that the country cannot do without coal. By rather slick advertising and propaganda, there has been created the impression that we do not need coal any longer, that other fuels will replace it and that the nation therefore need not worry very much about the contraction of the industry. The nation must be told that if we cannot get coal, or the miners to mine it, the country will be in a much more serious economic position, far worse than has resulted from the effects of devaluation and far worse than has resulted from the problem of the balance of payments, for the nation would be in economic peril.
As former miners and as Members representing mining constituencies we have to tell the nation that the present position has arisen because the policy of contraction has led to a crisis of confidence in the industry. Miners no longer encourage their sons to enter the industry, and nobody can blame them. Miners whose families were in the industry for generations, and who made great sacrifices, sometimes even losing members of their families, in order to mine the "black gold" which was so necessary to the country's economic prosperity, take the view that if the nation is now prepared to let them down, the sons of other people can have a go at the problem.
The commercial test of profitability has been applied to the industry. In a recent debate on industrial relations, my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire) recalled how patriotic the miners had been in days gone by when they refused to hold the nation to ransom although they could have demanded far greater rewards than they received if they had been so minded. The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) said that the miners made a great mistake by not demanding the market price for their labour. We therefore got kicked in the teeth because we were patriotic and considered the nation before individuals.
The miners have always been like this. The possibility of change and technological advances has always been realised. But we resent hon. Members opposite talking to us about profitability and commercial viability. Speaking on behalf of the miners, I am entitled to say that that the mining industry is heading for a manpower crisis. I believe that there will be one this year. We may not be able to get enough miners to mine the coal that we need. Although we talk about profitability, and may apply vast amounts of capital investment, the mining industry may well be faced with the dilemma of having to buy back the miners—and this will be a very expensive operation.
We were told that coal would be too dear, compared to nuclear power, although we warned the Government that mistakes had been made in the past about the cost of nuclear power. My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly referred to the Magnox system. The arguments of the miners were backed up by the Select Committee on Science and Technology, which called for an independent investigation into the question of costs. In the arguments that went on about the nuclear power station in Dumfries, at Chapel Cross, we were told that coal was too dear and that we must go ahead with nuclear power.
I put down a Question to the Minister of Technology about the Chapel Cross reactor breakdown. I wanted to find out how much money was involved. Many of my friends in Scotland were staggered at the reply. I was told that it had cost about £200,000; it was not yet possible to forecast how long the No. 2 reactor would be out of commission, and that the loss in terms of electricity sales to date was about £1,700,000 and would increase by £90,000 per annum while the reactor was out of commission. We were: told that we were in for a bonanza—that coal was too dear and that nuclear power was the answer to our prayers. My hon. Friends and I never accepted that. We said that the Government should have learned from the mistakes of the past—from the Magnox experience—and should be careful how they planned their nuclear power programme.
We were also told sunshine stories about North Sea gas. I have made speeches before pointing out that, in my view, consumers have been conned into believing that there is to be very cheap gas for them. On the contrary, all the evidence seems to indicate that in spite of the tremendous capital investment by the Government, and all the modern innovations, there will not be any cheap North Sea gas for the consumer. This is important for those who represent mining areas, because the argument is put forward that not enough coal is being produced and that a policy of pit closures has been introduced because coal is too dear.
Last week I wrote to the Chairman of the Scottish Gas Board asking for an inquiry in my constituency about the costs of heating, because my constituents had told me that gas central heating was costing them between £2 10s. and £3 a week. I am aware of the steps taken by the Government to assist the coal mining industry and to ease conditions during its contraction. I am aware of the work done by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. I put down a Question to him this week, and he was able to demonstrate that, because of the Government's efforts in Scotland, in the 1970s Scotland will require about 8 million tons of coal for electric power generation. This is vitally important for the mining industry. When a mining group met my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister he made it clear to the delegation that he was amenable to change and open to argument. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power will adopt the same attitude.
The Government can do much more to promote the sale of coal in the domestic market. Help can still be given in this way to alleviate the problems of the mining industry while it is contracting. At a meeting last week I was flabbergasted when I heard an architect try to explain why several hundred houses had been badly troubled by condensation. They were almost uninhabitable because of the water running down the walls. He told the meeting, "What went wrong was that we failed to calculate what would happen when we took the solid fuel system and the chimney out of a house. Ventilation was cut down and the walls could no longer breathe. That was a miscalculation." He then put forward the proposition that false walls should be installed, with extractor fans, to make the houses habitable.
I want to make four specific suggestions for promoting the sale of coal on the domestic market. The Government can influence consumer demand. We have many new towns, including some in Scotland, and we are grateful to the Government for the boost that these new towns have given to the economy. There is a case for the Government's intervening and telling the new town authorities, "Because public money has been invested here you should be putting forward schemes for the use of solid fuel." I have demonstrated previously that if we cannot give people the creature comforts of solid fuel heating for less than £2 10s. or £3 a week there is something wrong.
Correspondence that I have received from my union leads me to believe that the Government do not stand in a very good light in Scotland. I have had correspondence concerning the St. James's Square development in Edinburgh, where the Government have agreed that the heating system should be oil-fired, although Edinburgh is on the fringe of a mining area. The situation is worse than that, because the inference is that the Coal Board did not give proper consideration to the possibility that the whole Government office building project should be heated by coal.
I hope that you will look into this. You do not inspire confidence in your own projects if you introduce oil——
I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The Government must to try to give more confidence to the industry. If my right hon. Friend were to announce a date for the reopening of the Michael Colliery he would boost morale considerably. We want to give hope to the industry and this would help defeat the crisis of confidence. We are told it is not a question of coal being extracted economically, but that the market is saturated and coal cannot be sold. If we continue with this argument how can we ask miners to increase productivity, because it will mean more pit closures?
If the Government will re-examine the Wilson Report of 1950, dealing with coal derivatives, and appoint a committee to examine the subject this would create confidence and morale. It will not be easy to restore confidence in the industry, but it would result, eventually, in a benefit not only to the miners, but the nation.
I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Fred Evans) on introducing this Motion. He has certainly done his homework. We have listened to a vivid account of what has happened in the coal industry over the last ten yers. I congratulate him upon his warmth and the manner in which he presented his subject. Naturally, what else can be expected from a Welshman living in the mining community?
I know that my hon. Friend has not been so closely associated with the industry as some of us, but he has lived among the people. I can only claim one advantage over other hon. Members. Before I entered Parliament, by chance, I worked for 45 years in the pit. That was a long and rich experience. I can speak with some kind of authority about the change that there has been over the years. We who speak today want to be critical and instructive. Most of the speeches today have been like a Welsh choir—voices in harmony, men with one voice, trying to get something done for our areas.
We are not unmindful of the massive financial aid given by the Government to the industry. There has been the cancellation of the National Coal Board's capital debt of £415 million; £30 million towards the social costs arising from pit closures; £45 million to the gas and electricity boards to enable them to use an extra 6 million tons of coal. These figures are worth repeating; they are not peanuts. We want to see the introduction of the scheme for redundant miners, who will receive 90 per cent. of their take-home pay for three years. Then there is the £260 million given by the Government to bring industry to the development areas. Industry is coming, but not quickly enough.
I would contrast all of this with my years in the industry under private enterprise. I can go back to my first day in the pit in 1919. I lived through the 1921 and 1926 strikes. I saw 90 per cent. of the population unemployed. We wanted to work, but there was no work. We marched in the streets and we lived on what we could get, on parish relief. Perhaps the younger generation does not know what that is. We had no money, we went to the relieving officer, who gave us a note, which we took to the grocer's shop and exchanged for food. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch) spoke at great length about these conditions. A man could work in the pits, choke to death with dust or break his back there, but his maximum compensation was 25s. a week. My hon. Friend was the compensation secretary for the South Wales Miners Federation and dealt with such cases. We must be grateful to the Labour Government for introducing measures which mean that today there are far greater benefits and protection for those who work in the pits.
We know that there is intense competition from other sources of fuel, such as gas, electricity and nuclear power. We are prepared to be competitive and accept that a pit must close because of geological faults or the exhaustion of reserves. Last year the industry, which had been contracting in manpower for many years, lost 57,000 men. At the end of 1968 there were only 330 pits working. The impact of the closure of 40 pits in 1969 will be greater than anything that has yet happened, because it will not be possible to find other work for those displaced.
Mining Members have told the Minister time and time again, in the House and privately, that the rate of closures should be slowed down. The 40 pits which it is intended to close in 1969 should be reduced to one-third, and the Board of Trade should be given the opportunity to bring new industries into mining areas so that if a colliery must close there is new industry available to absorb the displaced men. When a colliery closes an air of despair descends upon the valley. The displaced men have spent their whole working lives in the pit. Mining is still a hard, dirty and brutal trade, but men are prepared to engage in it. Our sympathy must go out in particular to the over-50s who have worked in the pits since they were 14 and say on the closing of a colliery "Where shall we go from here?" Much could be done to alleviate the hardship and all the upset if the rate of closures was slowed down until new industries have flowed into these areas.
My hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) mentioned central heating, a matter about which I have been concerned for a long time. I had central heating installed in my home seven years ago. Being a miner, coal-fired central heating was the only type for me. I have never regretted the day I had coal-fired central heating installed. I invite hon. Members who are interested to call on me during a Recess in the winter and feel the warmth which is generated.
I have been told by the Minister that advertising solid fuel central heating costs £56,000 per annum. Coal distributors in my area, and constituents whom I have "sold" on the advantages of solid fuel central heating, just cannot obtain the coal. They ask me, as their Member, "What are you doing? Why not stop all these advertisements?" There is a grave shortage of fuels for solid fuel central heating. This is widespread over the country. At present money is being poured into local district councils to enable them to start central heating schemes. This is very successful, but Britain is miles behind some continental countries on this.
I hope that some of those employed by the National Coal Board, particularly some of the higher paid people, will examine this question closely. I do not want to be too caustic about them today, but I can tell them in private exactly where they have missed the boat on solid fuel central heating. The gas and electricity industries have knocked the backsides off us. We have been standing still for the last six or seven years. There is a potential market of 5 million tons of coal a year for central heating.
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will convey this comment and others which have been made today to those running the Board. I hope that he will take heed of all the pleas which are made today. We plead with him to slow down the rate of closures. We ask him to cut the figure for 1969 to one-third until there has been an opportunity, with Government aid, for new industries to come to our areas and keep our communities alive and happy.
I associate myself with the tributes which have been paid to my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Fred Evans) for initiating this debate and, in particular, on the breadth of his Motion. The Minister, who has been kind enough to sit with us throughout the debate so far, has received a considerable amount of advice and guidance on the action he should take to tackle this problem. My right hon. Friend, like I myself, has been in the House for a considerable time. As an ex-pitman, he sat on the Opposition benches in years gone by and developed much of the argument which has been advanced today.
This is no easy problem. Those of us who have been cultured within mining communities and grown up in association with the travails of the industry over the post-war years are not unmindful of the difficulties confronting the Government when they seek to answer the questions and charges put this morning. The Government are asked, first, to slow down the rate of closures, and, secondly, to ensure for the industry a more adequate share on a more permanent basis of the necessary energy supplies to meet an expanding economy.
My hon. Friends and I have appreciated the action taken in recent months, in consultation with the National Coal Board and with expertise drawn from other fuel industries, to set up commissions to examine and report upon the implications of Britain's fuel requirements over the next twenty years. We have been gravely disappointed with the expert assessments made in the postwar years. It is accepted nowadays that coal has a declining part to play in the national economy. As a result, however, of the failure to make accurate assessments and recognise that the industry has a major contribution to make to our balance of payments and the development of the depressed areas, many difficulties have arisen.
As the representative of a mining community, I hope I shall be pardoned for concentrating on the implications which pit closures have had and are having in the Northern Region, from Newcastle to Cumberland. In recent years we who represent constituencies of this kind have been making constant pleas for the Government to realise that the somewhat indiscriminate closure of pits would result in a serious challenge to the industry in terms of the provision of manpower.
Although we speak about the need for 120 million or 140 million tons of coal as being the contribution needed by the coal industry towards our national fuel requirements, if as a result of declining morale and a failure of recruitment we do not have the manpower to sustain even our existing collieries, this will be a major national tragedy. I have pleaded with the Government to accept responsibility to provide alternative employment in areas where pits are closed. From 1964 I have been urging them to take the view that if private industry is unwilling, despite the major inducements being offered by the Government, to help to provide alternative forms of employment, the Government should encourage public enterprise to develop in these areas and so ensure continuity of employment and the safety of the economic life of these communities.
The Minister is familiar with what has been happening in South-East Northumberland, but I must restate the problem because it has a vital connection with the Motion. In the last four years we have seen the decline of one pit after another. My hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Milne) pointed out that a colliery will close in his constituency in the coming week. In Morpeth, my constituency, a colliery closed last month, and I have received a courtesy notice from the N.C.B. informing me that a second one will close this month. By the end of this year five collieries in the area of the Morpeth Rural District Council will have closed in the last three years, depriving the area of a vital source of employment. We have nothing left and nothing is coming in. The result is that 10 per cent. of the area's labour force is unemployed.
The Minister has established expert commissions to look into the various features of fuel policy. I urge him to set up a commission to examine the impact of colliery closures as a social factor in these communities. There is a reservoir of evidence to show the urgent need for this to be done. We cannot go on accepting the decline of a major industry without accepting responsibility for the life of the communities that grew up around the pits.
I hope that the Minister will make a positive declaration that the Government intend to ensure that pit closures will be slowed down in the next decade, and that the Government will take action to stimulate the introduction of urgently needed alternative industry in areas where pits have closed. It is vitally important that pit closures are phased in ratio to the development and expansion of new sources of employment.
We must consider the impact of the policy of closing pits not only on the mine worker but on manpower generally. I read a letter which was handed to me by my hon. Friend the Member for Blyth. A constituent of his, a man who had spent 23 years in the mines, wrote saying that his pit was closing. He had been asked to move elsewhere, and, while I have no doubt that he will respond by moving, he will have no assurance that the mobility which he is willing to accept will offer him ultimate security.
There is a fundamental lack of confidence in the industry. In my constituency a miner who recognises the limitations of the future for him in the industry will apply to the local employment exchange to be retrained. This retraining aspect is a welcome part of Government policy. However, such a miner will be told by the manager of the employment exchange, "In consultation with the N.C.B., I must tell you that we recognise you as a skilled mine worker. We therefore cannot undertake to offer you retraining for any other form of employment. We can offer you employment elsewhere."
As a result of this, the miner will go to another colliery. Twelve months later that will close and he will go to yet another colliery. After another 12 months, that will close, and he will find himself in yet another pit. Eventually, fed up with this moving to and fro, he will apply to the employment exchange again, but will again be told that because he is a skilled miner he cannot be retrained. He is kept on the treadmill and refused the liberty of choosing employment in another sphere simply because we need men in the mining industry.
This is a sad commentary on the development of industrial relations in this industry. As the Government accept responsibility for ensuring that reasonable social benefits are meted out to those who are victims of colliery closures, as they have a responsibility to examine whether the line being pursued is a reasonable one. If we hope to keep the industry alive, we must, in view of the decline in morale of the industry's manpower, examine the practices of local employment exchanges, because practices such as I have described will not assist us.
Coal will have a contribution to make at least until the end of the century. However, in this age of transition we have the right to ask the Government to phase out colliery closures in ratio to the development of new techniques and the provision of security of employment for our people.
In view of what has been said by Mr. Speaker I intend to speak only briefly on just one or two points in the Motion. In doing so, I do not in any way diminish their importance.
It is correct to say that morale in the coal mining industry has not been as low in the last few months as it was 12 months ago. This may be very heartening, but we must not fool ourselves: morale is still very low. For years a number of us have been pressing on the Government, almost ad nauseam, the view that if nothing is done in the immediate future the nation will see before it a very large bright red light of danger not only for coal mining but for our fuel requirements as a whole. Within a few years, perhaps two or three, we may be so desparately short of fuel as to have to import, yet, paradoxically and scandalously, there will be sufficient indigenous fuel beneath the soil to last us for the next few hundred years.
If we have a further decline in manpower, pits that are at present operating economically will become non-viable because the age level of the men employed is getting far too high. I know that the National Coal Board is very concerned about this aspect.
Closing pits has been one means of meeting some of the industry's economic difficulties. Many of us have accepted closures as inevitable, in many cases, because of geological conditions. Nevertheless closures have been taking place far too rapidly. As a result, the men affected cannot be assimilated by nearby pits or by the industries which we hope will come into the areas concerned. I say at once, and I want all my miner constituents to know, that I have nothing but praise for what my Government have done since 1964 in dealing, particularly financially, with the industry's problems. By writing off capital, subsidising costs, and so on, they have contributed hundreds of millions of pounds to getting the industry out of difficulty. After the last three or four years, however, a far more effective phasing of closures is required.
Liaison between Government Departments, outside bodies and the industry is now much closer, but I am not so sure that it is working as effectively as it should. The wish exists, but the results do not show that the liaison is working effectively. The steel industry, merely to take an example, has learned a lesson from what has happened in the coal mining industry, particularly in South Wales, and the liaison between the steel industry, outside bodies and Government Departments has led to a phasing of redundancy for many thousands over the next few years. In addition, industries are being brought into these areas in order to help with the expected redundancy.
The hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) is not now present, but I know that he will forgive me if I say that his statement that coal should be produced for as long as there is a demand for it, and it is commercially produced, shows a wrong approach. He forgets that we cannot, as it were, turn off the tap in this industry and hope in a few years' time to turn it on again if circumstances demand it. If we try, we shall find that nothing then comes from the tap. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, who was very courteous in his remarks, will appreciate that side of the problem.
That leads me to the commercial aspect of our fuel requirements. A number of us have for years expressed grave doubts about the statistics and estimated costs of nuclear power. I mean no disrespect to the experts and the statisticians when I say that one cannot place any reliance at all on their prognostications. Time and time again they have been proved wrong, and what horrifies me is that the Government are basing their future plans for our energy requirements, as did previous Governments, on these statistics.
This trouble is not confined to statisticians here. I have information from the United States that the former chief of the United States Atomic Electric Power Company, Dr. Philip Sporn, criticised the electricity companies for their false estimates of the cost of nuclear energy in comparison with conventional energy. He said that capital costs of power stations which were to go into operation in 1969 had risen over the estimate by 25 dollars per kilowatt, adding 15 million dollars to the cost of a 600 kW station. He also said that no definite prediction could be made about practical operating conditions, since certain constructional factors could be known only at the end of several years.
Dr. Sporn went on to say that capital costs of another nuclear power station were 15 per cent. higher than expected, whilst another showed generating costs at 0·7 cents per kW hour compared with an estimate made as long ago as 1963 of 0·5 cents, a rise of 40 per cent. Another source showed that there had been a 30 per cent. cost rise within one year for a nuclear power station of average size, and a 10 per cent. rise for the nuclear field itself. There may be a reason for this discrepancy, but what horrifies me is that our Government are basing their commercial outlook on energy costs and statistics which have again and again proved to be false.
Over the next five years we shall spend £1,600 million on the gas industry for various requirements which are no doubt highly desirable, but it is expected that after 25 years—and the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) has told us that he has privately been given a figure of 17 years—there will be no North Sea gas left for us. Our fuel experts should, therefore, be very careful in what they do about indigenous fuels which could otherwise last for another 200 years. That is the paradoxical situation.
We all admire the Minister of Power's knowledge of the coal mining industry and, if I may say so in his absence—and he has been with us throughout the debate so far—for his courage. No one can deny that my right hon. Friend has great courage. We have a Minister who is capable of looking at the whole field of energy resources. He can look at the future demand of the country and to some extent at least he can assess the true cost of respective fuels measured not in social costs, but purely in economic costs. Past statistics have led us into a very dangerous position in which we might destroy our indigenous fuel industry.
Every time I have spoken on this subject I have emphasised that it is an illusion and a misapprehension to think that those of us speaking about mining interests do so purely in a parochial sense. It is time it was realised that we are speaking for the nation, because if we do not get fuel from the pits during the next 10 or 20 years the country will face commercial disaster.
I associate myself with the thanks offered to my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Fred Evans) for introducing the Motion. It is not quite correct to say that he is a non-mining Member, for he is the son of a miner and he comes from mining stock. It is a great pleasure to take part in this debate for which my hon. Friend could have selected some other subject, but for which he thought it right and proper to choose that of colliery closures.
During the past two or three days I have read a number of speeches made on the subjects of this kind. I have not come across any speech in the past decade which has accused miners of not accepting the need for technical progress and change. I shall, therefore, comment on what was said by the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson). He spoke about coal being produced commercially. About 1965 the hon. Member accompanied me down two or three pits in the Nottinghamshire coalfield. We saw highly improved technical changes in the industry.
So far as I can remember on no occasion in the past decade have miners refused to accept change. They have moved forward rapidly. During the 10 years there has been tremendous technical progress in the industry. I wish that the rest of industry had made similar progress. Then there would be no argument about balance of payments and we would be able easily to produce the goods with which to compete internationally. That does not mean that some industries have not made good progress; of course they have. They have gone into automation.
With all the fiscal disabilities with which the mining industry has to contend, we should appreciate that the rate of production in the last few years has been terrific. The Government should make certain that miners are looked after a little more than they have been. I ask that further assistance should be given to the industry over the next few years to enable us to reach a stage whereby coal can be produced in competition with other fuels.
Tremendous cost is involved in constructing a new face, sometimes amounting to about a quarter of a million pounds. Improvements made year by year in ways of winning coal mean that in the next 10 years we shall be able to produce coal in such a way that it can compete with other forms of fuel. The Government should consider subsidies for coking coal. We are the only nation which does not do this. During the next few years Europe will be short of coking coal which is essential for the steel industry.
I agree with my hon. Friends that pit closures must be slowed down and that alternative employment must be found for miners when pits are closed. Better training facilities should be provided. It is disgraceful that a miner should not be allowed to be trained. If he decides to leave the industry he should be encouraged to train and not have restrictions put on him. We have not trained men in sufficient numbers. In spite of the fact that the Tory Party when, in power, neglected this to a tremendous extent and we can be proud of what our Government are doing in training, this is only a small part of what is required. There must be more training and redundant miners must be allowed to train.
An article in the Financial Times on 14th February said that subsidies for United Kingdom coal were smaller than those in other countries of Europe. The Parliamentary Secretary will be fully aware of this. Last year, Germany subsidised its coal mining industry by £403 million. The production of coal was only 112 million tons. The United Kingdom subsidy was £35 million and our production 164 million tons. We give 6s. a ton subsidy whereas Germany gives about £3 12s. The Mining industry wants more help and I hope that the Government will see that it gets it.
What is happening at Wombwell, in my constituency, is disgraceful. Information from the N.C.B. has been variable. The pit employs 678 men. The number aged 55 to 65 totalled 161 and 80 or 90 of them were 60 to 65 years of age. On 28th August the pit was put in jeopardy. Branch officials and management met to discuss what they should do. They planned to improve the pit. A letter about absenteeism was sent by the branch to each employee. Production went up and broke even or made a slight profit.
A few days ago it was announced that the pit would close on 23rd May. On 13th December, when the branch asked the management about making further improvements, the branch was told that pressure had been taken off, yet only a few days ago it was announced that the pit is to close.
January is always a bad month in the mining industry because of New Year's holiday, and there was a change-over of face in February. There were, therefore, two bad months, as a result of which the pit lost money. The men believe that they can make the pit pay. I believe that that is arguable because of the thin nature of the seams, which are about 2 feet 2 inches thick. Indeed, they have to cut into the dirt to provide a reasonable working height.
But I ask my right hon. Friend to put the pit on trial, for a number of important reasons. In the Wombwell Employment Exchange area, unemployment is already 4·5 per cent., and it is over 6 per cent. in Mexborough. It is unfair, therefore, to close this mine when there is so much unemployment. If my right hon. Friend's mind is already made up, as I am afraid it is, because it is based on information from the Coal Board, I nevertheless hope that he will give further consideration to the problems and change his mind so as to give the miners a few months in which to make the pit pay its way.
I am not, of course, arguing for a pit to be kept open which is losing a lot of money. The branch officials are firmly of the view that, given a few months, they can bring this pit back into good production. I hope that this trial period will be allowed.
When we talk about pit closures we should examine what the Government are doing. I strongly disagreed with the introduction of the early retirement provisions at the age of 55, because they mean that after three years a man of 58 is thrown on to the scrap heap until he is 65. The early retirement age ought to be 60 and he ought to receive nine-tenths of his average earnings over the next five years, so that by the time he has finished drawing that redundancy payment he is on normal retirement provisions and automatically draws normal retirement pension.
The Government do not seem to realise that the present system is very harsh on miners. They ought to be considering retirement provisions for miners with pensions at the age of 60, for a man who has worked in a mine for 40 or 50 years has earned a retirement pension. Mining is one of the most difficult and dangerous of jobs and the Government are not acting towards miners in the humane manner in which they ought to act.
Consider, too, the question of redundancy payments for men transferred to other pits. The Coal Board do not pay redundancy payments to a miner when he is offered a job in another coalfield. I know that the N.C.B. is one employer, over the whole country, but some private firms have factories and plant in many parts of the country and they do not treat their employees as the miners are treated. They do not say to a man, "We shall transfer you from Barnsley to Crewe and you will get no redundancy payments". The Government must consider the situation more carefully. When we are holding men back from being trained and from entering other industries, we ought to make certain that more benefits are paid to them to encourage them to leave the coal industry. The Coal Board has done a good deal but it is not sufficient.
The Government do not seem to appreciate, for example, the religious problems involved in moving a miner from one area to another. Roman Catholics like their own schools, and they find difficulty when they are moved from one area to another. My hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. Kelley) has spoken to me about this, because it particularly affects his area. We are not building schools to accept some of these children. In my area some people have found, in moving from some districts, that there is insufficient school accommodation for their children.
My right hon. Friend is the first miner who has been appointed Minister of Power and we are all proud that he has achieved that position. A heavy responsibility rests on his shoulders. It is heavier than if he had been a non-miner, because miners expect him to be particularly sympathetic towards them. We all know in the House, however, that he is responsible to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet and that restrictions are placed on him. He would like to do as much for the mining industry as we want to see done.
But I ask him to assert his power with the Cabinet to convince them that we must slow down the closure of mines. The morale in the industry has not been too low recently, but it was very low about 15 months ago. It will decline again unless the Government announce that pit closures will be slowed and that the Government will be willing to subsidise the situation so that these mines can continue to work longer. Will my right hon. Friend pay special attention to the situation in respect of coking coal, which I am certain will be in short supply not only in this country but throughout Europe?
I hope that the debate will have an impact on the Government. For many years the mining group of Members in the House has been the backbone of the party. Our numbers are not as great as they used to be, but we have been very loyal members and we deserve a little more consideration from the Government, even though the Government's record in respect of the mining industry is not bad.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Edwin Wainwright) referred to the importance of the miners' group in the House and to the fact that we have an ex-miner as Minister of Power. We appreciate that fact, although we recognise that he has other responsibilities and duties.
Throughout the debate my right hon. Friend has paid close attention to what has been said. We have observed the time spent on the Front Bench today by my right hon. Friend and his Parliamentary Secretary. A few moments ago my hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Milne) said that it would be useful to have here a Minister from the Department for Economic Affairs—and within a few moments one appeared, my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Urwin), which shows the importance of having influence or friends. Indeed, the ex-Minister of Power came into the Chamber for a few minutes to show his interest in the debate.
Moreover, we should be failing in our duty if we did not express our appreciation of the attendance today of the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden), who has sat on the Opposition Front Bench mostly in solitary splendour, like "patience on a monument", supported from time to time by odd bodies who appeared and disappeared. There has been a complete absence of the Liberal Party during the debate. But for those who came, we say, "Thank you." The hon. Member for Bournemouth, West cannot be criticised for those who did not bother to come.
At the beginning of my speech I declare my interest as a Member sponsored by the National Union of Mineworkers. I am proud to declare that interest, which I have declared on previous occasions, because my union has a record of service to the productivity and interests of this country second to none. Perhaps the House at the moment is a little oversensitive about the interests of its Members, and I emphasise that being a Member sponsored by a union means that one's constituency party may receive financial assistance, not necessarily that the union-sponsored Member himself receives any financial benefit.
Let me also make it clear that there has never been any pressure from my union on its sponsored Members in this House to speak or act or vote in any way contrary to their own opinions or to what they believe is best for their constituents or for the welfare of the country. We are completely free to agree or disagree with our union.
The identity if the miners' Members of Parliament on these benches is surely well known by now. If there is anyone in the House who expects that every time a miner's representative speaks on a matter affecting the industry he ought to declare his interest, I think that this is asking rather a lot. If anyone is not aware who are the sponsored Members, he has either just come to the House or else he is appallingly ignorant.
I wish to add my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Fred Evans) for the care he took in presenting his case. He has a great knowledge of this industry, and if we had not already known it this fact is surely confirmed by what he said today. Rightly, the Motion draws attention to concern and anxiety about the situation in the coal industry. Yet paradoxically enough it is the success of the coal industry which has added to its problems and difficulties. There is no doubt that this industry has made tremendous achievements and that it is an industry of which we can be very proud. It is a pacemaker in its industrial organisation. The efficiency of its management and of its administration is far ahead of the general standard of private enterprise.
It should be remembered that the coal industry is served not only by the strong men underground, but also by the equally strong and skilled men above ground. We should also remember the part that the women play in the administration of its services in one form or another. This is by no means only a male industry. There are, for example, those rather stalwart amazons whom one sometimes finds at the pit bath, between the bathing facilities for the men and those for the women. Those are indeed formidable members of our industry.
All these matters have made possible the co-operation and progress in the industry. The co-operation of the National Union of Mineworkers with the National Coal Board has set standards for all industries. The industrial relations inside the industry are probably the envy of many other parts of industry, public and private; and would that such good relations existed in the motor car industry, for instance, or in the docks and the electrical engineering industry. There may here be a lesson of the advantages which can—not necessarily, but can—accrue from having one industry and one union.
Above all, this has led to the situation, whether at the area offices or at the pits or the sales depôt, where it is "our" industry. It is not a case of "they, the management: we, the workers". It is our industry. It is these matters that have led to tremendous increases in productivity, efficiency and distribution.
Certainly, if the remainder of the public or private sector of industry was a competitive and productive as the coal industry, we would not be worrying about our balance of payments, our efficiency and so on. Perhaps our industry has been rather too obsessed with productivity as far as the pithead. Important as that may be, not enough interest has been shown in the productivity between the pithead and the consumer.
I welcome the improvements in the land sale depôts and the coal handling plant, the joint endeavours of the Coal Board and the private sector in connection with new fuels, the arrangements between the nationalised and private sectors from the creation of new companies, the co-operation between the nationalised part of the British economy and the private sector of the economy, and the creation of a French-based company for solid fuel and district heating projects.
However, it is no good saving Is. a ton on the production price and allowing this to be wiped out overnight by an increase of 2s. 6d. in road and rail charges. Therefore, the Minister should talk as much to the Minister of Transport as he does to his colleagues at the Coal Board or at the C.E.G.B.
To consider all the points that arise from the Motion would be impossible. In any case, many of them have been covered by other speakers. I want to refer to the future possibilities. After all, coal production depends on coal consumption in one form or another. It is no use getting coal unless it can be disposed of. I ask my right hon. Friend to seek the help of his right hon. and hon. Friends in other Departments. I have already paid my tribute to my right hon. Friend and his colleagues. I notice that from time to time they look round rather carefully to see who will try to catch Mr. Speaker's eye next. I assure my right hon. Friend that even if we intend to fire shots at him, because he is one of ours, we shall shout before we actually do so.
I notice that my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Urwin), the Minister of State, Department of Economic Affairs, is present, and I say to him that there could well be an improvement in the co-operation between the Coal Board and the regional economic planning councils. This co-operation is already beginning to work, but three months' notice of a pit closure from the Coal Board to a regional economic planning council is not sufficient. It does not give sufficient time for anything to be done. That period should be extended. In addition, the Department of Employment and Productivity needs more time if it is to have a real chance of establishing alternative employment.
I have in mind particularly the new factory complex, the new industrial estate, on the borders of my constituency and that of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—the Knowsley Estate—which will be vitally important to Merseyside. There should be a solid fuel district heating project, as it is on the edge of the West Lancashire coalfield. When we build the advance factories it will then be possible to provide a cheap source of heat for the factories, and it should be established on a large enough scale at the beginning to serve all the other industrial developments which take place. This is an experiment which should include not only the provision of factories, but the provision of a basic source of cheap heat for those factories and the others which come along.
The Secretary of State for Education and Science should also adopt this approach. There is a large university in the heart of Manchester where, over the years, we have doubled, trebled and quadrupled the amount of university capacity serving a wide area. But each time a new tower block or lecture theatre is erected it has its own heating supply. This is wasteful. Somewhere along the line the Department of Education and Science should encourage the installation of district heating. We know that over a 10-year period we need a given amount of service and we should get the district heating in at the beginning. Manchester had a coal mine inside its own boundaries until recently. This kind of long-term planning could be of great help to the universities, the colleges of technology and training colleges.
Then there is the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. I do not deny the amount of encouragement this Ministry has given to local authorities and the extra grants which have been paid for smokeless fuel heating and solid fuel central heating. Some local authorities are good and some are bad. Sometimes the Ministry is good. Sometimes it is not so helpful. I have in mind, for instance, the Answer which I received on 18th February to a Question:
… My right hon Friend has done nothing to discourage the use of solid fuel."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th Feb., 1969; Vol. 778, c. 184.]
I want him to do everything to encourage the use of solid fuel. However, perhaps that was not the best example, and I pay my tribute to my right hon. and hon. Friends in that Department.
Some authorities are good, some not so good, and some bad. In my opinion, the Corporation of Manchester is particularly bad. I can say that because my own colliery was Bradford Colliery, right in the heart of the city. It had been there for 400 years. Its rateable value for the city was enormous, and the employment opportunities which it provided for Manchester's citizens were equally valuable. Yet from 1956 the corporation whether Labour or Tory-controlled, had on its records a resolution specifically excluding the use of solid fuel from any of its new housing projects—and we know what a tremendous housing programme has been going on.
It was done, strangely enough, not on the basis of fair competition, of cost or of efficiency but on a straight resolution based on what the council at that time thought it knew about smokeless fuels and solid fuels. But, my goodness—how Manchester screamed when it lost Bradford Colliery's rateable value. If the city had looked after it better in the past, it might not have been in that position. I still think that there is hope for it.
Now, Liverpool. Again, I ask that solid fuel should be considered on a fair competitive basis. The Coal Board has even offered, on sale or return, two Calorpak stokers, saying to Liverpool, "Try it in your new developments. Try it in a new school". But Liverpool will not even touch it. That is not fair competition and fair tendering.
Still on the housing and local government side—my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) mentioned this—we are, I understand, to have right in the heart of Lancashire an extension of the Leyland-Chorley development, a new town to lift congestion away from the South-West and South-East. One can argue whether the plan is right or wrong, but it seems to have gone beyond the argument stage now. The important point in the present debate is that, with a coalfield right where the new town is to be, the opportunity should be seized from the very beginning, in the planning stage, to provide facilities which use the products of our own coalfields. The coalfield will be paying rates to the new town. It should have an opportunity to compete on a fair basis.
Much more attention will have to be given to distribution costs, liner trains and all the other parts of the system. But let us try to keep a balanced view of achievements and prospects. As I say, in some ways it is largely the great achievements of the industry which have created its present difficulties.
I noted what the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) said, and I shall argue his case at another time. It is no use talking about the costs of producing heat or energy at one place unless one also takes into account the cost of transporting it to another place where it is consumed. The hon. Gentleman said that he expected the industry to meet challenge and change. He hoped that it would. The whole history of the industry is that it has met every challenge and change all the way along the line.
I have a great deal more confidence than the hon. Gentleman has in the future of the industry. I do not underestimate its difficulties, but I should be the last to underestimate—and I hope that no hon. Member would ever underestimate—its capacity and that of its employees to meet the challenge and the change of the future.
I shall not spend time conveying my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Fred Evans). That has been done by all who have spoken today, and he fully deserves our congratulations and thanks. No one enjoyed his comprehensive and detailed speech more than I did, but I shall not follow the line which other hon. Members have taken. I shall direct attention to a different aspect of this matter. I shall be as brief as I can because I hope to have another opportunity in the near future when the potentialities of coal can be more fully discussed.
What have we been doing in pursuing this appalling policy of colliery closures and the waste of our one great indigenous wealth? We have been destroying the richest mineral in the earth. No other mineral has been discovered which has such a wide, almost an infinitely wide, complex of derivatives and by-products. I have taken an interest in this matter for a long time, and I regret to say that until the last few years colliery owners treated these potential riches with the same kind of indifference as property owners have displayed towards the slum houses in which people have to live.
I take the House back as far as the First World War. It was then discovered that coal had a great number of derivatives of enormous value to the people of Britain. Some of us are old enough—I do not say that it is a privilege—to remember vividly the days of the First World War. We remember the effect of German submarine warfare and the sinking of our merchant vessels. Those events brought to light that Britain was not manufacturing some of the essentials needed in the war.
To illustrate what I mean, I shall recount an experience of mine. One day early in the war I was called from the colliery where I worked to the house of a brilliant surgeon, a many with splendid qualifications. He had just returned from the Front. The Old Contemptibles had been butchered and slaughtered. He had joined them immediately and had been with them in France for several months. The story which he had to tell me—which is not unrelated to coal—was this. He and other surgeons had been forced to carry out major operations, amputations and so on, without a scrap of anaesthetic, local or general. Most of the anaesthetics used in this country had been imported from Germany, some from Scandinavia and a little from Canada. He told me how the Germans were bombarding our soldiers, destroying British lives by their high explosives, but we were retaliating with slow-burning or low combustion explosives, exactly the kind of explosives which I and others were using in those days at the coalface. He also told me of other tragedies, some of which could have been avoided.
It so happens that a Welshman, Mr. Lloyd George, was Minister of Munitions in those days, and the President of our union, the South Wales Miners, Mr. William Brace, had been seconded to his Ministry. I was with them both the following afternoon when we agreed on what should be done immediately. Small groups of scientists were called in from London University and a few from Cambridge. The amazing thing is that in the First World War, more than 50 years ago, enough anaesthetics were derived from coal to meet all the needs of that tragic and long war. In addition, the scientists found that coal was a first-class source of high explosives, and 1¼ million tons of lyddite were extracted from coal in that war.
I suggest that my busy right hon. Friend the Minister of Power might put someone to work on a little research into what was discovered in the First World War. Scores of by-products were found all that time ago. I repeat that coal is the richest mineral that has been discovered, yet until comparatively recently this industry of ours has been butchered far more than it has been used in the production of a commodity that is absolutely essential for this country.
But I must also express my appreciation that the National Coal Board has now come to realise the possibility of derivatives from coal. I have said over and over again, as have others perhaps better qualified than I, that coal could well be regarded as a raw material because of the terrific richness of its byproducts and derivatives. In the manufacturing of coke, for example, one ton of coal produces about 1,700 lbs. of coke, 12,000 cubic feet of gas, 11 gallons of coal tar, nearly four gallons of light oils, and about 30 lbs. of chemicals. I want to give the Board and the Ministry of Power a kindly pat on the back, because coal can be used in the manufacture of such common products as fertilisers, insecticides, disinfectants, food dyes, synthetic rubber, nylon and many plastics used in our daily life. Yet, with all these potentialities this mineral was treated with such contempt that until comparatively recently little was done to exploit its richness.
Further, refrigerants used in many refrigerators, such as carbon dioxide and ammonia, are often derived from coal. Tar and pitch for highways and roofs are important by-products of coal, as are photographic sensitising dyes. These are just a few of the many thousands of things derived from coal.
Is it too late to regard coal as being overwhelmingly a basis for many other industries? Our knowledge about it now is such that it should shame anybody interested in the industry, or having any knowledge of it, to be a party to the abuse that this great mineral has received in the past.
I express my thanks to the National Coal Board and others associated with it for the little they have done, but I am confident that there is much more that can be extracted from the wonderful mineral called coal.
Every hon. Member who has spoken today has had a vested interest in coal, as have their constituencies. I want to speak on a rather different point, which has not been dealt with so much in the debate.
My constituency has five pits, including the one with the greatest future, Bevercotes, but it also has three coal-fired power stations. This probably makes it unique among the constituencies spoken about today. Those power stations are at Cottam, High Marnham and West Burton, and there is provision for a fourth—West Burton B. Therefore, I have a vested interest in seeing that another coal-fired power station is ultimately erected there.
We have built up a permanent work force in the area in the past 10 years which is now coming to an end. Anybody with an interest in the building industry knows that a momentum is built up which must be kept going if prices are to remain competitive. It is now three years since the C.E.G.B., or the Minister, approved the building of another coal-fired power station. This is obviously where the future of the coal industry lies.
The basic thing to remember about power stations is that the capital costs of a coal-fired station are relatively low at £50 to £55 per kilowatt. The capital cost of a nuclear power station is probably twice as high, about £100 per kilowatt, but its running costs tend to be slightly lower than those of a coal-fired station. This is where the long-standing argument comes in about whether we should have an independent inquiry into the running costs of the various types of power station. Those announced recently have been open to reasonable suspicion as to whether the facts and figures given were—I shall not say "bent"—being interpreted correctly.
Many of us on this side at Question time frequently challenge the figures which have been given about the costings of power stations. Without an independent investigation, it is difficult for us not to believe that there has been some sort of pressure put on to make nuclear-fired power stations look far more favourable than coal-fired power stations. But such an examination has been frequently rejected by the Minister, although recent developments have, in my view, strengthened the case for it.
I put down a Question on 5th March, and, in reply, my right hon. Friend said that he had been advised by the Central Electricity Generating Board that the costs of Dungeness B, the first commercial station based on an advanced gas-cooled reactor, would not vary significantly from the estimate given a year ago to my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire). But the figure of 0·56d. a unit sent out represents an increase of no less than 25 per cent. on the original estimate, and this means that Dungeness B will not produce as cheaply as the best coal-fired station in the country, at Ratcliffe. Thus, the long-heralded day when nuclear will be cheaper than coal is once more postponed. The earliest station which might be competitive is Hinckley Point, which is due to come into operation in 1972.
At Dungeness B, since the estimate of 0·56d. a unit a year ago, things have gone steadily wrong. In the Daily Express of 26th February, 1969, an article appeared under the following headline:
Showpiece A-power station hits serious snags.
The article was by Mr. Chapman Pincher, who seems to have a knack of investigating scientific projects. He wrote:
Because the capital outlay on the giant plant is nearly £100 million, the extra interest charges and other costs due to the delay will increase the bill by at least £10 million—probably more.
On 11th February, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary told my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. Woof) that the metal liners of the pressure vessels had been distorted during welding and were having to be re-made. He said that the first reactor might be delayed by at least 18 months and the second by a year.
Since then, there have been reports that the first reactor will be no fewer than 22 months late. If that is so, the interest charges during construction will add about £10 million to the cost of the station, and added to that is the cost of engineering work necessary to remedy design faults and the effect of this on the rest of the job. So I cannot see how my right hon. Friend, through the C.E.G.B., can say that the estimate of a year ago has not been affected. I suggest that the cost will be at least 0·60d. a unit even if nothing else goes wrong. Alternatively, I suggest that the board is discounting capital costs and covering only running costs.
There is another aspect which should be drawn to the attention of the House. The consortium building the station is talking of going out of business. So if there have been any design errors, who is going to pay the cost of making them right? Does the consortium pay, even if it has gone out of business, or does the C.E.G.B. pay—ultimately, the electricity consumer?
There is another reason why Dungeness B will be a burden on the economy although it is not even built yet. Rio Tinto decided to base its aluminium smelter in Anglesey with electricity from the grid because the C.E.G.B. negotiated with Rio Tinto an agreement whereby the company would pay for its electricity a price based on the board's estimate of the Dungeness B price. That agreement was negotiated some time ago. What happens if the costs go up sharply due to these delays? Who will pay the difference? My right hon. Friend told my hon. Friend the Member for Ince on 20th January:
I am advised by the Chairman of the C.E.G.B. that the developments at Dungeness B do not significantly prejudice the viability of the smelter contract, which includes allowances for contingencies."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th January, 1969; Vol. 776, c. 56.]
To me, that means that the C.E.G.B. will pay—and ultimately, of course, that means the consumer.
These are a few reasons why it is essential not only for the confidence of the coal industry but also for the benefit of the taxpayer, that an independent inquiry into nuclear power station costs must be established.
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that the speech by the Minister in Barnsley last December dealt with this matter when he said that if such an independent inquiry took place it would weaken the morale of the mining industry because it would come out clearly on the side of nuclear?
I am aware of that speech and I accept what my right hon. Friend said at the time, but as I pointed out earlier, recent developments—one of them the article of 26th February in the Daily Express—have led to further doubts being expressed and to the greater need for an inquiry.
At present my right hon. Friend seems only to repeat what the C.E.G.B. tells him, and some of the advice he is getting from that quarter is, in my view, extremely dubious. There is the question, for example, of the peak period use of electricity. The running costs of power stations rend to be cheaper for nuclear, although capital costs are higher, so there will be a tendency to run the nuclear stations all the time and simply bring in coal-fired stations at peak periods. This means that less coal will be used, so that, when the coal-fired stations are used, their running costs will tend to be higher, which will completely distort the overall figures by ignoring the capital costs.
I have put down a number of Questions on this matter. My right hon. Friend has told me that the C.E.G.B. now expects that electricity from Cottam, a coal-fired power station in my constituency, will cost 0·60d. per unit instead of the originally estimated 0·53d. My right hon. Friend said that the change had been brought about by increases in the estimate and of construction cost, in interest rates and in the estimated cost of coal delivered to the power station.
But if the cost has gone up for Cottam because of these things, why has not the estimated cost gone up in the same way for Dungeness B, the first nuclear power station, which has experienced delays which will increase interest charges and capital costs?
I was a professional cost control engineer before coming to this House. I know how easy it is, not to juggle statistics, but to present certain statistics in a favourable light. Cottam is already built and part of it is operating. My right hon. Friend—and I am not saying that he is giving false information but that he may have been furnished with information which might not be factually correct—says that these have been increases in the cost of coal delivered to the power station. I checked with the National Coal Board and found that there has been no change in the price of East Midlands coal for the past nine years and that 20 million tons of it is being supplied to the power stations. I admit that a very small proportion comes from Yorkshire, which had an increase in price of 7s. 6d. a ton in 1966, but I repeat that it is a very small proportion, and we are entitled to suspect that the C.E.G.B. is deliberately distorting the cost comparison between nuclear and coal-fired power stations.
On the one hand, the Board says that, at a nuclear station where there has been endless delay, the capital costs will not be more expensive. On the other hand, it says that at Cottam there will be added costs at a coal-fired station where there have been no apparent difficulties. This is a serious allegation but I make it deliberately because it is precisely the kind of suspicion which led the Select Committee on Science and Technology, as long ago as October, 1967, to recommend an inquiry.
My right hon. Friend, who has, to the miners, shown great faith and loyalty, owes it to them to have such an inquiry. He has spoken often with respect and due regard for the coal industry's productivity record, which only this week has gone up by another cwt. per man-shift. I understand that the C.E.G.B. has asked the Minister to approve two new nuclear power stations, one at Heysham and the other at Sizewell in Suffolk. The Minister should refuse on two grounds: first, that we have not yet got an A.G.R. station in commercial operation and there will not be one in operation for at least two years; secondly, that there are now cheaper ways of providing the new generating capacity required.
For some time, the C.E.G.B. has had Ministerial approval to build second coal-fired power stations in my constituency at West Burton and at Drax in Yorkshire. As recently as 4th February, the Parliamentary Secretary told my hon. Friend the Member for Ince that the capital cost of the whole Drax station was estimated to be £52 per kilowatt. I understand that since then, in Lord Roben's speech on Tuesday, the N.C.B. has submitted a bid for this second coal-fired power station of £50 per kilowatt and has claimed that it could get the price per unit down to ·5d. The Parliamentary Secretary said that the cost was less because the second half would share certain facilities with the station already there. He said that he had no estimate for a second station as West Burton, but he repeated his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain) that the cost would be about £55 per kilowatt.
Both estimates are well below the cost of the nuclear station which the Parliamentary Secretary announced last September and the station at Seaton Carew, where, he said, the capital cost would be £125 million, which works out at about £100 per kilowatt, which is twice as expensive as the second coal-fired power stations at Drax and West Burton. I should like some of that capital cost to be used on other essential projects which we sadly need.
On magnox stations alone in the last 13 years we have spent £1,000 million, which is more than the capital we have spent on the entire National Health Service. It has taken 13 years to complete these stations, and they have cost £500 million more than would have been the case with coal-fired capacity. Two of the ten magnox stations were exported, but that was 10 years ago and since then new technological developments have been making them obsolete.
I draw the Minister's attention to what has recently been happening in America, where the first flush of enthusiasm for nuclear-fired power stations is waning. In 1966, new orders for power stations in America were 60 per cent. nuclear but, because of the delays in the nuclear station at Oyster Creek and in other areas, the Americans are now falling more than a year behind schedule and orders have fallen off. Let us not forget that the American industry is not nationalised and that commercial projects in America have to bear the costs. Only 31 per cent. of the new stations ordered in 1968 were nuclear, and this year the proportion may be even smaller.
I should like to quote from the Financial Times of 31st January, this year. An article headed
A-Power plant switches back to fossil fuels".
said that after 18 months an experimental nuclear power station at Sioux Falls, South Dakota, has been closed down and is to be reconverted into a coal-fired station at a loss of nearly 10 million dollars. The Magnox programme even now is not complete. The last station is being built at Wylfa in Anglesey, and there have been great difficulties in putting it through.
The decision for which I now ask the Minister is crucial to the future of the coal industry. I beg him to tell the C.E.G.B. that its next power station will be coal-fired and will be at Drax or West Burton. He will save about £50 million in capital cost if he does. What is needed in the coal industry is confidence, and the Minister can supply that confidence by asking for an independent inquiry into the costs of nuclear-fired and coal-fired power stations. I am aware of his past speeches on this subject, which show that he thought that such an inquiry would destroy the morale of the coal industry. But the N.C.B. has nothing to fear from such an investigation. On Tuesday, Lord Robens made it perfectly clear that he would welcome such an inquiry. All that hon. Members have been asking for today is a chance for coal to compete with nuclear energy on an equal footing. I hope that the Ministar will make an announcement which will at least give that chance in the near future.
I have only a few comments to add to what has already been said in this exceptionally valuable debate. Everyone will agree that my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Fred Evans) has done a public service to all of us by tabling the Motion and initiating the debate.
I cannot speak as an advocate for the coal industry, because I do not feel competent to do so. I can speak only as a reporter, and I wish to introduce a brief report of some of the wider social consequences of pit closures.
My entire Parliamentary life has been punctuated by one pit closure after another in my constituency. These closures have hit my constituents on the head like gigantic stones falling from great heights, and it may be that the next time I have the misfortune—and it is a misfortune—to speak in the House on a subject of this kind it will be to read the funeral oration of the mining industry in the Ilkeston constituency.
It was once a predominantly mining area. It was a mining area when I began to represent it. It now has only one colliery in operation. As I do not intend to act as an advocate for the coal industry, I shall ask my right hon. Friend one simple question. It concerns the future of the Ormonde Colliery, one of the most modern collieries in Europe. It is semi-automated, and it is both an exciting and a rather eerie experience to see coal being extracted from this colliery. But doubts and fears are spreading through my constituency, and I should like my right hon. Friend in the course of his speech, or to the National Coal Board, to set those fears at rest.
What we have been talking about is not so much a policy malignantly conceived and malevolently executed by either the Coal Board or the Ministry of Power; we are talking about the tragic but inevitable run-down of an industry in accordance with the laws of geology and economics.
When one uses the term "laws" and refers to natural laws, one has continually to remind oneself that in areas other than politics we make progress not by meekly obeying those laws but by actively defying them. We fly in aircraft only because we have devised an efficient means of defying the law of gravity by the laws of aerodynamics.
This is not the appropriate time to ask for the entire Cabinet to be present, but these matters concern the entire Government, not only one Ministry. I should like to ask the entire Cabinet when facing this kind of problem, which is much wider than merely mining—other industries will face the problem of contraction in the years ahead—to do so in the full knowledge of the reverberating social consequences of the contraction of every kind of industry.
The immediate effect of this series of pit closures in my constituency has been on morale and productive efficiency in enterprises other than coal mining. I have a certain amount of documentary evidence for this. In view of the fact that the clock goes rolling around I shall not present all of it, but some of it is interesting. I want to refer to two letters that I recently received from firms with magnificent export records. They are both in the textile trade, and both are successfully penetrating European markets.
The first says:
We have two garment factories in the area which are likely to be progressively and very seriously affected by families moving away from the district.
The letter goes on to point out that the firm has 20 machines standing idle in spite of continued advertising and in spite of the attractive wages it pays. This reinforces my point that when mines close down families move away and successful expanding industries employing female labour in the area find that that labour is no longer available. This has an immediate impact on the activities of these industries, and a reverberating and widening impact on industrial morale throughout the affected area.
I am not a public relations officer, and I shall not mention the names of the firms, but the second letter to which I wish to refer comes from a firm which has scored remarkable records in its dominating position in exports to the Canadian market. It decided to go into Europe, and it is penetrating Europe almost as successfully, commercially, as British and American forces penetrated Europe after D-day, 1944. The managing director says:
We laid down a programme of development some time ago, but now feel that we cannot go ahead with this. Most of our female employees are either daughters or wives of miners and as you will appreciate, we are not only concerned about the immediate position but also the effect that these closures will have on our firm in the future.
I am very proud of this firm. In various speeches that I have made in this House I have tried to act as a public relations man for my constituency and its local authorities, and I have openly and frankly said that the great thing we can offer is not only good sites but labour and expanding profits. We have encouraged firms to come into the area, and the firm whose letter I have just quoted, like many others who have come in, has a magnificent record in retraining mining labour The firm goes on to point out:
… we have taken coal face miners and retrained them on operations where nimbleness of fingers is essential.
I have seen those operations being carried out. Former comrades, who only six months ago were at the coal-face, are now operating some of the most modern machinery that I have seen. Only a few months ago one of the most modern dye works in Europe, using the most advanced machinery, was opened in my constituency. It is now being operated largely by former miners.
There has been progress in my area in bringing in new industry and also in encouraging local firms to expand. But confidence in those firms—in whose hands lies the industrial future of my constituency—is now beginning to weaken. The situation has been seriously affected by another type of closure which I raised in an Adjournment debate on 24th February. These are the social consequences of pit closures.
I have another letter from the Derbyshire Education Committee. I shall not quote figures to buttress the letter, but the youth employment officer of that education committee says that he will find it almost impossible to find the right type of employment for the young people who will be moving into the labour market after Easter. I emphasise that this is the effect of a series of pit closures. It has an intangible effect on morale in industry—which is what we call confidence when we view it from outside. Every industry in the area is affected, and the area affected tends always to widen.
I do not have a handy solution in my pocket. Even moving new industry into an affected area is not always an adequate answer, because the new science-based industries do not employ many workers. The Alfreton Urban District Council—the authority for one of the areas in my constituency—managed to get the Milk Marketing Board to agree to establish a £2 million plant in the town. We were delighted about this. During its construction it will absorb a lot of labour, but the moment it starts to operate it will employ precisely 40 people. That is the pattern of the future. I do not imagine anyone in the House can provide quick and easy solutions for this problem.
There is one fact that I want to emphasise. Today it is mining and mining communities; tomorrow it will be other industries and other communities.
We are facing a period in industrial development of such rapid technological change that every single worker will change his job at least three times in the course of his working life. In that new situation we have to devise new sociological approaches for dealing with the problems flowing from technological change. My right hon. Friend will know that I am not asking him to provide a solution to this problem in his speech today. I have merely tried to document, from my own experience, and from the transmitted experiences of others the wider effects of these closures, the effects on morale in other industries, the way in which something like yellow fever can spread through an industrial community if the major industrial component of that community disappears.
When we allow communities to erode, to wither away, that erosion and withering away has an important effect on the industrial life of every industry in the affected area. It shows in statistics, it is beginning to show, as I hope I have demonstrated, in the export records of the magnificent firms in my constituency. These are only marginal comments, but I hope that they will be borne in mind by Departments other than the Ministry of Power, because I make the optimistic assumption that our Government Departments are not hermetically sealed one from the other, and that what I say to my right hon. Friend this afternoon will be transmitted to his colleagues, at the very latest by Monday morning.
The Times, in a leading article recently, commenting upon Lord Robens' speech, to which a number of references have already been made, referred to Britain's fuel policy and the discussion surrounding it as one of the longest-running debates in politics. I do not suppose for a moment that today's interlude will in any way bring this tremendous discussion to an end—rather it will have been carried one stage further, and I have no doubt that we shall all be hearing more about it before very long.
I am glad that I have had the opportunity to take part in this debate. Confronted as I am by so much expertise, knowledge and personal understanding of the coal industry, I am made all the more aware of my own inadequacy to do justice to the debate. In the process of trying to get to know more about the industry than I did before I was asked to take over my present responsibilities in opposition, I was fortunate in being able to visit the constituency of the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Fred Evans).
I would like to join with others who have congratulated the hon. Member on his success in the Ballot and on the good use he has made of it. This has been an interesting and worth while debate. When I was in Caerphilly I was able to go to Nantgarw, where I met the men working at the coalface. I will not weary the House with my impressions of that visit, but something has stayed with me and I found it echoed in the words of Mr. Jim Bullock. I do not know whether any hon. Member had the opportunity to hear him on Radio 4. His talk was conveniently reprinted in The Listener on 13th February.
Mr. Bullock is the retired National President of the British Association of Colliery Management and his talk was a fascinating summary of his lifetime experience of conditions in the mines and of his reactions to the processes of change, to which the hon. Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Raymond Fletcher) has referred. This process of change has been experienced by miners throughout the life of the coal mining industry.
In an amusing reference to earlier bosses of the coal industry, Mr. Bullock referred to the fact that one of the disillusionments was
Once the mines belonged to the nation and to the miners, I felt that everybody would work harder. The results were very disappointing. The Coal Board in their wisdom brought in these generals and admirals that didn't know a damn thing about the management of pitmen and pits. They talked about esprit de corps and all sorts of damn Latin and French terms that we couldn't understand.
I am, of course, quoting Mr. Bullock.
I do not know about esprit de corps, but I am aware of a very strong bond which links men who work in the same pit. When we realise that they share the same conditions and the same dangers, we recognise that there must be a special relationship between them and that it is hard when it is broken up.
I can understand anyone's feelings when a pit is closed to which he has devoted his life's work, but even more must be the distress when the closing of a pit means a great deal to the community in which it is situated. The spirit which has grown up in the pit must have affected the community, too, and when the pit is closed it is much more than a matter of changing jobs; it involves a change in the direction and course of these people's lives. Some of this feeling has been expressed in the debate today.
I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) drew attention to the loyalty which men have to the pits in which they have been working and to the way in which they have carried out their duties. It must be soul-destroying to be moved from one pit to another and then to find that one is moved on to a third and yet a fourth pit. At Nantgarw I met one or two who had been through that experience—one who had moved seven times. I felt that he must be punch drunk and could take no more.
I do not know how far ahead one can foresee the development in any pit. I recognise the need of the Coal Board to hold skilled manpower, particularly those who work at the face, to ensure that there is the necessary level of employment to man the industry in the future, but I should like the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether there is some way in which we can avoid a policy which involves men moving too frequently from one pit to another. If we did that, it would be a very good thing.
The situation was well expressed in a report which I read recently of comments by Councillor James Haig, president of the Bedlington Labour Party. I do not know Mr. Haig, but I read that he said:
Pits have closed all around us and some miners who have already transferred three times to other pits have this week-end found themselves redundant.
The question of transfer must be carefully handled. I recognise that it is a difficult problem and I pay tribute to the immense work and great care which the Coal Board have put into it. There is no doubt that the assistance which is being given to ease this blow in human terms—in so far as money is able
to achieve it—is being wisely spent and humanely administered.
Can the right hon. Gentleman comment on the scheme for older men—for those over 55? I understand that it was intended that they should have a weekly benefit, in the words of the Coal Board's report:
…designed to make up their unemployment benefit to approximately 90 per cent. of their previous net earnings".
I have information—I wonder whether other hon. Members have facts to confirm this—which indicates that their benefit has not been made up to that extent. We should ensure that the intention of Parliament is being properly carried out and that the over-55s are getting what we intended they should get.
I will deal only briefly with the question of retraining, because I wish to give the Minister ample time in which to reply to the debate. Retraining is tremendously important, not just in connection with the mining industry but over the whole of our national industrial scene. I understand that there is now a capacity at Government training centres for about 23,000 men. I also understand that the number of miners who have gone through or are going through these centres is only a very small fraction—only hundreds—of the total number. There is probably a good reason for this, and perhaps the figures do not indicate the amount of retraining that is being done.
I regard in-job retraining as the best form of retraining. Perhaps those concerned are to be congratulated in view of the small number of miners who have had to go through the Government retraining machinery. Perhaps many miners who have become redundant over the years have been absorbed in other employment without the need to go through this machinery. Will the Minister comment on this?
I assure the hon. Member for Caerphilly that he need not fear the policies of the Conservative Party towards regional development. I recognise that large sums of money have been spent by the Labour Administration in the development areas. I understand that the Prime Minister drew attention to this at his meeting the other day with hon. Members who represent mining constituencies. I concede that a greater amount has been spent compared with, say, the last year of the previous Conservative Government.
It must be remembered, however, that the definition of a development area has changed. Although a larger sum of money has been spent, it has been spent over a larger area. Thus, the amount of assistance that this money is giving may not be so significantly greater. The real test is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) emphasised, how many new jobs have been provided. We have encountered difficulty in getting this figure from the Government, who seem to be somewhat shy about giving it.
The test of regional policy is not so much the greatness of the sum that is spent in any direction, but how many new jobs are provided. During the five years to March, 1965, we offered assistance to schemes in the development areas involving nearly 200,000 new jobs, at considerably less cost to the nation than appears to be the case at present.
It must also be remembered that many of the collieries which have been closed and which are closing are not in development areas. Can the Minister say what special forms of assistance, comparable to the special area assistance, are being made available to areas which are not in development areas but in which pits are closing?
In his moving speech, the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. Woof) gave a vivid account of what is being done in his constituency to improve the environment and general atmosphere. This is a tremendously important factor. In all our thinking on development areas and regional policy what matters tremendously, in addition to providing new jobs, is to ensure that we have effective, good, modern means of communication; that the infrastructure is up to date, and that the general environment—by which I mean the conditions of life—are as good as we can make it. This must be a continuing process. It cannot be done overnight. It requires a great deal of special assistance for those areas where the needs are greatest. I can assure the hon. Member for Caerphilly that that will be Conservative policy when we come to power.
The other major point in this debate has concerned the rate of run-down. I find it hard to judge what is right. I am quite prepared to accept what has been Government policy in this respect, and what the chairman of the Coal Board has said about 10 per cent. of the total manpower in the industry at the beginning of the year. That is how it has been going. I know that in one year the rate was increased, but we all know the circumstances in which that occurred. There was a reason for holding up 16 pit closures from the end of one year to the beginning of the next.
Would the right hon. Gentleman say whether he has looked at the Brookings recommendation that the Government should have costed the run-down more in terms of its effects on local employment and less in terms of limiting mining to those pits whose production costs were lowest. That would be a useful exercise, and one that might well lead to a greater concentration of regional policy and effort in those areas where they are most needed.
The aim of us all is to help the coal mining industry to be as competitive as it can as soon as it can. This must mean that we have to take account of the effect of the rate of closure on the longer term future of the industry, but it must also follow that the longer we delay the closing of uneconomic pits the more difficult will it be for the industry itself to become economic and competitive. It is a matter of balanced judgment, and it is extremely difficult to weigh up. If we go too quickly we have a harmful effect on total employment in the industry but, if we go too slowly, we put off still further the time when the industry can meet its competitors face to face, and free from any form of special assistance.
The present programme is designed to cover the period to 1970–71, and includes the special 6 million ton coal burn by the C.E.G.B. Can the right hon. Gentleman give us any information about the future in this respect? Is he now thinking of having to extend this period beyond 1970–71? I have had some indication that this may be the case. If he can tell us how he sees the future pattern of special support measures for coal beyond 1970–71, it will help us to make a proper judgment.
The future of the industry clearly depends on the two main factors of degree of productivity and new technology. As all hon. Members have said—and it is a matter for congratulation of both management and men—productivity figures have been quite astonishing. Quite remarkable figures have been produced, and there is no doubt that this is having a considerable effect on keeping the price of coal competitive. We must hope that this recent trend can continue. That certainly is the ambition of all in the industry.
As to new technology, I was able to visit Stoke Orchard and the right hon. Gentleman has visited Leatherhead, so between us we have had a look at the fluidized bed combustion. It is a fascinating system. The Coal Board, probably rightly, is excited about its prospects for the future. I wonder to what extent the right hon. Gentleman has been able to study the figures presented to him and the knowledge so far achieved. Lord Robens said that he will be able to achieve generating costs lower than those for conventional pulverised fuel stations and lower even than for nuclear fuel stations. If so, we must go for this as hard as we can.
I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson). We have had some experience of large investment backing for particular aspects of new development in the coal industry, and regrettably some of them have come to naught. We have to be backing the right horse. The plant I have seen, with my limited technical knowledge, certainly justifies the excitement which members of the Coal Board displayed about it.
Then there is also the question of the domestic market. I saw a number of domestic appliances. The key here must be the cost of the product on the market. Otherwise, there will be tremendous resistance as there has been to some of the smokeless fuels, which cost a great deal. Perhaps it is just as well (hat they do and that we had a milder winter than we might have had, because I am told that even so the supply position was very close to the mark. We want to be sure that in this important market for coal—a new and developing market where smokeless fuel will become of increasing consequence—the industry is in a position to meet that growing demand.
The position of coal in future will finally depend on its ability to meet competition. We have to recognise that its competitors will not stand still. In the past we heard a great deal about competition from oil, but we hear less of that today. The Green Paper, "Economic Assessment for 1972", indicated that use of oil is expected to be rather higher and that more oil will be needed, particularly for transport. The position of oil has certainly been growing at the expense of coal. This is nothing new. The trend away from coal towards oil has been with us for a very long time. Understandably, the hon. Member for Caerphilly laid stress on the importance of oil in the balance of payments position. We must all have constant regard to this. Although the gross cost is high, it is reduced by many factors such, for example, as the export of products and savings in earnings by the British tanker fleet, and the influx of capital for refineries. The refinery capacity by 1970 may be as high as 115 million tons. That forms a base for the increasingly important petro-chemical industry.
From oil now the main emphasis of the defenders of coal has turned against nuclear power. The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) devoted his speech to this aspect. With all hon. Members I should like to hear a further explanation of the particular form of words which the right hon. Gentleman used on this subject in his speech at Barnsley last December. He should make clear why he thinks that a further investigation such as that called for by the Select Committee is not now justified. Perhaps it is because he is satisfied that the costings are reasonably correct, and this seems to indicate the general trend in which we are bound to be travelling.
In a Written Answer to the hon. Member for Bassetlaw the right hon. Gentleman gave up-to-date figures for the base load generating cost of a number of stations, comparing nuclear with coal. On those figures, I, like the hon. Gentleman, would ask the Minister to give some further explanation as to why the nuclear stations' cost increase over 1967 are 7·7 per cent. for Dungeness B and 8·3 per cent. for Hinckley Point B, while the increases for Cottam and for Drax, the coal-fired stations, are 13·2 per cent., and 9·2 per cent.
I will not go over the ground that the hon. Member for Bassetlaw covered, although this is very important, as it seems to be the main point of attack of Lord Robens and all those others who are championing, in particular, the cause of coal. I have no doubt that we must press on with the nuclear programme. This is a continuing technology. We cannot go back now. We are bound to try to see our way forward to the successful development of the fast breeder reactor. All other advanced countries are doing this, Russia included. They are spending large sums of money on this.
In the same speech Lord Robens very fairly tried to hold the balance here when he referred to nuclear power as
a developing technology—it could be the dawn of something big. And eventually, if the fast breeder reactor is successful, it is going to produce cheap electricity… Nuclear power has a clearly staked research road beyond A.G.R. and so it is the sort of development you or I would put our money on.
That is the direction in which we are bound to be moving.
We should remind ourselves, as I have frequently during the debate and throughout my preparation for it, that the target of fuel policy is the provision of energy at the lowest cost. This is the aim of the Government, of the Opposition, and, I am sure, of every hon. Gentleman.
I should be happy to do so, but I know that the Minister will reply to the point. Even at 4,000 million cubic feet a day ultimate use of natural gas, it will represent only 15 per cent. of the total energy market. If natural gas can come into the picture, so much the better. It has begun to do so. We have moved away from a two-fuel economy to a four-fuel economy.
Our aim must still be the same—the provision of energy at the lowest possible cost. This is the national aim. Coal is one of the four sources of this energy. To keep its dominant position, as my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest reminded us, it must be able to meet the demand. It must also be able to stimulate the demand.
The hon. Member for Ilkeston, very fairly, I thought, drew attention again to the question of market forces which have brought us to the position we have been considering today. This has led to this recent period of transition in the history of the coal industry. It is perhaps the most difficult one which it has been through. I hope that it will be the last period of transition that it has to experience. I cannot offer it any solutions at the moment, I am not in a position to do so.
However, from the Opposition Front Bench I can say, and I have the authority to say, that we will do all we can to help this industry to get through this difficult period of transition and to reach its economic level at the earliest possible moment.
May I first of all congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Fred Evans) on providing us with the opportunity for today's wide-ranging debate. Energy policy and the rôle in our society of coal and the coal miner are very important matters not only in themselves but also because of the stronge emotional ties which so many of us on this side of the House have with the coal industry. A debate, therefore, which enables the House to review the development of this policy is to be welcomed.
I have sat here throughout nearly the whole of this debate—I think I have missed only one speech—but I do not think it will be possible for me to cover every point that has been raised. There have been very many, and some of them detailed.
I think it will be helpful if I begin by directing my remarks to two general points—I might almost say that they are misconceptions—which underlie much public debate on energy policy. The first relates to the 1967 White Paper on Fuel Policy. I doubt whether any document has been more maligned, unread and in many instances misinterpreted since "Das Kapital". I listened to the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) who said that morale was low in the one pit remaining in his area because of the targets that had been set in the 1967 White Paper on Fuel Policy. There were no such things as targets. They were all estimates of demand.
Let me for the record remind the House of what the White Paper did not do. It did not sound the death knell of the coal industry; it did not order the industry to contract; it did not set constraints upon the ability of the coal industry and the coal miner to serve the nation. In short, it did not sell the coal industry and our friends in that industry down the river. Indeed, the very opposite is the case.
The White Paper tried to look realistically at what was, in fact, happening in the energy sector of our economy. It noted as a matter of fact that we are in a state of transition, a transition from an economy largely fuelled by coal and oil to one fuelled by coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear energy. It noted that an inevitable part of this transition was that there would be a decline in both the reletive and the absolute importance of coal to our economy. It recognised that the transition when completed would be of great value to the nation, and it expressed the Government's determination that the coal industry should be so protected and encouraged during the transition that at the end of the day it would still hold as important a place in our affairs as human ingenuity, hard work and the judicious expenditure of Government money could devise.
In other words, the White Paper expressed the Government's determination that the inevitable contraction of the coal industry should be managed in such a way as to minimise the human and social consequences of contraction and give the coal industry every hope that it would have a viable and important rôle to play in our national future.
As the House knows, progress so far in productivity and in technical innovation has been of a high order, and, as we all know, there was a 10 per cent. rise in productivity last year alone. This reflects great credit on the men and the management. Provided that the industry can continue to do well in the future, there is no inherent reason why it should not confound the pessimists. No one would be more delighted than I as Minister of Power, and particularly the Government.
My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly and, indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) talked about lack of confidence, morale being low in the industry and so on. I I would advise both of them and the others who spoke in that way not to wish it on the industry. This year, as the industry well knows, it has had a turn for the better. It has improved productivity. Output per man shift is soaring at the moment, and if this can be maintained the turn has really been made.
The second point I want to make is that there are those—not all of them outside this House—who do not understand the sheer scale of the effort which the Government have made to support coal. Let me remind the House of a few of the measures that we have taken. First—and this is absolutely crucial to the future of the industry—the Government have continued during these past difficult years to make available the capital that the industry needs to sustain and develop its modernisation as the basis for its future prosperity.
Here is an example of the scale of this help. The National Coal Board has been investing since 1964 at an average rate of over £80 million a year, and borrowings from the Exchequer for investment and working capital during the same period amounted to about £40 million a year. I am sure that my hon. Friends will not lightly dismiss or undervalue the importance of that.
In addition, we have not permitted coal to be imported. We have maintained a virtual ban on the conversion of power stations burning coal to other fuels. We have set aside up to £45 million to subsidise the additional use of coal by power stations and gas works in the period up to March, 1971. We have made massive sums of money available—over £80 million—to assist the Coal Board during the same period to meet the social costs of colliery closures, including the generous additional payments made to redundant miners over 55 years of age. We have written off over £400 million of the National Coal Board's debt to the nation. This latter item is often overlooked. The writing off of debt does not mean that it disappears. The Exchequer is still paying interest on that debt.
Finally, we have through development area policy, and particularly through the special development areas, providing exceptional incentives to industry to come to the areas most hit by colliery closures and provide new employment in all these districts.
All this has been done in a situation in which coal's main competitor, fuel oil, pays a tax equal to about 50s. on each ton of such oil burned. It is the lot of politicians to be attacked for this or that gap in their policies, but no one can accuse this Government of a failure of will or effort in support of the coal miners or the coal industry.
I turn now to some of the specific points which have been made in the debate. The hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) asked what was happening about post-1971 aid, and suggested that he already thought that it had been considered. In fact, it has not. We are aware that, in this transitional phase, aid ceases in March, 1971, but no detailed consideration has yet been given to the extent to which aid should continue after that.
I come now to the rate of rundown in colliery manpower and the related subject of pit closures. The House will recall that in the White Paper the Government recorded, and accepted, the advice of the National Coal Board that a rundown of about 35,000 men a year would be manageable for the industry and should not create a national problem.
Several hon. Members have drawn attention to the fact that the actual rate of rundown last year was substantially above 35,000, and fears were expressed that the rate of rundown was damaging the morale in the mining industry. I shared these fears and made it my business, on coming to the Ministry, to discuss the situation fully with the chairman of the National Coal Board. My Department and I keep in the closest touch with the Board at all levels.
Since then, I have reviewed the situation regularly with the Coal Board, and I find much which is reassuring. One of the main reasons why numbers fell net by 57,000 in 1968 was that the Coal Board deliberately restrained adult recruitment throughout the earlier months of the year. Here are the facts. In 1968, 71,000 men left the coal industry, of whom 14,000 were normal retirements and so on, 29,000 went of their own accord, and 28,000 were dismissed or made redundant In sum, total losses went up by 15,000 over 1967, redundancies by about the same figure, and the other factors remained roughly constant. I should add that the number of redundancies in 1968 was increased by the measures which the Government took in the winter of 1967–68 to defer, in the interests of the men concerned, the closure of 16 collieries which affected about 9,000 men.
Turning to the other side of the manpower account, we see that, whereas 24,000 men and juveniles were recruited to the industry in 1967, the number so recruited in 1968 was only 14,000. This decline reflected the deliberate policy of the National Coal Board, which, among other reasons, wanted to provide room for the transfer between pits of miners affected by closure.
In other words, the main reasons why the net rundown of colliery manpower rose from 1967 to 1968 were, first, that the Board deliberately restricted recruitment and, second, that the Government as a deliberate act of social policy arranged, and paid for, certain colliery closures to be deferred from 1967 to 1968. Moreover, from the autumn, when the worst of the year's closure programme was over, recruitment was substantially resumed, and the net rate of rundown since then has been sharply reduced. When the final figures are in, it is likely that the net rundown in manpower in the past winter will prove to have been very near the White Paper rate of 35,000 a year.
Hon. Members will also know that the current view of the National Coal Board—and I have no reason to dissent from this—is that the rate of manpower rundown in the coming year will be somewhere around the White Paper rate. In other words, changes in colliery manpower are now, and are likely to remain, broadly in line with the White Paper forecasts. Needless to say, I shall personally continue to watch the position very closely.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I intervene to try to be helpful. An industry's ability to recruit reflects very much whether people have confidence in its lifetime. Would the Minister like to comment on whether the National Coal Board feels that it can get the necessary recruits for the years ahead to meet its commitments?
The latest figures that I have in mind are that in the last 10 weeks of 1968 we recruited 1,100 more men than in the last 10 weeks of 1967. Once the Board changed its recruitment policy it managed to recruit far more adults and far more juveniles. We are terribly short of manpower in the mining industry, but in many instances filling the gaps necessitates transfers, and people are reluctant to move.
Despite the alarm caused by the high rate of rundown last summer, I do not know of any objective evidence that morale in the industry was damaged. Certainly, the rate at which miners voluntarily left the industry did not increase; absenteeism declined; the number of disputes fell; and productivity rose sharply. But morale is not easily measurable, and I know from my own meetings with miners that it appeared that fresh reassurances and hopes were required.
The hon. Member for Bournemouth, West talked about the questions of transfers. It is difficult to look too many years ahead, because one can never estimate what mines will close because of geological faults and so on. A mine can quickly become uneconomic and may close ahead of the time planned. On the other hand, as in the case of a pit I visited in Scotland—Wittering—a pit may be in the doldrums and uneconomic, but the miners there may make a special effort as a result of which it may live on for a year or two. Therefore, it is difficult to look too many years ahead.
There is a lack of confidence in the industry for the simple reason that when a pit closes and men are asked to go to another colliery, many readily go but are not there for more than four or five months before they are again rendered redundant. That is the problem. Can my right hon. Friend give an assurance that when a man goes to another pit and is told, "You will have employment there", he will continue to have employment in that pit?
I cannot give that sort of assurance. This is a matter for the Coal Board, which manages the industry. It may be that when a man is transferred from one pit to another, the Board genuinely thinks that he has a good future there, but there may be reasons, such as I have suggested, which cause the mine quickly to become uneconomic. Therefore, he may move from one pit to another and then quite quickly have to leave again.
The hon. Member for Bournemouth, West also talked about the over-55's scheme. I could not go into the details that he mentioned; he will probably have to furnish me with more evidence. But I can say that 20,000 miners are enjoying the benefits of the scheme, and it is likely that up to 36,000 will benefit from it.
A number of hon. Members spoke of the need for alternative work. As with support for coal, I sometimes wonder whether there is an adequate appreciation of what the Government have done. The Government are now spending almost £300 million on assistance to the development areas as against less than £20 million five years ago. Jobs in prospect in the coalfields of the Scottish development area total over 32,000, of which substantially more than half will be for men. Jobs in prospect in the coalfields of the Welsh Department area total nearly 22,000, of which two-thirds will be for men. Jobs in prospect for the coalfields in the Northern Region of England total nearly 34,000, of which, again, over two-thirds are for men.
These are jobs expected in new industrial buildings already authorised and in existing buildings taken over by manufacturing firms. The Board of Trade also informs me that since January, 1966, 89 advance factories with a total floor space exceeding 2 million square feet have been authorised in these same coalfields. These are substantial figures within the development areas. Then, of course, we have the special development areas associated with districts particularly affected by colliery closures and with poor prospects for attracting industry. In these areas, even more substantial incentives are provided for new industry than in the development areas as a whole.
Of course, the special development areas were only announced in 1967, and it is early days yet. Nevertheless, there is evidence that the incentives provided there have proved most effective. Of 59 advance factories authorised in those areas, 36 have been allocated, and when they are fully operational 3,400 more jobs will be available there. The prospects of letting the remaining factories are good. In principle, we are prepared to replace advance factories in the special development areas as those already built are disposed of.
In South Wales, for example, apart from the provision of advance factories in the valleys, the Board of Trade is acquiring land for a further large industrial estate near Bridgend which, when fully developed, will make a very substantial contribution to the provision of employment in the area. Broadly similar measures are being taken to alleviate unemployment arising from colliery closures in Durham, Northumberland, Cumberland and Central Scotland.
The efforts of the Board of Trade to acquire industrial sites and to build factories are complemented by similar activities on the part of local authorities, and I should like to pay tribute to the work which many local authorities perform to attract new industry to areas affected by colliery closures and to provide firms with the sites and amenities which they need.
The area with which I am particularly concerned—East Kent—is neither a special development area nor in a development area. If there is any question of colliery closure, there really is no alternative employment there, as I explained earlier. Will the right hon. Gentleman bear this in mind and discuss it with his colleagues?
I will certainly bear it in mind, but in this regard the Hunt Committee Report is with the Government and is to be published shortly. In the circumstances, I cannot make a pronouncement, but it is clear that regional policy in the widest sense will form a major topic of debate during the rest of this Session.
The question of generating costs and of coal versus nuclear came up in the debate. Not only was it referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly but in particular by my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton). I will deal first with Dungeness B. Yes—it is being delivered late. This has nothing to do with its being a nuclear station, however. The cause is a conventional design fault and involves conventional engineering. It could have happened at any other station. In considering the case of a nuclear-powered station being built and which, because of delay, is to be more costly, we must consider the classic example of Fiddler's Ferry, which is a coal-fired station, and is being delivered very late indeed.
I am not saying it as such. I am pointing out to my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw that he cannot legitimately use the argument that figures for nuclear generation are wrong because a nuclear station is being built late when there are many instances of coal-fired stations being built late as well. My hon. Friends will, of course, know of the Government's reply to the Select Committee on Science and Technology on this matter. I draw on the expertise and experience of the Central Electricity Generating Board, the Atomic Energy Authority and the National Coal Board, as well as on that of Government Departments including my own and the Ministry of Technology, and by doing so I have advice which is as sound and as informed as one is likely to find anywhere.
However, in case any of my hon. Friends still have doubts, may I make two further comments? First, I know of no reputable evidence from any quarter which seriously challenges the broad conclusions about the relative costs of coal and nuclear electricity generation which the Government have reached. Indeed, such overseas experience of which we have knowledge bears out our own conclusions.
The suggestion that the advantages of nuclear power over coal-fired generation are marginal, or even trivial, should be completely discounted. Our Hartlepools studies showed an advantage of nuclear power to electricity consumers of £3,750,000 per year. Even after taking a wider view of the effects on the economy and the coal industry, thinking of how much it could affect British Railways because of the loss of freight and the extent there might be miners unemployed from 1974 or 1975 onwards when the stations come on stream, nuclear power is still £1,500,000 to £2 million a year cheaper than coal.
It has been said that the Magnox programme was a failure and that even the latest stations will have costs higher than the cheapest coal-fired stations. It is true that the early stations proved expensive, but the later stations are fully competitive with contemporary coal-fired stations similarly situated away from the coal fields.
There has been a demand for an inquiry into coal versus nuclear. I must tell the House, particularly my hon. Friends, that outside my Ministry there is no equivalent expertise to that which we get from the Atomic Energy Authority, the Ministry of Technology and so on. I beg my hon. Friends who keep charging this forward—and it does their case no good—carefully to read the Select Committee's Report. They will see that six or seven times the Report makes the point that nuclear power is cheaper now, and will be cheaper still in the 1970s.
Because of the pressure and the dominant personality of the Chairman of the Coal Board, who appeared before the Committee, in the end the Committee said that it would not mind having an inquiry into coal versus nuclear. But I ask my hon. Friends to ask members of the Select Committee one by one whether they are friends of coal or friends of nuclear power, and whether they want that exercise to be undertaken, because in the end it might prove to kill coal. I should hate to go down that road when an examination of that kind would start to shatter the morale of the mining industry and my friends in it.
I worked underground for 14 years, and I have represented a mining constituency for 16 years, and I make sure that the coal industry is listened to more forcefully and more sympathetically than hitherto. That is understandable. Last year there was a flow out of the mining industry of 57,000 men, while 70 mines closed. It was a difficult year; I think that it was a uniquely difficult year. I think that the worst is over and that this year we should be encouraging the miners.
The miners are doing extremely well. Output per man shift is rapidly on the increase, and if the miners can manage to get 75 cwt. per man shift by 1975 and at the same time make sure that costs do not increase, they may well come back into the reckoning once more and be able to challenge nuclear power in areas where there are modern coal fields, as in the Midlands and Yorkshire, to provide cheap coal and where the stations are nearby.
That is the sort of message we want to give the miners to give them heart and to raise morale and to go on to increase output per man shift each year. I hope that with assurances of that sort my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly will agree to withdraw his Motion.