It might be for the convenience of the House if I said a word about how the business should be handled. First, we have the formal Motion to be moved by the Home Secretary. Then there is the second, wider Motion which is debatable only until ten o'clock. Then there is the third Motion, dealing with the regulations, which is debatable for one and a half hours after the previous Motion.
Message again read:
The Emergency Powers Act, 1920, as amended by the Emergency Powers Act, 1964, having enacted that if it appears to Her Majesty that there have occurred or are about to occur events of such a nature as to be calculated, by interfering with the supply and distribution of food, water, fuel or light, or with the means of locomotion, to deprive the community, or any substantial portion of the community, of the essentials of life, Her Majesty may, by Proclamation, declare that a state of emergency exists:
We Counsellors of State, to whom have been delegated certain Royal functions as specified in Letters Patent dated the 4th day of February, 1972, being of opinion that the present industrial dispute affecting persons employed in the coal mines and the production and distribution of fuel constitutes a state of emergency within the meaning of the said Act of 1920 as so amended, have in pursuance thereof made on Her Majesty's behalf a Proclamation dated the 9th day of February, 1972, declaring that a state of emergency exists.
I beg to move,
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty thanking Her Majesty for the Most Gracious Message sent on Her behalf and communicating to this House that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and Her Royal Highness the Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, to whom had been delegated certain Royal Functions as specified in Letters Patent dated the 4th day of February, 1972, had deemed it proper by Proclamation, made on Her Majesty's behalf and in pursuance of the Emergency Powers Act, 1920, as amended by the Emergency Powers Act, 1964, and dated 9th February, 1972, to declare that a state of emergency exists.
The regulations made under the emergency powers are very similar to those normally moved on occasions when a national emergency has been declared, though they vary in one or two matters to which I will refer.
I should explain to the House—it is certainly my duty to do so—what are the effects of the regulations. The first two regulations are the formal ones about title and interpretation. Regulations 3–5 deal with the control of ports. Regulations 6–15 provide for relaxation in restrictions on road transport. There is a new regulation in this group, No. 11, which gives the Secretary of State for the Environment power to exempt drivers from the permitted hours controls.
Regulations 16–20 relax the obligations and restrictions as to public services and facilities. Here there are two very important regulations. The first is No. 17, which relieves the electricity boards of their statutory obligations about the supply of electricity. The important point to make here is that until the regulations were made the boards could not impose power cuts other than for reasons of their capacity being inadequate. In other words, power cuts to conserve stocks of fuel were not legally possible until the state of emergency had been declared and the regulations made. There is a further new feature of this batch of regulations; namely, that power is being given in the case of both electricity and gas to enable the authorities to enter premises to ensure that control orders are effective. This is a wide power to give. I think the House will agree that it is a necessary power in the circumstances.
Regulations 21–24 enable the Minister concerned to regulate the supply, distribution and price of both fuel and food. It is under this group of regulations that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has issued directions about the consumption of electricity in industry.
Regulations 25–28 give the appropriate Minister power to control transport services. Regulations 29 and 30 contain powers to requisition chattels, such as vehicles, and to take control of land. Regulations 31–39, the remaining regulations, follow precedent on offences and penalties, to ensure that the regulations are enforceable and are enforced.
That is broadly the effect of this set of regulations, which I have already said follows precedent save for one or two modifications which I think it will generally be agreed were sensible.
The duration of the powers is the duration of the state of emergency, the maximum period, as in the past, being fixed as one month. Should it be necessary at the end of one month to continue the powers, the authority of Parliament would have to be sought.
Those are the regulations before us. The broad purpose of the debate, I understand, is to see whether the House approves that these powers under a state of emergency should be given to the Government.
The use made of the powers to date has been fourfold. The first has been to free the area electricity boards from their statutory obligations. That is done under Regulation 17(1), which enables them to undertake the system of rota cuts, cuts in rotation, which they are now doing, thereby spreading the burden of the reduction of power supply as evenly as possible throughout the country. Secondly, an order was made under Regulation 21 prohibiting the use of electricity for advertising, for display purposes and for floodlighting. Thirdly, an order was made restricting the use of electricity for heating purposes in non-domestic premises such as offices, shops and places of recreation. Fourthly, my right hon. Friend has used the powers given him by the regulations to issue directions to certain consumers restricting their consumption of electricity. Those are the uses that have been made of the powers granted to the Government by these emergency regulations.
The effect on industrial consumption, as my right hon. Friend made clear last week, is, first, that the smaller industrial concerns will suffer the rota cuts which apply to the generality of consumers. Secondly, in the medium range of industrial concerns there will be no use of electric power on Sundays and three weekdays. Thirdly, in the case of the largest industrial concerns, particularly those with continuous process plant, which is so especially important, there will be an equivalent reduction of supplies over the whole period by individual arrangement and individual direction.
Those, briefly, are the powers that have been taken under the emergency, and those are the effects of the orders which have been issued by the Government so far.
The next point that I must take up is whether it is necessary at this moment for the Government to assume these powers. I think this is now quite clear. The Act says:
If at any time it appears to Her Majesty that there has occurred or are about to occur events of such a nature … as to be calculated, by interfering with the supply and distribution of food, water, fuel or light, or with the means of locomotion, to deprive the community, or any substantial portion of the community, of the essentials of life, Her Majesty may, by proclamation, … declare that a state of emergency exists.
There cannot be any doubt that such events exist at present, or that, through the interference with the supply and distribution of fuel or light for the community as a whole, the danger exists. Therefore, it is right to ask the House to confirm that these powers should now be granted to the Government.
It was, of course, clear that if this dispute was prolonged, then at a certain time these conditions were bound to come into being. It was, after all, the purpose of the strike and the purpose of the picketing to prevent the delivery of coal to the power stations. As about 75 per cent. of our power station capacity depends upon the supply of coal, clearly if the strike was prolonged to a certain point an emergency of this kind was bound to arise. This is what is happening now. This is why the emergency powers are justified. The dwindling of the coal supplies to the power stations as a result of the strike has at the same time increased the difficulty of supply of coal both to industry and to domestic consumers, even to priority consumers.
I turn next to the question of the timing of these measures. It is, clearly, very difficult to decide exactly the right moment to introduce a state of emergency. I say again that we must be clear that until a state of emergency is declared the electricity authorities could not introduce power cuts for the purpose of conserving fuel they could only introduce cuts in order to off-shed loads if at any time their generating capacity was overloaded. They could not, therefore, have taken steps before the introduction of the state of emergency to cut back electricity consumption in order to conserve fuel supplies.
The reasons surrounding the timing of the state of emergency are well known to the House. First, the powers involved in a state of emergency are very great, very sweeping and very widespread in the cutting back involved of the normal freedom of individuals and enterprises. The declaration of a state of emergency is a step which should be taken by any Government only when it is clearly absolutely essential to do so. I do not think the House will disagree with that proposition.
Secondly, the prime objective of the Government in this matter and of everyone concerned, clearly, is to try to reach a settlement to the dispute by agreement, a settlement which takes account both of the fair claims of the miners and of the interests of the community at large. Those interests are very large. While accepting entirely the right of the miners to a fair settlement, one must also stress again that the battle against inflation is one in which the entire community, including the miners themselves, are clearly involved, and no single person in this country could possibly stand to benefit if the battle against inflation were abandoned by any Government. It is very important to bear these factors in mind.
In deciding the timing of a state of emergency, it is right for the Government to consider what effect such a declaration would have on the possibility of reaching by agreement the sort of fair settlement to which I have referred. I am certain that the Opposition would have been fairly ready to accuse us of provocation if we had announced a state of emergency earlier than was absolutely necessary.
I have seen many newspaper reports. It is not my job to confirm or deny them. In these matters the responsibility is that of the Government as a whole, and I and all my colleagues are fully prepared to shoulder any share of any responsibility at any time. These are far too serious matters for that sort of comment.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has said, the effect of picketing upon the power industry was greater than had originally been forecast. A great deal of the coal in the possession of the Central Electricity Generating Board has been immobilised by picketing, and there has been a substantial effect on the supplies of other essential materials, such as flashing oil, for example, and other chemicals. This is a wider form of picketing than has been met in the case of previous disputes. I want to refer later to the whole question of picketing, which is immensely important. While there is a wider form of picketing than has been usual in the past, I would at this stage say that this is not in itself in contravention of the law.
Little in the conserving of fuel would have been obtained in practice by an earlier declaration of a state of emergency, while the opportunities of achieving a solution by agreement might have been severely prejudiced. That was the judgment that we made, and I still believe it to have been wise.
Did not the Government, particularly the Department of Trade and Industry, in planning ahead for the power supply industry concentrate on coal supply but overlook the importance of having sufficient oil to burn the poor coal now available?
I do not think that is the point. The point is that the extent of picketing has gone wider than experienced in the past, involving the picketing of the movement of not only coal but oil and other things, often at enterprises in no way involved in the consumption of coal themselves.
I come now to the question of picketing, which is very important and, clearly, gives special concern to me in my position as Home Secretary. New issues have been raised by what has happened in the dispute. There is a great deal of public concern, first, as to the extent and nature of the picketing which has taken place and, secondly, as to the dangers of violence, of which hon. Members on both sides of the House are acutely aware and in which I have a special responsibility.
I will state what the law is on picketing. First, peaceful picketing is lawful and, so long as it is peaceful, it may legally extend beyond the movement of coal to the movement of other commodities. This is the law.
Secondly, obstruction and intimidation are not lawful, and it has been held in the courts that the mere number of pickets present, even though they are behaving entirely peacefully, can itself constitute intimidation. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am merely giving the House what has been decided by the courts of law. No doubt there have been examples of unlawful picketing and of intimidation. We have all seen on television examples of this intimidation. [Interruption.] I want to deal with this matter thoroughly and I hope the House will listen. There have been a number of arrests made by the police mainly under the general law governing assault and disorderly conduct.
Order. I am not commenting on the merits of the hon. Member's points. I have to administer the Standing Orders of the House, and there is nothing in the Standing Orders with regard to the activities of television cameras.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary has now been dealing with oral evidence against the pickets. Since a number of cases are to be heard in the courts this week relating to the arrests to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred, will you, Sir, rule it out of order for the right hon. Gentleman to give prejudicial evidence before the House today?
What I was about to say, if the House will listen for a moment, is that I am quite certain that the National Union of Mineworkers does not support violence and intimidation in any way at all. The fact is that, while the union does not support it, there have been occasions when the police have been forced to make arrests. The bulk of the picketing has been peaceful. The reason why it has been so effective—this is a matter which possibly has escaped the notice of the newspapers—is that the other unions have given instructions to their members not to cross the picket lines. Therefore, peaceful picketing has been very effective indeed. But I repeat that there have been enough examples of unlawful picketing—not with the authority of the union—to give rise to considerable public disquiet. I should be failing in my duty as Home Secretary if I did not say that.
This is a difficult problem. It is hard to know when intimidation begins. It is difficult to know in any particular set of circumstances when the right of people to persuade others not to go into a factory becomes intimidation. It is a difficult line to draw in law, and the drawing of the line must be left to chief officers of police. The police have a duty to ensure that those who want to work are not forcibly prevented from doing so. Equally, they have a duty to ensure that those who wish to argue against people going to work are entitled peacefully to do so.
The police have no more difficult job than that of deciding in individual cases when the limit of peaceful picketing has been over-stepped. They have been doing their job extremely well. I support the representations which were made to me the other day by the mining Members to ensure that liaison is as close as possible between police and the official unions—which, as I have said, do not wish to see violence—so as to make sure that the violence which some people have stirred up against the wishes of the public at large, and against the wish of the unions, does not take place. This is the situation as I see it on picketing.
I must express some concern that recent developments are giving rise to a great deal of questioning in the public mind. The right of peaceful picketing, of persuading people not to cross a picket line, is jealously safeguarded—and I understand why. But at the same time there is considerable public concern if it in any way appears that illegal picketing should have prevented coal which is available to the Generating Board being burnt by the board to enable people to keep warm and to keep employed. These are very difficult issues indeed. It would be wrong to try to reach decisions on these matters in the heat of the moment. [Laughter.] These matters are more important than that. The bulk of the picketing to date certainly has been lawful, but has had a considerable effect on the power supply by denying to the Generating Board coal already in its possession which otherwise it would use to provide fuel for the employment of our people.
The right hon. Gentleman surely should address his mind to what is really concerning the public, and that is why a state of emergency had to be reached before a court of inquiry was ordered, and also why we should be discussing matters such as picketing when the dispute was allowed to get out of hand.
Picketing has been a feature of the dispute from the beginning. I think I am right in saying that the court of inquiry has been a matter which the union has not been prepared to accept throughout the dispute, despite suggestions having been made to the union on this matter. I thought it right that I should speak on the whole question of the law on picketing since there has been a great deal of public concern on this topic.
No, I am not out of proportion. In my position as Home Secretary I am, of course, rightly concerned about this matter. I have been trying to give hon. Members a balanced account of what has been happening. I have said repeatedly that the bulk of the picketing has been lawful, and the union has made it clear that it is not in support of unlawful picketing violence or intimidation.
I come to the present position. I have explained the effect of the regulations and have made it clear that regulations of this kind are quite essential. I have talked about the law on picketing. I—
Before the Home Secretary leaves the law on picketing, will he give the House his opinion on those who intimidate people who are carrying out peaceful picketing, in the course of which some miners have been slain?
It is for the police to enforce the law. If any hon. Member thinks that the police on a certain occasion have not done what they should have. I hope he will let me have details.
The right hon. Gentleman will know that I have tried to put down a Private Notice Question to him asking about five pickets—five out of a total of eight—who were arrested in my area. Will he look into those cases, of which there are a number, where the police may have intervened when nothing really bad has occurred?
Certainly I shall examine any suggestion put to me where things have been done badly. But I believe that in the face of a very difficult situation our police force has done a very good job.
Clearly, I cannot comment at the moment of the merits of the miners' claim. It would be wrong for me to comment now that the court of inquiry has been established. Indeed, if I were to comment hon. Members opposite would very soon accuse me of trying to prejudice the court of inquiry.
An offer has been made already to the miners' union. It has been told that its members can have that straight away if they return to work and that anything that the Wilberforce court of inquiry recommends subsequently will be accepted by the National Coal Board. I believe that there is very widespread public opinion that the miners should return to work and cease their picketing on that basis.
I have little doubt that that is the view of people who are suffering from the shortage of electric power in many ways when coal is not being mined and, even more immediately, when coal which is available to the Generating Board cannot be moved by reason of picketing. In view of the fact that the existing offer can be taken immediately and that anything awarded by the court of inquiry will be available subsequently, the widespread public opinion is that, on that basis, the miners would be well advised to return to work and cease their picketing in the national interest.
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why the Government took no action in relation to the industrial situation until he himself came to the House last Wednesday, by which time, on the Prime Minister's own estimates, many millions could have been thrown out of work? Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why there was no consultation with industry about it? Will he tell the House his own estimate of the number who will be thrown out of work this week, and will he undertake, for the benefit of the House and the country, to publish the figures which are collected every week of the number temporarily stopped? Figures of this kind have been available for many years. Will he publish them, so that we may know exactly how many people are signing on as temporarily stopped?
Certainly figures are collected, and so far as they are relevant they will be published. If the right hon. Gentleman seriously asks me the reasons underlying the timing of the state of emergency, I can only assume that he did not listen to my speech.
I find it very difficult to believe that the Home Secretary has finished his speech. I looked round the House to see for whom the right hon. Gentleman was withdrawing, and I was amazed to discover that he was withdrawing for no one but the Government.
We on this side of the House want to make it clear that the right hon. Gentleman's calmness of manner in what he has said today totally belies the desperate situation that the country faces. I do not intend to follow up what was the right hon. Gentleman's clear bid to try to win the public over on the Government's side. I do not intend at the moment to follow up his detailed description of the regulations. They are familiar to us, and there will be an opportunity to debate them later. Instead, I propose to go into the reasons why the country faces a state of emergency.
It is clear that Britain faces the most serious industrial crisis since the war. It was described on 11th February by The Times as
. .a situation that is more dangerous than that of any other industrial dispute since the war.
We believe that the Government's obstinacy, incompetence and incredible complacency have done a great deal to create that emergency. It is an emergency which should never have happened. It is an emergency of the Government's own making. That is why we shall vote against the emergency regulations tonight.
I am sorry that it was not possible for me to make this speech before the House heard the Home Secretary. May I ask the Government exactly how this situation has arisen? May I ask why on 9th January the Minister for Industry said that there were at least eight weeks' stocks of coal supplies and that these would be adequate to continue for two months, depending upon normal winter weather? We have not had normal winter weather. To that extent the Government have had the Almighty on their side. Even so, after a month we find ourselves with power cuts, creating unemployment for more than half the country.
May I ask the Government why as recently as 7th February, in answer to Questions in this House, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry referred to there being only
… a possibility of cuts in power supplies ".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th February, 1972; Vol. 830, c. 973]
and why he gave an almost entirely complacent picture of the situation facing the country?
Why have the Government failed to consult the Confederation of British Industry, the Association of British Chambers of Commerce and the T.U.C. on the measures now being taken—or did they consult them, in which case we should have liked details from the Home Secretary? We have not had them.
Why did the Secretary of State for Employment not intervene at a very much earlier stage in an increasingly critical situation? Why even now does the Prime Minister maintain an almost total silence, leaving his colleagues to dispute amongst themselves who is responsible for the catastrophe that the country now faces? The Prime Minister reminds one rather of Lord Raglan at the Battle of Balaclava, who, I believe, lived in a ship in the harbour and advised the Light Brigade that it was
Their's not to reason why, their's but to do and die".
We on this side of the House indict the Government on four counts. The first is that they have hopelessly miscalculated the determination of the miners. Perhaps they believed that the miners' resolution would crumble after a couple of weeks. Perhaps they believed that the 41 per cent. of miners who did not support the strike would trickle back to work. But miners are not made in that way. This is an industry which is marked by loyalty and solidarity above any other. It is an industry which feels very deeply. I commend this seriously to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, because we are not anxious to see this dispute continue, to the suffering of a large part of the community.
It is high time that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite recognised the massive contribution towards modernisation, productivity and pit closures that the National Union of Mineworkers has made over the past decade. Fifteen years ago there were 700,000 men employed in the pits. Today there are 280,000. Over that whole period of massive rundown there has not been a single official strike by the National Union of Mineworkers.
The House knows that under the Labour Government 218,900 miners lost their jobs and there was not one solitary sound from miners' representatives on the other side of the House. We also know that during the whole of that time the miners' living standards actually declined. They had the biggest increase ever last year under the Tories. However, during the time of the Labour Government there was not one murmur from miners' Members opposite.
First, that statement about mineworkers is not correct. The hon. Gentleman will recall that the Labour Government brought in a very generous scheme of early pensions for miners. He is only making the point which I have made, that this is an industry which richly deserves public consideration.
Secondly, in miscalculating the solidarity of the miners the Government also miscalculated the degree of public support that they have been able to arouse. It was not a Labour newspaper but the Daily Express which three days ago said:
The miners have enjoyed almost unanimous public sympathy.
I do not believe that the Government will be able to undermine that public sympathy by their crude attempts.
Thirdly, the Government have failed to recognise how essential the rôle of coal still is. As the Home Secretary rightly said, nearly three-quarters of our power supply is still founded upon coal. Yet coal is made to feel that it is an unfashionable, untrendy sort of fuel. But oil prices are going up dramatically as a result of the last O.P.E.C. agreement. Natural gas still supplies only a tiny margin of industry's needs. As for nuclear power, many hon. Gentlemen are aware of the difficulty faced by nuclear reactors in recent years.
The second major count against the Government is that they have utterly failed to calculate the serious repercussions of the stoppage on the economy. For a month they have consistently played down the effects of the coal strike on the economy. The National Coal Board made, and then withdrew, an offer. We all know that no really improved offer was made until 9th February, three days before the crisis hit the country. We all know, too, that feelings were so inflamed then that an offer that the National Union of Mineworkers has said it would have accepted a few weeks ago was no longer acceptable. This owes a great deal to the Government's mishandling of the situation. We know that the N.U.M. does not want a long dispute, but it is being forced into a long dispute by the way in which these negotiations have been conducted.
I did not hear the broadcast, but I base my remarks upon the comments made by the president only this morning. That seems a fair basis on which to make them.
It is very difficult to avoid the conclusion—a conclusion which I think is coming home to more and more hon. Members—that the reason why the National Coal Board took so long to make a better offer, a better offer which I stress would have been acceptable at an earlier date, was that that strings of the National Coal Board were being pulled by the Government.
It has been clear since the Chancellor's speech last November that the Government have been operating a tacit incomes policy in the public sector. But that policy calls for a norm of settlement of 7–8 per cent., or, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said over the weekend, a norm of 7–8 per cent. minus 1 per cent. on each settlement which takes place. It is hardly surprising that this afternoon the Home Secretary went such a long way to confirm that interpretation of the National Coal Board's approach.
Our third count against the Government is that they have abdicated responsibility. Last month the Secretary of State for Employment said:
If we are asked to make a relative improvement in the miners' position, other people must be held back, relatively speaking. That is a matter of clear definition. Unless or until the Opposition, individual union leaders and the T.U.C. make it clear that they are prepared to co-ordinate the making of claims to bring about this state of affairs, it is an idle hope".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th January, 1972; Vol. 829, c. 341–2.]
But the Government have again shunted off their responsibility for the business of government on to other people.
It is not the business of the Trades Union Congress, it is not the business of the Opposition and it is not the business of individual union leaders to govern for the Government—not even for this Government. If the Secretary of State for Employment believes that the miners have a strong case—he indicated this last week—he should have the courage to act upon that belief.
If the hon. Gentleman will contain himself, I shall be able to get to that part of my speech.
On the fourth count, the Government have failed to clarify the whole picketing question. I welcome what the Home Secretary said today. I also welcome the way that, consistently throughout the dispute, he has made very clear that it is the right of men on strike to engage in peaceful picketing. I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's remarks this afternoon—he has made them before—recognising that the N.U.M. has been throughout completely opposed to violence, and only this morning indicated that it does not want the support of those elements from outside who introduce violence into local picketing situations.
But the Home Secretary knows—he has said so—that the law of picketing is in some respects a little vague. It is not always very easy to interpret the situation locally. That is why I welcome, but regard as very late indeed, his circular to chief constables which was sent out last Friday giving advice on what steps they should take. This followed a visit by a miners' delegation and myself to see the right hon. Gentleman the previous day.
Also, the right hon. Gentleman's colleague, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, has allowed the situation at the Saltley Gas Works, Birmingham, to run on after a proposal for a constructive solution had been put forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) and my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell) and Birmingham, Lady-wood (Mrs. Doris Fisher) in whose constituency the depot is. When that solution was put into action the heat went out of the situation immediately. In our opinion, it should have been done very much earlier.
On the whole question of the inflamed relations between the two sides, the N.U.M. has throughout the dispute indicated that it would support the passage of priority supplies to hospitals, to the old, to the sick and to the handicapped, and that its co-operation is still very much available for this purpose. But there has been a singular failure of communication. It seems astonishing—I repeat, astonishing—that Ministers in the appropriate Department have not consulted industry. I quote what the Association of British Chambers of Commerce said in its telegram at the end of last week:
all Chambers of Commerce deplore the lack of prior consultation about severe power cuts announced by you"—
the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry—
in the House today. Moreover, this inadequate notice limits the opportunity to plan, especially as cuts could be on intermittent days. This is an unnecessary additional handicap to production.
I find it amazing that throughout the entire dispute the President of the N.U.M. has never been invited to meet either the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry or the Minister for Industry who is directly responsible for the coal mines.
It is, we believe, essential that the dispute should now end and as soon as possible. My answer to the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost) is that it is not the business of the Opposition to tell the N.U.M. to get its men back, but it is our business—[Interruption.] I shall make my speech in my own way—to do all that we possibly can to speed up the settlement of this dispute. At the weekend my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition pointed out that it should be possible for the court of inquiry to report within three or four days, and we on this side of the House—and I am sure the Government, too—are extremely grateful to the whole group of people sitting on the court of inquiry for the action they are taking to speed up their hearings. We shall, of course, also wish to see the quickest possible consultation by the N.U.M. of its members following the court of inquiry's findings.
It is for the miners' leaders, after the court of inquiry has reported, to put the settlement to their members—I am talking about the settlement made by the court of inquiry; they cannot put the settlement to their members before they know what it is going to be—either by a ballot or by consulting the branches. I should like to ask the Secretary of State for Employment whether there is anything in Section 65(5) of the Industrial Relations Act which would make consultation with the branches slower because, as I understand it, the normal rapid procedure, which is to have a show of hands, would not be possible under that Act.
Throughout this discussion—and I do not in any way criticise him for it—the Secretary of State for Employment has said that a settlement above the norm would lead to an increase in the price of coal. Equally consistently my right hon. Friend the Shadow Minister for Fuel and Power has pointed out that the coal mining industry is still paying interest charges of £33·6 million a year. I notice some hon. Gentlemen opposite shaking their heads. That is the official figure. In 1965 the Labour Government waived part of the debt of the National Coal Board, and it would be open to the Government to do so now and, therefore, mitigate any inflationary effects.
I do not want to dodge the argument about inflation. The double duty to which the Secretary of State for Employment referred is a double duty which falls upon any Government. It is a duty to bring about just wage settlements, but it is a duty, also, to try to reduce inflation, and my colleagues on this side of the House believe that the solution to this dilemma lies in the Government's own hand.
The Government cannot pursue a housing policy, a social services policy and a taxation policy which adds immeasurably to the burdens of the lower paid and then urge upon them restraint. At present there is passing through the House a Bill which will increase the rents of council house tenants by £1 a week. The Government cannot say to men whose rent is being increased by £1 a week that they should not make wage claims to cover that amount. [Interruption.] The Government cannot tell ordinary men and women to desist from making wage claims at a time when the Government are putting up the price of school meals, withdrawing school milk—[Interruption.]
The Government cannot tell ordinary men and women not to make inflationary wage claims when they are increasing the price of school meals, withdrawing school milk, increasing social service charges and taking other actions which will put up their daily cost of living. Above all, we say to the Government that they cannot mobilise the country to fight inflation when they themselves have done so much to create it.
Mr. Campbell Adamson, the Director of the C.B.I., said at the end of last week:
This is a battle for the economic future of this country. That future can only be secured by a recognition of the needs of all sections of the community
It is time that the Government abandoned their policies of social and industrial brinkmanship, for they have created the chaos in which they find themselves. We believe that the country can no longer be asked to pay so high a price for the obduracy of one man.
We have heard a great deal during this dispute about the cost of coal, and one of the most impressive features of the coal miners' case is the fact that they do a difficult and dangerous job which requires special treatment from the community. It is a case which, on the whole, has been widely and sympathetically received, and one in which I think most people would sec a good deal of validity.
But one of the difficulties which have faced this Government—and every previous Government—in dealing with special cases has been the amount which should be accorded to the special case in any given year. I think that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employ ment was able to show last week that the Government have tried to do something for the miners and that the trend which was so apparent under the previous Government has to some extent been reversed. Many of us would like to see this trend still further reversed in future. but the problem is that it is not possible, at one time, to accord increases on the enormous scale which the miners have requested, and we are now faced not with the cost of coal but with the cost of the dispute.
We have a situation in which 280,000 men are, in effect, holding the country to ransom. It is not a case of criticising their past record. It is not a case of criticising the particular tactics which they may be adopting. It is a case of saying that here are 280.000 men who have been offered an increase which they can take now and which in no sense prejudices any further increases which they might get, but who are remaining on strike at immense cost to the country.
Will the hon. Gentleman now explain why in the initial stages, when the position was negotiable, pressurising by his Government made the National Coal Board withdraw its offer instead of leaving it on the table? From then on things began to harden, and they have become so rock hard that the hon. Gentleman's argument is irrelevant.
I hope the hon. Gentleman will agree that I have attempted not to take too controversial a view. There are two sides to any dispute. It is beyond doubt that the leaders of the N.U.M. have adopted an extremely obdurate attitude. There is room for more than one opinion about whether they would have accepted a settlement earlier on. Certainly they have not shown any willingness to conciliate. But that does not alter my point that 280.000 men are holding the country to ransom and that they do not lose anything by going back. The court of inquiry is not prejudiced if they do return to work and immense pain and suffering is being caused to the nation as a result of their refusal to take up the offer and await the result of the court of inquiry.
If the miners refuse to go back now, all reasonable people will wonder whether two questions do not arise. In the first place it will be wondered whether the N.U.M. is not embarking on its own private war with the Government using the nation as a battleground. Secondly it will be wondered whether the union, its members and families care about the suffering and harm they are doing to the rest of the community. No one doubts that they have a case or that they are a special case, but this does not excuse them forcing the country into the position it is now in when they can go back and take the increase and when nothing is prejudiced in the court of inquiry.
Mr. Bob Brown (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West):
The hon. Gentleman has said that no one doubts that the miners have a case. How, then, does he account for the fact that his Government allowed the Coal Board to withdraw its niggardly offer?
I said that no one doubts that the N.U.M. has a special case. The negotiations were at all times based on the assumption that the miners would receive a substantial increase; the argument was on "how substantial". It does not seem really relevant to the argument as to whether the miners have a special case to discuss the manner in which the head of the Coal Board and the head of the union negotiate. I am trying to talk about the broad case of the mineworkers in the community, not about the progress of the negotiations.
Everyone accepts that they had a special case. If they had not, the argument would have been not about the size of the increase but about whether there should be an increase at all.
I turn now to the position of the Government. A great deal of laughter goes up on the Labour Benches when it is said from this side that the Government have achieved much success in their fight against inflation. The figures are irrefutable. In the two years before the end of last year prices were rising at an accelerating rate. They are certainly still rising too fast, but the rate of increase of inflation has dropped by nearly half. This is something which is in the interests of us all, something as much in the interests of the miners as anyone else.
I was much encouraged by the speech made by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. Harold Lever) during the coal debate last Tuesday when he said explicitly that he hoped—and he spoke for the Opposition although not for the union movement—
There are, I know, some differences within the Labour Party. The right hon. Gentleman said that other unions would not take as a precedent any special treatment according to the N.U.M. Many of us would certainly agree with the hon. Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams) that one of the weaknesses in the system of wage bargaining—it has been with us under all Governments for many years—is that each cash settlement granted to one union is used as a precedent by the next union regardless of the circumstances in which the settlement was made.
This has had two serious disadvantages for the country. In the first place it has led to much more rapid inflation than would otherwise have been the case since each special case has not been regarded as such but rather has been regarded as a justification for already highly-paid unions to take more. The second disadvantage has been that it has led to social injustice. Instead of the special circumstances of individual low-paid groups of people doing unpleasant difficult and dangerous jobs being accorded the special treatment they deserve, they have received the same percentage increases as or frequently lower increases than other more favoured groups with the result that on the whole the rich have got richer and the poor have got poorer. The car workers in the Midlands have managed to increase their wages by a much greater rate than the coalminers, while people who are not in trade unions at all—there are many millions—have been left behind.
If we are to break out of this spiral it is necessary to try to find some system of wage negotiation, bargaining and settlement which takes account of these social criteria as well as the economic criteria which have dominated the thinking of all Governments since the war. When the hon. Lady says it is not the duty of the trade union movement or of the Opposition to do the Government's work she is right, but the right hon. Member for Cheetham put his finger on the point when he said that if the miners are to be regarded as a special case, if they are to receive the treatment they deserve—
I think that they are a special case, and so does the right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason), and he said so in an eloquent speech last Tuesday. Most people think that. If they are to receive this sort of treatment it is essentially important that the trade union movement should recognise the special cases when they exist and should not take them as a precedent to govern wage negotiations as a whole.
There is one area in which I hope the miners will set a precedent. I hope they will set a precedent which will enable this Government now and in future to be able to support wage settlements, and to introduce settlements tailored to the special circumstances of special industries and not based on straightforward percentage terms across the board which can be applied with equal force to everyone every time. Our thinking has been dominated by economic criteria. This has been essential. We have faced catastrophic inflation which has done immense harm to everyone. But if we are to have a lasting system of economic stability in which wages do not outrun productivity it is vitally important that we should be able to introduce social as well as economic criteria into our system of wage bargaining. If this terrible dispute enables us to set the foundations of that it will also enable us to do something which has eluded all Governments since the war, and in that sense it will be a great step forward.
it is not the right way to begin if 280,000 men hold the country to ransom—when they can go back and lose nothing—and millions of people all over the country lose an immense amount. This is the essential feature, and it is on this point that the miners can really help the nation to get off to a new start.
My hon. Friend mentions the figure of 280,000 men. If as we are told 41 per cent. were against the strike, it reduces the figure to 168,000, which is no more than three large football match attendances. That is the measure of those who are holding the nation to ransom.
I do not want to go into precise numbers. The principle that small groups of people should not misuse their power was what I was getting at.
I have been trying to get in for a long time. Would the hon. Gentleman not agree that the language he has been using during his speech has been very inflamatory? Would he not further agree that talking about holding the country to ransom will not help anyone and will certainly not encourage the miners to go back to work? It seems that the hon. Gentleman has been arguing for an incomes policy, which is denied by the Prime Minister. Is the hon. Gentleman in dispute with his right hon. Friend? All the way this Government have been arguing for competition and for people to charge what the market will bear. The market will at present bear a very heavy price for coal, and the miners are, therefore, in an extremely strong position. The hon. Gentleman is advocating that they should leave that position—
I was thinking that the hon. Gentleman's intervention was almost as long as my speech.
That the miners are in a very strong position nobody doubts. The question is whether anybody has the right to abuse his position, especially when it is a strong one. My speech has not been meant to be inflamatory, and it has been far from inflamatory—[Interruption.]
I have conceded that the miners have a special case and should receive special consideration. We also need a system of settling wages and bargaining in such a way that it takes account of the various criteria to which I have referred. At this moment, while it seems that no hon. Gentleman opposite is anxious to intervene in my speech, I take the opportunity of silence and sit down.
The immediate occasion of this debate is the question whether it is right, as the Government think, to introduce a state of emergency.
In trying to justify that to us, the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary laid great stress on what he regarded as the unexpected success of picketing. I remember well—any member of the public who has followed the matter will remember—that before the dispute began the leaders of the trade union movement made it clear that, whatever they might or might not be able to do to help the miners, they would certainly advise their members not to cross the picket lines.
Anyone who can understand plain English should have realised from that two things. The first was that there would soon be created a considerable power crisis. The second was that there was the most massive sympathy and support for the miners among the general body of working people.
Is the right hon. Gentleman arguing that for that reason the House should tonight not grant the powers for which the Government are asking? Does he intend to support his hon. Friends in voting against these powers being given to the Government?
I thought that that trick question would be asked and that hon. Gentlemen opposite would ask whether we approved of a state of emergency being introduced. My reply is the same as that given in a slightly different context by the present Lord Chancellor, who said, in effect, "If a man throws himself off a cliff and bounces from one crag to another, it is idle to ask whether one approves or disapproves of his bouncing. He should not have thrown himself off in the first place." Hon. Gentlemen opposite must get this straight in their heads.
It is interesting to note the passionate desire of hon. Gentlemen opposite to pro nounce on this topic during speeches made by my hon. Friends. Some of my hon. Friends have gone down and stood with the picket lines. In view of the flood of eloquence from the benches opposite, I am expecting hon. Gentlemen opposite—accompanied by the massive numbers of members of the general public whom they always say are on their side—shortly to go down and orate to the pickets, showing them what splendid things the Conservatives have done for the miners and demonstrating the wrongs of holding the nation to ransom, as hon. Gentlemen opposite put it. I can see the picket lines melting away in shame under the oratory of hon. Gentlemen opposite.
The real question we are debating is the profound and general one of what principles should govern the sharing in this country of the wealth that is produced by the joint effort of all who work by hand or brain. It is the argument about that that has produced this situation.
My belief has always been that any Government, whether or not they like it, will end up by having an incomes policy. There is in one of Moliere's plays a character who is astounded to learn that he has been talking prose all his life. The Government must in the end have an incomes policy—again, I mean any Government—just as we must talk prose and a Government who begin by saying that they will not have an incomes policy end up by having an unjust and bad one. That is what is happening to this Government, for three principles have governed their approach to the matter.
The first principle is their belief that in the main one should have a policy which will chiefly help those who are already well off. That, as was demonstrated in a brilliant article in The Times not long ago by one of my hon. Friends and in other sources, has been the main effect of the Government's policy over tax relief. Their aim has been to give substantial help to those who are already well off.
It is true that this has been decked out with a few showy pieces of selective social services support. I do not know how many hon. Gentlemen opposite and members of the Government read the Labour Weekly. I commend it to them, even if they must read it by candlelight.
The latest issue points out that owing to the operation of rent rebates, family income supplement, this that and the other, if the miners were to accept here and now all that is available to them a considerable number of them who are the least well paid would be worse off.
That does not surprise me, and it illustrates that this Government's policy, despite their attempt to deck it out with income supplements and the rest, in the main has been a policy to increase the inequality of the distribution of wealth.
The justification from their point of view is that it enables the people in charge to make higher profits, and that this is the great incentive. They claim that because of the greater incentive all will work harder and we shall all be better off. This is the doctrine which, off and on, the Tory Party and employers have preached for the last 100 years, and it has never worked because the attempt to make it work has created justified resentment among poorer sections of the community.
The second principle of the Government's incomes policy has been to discriminate against public servants because they have not been able to bash other groups of workers. Hon. Gentlemen opposite ask whether any of my hon. Friends are prepared to tell the miners to go back to work now. What they are really asking is whether we are prepared to underwrite and approve an incomes policy of this kind, and the answer is "No. Most certainly not." Neither is the public at large prepared to accept it, as public reaction has recently demonstrated.
Much of what has been said by hon. Gentlemen opposite has been a last-minute attempt to try to shunt public opinion against the miners. That is the point of phrases like "Holding the nation to ransom" and "The battle against inflation".
What are the figures in this battle against inflation? Roughly speaking, in the first 12 months after the Tories came to power they managed to produce a rate of rise in prices about twice that which occurred in the previous 12 months under Labour. I admit that since then the rise has not been as much as twice as great, but to call it a victory in the battle against inflation is the kind of military calculation that could only have occurred to Lord Raglan, to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams) referred.
I believe that the British command in the Crimean War was partly hampered by the fact that the commander-in-chief forgot that he was fighting the Crimean War against the Russians and thought he was engaged in a war against the French, who were, in fact, his allies. That is the trouble with some of the more innocent hon. Gentlemen opposite, who really believe that they are engaged in a battle against inflation when, bluntly, they are engaged in a battle against those of their fellow citizens who are not so well off and particularly against those who happen to be employed in the public service.
The third principle of the Government's incomes policy, if we can call it an incomes policy, is that of "Stand on your own feet", even if it involves, as it so often does, standing on a great many people's corns as well; or, putting it bluntly, it is the principle of "To each what he can grab". The hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Tugendhat) talked of the miners waging a private war against the nation. For the reasons I have given, I believe that charge to be wholly unjustified—
I did not say that the miners were doing that but that if they failed to go back this question would arise, because they could go back without loss to themselves.
That is to say that the hon. Member does not think it right to use that piece of abuse yet. It will be turned on perhaps next week if it is considered necessary.
But even if the charge were true, even if the miners were waging a private war against the nation, on the basis of Conservative philosophy why should they not do so when business men say. "Unless our taxes are reduced, unless our profits are increased, we cannot be expected to undertake the organising of the nation's exports"? One could just as well call that holding the nation to ransom or waging in a war against the nation.
The trouble is that Conservative hon. Members and many publicists have never tried to hold the scales even between people who earn their living, getting wages and salaries, and people—generally better-off people—who get their incomes from interest and profit. It is always generally assumed that if there is a dispute between those two groups and the nation is suffering it is especially up to the employee to put the nation's interests before his own pocket rather than that at least the same obligation rests on the employer—who, by the way, in this case is the nation at large, and it is very far from clear that the nation at large is demanding that the miners should immediately go back to work. A good many people are first awaiting the Wilberforce report, and privately thinking that Lord Wilberforce should have been appointed a good deal earlier, and that if the whole thing had not been mishandled we should not be in this present situation at all.
Yet people who get wages and salaries, particularly in the more laborious occupations, do understand. It was spelt out for us 50 years ago—in 1921, when there was a great mining dispute. Apropos that dispute, there was written a book which immediately dealt with the rights and wrongs of the dispute but contained also a profound study of the nature of the kind of society in which we live. I refer to Professor R. H. Tawney's "The Acquisitive Society", which from that day to this goes on selling and which it would be well worth the while of anybody to read. Professor Tawney spells out that if we live in a society where we are constantly reminded of private enterprise and told "Stand on your own feet" and "Look after for yourself", the Nemesis of such a society is that we gradually rot away all the ordinary loyalties towards one another that one hopes human beings would have and which tend to unite society.
It is that element which is lacking. We now face what Tawney called the Nemesis of the acquisitive society, and nothing less than a really radical change in heart and philosophy will get us out of the situation. Whatever the result of this present dispute, the problem will recur for one group of workers after another as long as our society is based on the uncivilised philosophy with which we now try to make it work.
In practical terms, I believe that the Government ought to have, if not necessarily for publication, a private guide line in their own mind something like the following. They should say that for the present there is to be an upper income level, and that no one above that level can expect public policy to be arranged in a manner which will put anything more into his pocket until some of the worst injustices have been remedied and until there is a more equal distribution of wealth among those who carry the heavy end of the stick in society.
Much has been spoken of the nature of a miner's work. It is not only the miner who has to do dangerous and difficult work, but I believe that one element in an incomes policy is that the people who write about it are too often inclined to forget the nature of the work. The reason is that writing for the newspapers and the weekend magazines is an intellectual and not a manual occupation, and an intellectual occupation involves hard work. I trust that all of us here can say that we work hard, but we do not have the kind of work which means that every day one runs the risk of anything from a broken finger to a broken back.
A large number of our fellow countrymen do that kind of work. We do not return from work, nor do the editors of newspapers and those who draw cartoons unfriendly to miners do the kind of work, that leaves a man at the end of the day dirty right through the skin, bruised, scratched and physically exhausted in a way that many kinds of work do not exhaust a man. If we are to have the kind of society in which we can appeal to human beings: "Don't wage war on the nation. Think of the public interest", this is the kind of thing we must think of more than we have ever thought before.
It is because there is not the slightest hope of getting such a change of heart or thought out of the Government that all of us on this side will vote against them with great enthusiasm tonight.
I have listened with great interest to the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Fulham (Mr. Michael Stewart). The nation had the chance at the General Election in 1970 to have its say about the sort of society it wanted, and it is true to say that the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friends had their chance over a period of six years. They tried a statutory incomes policy and many other manoeuvres. Many of us on this side and many people in the country believe that a great many of our problems stem from the fact that people when in office with those half-baked ideas gambled with and wasted the nation's time and energy.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Bob Brown) talked in terms, very common among Labour supporters now, of the Coal Board's niggardly offer. Even after the largest ever cash increase in pensions last September, the offer made by the Coal Board was still 50 per cent. of the pension, and the increase being demanded by the National Union of Mineworkers is more than the old age pension. If the hon. Member describes those figures as niggardly, I can only suggest that instead of organising rallies for old pensioners to complain about inflation he does his bit by telling the National Union of Mineworkers that it is demanding more in increase than the old age pensioners now get as a pension.
Listening to the last two debates on the coal industry, one has been more and more driven to the conclusion that a lot of very phoney figures and statistics have been bandied about. Because I have no desire to take part in perpetrating an injustice against the miners, I read for two days last week a document that not many hon. Members have read—the last report and accounts of the National Coal Board for 1970–71. I extracted some figures which I must say came as a great surprise to me. I have listened to the very moving speeches from the Opposition benches about men taking home £13 per week. I have no need to be persuaded of the dangers inherent in mining. Because he was too old to serve in the Armed Forces during the war, my father volunteered to be a Bevin Boy. I make no secret of the fact that it nearly killed him. He described to me very graphically the condi tions under which he was forced to work. I have immense sympathy for those who work in the industry.
But, from the Coal Board's accounts last year, instead of £13 per week we find that the average wage was £27·05, and the average allowance was £1·85. The average figure was about £29 per week. That is not a great figure, but it is a great increase on the £13 figure bandied about when people have been seeking to wring the hearts of others. One had the impression that the Coal Board was exploiting the miners. But to my immense horror I find that the Coal Board makes four new pence profit per ton of coal mined. The difference between the cost to the Coal Board of obtaining coal and what the Board sells it for at the pithead is 4p. Again, I was quite impressed by the statement that a great profit is being made out of distributing coal, and that coal is being sold at £20 per ton. The impression given was that coal being sold at £20 had been bought for £5·84 and that there was a great profit tucked away for the distributors. But I looked at that matter and found that coal sold at £20 per ton leaves the pithead at very nearly £20 per ton.—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] The average is brought down because of the huge amounts, according to a letter in The Times today, of very cheap, low-grade coal supplied to electricity authorities and to industry. Again it was pointed out in the same letter today that 6,000 of those who were supposed to be making huge profits distributing coal have gone out of business during the last 10 years. The number of distributors has dropped from 15,000 to 9,000. The average profit to the Coal Board per man shift is 8·8 new pence. That is the amount that the Coal Board has in hand after paying its costs per man shift.
Those figures drive hom a fact which cannot be denied, that if any profit is being made out of coal—one doubts whether much profit is being made—the Coal Board is not making it. At present it is selling coal for almost as much as it can get for it without any increase in price, which would be counter productive and would mean cutting back on demand for the fuel, yet at present it is making only 8·8 new pence per man shift.
I do not say this because I wish to prove that the miners are lazy or that the Coal Board is being bloody minded. Board is working on the finest possible margin. If hon. Members opposite back What it demonstrates is that the Coal a demand for an extra 100p per shift, which is effectively what the demand is, they should explain where the other 91p is coming from, because at present the Coal Board is making a profit of only 8·8p per manshift. Therefore, we may say, perhaps, that the Coal Board should increase its price. But at present we know that the Coal Board is able to sell only because its main customer, the C.E.G.B., is forced to buy.
I remind hon. Members opposite who seek to ignore this point when they talk about the power of the miners. It is true that miners have immense power. They have it because we have insisted that another State monopoly, the Central Electricity Generating Board must take 75 per cent. of its needs from the State monopoly in coal. We have given the miners the power that hon. Members opposite boast about them having because we have insisted that the C.E.G.B. takes 75 per cent. of its requirements from the pits. Having given that power, we can also take it away.
The main conclusion inevitably to be drawn is that we can no longer allow this situation to continue. No Government will ever be forgiven by the public if they say to the public, should another incident of this kind occur, "Having learned a lesson, we did nothing. We still allowed that industry, which has shown that it can take the country by the throat, to have the country by the throat."
A priority decision for my right hon. Friend must he to lower the 75 per cent. of its needs which the C.E.G.B. is required to take in coal. We can never again allow a State monopoly to supply 75 per cent. of the needs of another State monopoly. The C.E.G.B. must be allowed to convert more of its stations to oil, and there must be a more balanced intake of fuels to meet its requirements.
In conclusion, I have listened often to the suggestion, put very charmingly by the right hon. Gentleman for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. Harold Lever), that a little bookkeeping operation could sort out the whole thing and that a few figures could be written off the balance sheet and the whole thing would come right. I looked again at the question of interest charges on the Coal Board, because the only constructive suggestion about finding the money to meet the claim we have had from hon. Members opposite is that we should write down the Coal Board's capital. It came as a surprise to me that £415 million was written off less than seven years ago. We were told then that a margin of about £50 million had been built into that figure to take account of the fact that there may have to be further closures and that another £43·2 million has been paid in grants since 1965. Not a penny of the original compensation for the mineowners is outstanding. The whole of these loans represents investment since the nationalisation in the coal industry. £220 million represents advances since 1965.
We repeatedly hear about restructuring the industry. The truth is that the industry is making a bad return on the capital employed. But that capital has been advanced comparatively recently and has been poured into modernising the mines.
Even if we wrote off the whole of the interest charges, 13 out of 18 areas of the Coal Board would still lose £17 million. It is not good enough to pretend that a small bookkeeping operation, making some alterations in the balance sheet or playing about with the figures, would achieve anything. The only way that the Coal Board can become viable is by charging more. If it does, it will lose a considerable proportion of its customers. If it loses customers, it will have to cut back its operations. Hon. Members opposite must face this fact. As The Economist said last week, large increases in the price of coal would probably mean a cutback of 80,000 to 90,000 miners. Listening to the earlier debates was like taking part in a phoney war. Unrealistic figures were bandied around, and the impression was given that some smart little bookkeeping trick could sort out the whole thing. Let hon. Members opposite tell their supporters the truth.
If they want to have a high wage industry, they will have to accept it as a much smaller industry than it is at present. If hon. Members opposite are prepared to follow through their arguments and back their beliefs that the miners should be paid more, we have the right to expect them to say where the money is coming from. It is time that they stopped pretending that some cheap little bookkeeping device is the answer. It is not the answer. The answer will be higher prices, fewer customers and a smaller industry.
Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Michael Stewart), I was led into a train of thought when listening to the speech of the hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Tugendhat), who talked about the miners holding the country to ransom. I could not help thinking about the largesse—hundreds of millions of pounds—handed out by this Government in tax concessions to the better-off who the Government thought were in need of that kind of incentive if they were to do their bit by the country and invest in industry. The Government paid the mass of the people the compliment of thinking that they would not need such an incentive to do their bit for the country. The Government realised that the mass of the people would carry on even if they were made worse off.
What has been the result of the handing out of largesse to the better-off? It has been swallowed up. It has not been invested in industry. The people who had that reward are still "on strike"; they have not shown confidence in the Government. The miners, who have not yet had that incentive from the Government, are on strike.
If the hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Parkinson), who has been looking at the Coal Board's accounts, will look at them again he will see that a fraction of the money given away in largesse would, if made available to the Coal Board, solve the Board's problems and enable the miners to receive a decent wage.
It has been suggested that the coal dispute is a political strike. That is exactly what it is. It is a political strike because the Government made it so. The Government made it so in their determination at the outset to defeat the miners, to meddle in the wage negotiations, and to use the defeat of the miners to further their own unfair and undefined incomes policy.
There are a number of disturbing aspects of the Government's handling of the affair which need answers. For a long time every story told by the mass media about the strike showed signs of Whitehall briefing, hinting at the prospects of an unsuccessful strike because of the allegedly high level of distributed coal stocks.
Now, suddenly, surprisingly and suspiciously, there is a different story, and a national catastrophe is just around the corner. What is the explanation of all this? The Guardian, in its miscellany column of Saturday, 12th February, said this:
Three possible explanations—the Central Electricity Generating Board somehow got its sums wrong; or, for some unknown reason, coal stocks have dwindled at several times the expected rate; or John Davies was panic-mongering, to win the support of the great British public against the miners' pickets. Take your pick.
Strange things are going on. During the weekend I learned of something which certainly needs explanation in the House. The Ratcliffe Power Station near Nottingham is a base load station aiming at 100 per cent. availability and supplying 6 per cent. of the national grid supply. Normally it has four 500-megawatt generators in operation, so that its full output is 2,000 megawatts. About three weeks ago there was a rumour that two sets—that is, two generators capable of supplying three cities the size of Nottingham at peak load—were to be taken out of service for survey. Generators are not normally taken out of service until the summer, when the demand is low. Therefore, this rumour seemed to indicate a mighty peculiar situation.
Eleven days ago the two sets were in fact taken out of commission, at a time when one of the other generators was out of service because of a fault, leaving, therefore, only one of the four generators in service. So three weeks ago the decision was taken, at national level, to reduce that station to one-quarter of its normal capacity. Who took that decision, and why? And in how many other cases over the country has something similar happened?
What has happened at Ratcliffe, if repeated elsewhere, makes sense only it the decision were taken three or four weeks ago that, whatever happened in the miners' strike, whether it ended quickly or not, there would be power cuts, and the anger of the public would be directed at the miners; and the Government would have won a psychological victory in their efforts to keep down wages while their policies deliberately forced up prices.
Machiavellian though all that sounds, it is no more so than when the Prime Minister decided to demonstrate his virility by having a number of exemplary bankruptcies, notably that of Rolls-Royce. Then, as now, the Government blindly and arrogantly went ahead with their pigheaded plans until, finding that lame ducks come home to roost, they belatedly came to the realisation that to allow Rolls-Royce and other concerns to go down the drain would greatly increase unemployment, cause the collapes of a number of communities and damage Britain's good name as a trading nation in the world.
Now, once again, after so-called determined and abrasive government, we have panic measures and a dawning realisation of the consequences of pursuing the policies which the Government seem to have set for themselves. Now at Radcliffe, at the power station I have mentioned, people are working like mad to bring back into service, at reduced loads, the two generators which were taken out of service eleven days ago. That calls for an explanation from the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.
The feature of the debate on 18th January seemed to be that there was agreement on all sides that the miners are not mindless militants but are responsible people who have co-operated to the full in the contraction of their industry and in the introduction of measures which pushed up productivity in the past. Those were the halcyon days when hon. Members opposite could even afford to be complimentary to the miners because they thought then that the miners would capitulate very early. Since then, their attitude has changed because the miners, contrary to the expectations of hon. Gentlemen opposite, have shown their solidarity and their determination to pursue their strike to a just end.
In those years of co-operation by the miners, the miners have seen how inaccurate were the experts who predicted how quickly nuclear-generated power would become cheaper than electricity from coal-fired power stations. They have seen long periods when the price of coal at the pithead has remained stable while the retail price of coal has gone steadily upwards; because between the pithead and the fireplace there has been a multiplicity of factors, agents and middlemen, many of whom serve no useful purpose to the community.
The miners' sacrifice and co-operation have brought them, not an improved standard of living by comparison with the rest of us, but a lowered standard of living. That is why, faced with the Government's meddling in the wage negotiations, the miners are bitter, and the nation is placed in this present disastrous situation because the Government did not understand a number of things. They did not understand that that bitterness existed. They did not understand how they would further exacerbate that bitterness by their interference in wages matters. Most important of all, they did not understand miners.
On 18th January my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) spoke very eloquently and movingly about Nottinghamshire miners. I am proud to say that I represent many of them in this House. I have a very high regard, admiration and affection for them. I count many of them as my personal friends, and over the years that I have been here I have tried to ensure that I have understood some of their problems. I have gone down into the pits on 10 occasions; altogether I have been into eight pits. I have taken my wife and children underground in order that they may know the conditions in which miners have to work.
Some time ago I took a number of naval officers down a pit in my constituency, and when they were leaving they expressed amazement at what they had seen. They had become aware for the first time that mining is still a dirty, arduous and dangerous job and that miners not only have to do dangerous physical work but are technicians, too. In view of the wonderful spirit which existed between the men in the pit and the management, they referred to that mine as a happy ship.
The industry is no longer a happy ship, although all the qualities which were admired so much by those naval officers are still there, ready and available to the nation when the Government make up their mind that they will give the miners a better deal. If the Government have counted upon the capitulation of the miners, as they obviously have, they could not possibly have understood those qualities. This industry produces men who are responsible, loyal, friendly and kindly, and anyone who has ever had contact with the mining community must have found the community very friendly and warm-hearted.
The men who work in the bowels of the earth to win for the rest of us the petrified sunshine of a bygone age, and the families who have to live in the shadow of the pit and in the shadow of all that it can do to them, are not, in spite of their experiences, clannish, even though their lives and livelihoods might in many ways make them a race apart.
The men who daily risk injury and death also face the insidious build-up inside them of the consequences of breathing coal dust. Not only do they contract those terrible diseases like pneumoconiosis, but respiratory diseases such as emphysema and bronchitis are much more prevalent amongst miners than among any other section of the community.
The Registrar-General's decennial supplement on occupational mortality showed in 1964 that mortality from bronchitis among miners under 65 was 35 per cent. higher than in the general male population of the same age. Astonishingly, for miners' wives, the figure was 75 per cent. What is the explanation of that amazingly high fatal incidence of bronchitis amongst miners' wives? Perhaps it is the consequence of past generations of miners' families living on low wages and in poor housing conditions, and the necessity for the women of those past generations to breathe 24 hours a day noxious fumes from burning colliery tips.
I do not know the cause of this high incidence of respiratory disease amongst miners and their families, but, whatever the cause, it means that mining families have bred in them by bitter experience a solidarity and sympathy with their menfolk. The Government have not understood this. They have looked for cracks in the miners' ranks. They thought that they could easily starve them into submission in this first official mining strike for 46 years. They have hopelessly misjudged the situation. Let them, therefore, now come down from the ivory tower from which they have directed their unfair and undefined incomes policy and let them enable the Coal Board to meet the miners with their legitimate grievances.
Reference has been made to the fact that my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. Harold Lever) suggested on 18th January that the financial structure of the industry should be reviewed. I hope that the Government have come to their senses, that they will permit the Coal Board to give the miners a fair deal and that they will definitely institute the review for which my right hon. Friend called. We badly need coal. We badly need miners. This is the lesson of this strike. We shall need them for a long time to come. Let the Government go into action to ensure that all the hardships that we are about to experience are rapidly brought to an end by making that coal available and gettng the miners hack to work at the earliest possible moment.
I have listened with great interest to the debate today, as I did to the previous coal mining debate. I listened with especial interest to the right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Michael Stewart), for whom I have always had a great regard, and to the hon. Member for Nottingham. North (Mr. Whitlock) about the life of the coal miner, and I accept what he says. It is an unpleasant life. It has been underpaid, and it is dangerous. There are other occupations which have the same hazards, but which are perhaps not so unpleasant. Before the war coalmining suffered grievous unemployment and even greater hardship.
I have never intervened in a mining debate before. I am not a miner. I have never been down a mine in this country. The same applies to my constituents. I doubt whether there is a single miner in my constituency. For the first time since I have had the privilege of representing them in this House my constituents have become grievously affected by the consequences of a miners' strike, and it is my duty to represent their interests here and to give weight to their opinions.
In the last few days, like all hon. Members, I have been in my constituency talking to people trying to discover how they have been affected. I have received a great deal of mail and many telephone calls—an unusual number, in fact. I must tell the House that the view in my constituency does not seem to be that which prevails in many other parts of the country. Indeed, I would make so bold as to read one of the many letters which I received this morning and which I assure the House is typical:
Dear Sir, why is it that we hear on the wireless that the people are supposed to be for the miners.… What about the rest of the real working class who can only get a pound or two extra a week while the miners expect £8 or more, and our sympathy as well, while they as good as tell the rest of us to go to hell, and put up with the cost of living …
That seems to be a typical view in my constituency. There are many poor people among my constituents. The average age is slightly higher than that of the rest of the country, and at this moment I expect many of them are sitting in the dark without any form of heating. Some of them are old and Door, and some may well be sick, while others have small children. They are sitting in the dark and in the cold, not of their own choice. My constituents, and others like them, seem especially anxious and distressed about two factors in the present situation. First, like the great mass of people in this country, thank heavens, they are law-abiding people and—
Indeed, "here we go". They fear and detest any sort of violence, whether it is offered or threatened in this House or elsewhere, as in Ireland. They have a revulsion against it, they fear it—and rightly they fear it, as all right hon. and hon. Members on both sides will agree.
A revulsion against violence in any form. They believe, perhaps wrongly, that the miners—or certainly those from outside who have joined the ranks of the miners' pickets—have gone beyond peaceful picketing into intimidation. They believe this because they have seen it on the television screen, when their television sets have been working. This is the way that people learn what is going on, from reading the newspapers and watching the television. They may well be wrong, but that is what they believe. People believe that, because of the intimidation, they have been left in the dark and the cold, and they have a revulsion against that intimidation which, I am sure, all hon. Members must share.
What does the hon. Gentleman say about the occasions when lorry drivers have been intimated by their employers, by employers who have told them that, if they do not get a load of coke, they will be sacked? What about that kind of intimidation?
I detest and abhor any sort of intimidation, including that kind of intimidation, too. If the hon. Gentleman will listen to what I am saying, he will understand that I am putting the view of my constituents, and I am adding that all of us should rightly be frightened of any signs of violence or initimation growing up in this country. Ulster, part of the United Kingdom, is already in the grip of violence. Let us not have violence in Great Britain as well. If there is intimidation of lorry drivers by employers, I should be opposed to that, naturally, and I hope that all my right hon. and hon. Friends, as well as hon. Members opposite, would take the same view.
The sympathy of my constituents, if they are warm enough to have any sympathy left, is principally, I believe, for the police, who seem to be having a rotten time.
The second anxiety which my constituents have is about inflation. I have already said that I have in my constituency many old people, many poor people, and many people with large families. Inflation may not turn the lights out in a dramatic way like a power cut can, but, by heavens, it can dim them over a period of time. If any hon. Members or people outside are not afraid of inflation or do not believe that people generally are, I can only say that they have not talked in the constituencies.
As we all know, the miners may well be a special case—my hon. Friend the Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Tugendhat) argued that they are, and I would go along with that—but we know also that if the inquiry awards them, or suggests that they should have, a pay settlement very much greater than that offered by the National Coal Board, that award will inevitably be used as a target for all those other bodies which will be negotiating their pay settlements in the coming months, and inevitably it will mean an increase in the rate of inflation. There is no question of that.
I am saying that, if they receive a very much greater award, this will have a dramatic and dangerous inflationary effect in the country. I do not know what the award will be—we must wait for the result of the inquiry—but I hope that it will be reasonable. I understand that the Government have already said that they will accept the award of the inquiry—
Even though it is, perhaps, inflationary, yes—although I hope that it will not be.
I ask the Government to keep in mind the interests of all those who are lower paid, who may or may not be members of trade unions, who do not demonstrate, who do not use intimidation, who do not use violence, and who are still the vast majority of the nation.
I have hardly spoken yet. The hon. Gentleman must wait. He had difficulty enough in getting his words out when he was on his feet, and now I am on my feet he is bursting forth.
I had not presumed to take part in any of our debates on the coal mining industry because so many of those who represent mining constituencies, and who have been miners themselves, thought that our debates would not be complete without the advocacy of every one of them. I have great sympathy with my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), for example, who has probably been pregnant with an undelivered speech on the occasion of every debate up to now.
I am glad to hear it. I can speak with some experience, however, of the problems here involved because I have been a member of the trade union movement for 50 years. I have been on the picket line. I know what peaceful picketing is. I knew what it was in tougher days. Incidentally, I read the debate on the emergency powers in 1926. The Minister handling those powers was Joynson Hicks, who was called "stupidly honest"—which, I suppose, was a form of insult which fitted him pretty well.
I find that these disputes always take the same course. When the dispute really begins to bite, people turn round and insult the miners' leadership. We read yesterday, for example, a whole page in the Sunday Times arguing that the dispute would not have happened if it had not been for Joe Gormley and Lawrence Daly. But I have a pretty good memory, and I always tinge present arguments about justice with memory. My memory goes back to the Sankey Commission of 1919, when two of the outstanding miners' advocates—[Laughter.] I do not know why the hon. Member for Clapham is laughing. He knew very little about the miners, so it might do him a little good to listen to what I have to say. In 1919, at the time of the Sankey Commission, the advocacy of Robert Smillie and Frank Hodges was so brilliant that it not only compelled the original Commission to declare in favour of nationalisation but it even brought its chairman, Lord Sankey, into the ranks of the Labour Party.
One has only to think of the great figures since then, Herbert Smith, Ernest Jones, Jim Bowman, A. J. Cook, Will Paynter—all of them in their time—[An HON. MEMBER: "All written down?"] Certainly, I have jotted them down. I doubt that any hon. Member opposite knew about even one of them, so it is reasonable that I should list them and give the names.
The point about the miners' dispute is that they knew from the start what they wanted. They started on their claim almost as soon as their last one had been settled nearly a year ago. They could not get the vote they wanted under their union rules, so they altered the rules and got a ballot vote in favour of the strike. [An HON. MEMBER: "Only just."] When Iain Macleod was Minister of Labour he was never very much in favour of having ballot votes to bring workers out on strike, because he always understood that a ballot vote would be needed to take them back to work. So it is no use claiming that there is too much democracy in the N.U.M. We order things better in my union; we do not ballot to come out on strike, and we probably need only the say so of our chairman to take us back.
What good has that monstrous piece of legislation, the Industrial Relations Act, done us in the miners' dispute, except that everyone is marking time waiting for 28th February, when sympathetic picketing will be made illegal?
I do not think the miners' leaders have been incompetent or inefficient. The difficulty is that once their members have put a ballot vote behind them the members take over. That always happens. That is why we should never allow strikes to begin. I can say, with the benefit of much experience, that at all costs we do not want the ultimate decision to strike to be taken. The threat of the strike is the most powerful weapon of all. The Government fell down here. Joe Gormley and Lawrence Daly have been extremely efficient compared with the inefficiency manifested by the Government.
I remember when I was Minister of Works the present Prime Minister had one favourite form of insult, which was to call someone incompetent. He called me incompetent when I stocked up a few million more bricks than we could absorb in 1965. But that is nothing to the number of bricks the right hon. Gentleman has dropped since then. I stocked them up against 400,000 houses. He has dropped his bricks for the greatest industrial calamity we have had since the war. It is the Prime Minister who has brooded over the present situation. I wish that he were here so that I could tell him so. Nature always intended him to be a commissar. He would be very efficient as one of the bureaucrats at Brussels. But he lacks the sympathy, the ranging mind, to encompass a situation like the present.
I listened to the Prime Minister's speech last Friday evening to a Conservative party conference. My experience of party conferences is that if this House is a hot house sometimes, party conferences are a mad house. But the Prime Minister savoured the occasion to the full. He made a speech of sustained arrogance. There was not one word of compassion in it, not one word of comprehension. He thought the miners were had men, striking because they were wicked, instead of good men passionately believing they are right. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] That is the fact. Conservative hon. Members never understand that. They must understand that on both sides of the argument there are good men who passionately believe they are right. It was an arrogant speech in every way.
The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is in one of the super-Ministries. I sympathise with him; I think they are too big. He has under him Ministers such as the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden). It must be very difficult to keep control over that lot. No one will mistake the absolute surprise evident in the right hon. Gentleman on Friday. He had just discovered something. Two or three days earlier, he had been harping on the pickets, and on television over the weekend he expressed his astonishment that the miners should have picketed power stations. Did he think they would stand at the top of coal mines as they did in 1926? What use would that be? They are not as unintelligent as that. Now we read stories in the Daily Mail this morning that the right hon. Gentleman did not attend the Cabinet Committee that dealt with the situation but sent along the Minister for Industry, one of his subordinates. Whether the hon. Gentleman alerted the Committee to the gravity of the situation, I do not know, but no one who has ever been a Minister can doubt that there has been a complete breakdown in communications between one Department and another.
Reading the report in HANSARD of what was said on Friday morning, reading first the statement of the Secretary of State for Employment and then what the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry said, we would not think they were members of the same Government. The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry came late to this House. It is a very funny place. It has been the political graveyard of many businessmen. Generally speaking, the right hon. Gentleman is a very agreeable sort of man, but he has shown a degree of naivety near to ignorance throughout his career on industrial relations. Yet he is the ex-boss of the C.B.I. He did not have a very good liaison with it over the strike. I have never known a crisis come upon the country in the way the present crisis has come.
The Secretary of State for Employment always comes here in a spirit of unctuous rectitude. He always has the idea that God is on his side. But we had had under him a steady drift towards this crisis. When I used to listen to him on the Industrial Relations Act I often wondered, "Has he ever read any industrial history?" It was once said of Montgomery that he did not know the nature of the men he tried to lead. The Government do not know the nature of the men they try to legislate for. So the crisis has come upon us.
We have a great deal of sympathy with the Home Secretary. The affairs of Ulster must have pressed heavily upon him, otherwise he could not have given the string of silly answers he gave last week. It did not dawn on him until three days after he had been questioned that the circular to the police he sent out on Friday would have settled most of the problems of picketing.
I suppose that we must have some sympathy with the Chairman of the N.C.B. too. He has been in a principal position in the Board since 1947. He has had different chairmen, and for the past 10 years has probably had an overbearing one in Lord Robens. I wonder what would have happened in the dispute if Lord Robens had been chairman. Would he have faced up to the Ministries? We have the impression that Mr. Ezra is not the master in his own house. Looming over all the problems we see the Government directives.
If last week's offer was near to being accepted, it might have been accepted if the strike had not been allowed to start. I do not know. But at the end of the day Wilberforce may very well give an award that the miners will be willing to accept. If they do, it would be just as well to have had that at the beginning rather than at the end. The miners' pay and conditions cannot be equated merely to a matter of book keeping. George Bernard Shaw asked, "Who is going to do the dirty work under Socialism?" It has to be paid for one way or another. There is still abroad in the land—
I asked, quoting Shaw, "Who will do the dirty work under Socialism?" That is a relevant matter.
The numbers of blue collar workers in our society are falling, and the numbers of white collar workers are rising. The white collar worker in the main is rewarded and valued in society more than the blue collar worker is. This poses the old question that we tend to undervalue the men who work with their hands and to overvalue the jobs of those who write about them. This has happened all the way along.
The strike has been breaking out for months. I have no mines in my constituency but some miners do live in it. It is in the cradle of the industrial revolution of which mining has been the centre. These men are not postmen undermined by telephonists and others. They are almost an aristocracy of unrest throughout the labour movement. If one equates this situation with military terms, they are the brigade of guards of the labour movement. They are people who stand and fight, and as I have said before in this House the best trade unionist is the man with the qualities of the British infantryman who will stand and fight and has the qualities of cohesion and loyalty and of not breaking in a losing battle. But this Government look upon such qualities as obstinacy and bloody-mindedness. They turn the argument upside down—there is no question of that. I warn the Government that these are not troops who will break. One of the truths in life is that, for the coward, moral degradation and death are certain, but for the rebel there is always the hope to conquer, and the capacity to resist is always infinitely nobler than the faculty to succumb. These men will not succumb. They will stand.
I hope that, at the end of this week, the award will be a good one, but what have the Government said? They have said that they will accept the award. But it did not really need the miners to agree and nor did it really need the National Coal Board to agree to an inquiry. The duty of the Government is to intervene when no one agrees. On 24th January, I asked the Secretary of State for an inquiry. He gave the usual glib answer that neither side would agree. Cannot he understand that the object of the in quiry this week is to get a realistic figure? The Government's figure was not realistic. If an inquiry had been appointed earlier and produced a figure, we would have been well on the way to a settlement, although the miners did not agree then to an inquiry being set up. The question of leadership of men on strike is difficult. No one wants to lose face. But sometimes a Government should have the guts to govern or the grace to get out. As the Government have not the first quality, hope that they will have the second.
I hope that the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) will not mind if I do not follow him in his speech, save for the comment that if he is comparing the leadership of the Government with that provided by Field-Marshal Montgomery, I take it as a great compliment to the Government.
Like most hon. Members, I spent a lot of time this weekend talking and listening to my constituents. One thing which emerged among the sympathies expressed was very real concern for the plight of the elderly. Over and over again, in personal interviews and on the radio, one hears that the main regret is the difficulties that the old are experiencing. It is true that in some areas voluntary committees have been set up whose sole object is to care for the elderly. There are local services and other organisations like the W.R.V.S. which help with fuel and clothing. Many individuals also are trying to do something constructive. One individual in my constituency has advertised for all the wood he can get and he is prepared to distribute it to those in need.
What is misisng in many parts of the country is an element of co-ordination. There are many more people who would like to help but who do not know how to set about it. Others know of old people who need assistance but do not know whom to contact. It must be realised that the problem is greater than that of fuel supply alone. There is the question of extra food and clothing, which often help in the absence of power. Too, often. for example, the number of meals on wheels served is well below what is needed in normal times. This is due to a variety of reasons but it is particularly regrettable at present. I believe that many individual people would be glad to prepare extra meals if they only knew for whom they should be provided.
My first question to the Government, therefore, is whether they are satisfied that no further co-ordination is necessary. If they are not so satisfied, could they not suggest to local authorities that emergency arrangements should be set up in each district council area—perhaps an emergency committee chaired by the mayor or the chairman of the local authority which could co-ordinate all the efforts of help offered by voluntary bodies or individuals, channelling them to all those needing aid? The advertising in the Press or on radio of one local telephone number or address to which all queries should be directed would in itself be of enormous value. I think that this would do much to harness the immense good will which exists. I am not trying to denigrate the tremendous amount of good already being done by various organisations, but I suggest that many districts would benefit from my suggestion.
My second question is being argued by many of my constituents. Are the Government satisfied not only with the way in which picketing has taken place but also with the way in which illegal picketing has been dealt with? Many people are genuinely alarmed not only by the illegal acts—few or many as they may be—but by the fact that there appears to be an open defiance of the law. They are seriously asking whether the rule of law is not in danger, not just in this dispute but through the deplorable precedent which unfortunately it has set.
No one, except perhaps some hon. Members opposite, would ever consider the miners to be the gentlest of men who would not dream of using harsh words and actions—indeed, the miners would not be the men they are if they behaved so. But while one agrees that they are entitled to peaceful picketing, there has been a series of disturbing events. Power station workers have been prevented in some cases from getting to work—it happened this morning in Scotland. This has happened even though the national consequences are known. "The right to work"—a phrase I often hear on the lips of hon. Members opposite. "The right to work" of many workers is being denied by the miners and this danger is as inherent in the present dispute as disrespect for the law is symptomatic of the age in which we live, and it has aroused widespread fears. Those fears will not be allayed by the speech of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary today.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there are power stations which are not being picketed but which, although they are oil-fired, are not working to full capacity? One of them, the Clarence Dock power station, is in my constituency. It is capable of working to full capacity but it is not doing so at present and the workers at the station are kicking up a fuss about it. Is he aware of situations such as that?
The hon. Gentleman must recall the preface to my remarks. No one has denied that some incidents have taken place. I suggest that the people look to their elected Government to protect the nation's interests.
I must ask my right hon. Friend whether the Government are satisfied that the state of the law and the advice to chief constables is sufficient to give that protection, not only during this strike but in the further struggles which this unfortunate precedent may well produce. There is considerable uneasiness abroad at this moment and it is the Government's job to take action to reassure public opinion.
My third and last question relates to the coal industry itself. As a former opponent of the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Whitlock), I must say to him that I have seen the conditions underground in which miners have to work. It is still a dangerous and dirty job, though not quite as bad as the public image has it—which owes too much to reissues of "How Green was my Valley". None the less, I accept that coal mining is an industry which most people would not enter and as such the miner is entitled to a reasonable wage.
Furthermore, I do not think it is civilised that we should ask men to spend their working lives underground tearing out coal from the bowels of the earth. Surely it is not beyond the wit of modern technology to develop alternative sources of power. Successive Governments have interfered with the plans of the power industry and virtually enforced the use of coal rather than substitutes.
Let us by all means settle the dispute, let us end the misery, but I ask my right hon. Friend whether the Government are prepared to look forward to the day when we do not have to ask anybody in this country to earn their living in such a dangerous and dirty occupation. I hope the Government will address themselves to this question and to the other two which I have asked this afternoon.
The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) has repeated this afternoon a fair amount of the claptrap we heard before this dispute developed into a strike. It is because some of Her Majesty's Ministers have been enthused with the same kind of miscalculations and unrealistic views about the position that the country is facing this grim crisis.
I am still waiting for the searching questions to be put by hon. Gentlemen opposite which we have been promised in the national newspapers. There have been reports by allegedly well-informed political correspondents that we are to hear a great many searching questions concerning the maladministration of their own Government. So far we have heard very little of them. Instead, we have had the dangerous and foolish language produced by the hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Tugendhat), who talked about the miners holding the country to ransom—no doubt foreshadowing other language about waging war against the country which he will use in a fortnight, if the strike is not settled by then.
I gave notice to the hon. Gentleman that I intended to mention him in my speech and therefore I feel free to examine what he said. The hon. Gentleman engaged in very foolish language indeed. He has no knowledge or understanding of the deep feeling among the mining communities and of the steadying attitude of the mining communities, including all the workers in those places whether or not they are engaged in coal mining. He is wrong to think that he is making a serious contribution to this debate if he follows his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in the foolish attempt to hound the miners and to put them publicly in the wrong—a tactic in which the Prime Minister tried to engage in his speech on Friday night.
Not yet—I will give way in a moment when I have finished with the hon. Gentleman. [HON. MEMBERS: "Give way."] It is not up to any hon. Member to tell me to whom to give way. We will settle this among ourselves. The hon. Gentleman has no more understanding than has his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister of the feelings that exist in those communities. He has no understanding of the views of workers in engineering and steel who are expressing their solidarity with their fellow workers in the coal mining industry. He ought to know that he should desist from indulging in any attempt by propaganda of this kind to try to isolate the miners because he will fail and make an already dangerous situation much worse than it is today.
Nobody who heard my speech could accuse me of hounding the miners [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I went out of my way to pay tribute to their special condition. I did, however, say that if they refused to go hack when they can do so without prejudice, this would be taken as holding the nation to ransom. There are millions of people—not in the engineering industry, but people who live in London—who will be prepared to testify to this at the moment. And the hon. Gentleman has only to go outside the Palace of Westminster into my constituency to speak to people who take that view.
I know the hon. Gentleman used that term, having said a number of other things, but that does not make his offence any less great. [Interruption.] It is no good hon. Gentlemen shouting; they will have their opportunity. It is that sort of attitude which has led to the disastrous incompetence of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and to the misguided attitude of the Prime Minister throughout this dispute.
First of all, there has been sheer incompetence. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Knutsford (Mr. John Davies) told the House some 72 hours ago that one of the main tasks of the people running the depôt at Saltley in Birmingham was to concentrate on those special deliveries which were particularly essential and which were agreed between the two sides in the dispute. He said they were not delivered in such a way to retailers; they were delivered only to other large wholesalers and there could not be any special deliveries. I will tell the right hon. Gentleman that they are now making special deliveries and they are in an agreement which the union has wanted for some time.
The hon. Gentleman is of course wrong. The depôt in question is delivering only to wholesalers; it cannot know to which ultimate destinations the coke in question will go, and it is prepared to receive undertakings, as also is the N.U.M. I say this so that the record should be correct.
The hon. Gentleman obviously did not quite catch what I said. The point is that they cannot be sure where their coke goes because they do not deliver from that depôt to the ultimate consumer.
Of course they cannot be sure in any detailed case, but what the right hon. Gentleman has failed to do is to give them instructions to engage in that kind of delivery. He is now reversing his position.
Yes, he is; he is reversing the position, and I will come to the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary to show that he, too, within four days has reversed his position.
The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has a duty to ensure that the two sides get together under his instructions to man and run the depôt. [Interruption.] The lights have gone out in the Chamber, but despite that I will continue my speech.
It is this sheer incompetence which has been responsible for this crisis and which in a similar situation in private industry would have led to a demand for the chairman's immediate resignation. I draw attention to the attitude which the Government are now trying to adopt and which was characterised by a speech made by the Prime Minister on Friday. First of all, the leaders of the N.U.M. have always been in a negotiating position. They are in a negotiating position now. This point has not been made so far in the debate. From the beginning, the Government have prevented the National Coal Board from engaging in serious negotiation. Time and time again, whenever contacts between the two sides have taken place, Mr. Gormley has said that he was ready to negotiate. By the statement of its president, the N.U.M. is ready to negotiate today. If the Prime Minister wanted to do his job properly he would call the union leaders and the Coal Board to his office this evening and ask them to get together and to negotiate on a realistic basis. He would allow the court of inquiry to continue, because we face a delay of perhaps another 10 days or fortnight—
I will not give way. What the Government have to remember is that if there is a report by the end of this week which makes sense to the N.U.M., there must be negotiation before it is agreed. Then there will have to be, we hope, the most speedy procedure to get the agreement of the men on a recommendation to go back to work. It is in the best interests of the country to short-circuit this procedure. It is still in the hands of the Government. It is still possible for the Prime Minister to adopt the proposals made on Saturday by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition to take an active part in this serious affair and to call the two sides together. That could be done tonight or tomorrow morning. What has been wrong so far is that the Government have pretended that they have nothing to do with the policy pursued in this matter, when everyone knew that they alone were solely responsible—
The hon. Member for Gillingham may not like what I say. However, I do not seek his support. I represent the point of view of my constituents. If the hon. Gentleman cares to go to South Yorkshire and to talk to workers in any industry there, they will tell him where he gets off. I am representing them in telling him the same.
I move, then, to my last but one point. It concerns the allegations about picketing. The Home Secretary gave us a brief exposition of the other side of the case. However, the problem of maintaining law and order is a serious one. One of my constituents told me over the weekend that during the picketing in Birmingham what happened in many cases was that some of the people who wanted a quiet word with one of the non-union drivers trying to rush into the depôt—incidentally, causing most of the trouble which occurred—were never in a position to make the first approach to the lorry driver in order to put their case to him as they are entitled to do by law.
This is the kernel of the debate. It is not the claptrap about law and order and illegal picketing in which the right hon. Gentleman indulged as the centre piece of this debate—
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) will allow me to finish. I was about to say that I am the only Member who has taken part in picketing and had the experience of the police intervening and of being arrested. I was told by the police that they would stop anyone speaking to anyone else if they wanted to and that, if did not clear off and if the picketers did not clear off, we would be arrested for obstruction. That is what is going on throughout the country at the present time.
I knew that my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis), along with others on this side of the House, had practical experience. For that reason, I did not want to prevent him making his contribution.
I return to my point that the first perfectly legal approach was impossible in many cases. The situation varies. We have also had reports from many parts of the country, including South Yorkshire, that chiefs of police have shown great consideration for the democratic rights of our constituents, and the situation has been very good throughout. As a result of the Telex message sent by the Home Secretary, albeit a little belatedly, I hope that there will be a good development in terms of the legal rights of our constituents to picket peacefully.
I turn finally to the prognostications from the chairman of the Central Electricity Generating Board. He told the country that the board had stocks for 12 or 13 weeks, that no one had to worry, and that everything was all right. If there were ever a case for resignation, it is that gentleman, and he should take with him those people whose strategy was hidden behind those boastful statements.
What was in the Government's minds, faced with this serious strike? We were told that coal was not so important, that miners were not needed so much, and that we could get on without them. How that claptrap has been shown up in the country. We have the worst industrial crisis that we have experienced for many years.
Behind the statements of the Generating Board's chairman and others was the Government's intention to beat down the miners and to show them that they could not possibly succeed with their justified claim. The naked class policy of this Government showed itself in their attitude, and they must not be allowed to escape their responsibility.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams) said that the policies of this Government had divided the nation and made it imperative for unions such as the N.U.M. to make substantial wage claims. By their naked class policy, they are dividing the nation further. One of the important messages which must go out from this House is that we are not voting tonight on technical measures that this Government have brought upon the country by their irresponsible policies. We are rejecting, on behalf of the majority of our fellow countrymen, a disastrous Government who by incompetence and naked class policies will bring the country to rack and ruin if they are allowed to remain in office a day longer.
I will not follow the hon. Member for Penis-stone (Mr. John Mendelson) in his remarks. It seemed to me that the hon. Gentleman was as inaccurate in the light as in the darkness. I will leave the matter there.
The right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Michael Stewart) talked about the Government's policy against prices and wages and said that it had not changed very much since the Government came to power. The right hon. Gentleman should be reminded of two facts. In the first six months of 1971 prices went up by 13·2 per cent. In the last six months of 1971 they went up by only 5·5 per cent. This is what the Government have been trying to achieve. They have been trying to slow down the rate of increase in prices for the good of all our people.
As British industry is busy adjusting to short-time and lay-offs as a result of the strike, I believe that people generally are increasingly asking, as my hon Friend the Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Tugendhat) said: why should we be held to ransom by the N.U.M. leaders who are purporting to act in the names of all the miners? People are saying that it is time to take stock whether one section of the community should be able, in a situation like this, to tyrannise all our citizens.
Last week we had one tragic death of a miner on picket duty, and a few days ago two young boys of 14 were killed while trying to collect coal. I ask hon. Gentleman opposite who are encouraging the strike: how many more deaths are there to be in either picketing or accidents, because they will be responsible for what happens? There has been a lot of talk of a great deal of sympathy—
I was remarking that the deaths were as a result of the strike. I am not suggesting who is directly responsible. That is a matter for legal process. I am pointing out that these accidents, tragic as they are—we should not make too much or too light of them—have been as a result of the strike.
There has been a lot of talk of sympathy for the miners. I do not think that "sympathy" is quite the right word. We admire the job that the miners do. It is a dirty, unhealthy and dangerous job. But there are many other such jobs in this country. The seamen have a dangerous job, the dustmen have a very dirty job, and the nurses frequently have an unpleasant job.
It is very unpleasant for old-age pensioners who are struggling with no light or coal to keep body and soul together. I wonder how many old-age pensioners' lives have been made unpleasant as a result of this struggle. I wonder how many handicapped people are facing even greater difficulties and others who are ill with no electric light or warmth to keep them going. By what divine right does Mr. Gormley believe that he can induce the kind of suffering that the country is beginning to have and will increasingly have as the weeks go by?
It is widely said that the miners have a cast-iron case for a 35 to 47 per cent. rise. But do they have a just claim for that degree of increase when we consider miners' productivity in 1967–68 went up by 6·6 per cent., but in 1970–71 went up by only 1·7 per cent.? Their productivity in the last few years has been almost on a plateau. On a productivity basis alone there seems hardly any justification for a claim which would cost the National Coal Board £130 million.
I believe that some hon. Gentlemen opposite who are so keen to encourage this strike and conflict are encouraging it as a direct confrontation against the Government and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. The Government have been trying to keep wage rises within a reasonable level so that the public can have a reasonable level of prices. I notice that the Opposition have a great deal of fun and seem to enjoy it when they point out that prices have risen by so much at the end of a certain period. Yet they are encouraging or inciting us to give way to a 35 to 47 per cent. increase. Surely we are fighting for the consumer and for the housewife.
These are two sections of the community for whom the Opposition seem to care not a jot, and the Leader of the Opposition in a childish speech at Cheltenham on Saturday tried to incite the Government to do just that. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman's motto might be, "Pay them more", because this is what he was saying. The right hon. Gentleman was trying to persuade the Prime Minister to ask the miners to 10, Downing Street, to give them some beer and sandwiches, and to pay them twice what they are asking.
In what ways would the hon. Gentleman say that the fair rents policy is a battle on behalf of the consumer with projected rent rises which will double council house rents?
I was interested when the hon. Lady for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams) mentioned rents in her speech. My information is that many miners have Coal Board houses anyway. If the hon. Gentleman wants to know about this matter, he can easily ask the people who will benefit from rebates when the Housing Bill is passed. Under the provisions of that Bill many people living in privately rented accommodation will, for the first time, have rebates.
It may be that the miners and some of their leaders do not care about the price of coal, but my constituents and many other people throughout the country care very much indeed. Unlike the miners, my constituents do not get a great deal of coal free.
I will not give way. I am trying to be brief. I believe that the miners should wait while the Wilberforce Inquiry is sitting, and it is a tragedy that in the meanwhile they will not return. The insensitivity of a number of the miners' leaders, helped and encouraged by Members of the Opposition today, to the suffering of the public is quite frightening. They are as insensitive as Marie Antoinette when she said, "Let them eat cake."
I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said that he felt it would be helpful for the House to know that he would look further into the question of illegal picketing. I believe that members of the public are very worried about the situation. Many people are not clear what is legal and how far pickets are able to go in this kind of situation. I hope that the Government will give urgent and careful consideration to this problem as soon as possible and will confirm that, after 28th February, it will be an unfair industrial practice for an industrial dispute to be extended to extraneous parties. I believe that, in many instances, the physical blockading of power stations and the cutting off of them from the coal and coke supplies which they have bought and paid for is something which many people find intolerable.
If the miners stubbornly resist going back to work pending the outcome of the inquiry they will, and rightly, begin to lose a lot of the sympathy and admiration which they have throughout the country. I trust that the shock of this emergency will make them persuade their leaders to think again. I hope that they will make them see the danger of the situation to their jobs and to the jobs of millions of others. I hope too, that when the miners have thought about it, perhaps as a result of today's debate, they will consider going back to work right away with the award they have been promised by the board, wait to see what Wilberforce has to say, and then the country can get on with its job.
I should like to begin by referring to two or three points made by hon. Gentlemen opposite. I might, in passing, refer to something that was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams), but that depends on the time and how things go.
I start by dealing with what was said by the hon. Member for Chertsey (Mr. Grylls). I realise that he has a number of coal mines in his constituency. The hon. Gentleman referred to the revised offer that was put to the miners a few days ago. It might benefit the hon. Gentleman, and I am sure that it will benefit the House—certainly this side of it—if I explain as briefly as possible what this so-called revised, improved offer was all about.
Despite what the Secretary of State for Employment said in the House on Friday morning, in total terms the revised offer represented something worse than the previous offer. Before going any further, let me deal with what was said by my colleague in the mining industry, the President of the N.U.M., Mr. Gormley. I am referring to his comment at the weekend about the miners possibly accepting this offer, and hon. Gentlemen opposite asking how the revised offer can be worse than the previous one if the miners are prepared to accept it. What Mr. Gormley was saying was not that the miners might have accepted the offer as it is, but that they could have accepted that kind of money over a twelve-month period. There is a lot of difference between the two, and I hope that the Daily Telegraph—I do not see any of its reporters present—will note that and mention it tomorrow.
What was the offer? It was a £22 basic minimum for people on the surface. No explanation was given of how the odd £1 would be paid. When some of my colleagues on the national executive asked the board how it was to be paid, the board had not a clue. We can dismiss the industrial relations officer from the scene, because he has had nothing to do with the negotiations. He has not said a word all the time they have been going on. When Ezra was asked for an explanation about the £1, he did not know the answer. The reason was that he was under instruction to put forward an offer which conformed to the 7 per cent. to 8 per cent. guideline which on some occasions the Government say they have not laid down but on others they say they have laid down. As I explained to the Minister on Friday, if he does not want to believe my arithmetic, perhaps he will accept the arithmetic of his hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) who supported my view.
Nobody from the benches opposite has explained why, in the revised offer, five days' holiday were taken away from the miners. In the original offer there was a reference to £2, and £1·90 in some cases, and five days' extra holiday, which Ezra, after being questioned at the negotiating table some weeks ago, said would not cost any money. I do not know how he came to that conclusion, but that was the point he made. The board was proposing to do away with the five extra days' holiday. There was a £22 basic, but in fact it was only £21 basic. If a man did not turn up for one of the five days, he lost it, but that was not fully explained. We then had the galling experience of having to acknowledge that the claim would be over 22 months, which in practical terms represents two years.
If the hon. Gentleman says that these two claims are the same, how does he explain the fact that the first offer would cost the board £32 million but the second would cost £48 million, for one year?
It is true that I obtained a distinction in mathematics, but I do not want to explain that. All I want to say is that this sum of £48 million spread over 22 months represents 24 months in practical terms, because the organisation of the N.U.M. is such that a pay claim begins in January or February of a given year, it goes to the national congress in July, and gets to the negotiating table in about October or November. It was, therefore, a two-year offer, representing an increase of about 6 per cent.
Far from being a better offer, the miners, without an Oxford education—which they do not need—reckoned the matter up in a few moments and notwithstanding what their leaders might say, decided, in unison, and in no mistakable terms, at mass meetings throughout the coalfields, that they did not want anything to do with the revised offer, and if the court of inquiry comes up with something not much different, then, however much hon. Gentlemen opposite may rave and bawl about the miners holding the country to ransom, they will not go back to work. They will not return unless they find about £5 or more coming from Lord Wilberforce.
Perhaps it is.
At the weekend it was suggested by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition that the Home Secretary was rather like Yogi Bear. I think that that is a bit unfair to Yogi Bear. The Home Secretary talked about picketing, and made a dangerous suggestion about the procedure needing to be changed. I have been on picket duty on many occasions during this dispute. I may say that I had a lot of practice at it beforehand. I was with a picket on the first Tuesday after the strike broke. I was asked to address a number of lads who had gone to the Bolsover Coalite plant because they were disturbed about what was happening. Only about 15 miners were present, and about the same number of police. The police, who were young, raw recruits and should not have been there, were urging lorry drivers to "step on it". Those were the words to the drivers who wanted to get through the gates of the Coalite plant.
I put a stop to that, but the important thing is to remember is that someone in the Derbyshire Constabulary—probably the chief inspector himself, but I do not know—decided to alter the policy. The following day about 12 old-fashioned constables appeared on the scene, and immediately the whole atmosphere changed. One miner who was feeling the cold decided to wear a pair of his wife's tights underneath his trousers to keep himself warm, and he found them very effective, and when the chief inspector heard about it he decided that he, too, would wear a pair of his wife's tights.
Violence at the picket lines is isolated. I cannot prove it, but I have a good idea what it is all about. The Birmingham Gas Works incident was admirably covered by some of my hon. Friends. It was a great day for the miners and for the trade union and Labour movement.
As far as I am concerned I have come to this House not to speak impartially, in the round, looking after everybody's interests; I have come here to speak for the miners, the working class, the trade union and Labour movement and no one else. I am certain that the rest of the country will be looked after by the establishment, the Treasury Bench and hon. Members opposite. We are always hearing about this so-called national interest having it rammed down our throats. The miners were looking after the national interest for 20 or 25 years and they collaborated and cooperated so that that national interest was undisturbed. They are not doing it now and I am pleased that they are not doing it.
They are looking after the old people, too. The miners have a good record for looking after the old people. They provide the old people in their communities with free coal, not coal from the Coal Board. This is something that hon. Members opposite can never understand. That is why the Prime Minister made the sort of speech he did last Friday night, because he does not understand the miners.
I understand that the hon. Gentleman has a few miners in his constituency. I suppose he will be pouring out his crocodile tears as hon. Members opposite usually do when a few miners are around. Although the hon. Gentleman is involved in the mining industry to some extent—I do not want to expand on it but I could.
The most important question of all is: where is the money coming from to ensure that the miners get a fair deal?
It is intolerable, Mr. Speaker. I sit here quietly all the time never saying a word to anyone yet now I am being heckled, almost embarrassed. What the N.C.B. needs—my hon. Friends acknowledge it and I believe that some hon. Members opposite recognise that they will have to do so—is a capital reconstruction. Since 1967, £1,700 million has been paid out to private industry in one form or another, in investment grants, tax allowances and so on. There has been nothing for the Coal Board. If the Board had been able to take advantage of regional employment premium it would have meant another £40 million for its coffers.
Since 1965, when the last capital write-off of £415 million took place, there has been a total of £2,350 million written off within the rest of the public industries. The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has not yet met the leadership of the N.U.M. He has met Mr. Ezra. He must now get round the table with Mr. Ezra and the rest of the Coal Board to see to it that the extra money that will be needed after Wilberforce can be found and ensure that the Coal Board is never again placed in this position. I am sure that this will have activated even his mind.
The Court of Inquiry will be reporting shortly. No doubt reams of paper will be used but the net result will surely be a settlement, notwithstanding all the evidence, which will get the miners back to work. There is nothing so sure as that because if it fails to produce an amount that satisfies the industry then the establishment is in for a really rough time.
Representing, as I do to some extent, the interests of the miners, I will not suggest what kind of compromise there could be. What I have said at the mass meetings is that the only compromise I would settle for, instead of £26–£28–£35, is £27–£29–£36. The Government have completely ignored the Industrial Relations Act. Instead of using the secret ballot the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the Prime Minister and the whole of the Treasury Bench will be urging the miners to ignore the Act, to hold mass meetings in every Miners' Welfare that can be found to get the miners back. We shall remember that in future.
The person truly responsible for this is not present today; he has dodged it again. That man is the Prime Minister. He decided, along with his colleagues, to take on the miners as far back as 3rd December, 1970. That was when he instructed the Secretary of State of Trade and Industry, through one of his minions, to lift the ban on imported coal. That was when the conflict began. "Lift the ban on imported coal, improve the stocking, position, make the British Steel Corporation and the Central Electricity Generating Board buy coal at twice the price so that there is plenty in stock," he said. He decided to take on the miners; and he decided to take on the bedrock of the Labour movement when he did that.
The master of "Morning Cloud" is now washed up on that bedrock, and almost all the people acknowledge that. He has made a complete blunder. He has failed, as a result of what the miners have decided to do in the last six weeks. There is no doubt that there has to be a settlement that will get them back to work, and it has to be a big settlement. I like to hear the establishment, the Cabinet, and the Treasury Bench squealing as they have been in the last few weeks. I like the sound of that music, I hope that I can hear it right up to the ballot box and a General Election.
The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) frankly told the House that he was partisan in his approach, as though that had escaped the attention of the House. Hon. and right hon. Members opposite shouted at him, "What about the national interest?" as though they took the view that it was the Government's duty to serve the national interest—and so they should. If they think that this Government have served the national interest through their attitude towards this dispute they have made a grave mistake. Moderate opinion in this country, whether among Labour, Conservative or Liberal supporters, thinks that this Government have gravely mishandled the situation.
By their attitude the Government have first of all been completely insensitive and unsympathetic towards the miners' claim. They have disappointed all those who believed that there should have been a more sensitive and sympathetic approach. The Government adopted, as many Tory Governments have done in the past, an intransigent belligerence to begin with and then went soft when it was too late. If they wanted to adopt a tough policy—and there are many who believe they should; many hon. Members opposite, from what they have said and shouted, believe that—then the Government have been grossly incompetent. They have failed on both counts.
The hon. and learned Gentleman said that a large number of hon. Members on this side of the House believe that the Government should have adopted a tough policy towards the miners. This is not true. We have always taken the line that the Government should take a fair attitude on this dispute as between the needs of the miners and the community. This is what we have said and this is what we hope Wilberforce will do.
Like many of his colleagues, the hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Kenneth Lewis) likes to talk tough. That was the Prime Minister's demeanour and approach. But if that attitude is to be taken, all I can say is that the Government have been totally incompetent about it. On 18th January, speaking on behalf of my party in the debate on the coal industry, I suggested that it was the Government's duty to intervene to prevent a bitter situation from developing. There was no sign from the Government spokesman—the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry—of any kind of sympathy for the miners' case. He adopted a tough attitude, virtually repeating the handout from the National Coal Board. He was chided from all sides for doing so.
If that were the line that he intended to follow—it is an understandable although wholly erroneous line; there are people who believe that that line should have been pushed, and who suggest that we must not depart from the 7 per cent.-8 per cent. norm—the line of a trial by ordeal and the use of a blunt weapon in a sophisticated age such as this, the Government should have taken steps to see that they were prepared for the ordeal.
What happened? Towards the end of last week there was complete panic in Government circles. Emergency powers were mentioned. The Secretary of State for Employment did not even call the parties together until emergency powers were in the offing. That was a measure of the total incompetence of the Government. I spoke to some business men today and was very interested in what they had to say about the Government's unpreparedness in taking on the miners. The least that they should have done was to see that the community would not suffer unreasonably.
The community is suffering. We have had the strike and the resulting emergency, and the disruption of power is costing the community millions, if not tens of millions, of pounds. The damage will not be undone for a long time. On 8th February—only a week ago—in the debate on the strike, there was no sign from the Government Front Bench of the danger in which the whole community was placed.
The first charge against the Government is that, having taken up the attitude of not being prepared to give an inch to the miners, they have been totally incompetent in their preparations. They are responsible to the nation, and the major part of the blame for what the nation will suffer falls firmly on their shoulders.
If we are to distribute coal under some provisional arrangement we must be able to come to an arrangement with the National Coal Board. The Government cannot distribute coal; it can be done only through the unions or the pickets—who have prevented distribution.
The hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) was not here for the coal industry debate on 8th February, when I pointed out to the Secretary of State for Employment—I happen to have a warm personal regard for him—that he was very much to blame, because he did not call in the union and the Coal Board until emergency powers were upon us. He had to tell both sides that emergency powers were upon us before he called them in. The whole Government posture was wrong.
I was interested to read in the OFFICIAL REPORT the following pertinent quotation, from a speech made on 2nd July, 1970:
It is not a sign of a healthy nation that there are more than 500,000 men, women and young people out of work It is not a sign of a healthy economy when the number of strikes in the first four months of this year was 60 per cent. up on the same period for last year.
—and then other matters are referred to—
It is not a healthy economy when inflation is as rampant as it is today. This is the condemnation of the outgoing regime."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd July, 1970; Vol. 803. c. 87.]
Those are the words of the present Prime Minister in the debate on the Queen's Speech in July, 1970. Every one of those accusations can be levelled against this Government. Their arrogance in the light of the developing crisis in the coal industry has been incredible—matched only by their incompetence.
The miners have a special case. I have put it on record more than once that they were extraordinarily loyal to the Labour Government, who were not particularly kind to them. Many Labour Members—one was the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain)—protested to the Labour Government in those days because to some degree they let down the miners. That fact in no way undermines the miners' case today. It is no answer for hon. Members opposite to say that the miners had a larger rise last year than under the last Labour Government. Anybody who had understanding and sympathy with the miners' case would realise that what we have been seeing is an eruption caused by years of frustration.
The hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Tugendhat) suggested that social criteria should come into play in deciding how to deal with such claims as that of the miners. He said that economic criteria were not sufficent. It was music to my ears to hear that from the Tory benches. That is not what the Prime Minister said in 1970, although it is the attitude that ought to be adopted on all sides, whether one is Socialist, Conservative or Liberal. We must surely all appreciate that social considerations cannot be disregarded.
The miners had a special case. They had been left behind, partly because of their own loyalty. They had allowed the militants to leapfrog over them. How can we expect a community that has been reduced, in terms of its work size, to nearly one-third in 12 or 15 years to stand idly by while the Chrysler workers receive incredible increases in pay? It is contrary to human nature to expect them to accept that situation just because they happen to work for a nationalised industry.
The Government misjudged the mood of the miners, just as they misjudged the mood of the country. There is now a great deal of sympathy for the miners' case. It is true that the public will be greatly inconvenienced. Old people will suffer, as will many others. But most moderate people will agree that the majority of the blame falls upon the Government. This could have been avoided if a much more sympathetic approach to the miners had been adopted. There is no doubt that the community was prepared to accept that the miners had a special case.
In the long run this strike will adversely affect the mining community. We shall end up with far fewer miners, earning much higher pay.
The miners themselves must have faced that fact—which proves that they feel themselves to be in a fairly desperate situation. The N.C.B., the Government and the community as a whole will suffer. If, as I believe, my colleagues accept my advice, they will vote against the Government in protest against the grave mishandling of the situation by an incompetent, unsympathetic and insensitive Administration.
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's cheers, but let us consider what the union was seeking. No less than £100 million a year was the demand. The first offer from the N.C.B. was worth £32 million. That was revised up to £48 million over 12 months and £72 million over 18 months. I would have called that an admirable offer. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment indicated that having put out feelers to ascertain whether the union was prepared to negotiate, on two occasions he had found the miners adamant.
The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) expressed what I hope was a personal view and I interpreted his remarks as those of a revolutionary when he said, in effect, "I am not concerned with the public" but with one segment of society. I agree that it is a tiny part of the whole and that it is a union or caucus against the State.
I will give way shortly.
I would not have imagined that in 1972 we could have found such a feature in the United Kingdom. The hon. Gentleman is recommending that a single union should defy the power of the State on one claim and that 280,000 workers should be prepared to put millions of people out of work.
The hon. Gentleman will recollect that at the time of the 1926–27 dispute there was a Section in the Trade Disputes Act which made a strike illegal if it was shown to be against the State. That Section was repealed in 1946. Were it still on the Statute Book there would have been a different approach in this dispute and the strike would have been illegal.
In 1926 the miners went back defeated. In 1972 we are already winning and the only question remaining is the size of the score in our favour.
The hon. Gentleman keeps talking about the State. The State could have intervened on several occasions in this dispute, either before or after the strike broke out. It either would not, could not or dare not. To talk about the miners "taking on" the State is to adduce a puerile argument to hide the fact that the Government have not had the guts to intervene, though they had ample opportunity to do so
One sees the logic, from his point of view, of the hon. Gentleman's argument. "We are winning so therefore we need not negotiate," is the way he looks at it. He is willing to achieve victory at anybody's expense. He is willing for enormous unemployment to be created elsewhere in industry and for there to be dreadful discomfort to old-age pensioners, people in hospital and others in society.
I turn to more profitable arguments. I am concerned about this industry and I have spoken in most of our coal debates. I recently adduced some figures for the industry and on the last occasion I quoted retail prices for fuel, taking 1962 as the base year with 100 points. The increases were, for oil, 127 points; gas, 133; electricity, 149; and coal, 177. Those figures related to three months of 1971.
If, as a result of a settlement of this dispute—it is clear that, whatever settlement is reached, it will be an expensive one—the N.C.B. must pay a significant increase, that sum will have to be added to the price paid by its principal buyer, which is the C.E.G.B. The hon. Lady the Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams) mentioned this. The C.E.G.B. will pay more and, of course, that will be passed on to its consumers, who are the B.S.C. and the public.
I repeat that I am concerned about the coal mining industry. It is clear that if it cannot be competitive it will go under. This is why the N.C.B. has been at pains to make it a workable and viable industry. Not long ago its Chairman reported, in effect, "I believe that the coal industry has reached the point of viability." He made a pledge to the miners that if they accepted his proposition this year, there would be more in the kitty next year. Unfortunately, another £75 million was added to the N.C.B.'s liabilities, and where we go from here I do not know.
The hon. Member for Hitchin refused to mention several matters in her speech including the burden on the electricity industry. I am, of course, referring to an industry which takes about 75 per cent. of its fuel from one sector, which is coal. Is it not high time, when we have two such gigantic State monopolies, that we had a certain amount of flexibility in fuel supplies?
It seems extraordinary that the C.E.G.B. cannot buy its own gas from the Continental Shelf or that it is forced to take coal at exorbitant prices. What will be the argument of the C.E.G.B. when it finds that it must pay perhaps 10 per cent. or 15 per cent. more for its coal? This is not the way to run State industries. Nor is it the way to run the economy.
The hon. Gentleman has referred at least twice to coal prices. Would he care to say what the C.E.G.B. is charged for coal? If he does not reveal the figure I will do so if I have an opportunity to speak in the debate.
It is equivalent to just under 4·5p per therm. I have answered the hon. Gentleman's question—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—and I have given a good answer.
Like hon. Members generally, I am concerned about this industry and there are two factors to be borne in mind in the present situation. The first is that the miners have been given a lucrative offer. The second is that they had increases in 1967, 1968, 1969 and 1970. In the last two years there have been unofficial strikes and this year we have an official one. The miner's standard of living relative to that of his colleagues in the economy fell under the Labour Government but fortunately it has been rising under the Conservatives.—[Interruption.]
The hon. Member for Hitchin recognised this and she pointed out certain improved pension rights that the miners had received. I intervened to say that pension rights were not the same as additional pay. But even on that score they have done remarkably well.
There are many matters with which I would like to deal but I shall be brief in view of the number of hon. Members who still wish to participate in the debate.
I would have thought that the miners would be only too glad to get back to work at the earliest opportunity. It is to be hoped that when the inquiry has reported the union will be able to short circuit the procedure and get the answer back to the fields with speed. I hope that at least some of the pits will get back into working order within, say, two months.
Nobody has today mentioned the question of safety cover in the pits and the fact that many pits will not reopen at all. In other words, the rate of closure will be that much faster. Perhaps the output of the mines will be cut from 140 million tons to 109 million. If the pits are not reopened it will mean disaster for the industry.
Many people may say that the safety cover promised by the National Union of Mineworkers should have been forthcoming but that the union leaders have no control over their own workers. That may be so. I can only discuss the arguments, because I am not a miner, although I have been down a pit.—[Interruption.] Oh, yes. We know that the mining lobby on the Opposition side numbers about 30 and we expect some enthusiasm from them, but we on this side, if we do not represent the mining interest certainly represent the public interest, and we are determined to see that that public interest is properly represented in the House.
In a letter in The Times of 28th January, 1972, the Chairman of the National Coal Board, Mr. D. J. Ezra, writing from the board's headquarters at Hobart House, stated:
The point is that this roadway and others are now in a very serious condition because remedial help of a kind the N.U.M. leaders instructed their members to give during the strike to keep the pits safe is not being provided.
It was stated last night by the Coal Board that 17 coal faces in 14 collieries will not, because of deteriorating conditions, reopen when the strike ends. I cannot understand the psychology displayed here. It is all very well to indulge in industrial strife for higher pay—and the more that can be paid, within the economy, the better it is—but for men to work themselves into unemployment by letting pits fall in and pressures below to increase so that machinery is trapped and can never be recovered, is most extraordinary behaviour.
I have one or two practical suggestions to make. First, if the Minister were to accelerate the introduction of the normal Summer-time hour we could make greater use of available daylight and so reduce the need for electricity.
Again, if the Minister walks down Millbank he will find Government offices full of light. If the Government want the people to make their contribution at this appropriate moment so as to safeguard electricity supplies, Whitehall should set the example.
Before hon. Members representing mining constituencies get beyond themselves, I remind them that although their industry has some 280,000 workers there are 50 million people in the country who would like to see the strike ended, who do not like militancy, and who recognise as the true Legislature this House of Commons and not the National Union of Mineworkers.
The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) said that the Labour Government did not treat the miners particularly well. I remind him that the Labour Government delayed the closing of mines, created special development areas, introduced redundancy payments and earnings related supplements as well as taking other steps with miners' interests specially in mind.
I am one of the few hon. Members, possibly the only hon. Member on this side, who believes that the emergency regulations are necessary. I believe that because when the strike started the miners' leaders said that it was their policy to stop all power stations from operating. This has nothing to do with one's views on whether pickets are working unlawfully or not. As I see it, when a union takes its members out on strike it is entitled to picket in order to prevent other people from doing the strikers' jobs. It is also entitled to try to influence other unions to join in. It is quite entitled to try to convince the trade unions that their members in other industries should support it.
What I do not believe is that it is entitled to picket other industries. Whether or not a power station is picketed is something for the power station workers to decide and not for people from outside the area altogether. The miners have no right at all to picket oil-fired power stations without first consulting the other union involved, and it should be for the other union to make the decision—
My hon. Friend has just expressed the view that the miners are not entitled to picket power stations, and so on. I am sure that earlier today he heard the Home Secretary admit that, legally, the miners are entitled to do precisely that.
There are many things that should not be done that legally can be done. That is the very point I am making.
We have another departure from past practice. It is common practice when unions members are on strike for them to try to "black", to try to prevent other people from using things produced by others, but what I have never heard of before is for, in this case, the miners to say that the coal they have themselves produced should not be used. This is a new and a dangerous departure. In my opinion the picketing of power stations to prevent them using their stocks of coal is or ought to be unlawful.
That is a highly dangerous precedent. It could lead to other unions saying that the one way to win a strike was to put some key industry out of operation, and the fact that the other industry had no connection or only a slight connection with the dispute apparently did not matter much. It could be that if we had an engineering strike, because the members of the union concerned make the machinery for the power stations they could decide to put the power stations out of operation. This is a highly dangerous precedent to set.
I ask the House to consider the effect of such a practice. In my area I have pensioners, disabled people, unemployed workers and low-paid workers. Those are the people who suffer most, because they cannot afford the alternative. Better off people can hop into their cars, get heat while travelling, go outside the zone affected by the cut, and get a meal at an hotel or restaurant. The people I am speaking of cannot do that.
Is not my hon. Friend aware that at this moment the emergency regulations have been brought in because there are only 4 million tons of coal left in stock in the whole country? And that is not because of picketing? Has he realised this?
Very well, I am prepared to accept that it may be the case, but if it is the case there is no point in all this picketing, and so on, in respect of all the stocks of coal which the miners themselves have produced.
My next point is that different people are hit in different ways. A great many in my constituency live in all-electric houses. Half of the local authority houses in my area are all-electric, so they lose not only light but also heat. They cannot cook or make a cup of tea.
I am not disputing this. It is a fact. I am merely pointing out my conclusions.
I have just read in an evening newspaper that the miners have stopped on oil barge that was taking supplies to an oil-fired power station which almost wholly supplies nothing else but the London underground railway system. Have the miners the right to interfere with the supply of oil to an underground railway which by no stretch of the imagination has any great connection with coal or mining?
It appears to me that thousands of people are already losing their jobs as a result of this action. I am trying to be consistent. Time and again I have argued in the House about high unemployment. I have said that full employment was my first priority. Therefore, I cannot sit back when we already have in Dundee an unemployment figure of 9·8 per cent. The Government will do nothing about that. I am not trying to make excuses for the Government, who have contributed a great deal to all this trouble. But I have to be consistent with those I represent. They want jobs. To a degree, the Government have prevented them from getting jobs. But now it appears that someone else is also preventing them getting jobs or causing thousands who have jobs to lose them. To be consistent, I have to continue to argue my number one priority: full employment for those in my area.
The miners' officials are usurping the power of other trade unions. It also seems that they are challenging democracy because. although we may not like it, the public elected a Conservative Government. A great many of the public have since regretted it, and I have no doubt that they will throw them out at the next General Election. But, nevertheless, it is political action which ought to throw them out.
I am in no way taking sides about the miners' claim. I shall not comment upon whether it is justified. I am criticising the methods used by the miners to achieve their object.
As one who is not a miner but, nevertheless, can express a trade union point of view, may I ask my hon. Friend a question. Has not the T.U.C., at top level, stated clearly that it is in full agreement that the picketing should continue and that no other trade union, including mine and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig), should break the picket line?
Yes, all right—hear, hear. But let us consider what this means. That picket line could go anywhere. It could be outside the House. Let us realise what this means. If we believe in democracy and do not want anarchy, we should practise what we preach. If we do that, we cannot support—however much we may support their claims on anything else—the methods used by the miners in order to achieve their ends.
Everyone in the House will appreciate the courage and sincerity of the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig). It must have taken considerable courage to have spoken in such a vein, in view of the feelings of many hon. Members opposite. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) stated that he hoped that the Daily Telegraph would report him. I hope that the Daily Telegraph will have listened to the hon. Member for Dundee, West.
I take up one or two points mentioned by the hon. Member for Bolsover. He showed clearly in his speech, as a Member for a miners' constituency, complete and absolute intransigence. He also showed that this is a political strike. He made that perfectly clear. He glorified in stating that it was a political strike. He stated emphatically that he was for the workers, for the miners. Who are the workers? Practically everyone in Britain today is a worker, even Members of the House of Commons. Let us not try to divide the nation on this issue—[Interruption] Hon. Members opposite may laugh, but let us look at the situation. Mining is still a dirty and arduous job. Perhaps to the surprise of some hon. Members opposite, I have been down a mine in South Shields. I deliberately went to see what it was like. It is a dirty and arduous job. But it was just as dirty and arduous when the Labour Party formed the Government, no less so than it is today.
Today hon. Members opposite, especially the miners' Members, are putting forward this argument as the great friends and protagonists of the miners, speaking for them, shouting out for them, and attending the picket lines with them. But what did they do between 1964 and 1969? They did nothing whatsoever. Between the years 1964 and 1969 the number of pits was reduced, under a Labour Government and under a chairman of the Coal Board who was an ex-Labour Cabinet Minister, from 545 to 252.
That was a cut of 293 pits under hon. Gentlemen opposite who are now screaming for the miners' interests. What about manpower? That was cut from 582,000 to about 283,000, a cut of 218,900. Were all those men given jobs? Were they assured of jobs when forced out of the pits that the Labour Government closed?
On a point of order. Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am not one who indulges in this kind of practice. The hon. Gentleman has said, referring particularly to miners' M.P.s, that their voices have been muted in the past and are now vociferous, indicating that we have neglected our miners in the past. I want to rebut that argument.
If hon. Members attempted to rebut it, their voices were very muted, and the effect of their voices was nil.
On the question of wage increases, during the whole term of the Labour Government the standard of living of the miners worsened in comparison with other members of the community. When the strike started the position of the miners was as follows. I have the exact figures, because I asked the research department of the Library to look up details of miners' earnings and the cost of living from 1964 to 1970.
The information is dated 9th February and is headed "Research Division, The Library, House of Commons:
The average weekly cash earnings (excluding the value of allowances in kind)"—
that is, coal and in many cases either free or very low-cost houses—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—yes—
of National Coal Board miners was £17·97 in the financial year 1964–65 and £27·05 in the financial year 1970–71. This represents an increase of 50·5 per cent over the period.
From October, 1964, to June, 1970, the cost of living rose by 29·2 per cent.
So there was an improvement during that period in the standard of living of the miners of just over 20 per cent.
This is based on the consumer price index"—
this is the index in the cost of living—
for the whole years linked to the Index of Retail Prices for the odd months.
The interesting point is that it was after the Conservative Government came to power that the miners received their biggest wage increase ever, included in the
50·5 per cent. That was an increase of over 12 per cent.
Mining Members opposite said little during the whole of the period that they were in government, and they did nothing effectively to improve the miners' real standard of living. It is humbug and hypocrisy for those who were so muted for so long now to say, "We support an increase of no less than 25 per cent". Do they really believe that it is right and proper that this industry should in two years increase the miners' wages by 37 per cent? If they believe that that is right now, why was it not right when their party were in Government? Why did they take no action to do it then?
There is a very good reason for that and a reason that hon. Members opposite should remember—not a reason given by hon. Members on this side, but a very pertinent reason given by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition who on 24th July, 1967, said this:
If there were devaluation in this country, any effort on the part of the organised workers to counteract it by securing higher wages should be ruthlessly resisted."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th July, 1967; Vol. 751, c. 100.]
Then we had devaluation. Why did we have devaluation? We had devaluation because every other policy that the Labour Government had tried to solve the unemployment position and to put the country on the road to prosperity had failed completely. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite laugh a little too early, because I shall give them another quotation. This is from the debate on the economy on 21st November. 1967. when the right hon. Member for Stepney (Mr. Shore) said this:
After three years, trying many different policy approaches, we are forced to choose between a strategy of deflation and unemployment and a strategy of devaluation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st November, 1967; Vol. 754. c. 1266.]
That was the last card in the pack. The Labour Government had to devalue. They had to devalue to ensure that our goods could sell in world markets. If our goods cannot do that, there is no future for Britain, whether there be a Conservative or a Labour Government. If people are to retain their jobs, the wage increases they can demand depend entirely and absolutely on their ability to produce goods at the right price, at
the right time—God knows, that is being put in jeopardy—and of the right quality to sell in the world markets.
It does not matter whether they are miners, electricity workers, or whatever they are. It finally comes down to that issue. When hon. Members opposite say that the miners should get £7 or £8 a week more, they should think carefully of the long-term results and about whether it will spread costs so heavily through industry that we shall not be competitive in the world's markets.
I wonder whether, if that position should arise, those hon. Members who have been so whole-heartedly in support of everybody getting as much as they can now will be prepared to take the responsibility that will be theirs for encouraging everybody so to do.
Why do not right hon. and hon. Members opposite today look back on those words spoken by their Deputy Leader in July, 1967; for what he said then is as true today as it was in July, 1967. It accounts no doubt for the muted voices of hon. Members in support of the miners during those latter years, because the right hon. Gentleman and his Cabinet colleagues told them that large-scale wage increases could not in any circumstances be allowed.
I believe that it is in the interests of the miners themselves—it is certainly imperative for the future interests of Britain—that they quickly take the amount that has been offered them, which again is greater than any increase they have had before—an increase of £4 for some and £3 for all, plus anything Wilberforce may give. The longer they stay out, the more difficult they make it for this or any other Government to restore full employment, the more difficult they will make it for us to compete in the world's markets, the more certain they will make it that in the long term the position of the miner will become, not more important, but less important and insecure.
We face a great crisis. This is a crisis that takes in not only the miners. This is a crisis facing the whole of Britain. The miners created it; they alone can solve it. It is their duty to do so.
I much enjoyed the stroll down memory lane with the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden), who produced no quotation later than five years ago. It is a comment on the utter irrelevance of a debate devoted to the state of emergency being proclaimed by the Government.
I make, in sorrow, one short comment on the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig). I will not exacerbate feelings which have been aroused by his speech. In one passage of his speech my hon. Friend said, "I am not taking sides on the miners' claim". It was sad to hear my hon. Friend say that, because he knows the part the miners played in founding the Labour Party and in elevating it to power. It is a Labour Party which he and I both share as a label at elections. I never thought that I would hear a Member of the same party say that from these benches. I think that is sufficient comment upon the whole of his speech.
What we are facing, and what my hon. Friend did not face, is this: why have we got to the pitch where a state of emergency exists? It is surely because the Government have been defective in almost elementary competence in the handling of this dispute. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry said on Friday on the radio and television, "I had not prepared the state of emergency until this morning because I thought that the negotiations were going all right." I understand that the right hon. Gentleman claims to be a business man. What business man, faced with two alternatives, one of which will be successful and one of which will be unsuccessful, does not lay contingency plans for the unsuccessful eventuality?
What lies behind the agonised squeals from hon. Members opposite is that they went into this fight believing that because of changed fuel requirements the miners were indulging in a romatic gesture which could not possibly bring them success. That is why the right hon. Gentleman talked about the miners having to be careful because of oil and nuclear power, and all the veiled threats that he uttered on 18th January. They did not believe the miners would be successful. This is part of the synthetic sympathy as well. But now the real reason for their protesting so vehemently and using exaggerated language is precisely that the miners will be successful.
It has been demonstrated that in our industrial and social life Britain is still overwhelmingly dependent on coal, and it does not suit the Government's book to have found this out. We have the huffing and puffing of hon. Members like the hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Tugendhat), Sir George Bolton and other "members of the working class" talking about sections of the community holding others to ransom and taking advantage of the economic position in order to force their will on the nation.
I ask the Government Front Bench: what was the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry doing on 18th January except taking advantage of what he thought to be the economic facts of life to dissuade the miners from taking strike action? What were the claims by the Government and the C.E.G.B. about there being plenty of coal stocks available except an attempt to brow-beat the miners into having a settlement or at least not taking strike action? They have used the weapon of taking advantage of the economic situation. But when somebody does it to them, it is unacceptable.
Hon. Members opposite, particularly the hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster, seemed to be sad at the prospect of conflict. I thought the Conservative Government had come to power on a policy of conflict. The whole history of their governmental strategy, particularly with reference to the postmen, is based on conflict. It suits them to forget the postmen's strike and the contemptuous way in which they ground the postmen into ignominious defeat. But we remember it. We remember their intransigence when they had the upper hand.
What makes such a pitiful spectacle today is that they do not have the upper hand. If the miners are using their economic position, are they the only ones to use that position for their own ends? What about financiers who sold Britain short during the currency crisis? They sold sterling in large amounts in order to cut their losses, with no thought of the damage that they would do to the country and no thought of the consequences of devaluation. They used their position to protect their own interests. They were not called wreckers and saboteurs by hon. Members opposite. Why, I wonder? What about doctors who have habitually been able to impose their will on the rest of the country? We have heard of the latest 30 per cent. wage increase; what is that but an exploitation of a monopoly position?
What about the C.B.I.? My right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Michael Stewart) mentioned the but he did not mention an example which highlights the position concerning the C.B.I. On the tape today, there is an announcement that the Director-General of the C.B.I. has said that the continuance of the C.B.I. policy of price restraint will depend on how much the Chancellor gives them in the next Budget. In other words, unless he bribes them well enough, their policy of price restraint will go to the wall. What is that except holding the country to ransom? Yet hon. Members opposite do not mention the subject. They have this double standard. They talk easily about sections of the community, with whom they pretend to sympathise, holding the country to ransom. They talk not at all of people who do so more flagrantly in their turn.
It has been said that democratic government is at stake. I thought the Secretary of State said that the Government have no part in this quarrel, that it is between the N.C.B. and the N.U.M. It is only because the Government believed that the miners were going to be beaten that they took the attitude they did. They saw no reason to hurry or to become deeply involved so long as they believed that the miners' strike was an irrelevance which could be brushed aside and not noticed by the country. They badly miscalculated the fuel needs of the country and the mood of the people in the country.
Members from mining constituencies—and I am proud to be one—do not live in a world which is different from that in which hon. Members opposite live. They have disabled people and pensioners in their constituencies. In fact, hon. Members from mining constituencies and working-class backgrounds have parents who depend on the State pension. We know the problems of the pensioner. But the provision of finance for pensioners is a problem for the Government. If the miners were to be beaten, it would not make any difference to the pensioner or the disabled. The plight of the pensioner is not mentioned when the C.B.I. discusses the return from investment before considering further investment in the economy. We have had no preparation, no phasing and no discussion precisely because the miners were thought by the Government to be on a weak wicket on which they would lose.
The Government and their Front Bench spokesmen have shown themselves up in a most unfortunate light. They have acted with an equal measure of arrogance and ignorance, and they are left with the ashes of their policy around them—the ashes of their policy which by the declaration of a state of emergency they wished to salvage. I believe that on this occasion it is right, in the national interest and in the interest of millions of ordinary people, that we should vote against the declaration of a state of emergency and, notwithstanding the reluctance of some others, I shall be proud to do so.
The hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) mentioned millions of ordinary people. It is quite right that in this debate we should have those people in the forefront of our minds, because that is what this debate is all about—the fate of the 50 million people who live in these islands.
I represent an industrial constituency in the Midlands, in the heart of England, containing thousands of car, chemical, engineering and metal workers, many of them today going on short time with the possibility of a total close down within the next two weeks. I therefore regard this debate as a most serious matter.
I am sure that most hon. Members are anxious not to exacerbate the situation but to do what they can to improve matters. The miners have much sympathy. I do not think, however, that in this debate we are concerned primarily with the exact terms of any pay settlement, provided that we see justice done both to the miners and to the nation as a whole.
The miners have received an improved pay offer. There is a court of inquiry sitting today to examine the whole matter justly and impartially. Many people, like those I met in the pubs and clubs last Saturday night, believe that the miners should now go back and play fair with the country. Surely, the miners' leaders will think again before committing the country to immense damage, and, incidentally, damage to their own industry as well. We know that the miners are tough and brave, but so is the whole British nation. If the miners persist in their strike, they will, I believe, find increasing opposition to their case from more and more sections of the British public. In the end, public opinion always wins, just as it did in the power dispute at the end of 1970.
What a time this is to have such troubles. Everyone knows that recovery was due to start. [Laughter.] Everyone was hoping for a decrease in unemployment in the next few weeks. It is not a laughing matter. Everyone wanted the economy and our trade to be as strong as possible before we enter the Common Market this time next year. Yet all these hopes will be dashed if the strike continues. The damage it does is cumulative. Miners and their families are consumers, too. Even if the strike were to stop tonight, it would take weeks for things to get back to normal.
I believe that the British people will not give way. A nation that survived the war and all the threats then is unlikely to give way to a threat from 280,000 miners. I know that there is great loyalty in the working class from union to union. Working-class solidarity is an important fact of life today, as it has been for a long time. But I think—I know what I am talking about—the working class have a loyalty also to the nation even stronger than their loyalty to the different unions.
I wish to make three other points, and I emphasise that I speak in no hostility to the miners. First, miners' families are being cushioned from the worst effects of the strike by the State benefits which they receive, benefits which we all pay for out of taxation.
It would be contrary to human nature to expect these payments not to be questioned, and I am certain that some changes will have to be made in this respect. We are told that already a sum of no less than £2 million has been paid out to miners' families. Some people feel that there could be a better use for that money.
Second, there is the picketing. I believe that the suddenness of the crisis was not, as some hon. Members have contended, caused by any failure on the part of the Government but was caused by the totally unexpected success of illegal picketing. We have seen a lot of picketing on television.
No, I want to get on. I believe that the mass of the miners are good men, but it is plain that in many cases picketing has gone beyond the legitimate stage. Very often, it is not miners but outsiders, students and subversive elements, who have been responsible for some of the trouble. This illegal picketing has been the main cause of the substantial disruption of supplies to the power stations, and in my view, and the view of the majority of the nation, it must be brought to an end.
Until today, the most serious episode was the closing of the big coke depôt in Birmingham. I spoke to the chief constable of Birmingham today, and he told me—he wants to make this clear—that the decision to close the depôt was his and his alone, and it was brought about by the large numbers of people outside the gates, many of them not miners but engineering workers on a one-day strike, so that, with the police available to him, order could not be kept without risk of serious disturbance.
The chief constable intended to have the depôt closed for only one day, and I do not blame him for his action in the circumstances in which he found himself. But the arrangement has continued, and what worries me and many people in the country is that ordinary drivers on their lawful occasions are now not able to enter the depôt. This is nothing less than mob rule. I have written to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary about it. We must insist that the depôt be opened again.
A second equally serious incident happened today when pickets in the West Country tried to stop the unloading of a coaster carrying coal. We live by imports. If imports into Britain can be stopped by illegal picketing, the nation can be brought to its knees in a matter of days. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is not illegal."] If there are not enough police available, the Government have a duty to consider the use of troops. If, as I am told is possible, we now have few troops available in this country because of events in Northern Ireland and so on, consideration must be given to bringing some units back from Germany, and also to the Territorial Army being called up.
I hope that hon. Members on the Opposition benches will not cheer too loudly tonight at the victories which illegal picketing has had. They are not victories of which the House of Commons can be proud, for they are victories of illegality, and once illegality is allowed to triumph, in this House or anywhere else, who knows where it will end?
We are ruled by the Queen in Parliament. which means, in effect, by the decisions taken in this Chamber. We cannot surrender that sovereignty to any other body, powerful trade union or whatever it may be. Are we to continue to be a peaceful, law-abiding and sensible nation, or have we taken leave of our senses? We know that civilisation is but a veneer and we all have the savage beneath us. I believe that the mass of ordinary people want this violence rooted out. After all, it is they who would suffer most if we went further down the slippery slope towards anarchy.
I appeal to all those in positions of influence to use their authority to counsel moderation. Above all, the Government must show firmness and resolution. Sir Robert Peel used to say that people like to feel that they are being governed. If the Government give the right leadership, the great majority of the nation, I am certain, will follow, and we shall by that means overcome this most serious crisis.
I shall find it difficult to follow the hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Stokes) into the crisis atmosphere he has tried to portray. I suspect that he is deliberately painting the most lurid and vivid picture he can of illegal picketing, because that is the Government's tactics. The more they can make pickets appear to be violent, the more they can say that pickets are doing all sorts of illegal things, the more it suits their purposes, because they can shift the blame from themselves, where it really belongs.
The most revealing insight into the Government's attitude was the Prime Minister's speech in Liverpool last Friday when he said that mining was an unpleasant occupation. He was speaking of an industry in which some 92 men were killed last year and which has about 40,000 men suffering from pneumoconiosis. If the Prime Minister thinks only that it is an unpleasant industry, perhaps that is a reflection of the scale of values that he and the Government have.
The Government, particularly the Treasury Front Bench, are absolutely paranoid about working-class feeling. They are incapable of understanding that throughout the country—in Warwickshire, whose miners I represent, Yorkshire, Scotland and South Wales—there are miners who would rather see their pits cave in and close down than return to work on the Coal Board's terms. That is the kind of feeling right hon. and hon. Members opposite who have spoken seem to be totally incapable of understanding.
The Government have dawdled along in their handling of the crisis. It is a crisis now, thanks to their dawdling. They have to look for a scapegoat, and that is why we have the continued harping upon the alleged violence of the pickets and their tactics. What do Conservative hon. Members expect pickets to do but picket? That is why they are there, to stop their trade union brethren crossing the picket line. That is what picketing is all about. We have had picketing situations before. Do not Conservative hon. Members understand them? I suspect that by continually harping on about pickets they are trying once more to shift the blame from themselves.
If we want to understand something of the ignorance of some Conservative hon. Members, we have only to listen to some of the sentiments expressed from the Government benches today. It has even been alleged by some hon. Members opposite that miners live rent free. I wish that Warwickshire miners lived rent free. There may be a few living rent free in Durham who happen to live in rather older Coal Board houses. But if Conservative Members' ignorance of the mining situation is so complete that they really think miners live rent free, that is one more indication of how the incredible gap between the Treasury Front Bench and the facts about how miners really feel and work is growing every minute.
There are people who live rent free, and they are on the Government Front Bench. Not only do they live rent free, but they get their heat, coal, light, cars—everything except the clothes that they have to purchase out of their large salaries, which some of them have doubled over the past year.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. He knows how strongly I feel about this myself.
The country has never been more socially divided. We have in power a Government deliberately trying to create two nations, with things like the so-called fair rent legislation and the introduction of their emergency powers now. It is two nations that the Prime Minister wants, and that attitude has been echoed in several speeches by hon. Members opposite today. The hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen spoke about a situation of anarchy on the horizon. It has even been alleged that the National Union of Mineworkers was supposed to be in some mystical and mythical way taking over the running of the country. But it was the Executive of the Transport and General Workers Union that decided its policy would be that its members should not cross picket lines. It was the Executive of the National Union of Railwaymen and the executives of other unions that decided that their unions would support the strike. Those decisions were arrived at not through the dictatorship of the N.U.M. but through the democratic procedures of the unions concerned.
Any picketing that is successful is now called intimidation. If pickets just stand harmlessly and aimlessly by the roadside and do not talk to anyone, that is called peaceful picketing. But if they are successful in turning round a few lorries that is intimidation, in the definition of Conservative Members.
I should like to say a little about the intimidation in Birmingham last week. I was on the picket lines at Saltley. Lorry drivers were telling us time and time again that if they did not get a load out of Saltley they would get the sack when they returned. We were told time and time again by other members of the Transport and General Workers Union, also on the picket line, that lorry drivers had been bribed by their employers to get loads of coke out of Saltley. When a driver is told that unless he returns with a load he will get the sack, I call that intimidation. I call that an illegal practice. Those are the kind of things we have not heard about from Conservative Members. I also call the kind of speech we heard from the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Tugendhat) intimidation. To accuse miners of holding the country to ransom in the way he did is intimidating conduct.
I should like to give a few further examples of the kind of thing I saw in Saltley last week. One picket was arrested for eating a sandwich. He was told that he was carrying a piece of paving stone. He had it in his hand at the time—and produced it to me after being released on bail—a packet of sandwiches.
I do not know what sandwiches the hon. Gentleman is used to, but these were pretty good sandwiches as far as I could see.
There was a case of the attempted arrest of a union official just as he was going to talk to a policeman. The policeman told him that he was about to be arrested, until it became a little more clear who he was.
There was also the case of the cut lips and the bruises of the pickets who had to be carted off to hospital, not because they had been engaged in altercations with lorry drivers or their fellow members but because they had been engaged in altercations that the police themselves were not too happy to explain. Those are the kind of things that happened on the picket lines at Saltley last week.
Feelings were engendered in the miners when they could see that while the police were capable of picking on them they were not capable of picking on the lorry drivers who came without road fund licences on their vehicles, the lorry drivers who came in with bald tyres, the lorry drivers who came in with polluting and smoking exhausts. While it was quite permissible for the police to pick on a man for arguing with a lorry driver, a driver who arrived with no road tax in sight went in scot-free. That is the kind of feeling the hon. Gentleman would do well to bear in mind when he talks about picketing in future.
Throughout last week a solution was available at Saltley. The N.U.M. pickets were prepared to operate the kind of priority even the Minister's Department did not appear to know anything about. When I telephoned the Chairman of the West Midlands Gas Board last Tuesday when I was in Birmingham he told me that as far as he was concerned it was business as normal. If he thinks it is "business as usual" with 500 policemen and 1,500 pickets outside his gates, his scale of values is very different from mine. The Department and the Gas Board were very confused and upset, and were certainly not aware of the agreements and procedures that were working very successfully in other parts of the country. We have heard references even from the Home Secretary, when for that short period today, he came out of hibernation, to the fact that plans had been prepared. But one need only look into electricity showrooms to see the multicoloured diagrams showing one's own area and when one will be affected to realise that such diagrams must have been prepared weeks ago.
Are we now suddenly to be told that the situation has reached such a crisis atmosphere that the Government have had to conjure up these emergency powers? No. The truth is that the Government have kept back these emergency powers until the last possible moment hoping, by the delay, to turn public sympathy away from the miners' case. The result is chaos in industry and for the domestic consumers—and it was all in the cause of shifting the blame away from the Government.
If the Government really want to do something about some of the special cases about which we have heard some mightily extravagant pleading today, they should look into the cases where coal merchants are putting up their prices to old-age pensioners. We know that coal for pensioners is coming from the pits; it is being allowed to move by the union pickets, who are deliberately giving priority to it. So why, therefore, do not the Government look into the case after case after case, which I am sure all hon. Members on this side of the House must be receiving, where merchants are deliberately increasing the price of coal to pensioners? This is the kind of thing the Government should be looking into instead of bellyaching about pickets.
Finally, having been on the picket lines and having seen the behaviour of the police myself, I suggest that the Government would do well to look at their behaviour and not put all the blame for the belated introduction of these emergency powers on to the pickets. The pickets are using the only peaceful means they know of talking to lorry drivers and other people—if they are allowed to get close by the police, that is—because it is the only way they can put their case. The Government and the country should not blame the pickets or the miners at large, for the situation is not their fault. The situation is the fault of the most insincere, intransigent and insensitive Government we have had this century.
I hope to touch on some of the points raised by the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield), and I begin by taking up his reference to two nations. I believe that there is a danger of the creation of two nations in this country, and it is a danger to which hon. Members on both sides have contributed and are contributing. The two nations which I see developing—and the situation worries me—are the nation of those still in active employment, with an average wage in manufacturing industry of £30 a week, and that of the retired, who are living on pensions, sometimes supplemented by savings.
In all our discussions of this modern society of ours, the people with whom I am most concerned in justice are those who are not in a position to exercise any of the bargaining power we are discussing. I recognise, in fairness, that the hon. Gentleman also referred to their problems, but I believe that it is unrealistic to suggest that there is a two-nation gap between those who are in employment, whatever their position may be. On the contrary, managing director and shop floor worker have far more in common with each other than with the man who is retired.
I believe that few major industrial disputes end in victory for either side. That is especially true in contracting industries, of which I have, unhappily, some long experience, having lived and worked, before I came to this House, in the centre of a textile and coal mining area. I believe that, as a result of the course that the present dispute has taken, the miners will be worse off both in the short and in the longer term.
One of the skills in the conduct of industrial negotiations is to know when to settle, but one of the responsibilities of those who are not directly involved in those negotiations is to do nothing which makes it more difficult for the negotiators to settle when their judgment tells them that they should. Whilst accusations fly backwards and forwards across the Floor of this House about the motives of both Government and Opposition, I am afraid it is true to say that our debates have made it more difficult for those conducting the negotiations to follow their judgment when they felt that the time had come when they should settle. The debates have certainly not eased their task.
I believe that there are two matters about the present dispute which are not in doubt. The first is that the miners have the power to bring the economy to a halt. That is self-evident. There may have been a difference of view about how long it would take, but no one can doubt that the miners have that power and will have it for many years to come. Although I had not intended to refer to picketing, because I believe that it is to some extent incidental to the situation in which we find ourselves, in view of what has been said it is fair that I should point out my belief that we would be unwise not to recognise that a new situation has developed as a result of the picketing in this dispute, largely as a result of the more mobile society in which we live, which has brought us so many other new developments in other directions.
The second factor which is not in doubt, although little reference has been made to it so far, is that the National Coal Board could at any time have settled had it been prepared to ignore the consequences for the future size and employment prospects of the coal industry. Hon. Members opposite have accused the Government of restraining the board from making a higher offer. I believe that it was the experience of the coal industry in recent years—a steady, almost remorseless, run down and a fight by management and others to achieve stability of production, sales and employment—which was at the back of the board's reluctance to increase its offer. Its attitude was not based on pressure from the Government but on the wish to avoid further contraction in the industry. I do not believe that the Government should have pressed the board to make an offer which the board itself would have considered to be against the industry's prospects.
The board felt and still feels that an increased offer would be against the industry's prospects, because it would inevitably put up the price of coal. We all deplore the interruption to production which is taking place, but if one gets the perspective right it is far less an evil to have an interruption to production which we hope will be short-lived and much of which can be made good later, than to let loose rampant inflation with all its effects on employment and on the elderly and retired.
Let us look at the Government's action and examine the course they have followed. When last week the Government saw a prospect of a settlement, they brought the parties together. The result was an increased offer from the National Coal Board, which the N.U.M. President is reported to have said he would have accepted five weeks ago. But how did he react when the offer was made—not over the weekend, but at the time the offer was made? Did he say, "It was good enough once but is not good enough now. Let us see whether we can come to terms"? No, he did not say that. As I understand the position, he lodged a counter-claim which he said was not negotiable and which must have damaged the industry very severely and restarted a vicious inflation.
After this response, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment acted again. He announced a court of inquiry under the chairmanship of somebody whose impartiality was in no way questioned and, furthermore, he prevailed on the N.C.B. to undertake to implement its last and increased offer immediately and to agree to accept the inquiry's recommendation. I believe that this is the most any Minister of any Government could possibly have done. Because this move was rejected, these emergency regulations have been brought in with a degree of acuteness.
Hon. Members opposite have made much of the fact that the Government wished to turn public opinion against the miners.
If the Government had wished to turn public opinion against the miners, it would have brought in the emergency regulations and announced the consequences to employment before the Secretary of State had set up his inquiry and had persuaded the N.C.B. to implement its offer immediately and to agree to any enhanced recommendation should that be forthcoming.
If one looks at the course of events, it does not hold water to accuse the Government of trying to whip up public opinion against the mineworkers. The mineworkers have secured everything they could reasonably hope to expect now that the Government have introduced their offer.
I have great respect for the hon. Member's contribution to our debate and perhaps I could close on this note. Let us look at the present situation. We must view the present statements of the union against its own President's statement that the offer now on the table would have been acceptable five weeks ago. We must view it in the light of the N.C.B.'s undertaking and expressed willingness to pay its last increased offer immediately and to improve it if the inquiry so recommends.
The question I wish to put is this: do the miners think they will have any sympathy from the public if they reject the findings of the inquiry and continue strike action, with the consequences on the economy and on employment generally which we are now seeing? Whatever we feel about where sympathy has resided so far, I do not believe that when the inquiry reports, and if it is rejected by the N.U.M. and the strike continues, there will be any sympathy continuing for the mineworkers.
It is reasonable to ask the N.U.M. to consider whether it is feasible to go on talking about the strike continuing if it finds the inquiry's recommendations unacceptable. If it is not feasible to go on talking that way, is there any reason for continuing strike action while the inquiry is sitting, and inflicting the present hardship and disruption both on people in industry and people in their homes?
Only time will tell who will be the victor in this dispute or whether there will be a victor at all. But if after the decision to set up an inquiry, and if after the board's commitment to accept the inquiry's recommendations, the strike still continues, I am sure the whole nation, miners and pensioners alike, will be the losers. I hope the mineworkers will look at the situation in that light and will take steps to secure an immediate return to work on the basis of the assurance given that the recommendations of the inquiry will be implemented by the N.C.B.
I should like to try to answer the question put by the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Mr. Hall-Davis). He asked whether we thought that public sympathy would continue for the miners in the event of their turning down the judgment of the court of inquiry. If the offer is not held by the men, who have been out for over five weeks, to be adequate compensation for their work, for the sacrifices which they have made over past years and for the effort they have made during the strike, if they feel that it is merely to be the insult of the original offer, then they will not be considering matters of public sympathy. They will simply be saying "No" to whatever is the offer.
Their main campaign is not in the first instance for public sympathy. If that had been the case then, realising the grave responsibility of the coal industry, they would not have come out on strike. They are out on strike to secure a just wage for people in the industry. The Government are trying to use public opinion like a sledge hammer with which to beat the miners, as they tried to do against the postmen and the power workers. It will not work with the miners. I hope that this debate has convinced the Government of what their own adviser could not convince them: that this body of 280,000 men do not stand alone. They are men who, by technological definition, are in groups and communities. They have their wives and dependants 100 per cent. behind them. The Government have taken on a community of people in the valleys of South Wales, in Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, Scotland and the rest of the country which is more capable of withstanding the Government, and indeed the Press, than any isolated group of workers in any other walk of life, with the possible exception of the dockers. That is the situation, and that is what the Government have to recognise.
We have been told today that there are 280,000 men in the industry who are holding the country to ransom. That is a gross error. It is an exaggeration of about 279,900. The 100 or so men who are holding the country to ransom are the Government. It is not a matter of the miners taking it upon themselves to go on strike. I have never met a striker in any industry at any time who wanted to go on strike. I have never seen happiness on the faces of delegates at branch meetings when putting up their hands in favour of a strike. People do not want to strike. But if any group of men was ever driven to and scourged into standing up and saying, "We have had enough", it is the miners of Great Britain.
We have a situation not where the miners are holding the country to ransom but where the Government, through their intransigence and insularity, have put the country into a situation of economic and industrial disaster. That is the price that we have to pay for a Government who are totally alienated from the feelings and aspirations of the workers. The 28 days of almost totalitarian rule that the emergency regulations permit is another price that this country must pay for a Government who are incapable of handling the problems of democracy.
The problems of free collective bargaining are problems with which this Government are not qualified to deal. Three times since June, 1970, right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite have had to resort to the last blunt weapon of the emergency regulations. When the welfare of the nation is threatened, obviously it is necessary for the Government to take extraordinary powers. When it happens three times, with the whole country divided, with a million on the dole and in an industry which is renowned for its passiveness and, in industrial relations terms, its loyalty and so-called responsibility, the Government must question the wisdom of the course that they are following.
In the last six weeks, the Cabinet Room has been so isolated from public opinion, from public feelings and even more from the strongly-held and deep-seated beliefs expressed on the picket line that it has been like an isolation ward at the time of a plague. It is the function of Government to understand what ordinary people are saying and what the participants in a national issue are doing. It would have taken only a morning of any Minister's time to talk to pickets in any part of the country and to understand exactly what the nature of this struggle was.
It is not just about pay, though pay is the straw which broke the camel's back. It is also about the pay that the miners have not had. It is about the postponements and the threats of closures if they pursued pay claims in the past. They say that they have had enough. It is also about pit closures that have occurred, and the resultant decay of communities. Again they are saying that they have had enough. It is about the kind of nationalisation that they have seen which makes them say that they do not want the same old private enterprise team wearing different jerseys.
These political opinions are being arrived at on picket lines where, five weeks ago, as Mr. Gormley said last week, the possibility is that, if last week's offer had been made and if it had covered a 12-month period, it might have been accepted. But it has come on top of the history of coal mining in the last 25 years, with its wage, industrial and social pressures, including terrible pressures of insecurity. The insult of the board's offer and the final specious offer of last week, the withdrawal of the offer by the board on the eve of the strike, and Derek Ezra's totally insular attitude have all combined to make the strike a hard and well-defined struggle between people who presume to derive their livings from owning money and those who derive their livings from earning money in society.
Any commentator in the future will look at this strike as a monumental struggle between people in what has been held to be a dying industry and those who refuse to listen to them. It is a watershed in British political history, in that, in the midst of affluence and what we have presumed to be public apathy about the great issues, we have found a nation of dormant democrats, people who when faced with issues say, "We have had enough. Now we stand on our own feet and challenge whoever comes along. We are determined to get what we have asked for: the undertakings, the security, and the assurances to give ourselves and our families decent lives in the community and the industry that we know. We are determined to see these things come about." In miscalculating that aspect, the Government have probably made a mortal mistake.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite have talked about the old-age pensioners. Do they imagine that we have not got old-age pensioners? We have more than our share of old-age pensioners. Due to the rundown of the industry we have more than our share of the chronic sick, the bronchial asthmatics and pneumoconiotics.
What have the old-age pensioners done? The old-age pensioners of South Wales sent their president to the miners' platform to say, "We stand with the miners." We know that the old-age pensioners know that we will never get a square deal until there is a victory for the working-class in this country, because nobody else will give us, as old-age pensioners, the money we require. The old-age pensioners send their postal orders of 25p to N.U.M. headquarters and run raffles to help the miners. The reason is that the old-age pensioners about whom we are talking are not acquisitive. They understand the co-operative spirit. They have lived and do live in the mining communities and they want to make a contribution to this struggle because they know that it is their struggle, too.
There should be a Minister in the Government who can stand up and speak in realistic terms about the dispute. somebody in the Government should know what is going on. It is incredible that we should have a society which is so divided, where communications between sections of our society are so tenuous, that the Government do not know what is going on. If they do, then perhaps that is an even more insidious aspect of the whole problem. If the Government knew the depth of feeling, if they knew how far the miners were prepared to go, if they knew what the miners really wanted and did nothing about it, that puts a brand new light on the problems. If that is the situation, the Government are not fools; they are knaves. They are not idiots, as properly and widely supposed; their posture is a calculated posture. It means that they intended their intransigence and that they intended to let the miners stew. Instead, the miners boiled. Instead of taking things as they came and waiting the 11 weeks which the coal stocks were supposed to last, they asserted their democratic right and picketed.
Hon Gentlemen opposite have bemoaned picketing. If they had been on strike for five weeks, if their families' total income was £7 a week social security benefit, if they were worried about smoking their next cigarette, if they were worried about paying the rent, and they saw some cowboy coming along driving a bald-tyred wagon without a road fund licence, what would their reaction be? What would be the instinct of any red-blooded man in this House, having put his family to all that inconvenience and near misery, if he saw someone riding roughshod over his picket line? I know what my attitude would be. In fact, I should be worried if it were not the case.
There are 280,000 miners on strike; there are hundreds, possibly thousands, on picket sites all over the country. I have visited some in my constituency and nearby during the last three or four weeks. There is no trouble there. The reason is that this is one section of the working class working in alliance with another section. The lorry drivers of South Wales do not drive across the picket lines. That is why there has been no disturbance. They do not desist be cause they are afraid of the miners. They recognise that the miners' struggle is justified because of the deal which they have had and because they can be closely identified with it as fellow wage-earners.
Why is it that we do not have trouble in South Wales but there is trouble in Birmingham? It is because the employers in those regions where they has been trouble are stupid enough to try to bribe those people who will always take money, those for whom there is always a price, to cross the picket lines with lorries and boats of dubious origin. If that is the way they want to fight, that is the way the miners are prepared to fight. Let no one make a mistake. It requires two to make a fight. There has not been an instance in which the miners have instigated a fight, because they are peculiarly aware of the sensitivity of public opinion. The last thing they will do is by appearing to be militants, to throw away the fund of good will which they have built up.
Let us remember that there are two parties to every fight. As some of my hon. Friends have said, in some cases there are three parties—strike breakers, scabs, yellow dogs, all the names we know, the miners and the police. But now we have a fourth factor entering into it—it has been there in the background all the time—the State.
In a democracy it is function of the State to hold a balance, to ensure fairness, yet every contribution from the Treasury Bench, and especially last Friday's statement and the contribution made by the Secretary of State for Employment last week in the debate, has been extremely partisan and a one-sided representation, or misrepresentation, of the facts relating to the coal mining industry. The Government have made it plain on whose side they stand. We on this side of the House are making it clear on which side we stand.
Added to all the frustration, disgust and desperation of the miners there is one element that is making the situation even more grim. That is the fury that is starting to beset the miners, resulting particularly from the speech of the Prime Minister last Friday. What has become apparent is that in the last five, six, or ten weeks, since early December last year, there has been a kind of political pantomine, with the Prime Minister acting as stage manager, the Home Secretary as the front end of the horse and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry as the back end of it.
The Government were going to leave the miners and the N.C.B. to fight it out. The Government's view was, "It is none of our business. This is not the time to intervene". Last week, however, was a busy one. Emergency measures were introduced. A court of inquiry was set up. The final blow came on Friday with hard, tight emergency measures which will crack down on productive capacity.
It is too much of a coincidence for the miners, or anyone of intelligence, to accept that after five weeks of strike, after weeks before that of go-slow and work-to-rule, all of a sudden, overnight as it were, the Government stumbled across the situation in which the power industry finds itself. Nobody of any sense can believe that it is not a calculated posture and the conscious development of a policy designed eventually to bring the Prime Minister in as Prince Charming to crush the miners with the force of public opinion as a pantomine finale.
The Government say to the miners, "A court of inquiry has been set up. Why not go back to work?" Last week a spurious offer was made to the miners by the N.C.B. at the instigation of the Secretary of State for Employment. The Government knew that the miners would not accept it. No miner in his right mind would. The miners are told by the Prime Minister that they have nothing to lose by going back to work, but they know that by going back they will lose the only weapon they have, that of being able to say to the country, "Until we get a fair settlement we are not going back". They have gone back too often in the past, and it is not going to happen this time.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Mr. Hall-Davis) that the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) makes a valuable contribution to our debates. He speaks with the fervour of a new Member, and that is a great advantage, because this House sometimes has the effect of dulling a Member's spirit. There has been no dulling of the hon. Gentleman's spirit. He speaks feelingly of the miners whom he represents and understands. He understands the miners' case, but I think that in his fervour he has perhaps forgotten a point which has been sought to be made by many of my hon. Friends on this side of the House, namely, that there is another side of the nation's interest about which we are worried. It is called the public interest. That is not derided by anyone.
The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) suggested that he was concerned only about the miners. I do not mind his being concerned about them. I do not mind his speaking with as much fervour as anyone on the subject for those whom he feels need a fair deal. But we must all remember that the Government have been seeking to follow a policy which they believe is right. That is a policy of checking inflation, a disease which has gripped this country for many years. All of us, whatever our political opinions, must respect the determination of a Government anxious to try to achieve that aim which will help the community, even broad sections of the community who have other aims such as the miners.
I am perhaps the last back-bench speaker tonight. I have spoken twice in these coal debates. I am disappointed to see not the emptiness of the House but the emptiness of the Front Benches when the nation is in a state of emergency. I make no excuse for criticising my Front Bench for not supporting the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in greater strength than at the moment and than it has done for the last two or three hours.
One would hardly think, looking at the House of Commons, that we were in a state of emergency. We are not debating the coal miners' strike; we are debating a state of emergency in the nation when factories of every industry are closing down and people being thrown out of work and suffering. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain) would not interrupt me from the fully reclined position I would appreciate it. I have a respect for the hon. Gentleman. He has interrupted me every time I have spoken, although I do not think he disagrees with what I say.
I listened to the valuable contribution of the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell). He does not often speak in the House about trade union or industrial disputes. He speaks to us usually about the procedure of this House or constitutional matters. I know, because I once fought him in Leeds, West, that when he feels that something is at stake for the country and for this House he catches the eye of the Chair, with advantage to the whole House, as he proved today. I thank him for it. While he criticised my Government, he tried to bring some sense into the argument that has been raging for the last five or six weeks.
I am afraid that I may not be doing myself much good by what I am about to say. I believe that this present state of emergency has been brought about by incompetence on all sides. It has been brought about, as I have said in two previous speeches, by incompetence on the part of the Coal Board management—incompetence because the Chairman of the Coal Board did not achieve the independence which the chairman of a nationalised industry should achieve.
He should not take the job unless he is prepared to run that industry properly, and by that I mean with the true interests of the people who work for him and the true interests of the nation at heart. He has to make the industry profitable. Another interest with which he has to concern himself is the social interest. An industry which is on the decline, as we all accept, can decline only at a socially acceptable rate.
This is a triple responsibility, and I believe that the Chairman of the Board and his team must accept and demand an independence so that they can manage the industry. They cannot manage if the Government are constantly looking over their shoulders.
There is, and has been in the last few weeks, an incompetence in the leadership of the National Union of Mineworkers. I do not deny that the miners have a good case and have pleaded it with sincerity. They have fumbled it on occasions. I believe that with good management in the Board and the union this strike need never have happened. If the Coal Board Chairman had succeeded in being independent of the Government, as he should have been, he would have been more able to identify himself with the industry he has served for 25 years. I believe that he knows his industry; of course he does—and I know that the miners respect him.
I have not said that the Chairman was not up to the mark; I said that we have a situation in which the Chairman has not been as free as he should have been, and therefore not as strong as he should have been. I could not see this situation arising under the chairmanship of Lord Robens. Although he occasionally ran up against the union he was able to carry union opinion with him and, at the same time, carry his opinion right into the Cabinet. He had achieved the type of leadership that we need in nationalised industries, namely, a leadership with charisma and a determination to serve both his industry and the community.
Some incompetence has also been shown by the Government, in their argument that they could leave it to the Coal Board when they knew that they were not leaving it to the Coal Board. This strike need not have occurred. After two offers from the Coal Board we now have the Wilberforce court of inquiry. If only we could have faced this problem six weeks ago; if only we could have dealt with it as I suggested in my speech of 18th January, by negotiation, instead of debating the matter in Parliament and setting up a court of inquiry. If only we could have proceeded by way of continuing negotiation.
I am concerned that although Parliament has twice debated this great dispute between a trade union and its management—the Coal Board—nothing has been done. Speeches have been made by hon. Members on both sides of the House; hon. Members have made what they regard as reasoned and fair contributions-and nobody has taken any notice of what they have said. What is the point of Parliament's making a contribution? What is the point of any back bencher making a speech—whether it be the hon. Member for Bolsover, the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East or myself—if there is no reaction right the way up to the Cabinet, nobody saying, "Parliament is concerned; Members are concerned; the people's representatives are concerned. Let us think about it. Let us call them in and talk to them. Perhaps they are indentified with the interests of the miners and have something to say".
We are in a state of emergency; that is what worries me. I am not speaking in a coal miners' debate; I am speaking in a debate dealing with a state of emergency in Britain.
After our debate on 8th February, when the House was in a cool temper, hon. Members on both sides appealed for calm in the country and for the Secretary of State for Employment to continue negotiations with the N.C.B. and the N.U.M. Hon. Members appealed to them all to keep talking. I am sorry that it was not my right hon. Friend who walked out and it was not Mr. Ezra who walked out; it was Joe Gormley who walked out. The appeal went out from this House for those talks to continue. We did not want this state of emergency but we now have it because Joe Gormley felt that he had to walk out. The arithmetic of the matter did not appeal to him.
It is not true to say that Joe Gormley walked out. What he did was to bring back—admittedly in somewhat peremptory terms—the counter-offer of the miners. Anybody who knows anything about these negotiations realises that in whatever terms that counter-offer was couched, it did not amount to a walk-out. If the Secretary of State had wished to do so, he could have kept the negotiations going.
The right hon. Gentleman and I understand that the space that separates us does not always separate our arguments in these matters. I do not want to say anything tonight that might exacerbate the impasse. The court of inquiry is meeting and perhaps I am talking about bygones.
In the debate on 18th January I accused the N.C.B. of failing to identify with the miners, and when the N.U.M. turned down the N.C.B.'s offer last week and refused to go on talking, I believe that it then became in danger of failing to identify with the public interest. This saddens me because we are all concerned with the public interest now. We want to put Great Britain back in the game and back on the map. [Interruption.] I am not speaking jingoistically. This is desperately important.
We have a court of inquiry in progress. I hope that it will meet quickly, deliberate quickly and deliver its decision quickly. Everything that has happened has resulted in this court being established and the miners have said that they will co-operate immediately, day and night.
The miners could earn the respect of the nation and themselves a fair and just reward if they would return to work now. They would indeed earn the nation's respect, for we could hardly say "No" to them. It would be a magnificent gesture on their part. It may seem impossible, but if only they could do it they would be making one of those gestures which would be exceptional in industrial disputes.
I am not unhopeful of the future of industrial harmony in Britain, despite this tragic dispute which has caused a great shut-down of British industry. In my view this is the final downpour at the end of a storm which has been raging over Britain for 20 years. It has come not because of the Industrial Relations Act but because there is an inherent wish for harmony between management and men. There is a desire to achieve something in co-operation through negotiation and arbitration and not by waiting for this nineteenth century technique of going on strike.
Any group of men with a certain power behind them can hold the nation to ransom. This has always been the case. Perhaps it is more the case today with the power that the unions possess. I do not believe that the miners want to hold the nation to ransom. I know many miners. I have counted them among my friends for many years. They are members of a great community, but perhaps they are wrongly led into believing that they can have something which might jeopardise the economy for the rest of the country. Negotiation is the only way out of this dispute and I hope that at the end of this coming week we shall see a result.
Before the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) rises to wind up for the Opposition, I appeal to him to realise that this is a great chance for him. He is one of our greatest debaters. He does not have a full House at the moment, but he will not be speaking for many moments before the House fills up. He has a chance tonight. While I would not ask him to keep the temperature down—that is not in his manner—he has a chance to think widely for Britain and not narrowly.
He must think about our real future. He will accept that, like him, I speak with concern for the miners. We look to him as an Opposition spokesman and statesman to accept this chance. He has an opportunity tonight to show the House that he is rising to this level of leadership on behalf of the whole nation.
I know that some of my hon. Friends have waited throughout this debate to take part in it and I am sorry if they now find themselves excluded, but I notify them that, as they will be well aware, there is to be a further debate on the regulations, in which it will no doubt be possible for them to take part.
Some of the things said by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) were certainly not acceptable to his own Front Bench. I have heard him speak in many mining debates and I know how sincere are his views. I hope to speak in the spirit he indicated, but I must at the very beginning say that I recognise no divergence between the interests of the miners and the interests of the nation. It is because we on this side believe that the Government have neglected the interests of both the miners and the nation that we find ourselves in the present situation.
The Opposition recognise that the situation facing the union and the country is extremely serious, and nothing that we say is intended to mitigate that fact. Even if a settlement is reached within a matter of days, or even if it were reached within a matter of hours, its costs and its consequences for the nation as a whole, for industry as a whole, and for the coal mining industry in particular, would still be extremely serious. When these debates on the emergency are over, and when the emergency is over, there must be further debates. We may need a Select Com mittee to examine the cost of what has occurred.
The cost for the mining industry cannot be less than £100 million. Indeed, if we take the £20 million lost on the overtime ban and the £70 million or £80 million which so far must have been lost as a result of the strike—and further millions may still be lost—I expect that the cost for the coal mining industry will be well over £100 million. No one yet knows what will be the total cost for the rest of industry or what will be the cost for the Exchequer. The total cost of this industrial catastrophe will go into some hundreds of millions of pounds, and at some stage we will need to examine whose is the responsibility.
But what we are now faced with is the calamity itself. The calamity is still upon us, and we must see how it can be stopped at the very earliest point. These are some of the matters we are debating, and we debate them in that sense.
The first but not the only reason for the Opposition taking the almost unprecedented step of voting against the proposal for the declaration of a state of emergency is that we say that the responsibility for this calamity which has befallen the nation, and not only the miners, rests squarely with the Government who failed to foresee—or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) so eloquently said, if the Government, even more insidiously, did foresee—what was to be the result.
The cause of the catastrophe can be stated in a single sentence. The cause is that the Prime Minister and his colleagues scorned, first, the justice of the cause and, next, the resolve of the miners. In that sentence the whole origin of the crisis can be stated. What the Government have to explain—certainly no attempt was made by the Home Secretary earlier; I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State will do so later—is why the first intervention which they made which might even distantly be described as an attempt to be effective or reasonable was made 4½ weeks after the strike had started and on the very eve of the declaration of the crisis itself. Why those 4½ weeks, or, shall we say, some of the weeks earlier?
When speaking today the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary said that the conditions which have faced us over the weekend as a result of the declaration of emergency were quite well known at the start. I am not speaking to the right hon. Gentleman as Home Secretary but as Chairman of the Emergency Committee—the roundest peg in the squarest hole there ever was. But the right hon. Gentleman said that the conditions of this strike we face now were quite well known at the start.
Let us look calmly at what was being said by the Government and the newspapers prior to the strike. When the miners were declaring that they were likely to have a strike, way back in December—I take these only at random; I could spend the whole evening with similar quotations—the Daily Telegraph of 2nd December said:
A strike would be damaging in some ways, though fortunately coal stocks are large.
That was their story then.
John Torode reported in The Guardian on 10th December
The Government has made its decision and the National Coal Board has been given the message in the firm, but discreet way in which such messages spread from Whitehall. If the mineworkers want to play it rough, then the Government is fully prepared to sit out a national pit strike from January 9 rather than let the 280,000 miners sabotage the current seven per cent. pay 'norm'.
If I had read out that quotation at the time, no doubt a Minister would have said, "That cannot be true; you cannot trust what you read in the newspapers". But, as events have turned out, what he has described appears to be an exact description of the four and a half weeks I am trying to analyse, between the moment when the strike started and when the Government made their first attempted intervention.
If the Government do not like The Guardian, they can turn to The Times, in which Paul Routledge said on 23rd December:
The Government do not want any compromise solution which would increase the offer to the nation's 280,000 miners.
On 31st December the Daily Telegraph said:
Coal stocks now stand at 30 million tons, so the country is in a good position to face a stoppage.
The Economist, which always probes these matters more delicately than some others, finished an article on 24th December by saying:
And although the Government all along encouraged the chairman, Mr. Derek Ezra, to stand firm, some ministers "—
I wonder who they are—
shy from any thought of increasing unemployment this winter, as a coal strike necessarily must.
So according to the Economist there were one or two Ministers who were warning the others.
The best defence, indeed, the only defence of the Chairman of the Emergency Committee, or the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, or the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity, and the only excuse for them, all of them, is that they were taking orders from the Prime Minister. I shall come to him shortly.—[An HON. MEMBER: "Where is he?"]—We shall come to him, whether or not he deigns to come to the House.
I come first to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. As soon as the House met after the Christmas Recess, when the strike had already been on for some days, the first business which the Opposition demanded should be discussed in the House was the coal strike. My right hon. Friend the Chief Whip made his approaches. We did not find an eager response to have such a debate, but a debate was forced.
What did the right hon. Gentleman say in that debate? Did he warn all the nation of the perils we now face? Did he tell us how serious the national strike would be? Did he tell us what his colleagues sitting beside him said that we knew from the start? This is what the right hon. Gentleman said:
So here we are witnessing a damaging strike liable to cause great inconvenience, and even hardship…at present the impact on the community as a whole is slight and patchy. Stocks are reasonably high throughout the country.
—the same old Daily Telegraph story which was encouraging them to think that they did not have to face anything so serious—
In case further measures have to be taken, the Government are keeping the situation continually under review."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th January, 1972; Vol. 829, c. 237.]
So everything was all right. Everything was satisfactory.
If the right hon. Gentleman had wanted to warn the nation of the perils ahead, perils which now encompass us, he might have done so on 18th January. If he had done so, who knows—even the Secretary of State for Employment might have started some negotiations then. That might have been done on 18th January, but nothing happened.
Nothing happened between that debate and the next debate demanded by the Opposition some days later on 8th February, except that on the morning of that debate the Opposition spokesman on coal matters—my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. Harold Lever)—was informed that a state of emergency was to be declared a little later. It was very gracious of them to tell us about it.
Let us see whether it is the case that everything could have been foreseen and that everything has gone according to plan, that everything was properly arranged. It may be the Government's view that nothing out of the ordinary has happened, that nothing has happened that they should be concerned about. However, it is not what their friends in the newspapers are saying. They do not say that the Government should be excused for what has happened.
Yesterday's Sunday Telegraph said this
The Government played a desperate gamble declaring a State of Emergency with an air of almost casual unconcern…The gamble failed with the breakdown of the talks.
If the Government do not like the Sunday Telegraph, I quote from the Daily Telegraph of 12th February:
It is an emergency for which the Government, obviously, was unprepared…Is the Government intending to give in to the miners, once it has found a means of doing so without losing too much face? It would be a pity if this were so; but, if it is, there is much to be said for doing it at once, openly and honestly, rather than subject the public to ultimately pointless hardship and inconvenience.
Next, The Times—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I know that hon. Gentlemen may not like it. Perhaps they can save their shouts for the moment.
The emergency plans should certainly have been available in greater detail when Mr. Davies gave the announcement yesterday; it is deplorable that industry should be left so
confused about what its situation is likely to be in the coming week.
Will the hon. Gentleman now give us a quote of his own and tell the House whether he believes that the miners should go back pending the report of the court of inquiry?
I will give the hon. Gentleman my exact answer to that in the course of my speech; I promise him that. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] I promise the hon. Gentleman that I will not forget.
Or perhaps the Secretary of State will tell us what he thinks of the statement by Mr. Walter Terry in the Daily Mail today, to the effect—[HON. MEMBERS: "Come on."] I know that hon. Gentlemen do not like these matters being quoted, but we were told by the Government when many hon. Members opposite were not present that everything had been foreseen. The Home Secretary, who started the debate said, right at the start, "We could foresee what the circumstances were." All I am doing is to probe and ascertain whether that is true, and, in the face of all the evidence from so many quarters, in face of the view expressed by industry throughout the country and the view which has been expressed in pretty well every Conservative newspaper, let alone the others, whether the right hon. Gentleman is still trying to sustain the view that this crisis is something that the Government foresaw. If they did foresee it and allowed it to happen, the condemnation is all the greater.
I give the right hon. Gentleman this quotation:
Right from the beginning of the strike five weeks ago there was no lack of information. Cabinet Ministers were given the fullest accounts of how fragile the fuel stocks were.
So when the right hon. Gentleman replies to the debate—I hope some of his back benchers do not think this too unfair—I hope he will tell us exactly what was the position of fuel stocks all through those weeks. What were the reports to the Emergency Committee and what steps did the Emergency Committee think it should take in the face of those facts?
I said that we were facing a calamity. We faced that calamity when the right hon. Gentleman came along and made his declaration last Friday. That was the first complete—if it was fully complete—statement of the scale of the crisis which the country had to face, and it was made evident then that the Prime Minister, although he was not going to be able to address the House on that occasion, was making a speech that evening. I must say that I would have thought that a Prime Minister who had to make a speech on a Friday evening, when large stretches of British industry were closing down and when we were facing one of the grimmest industrial prospects that had been known for generations, would have taken special care. When I read that speech on Saturday morning I looked through it carefully to see whether one word appeared in that speech in which the Prime Minister accepted a scintilla of responsibility for the situation in which the country then found itself. I searched it all—not a word, not a whisper. It was all somebody else's fault. The Prime Minister's self-righteousness, as usual, was armour plated.
I wonder whether the Prime Minister understands what effect those words had in the places where they were supposed to have some effect. The Prime Minister presumably was trying to end the strike. Presumably he was trying to make an appeal to the miners, to their families and to the mining communities. He ought to know—I hope he has read the reports in The Times—[An HON. MEMBER: "Not again!"] The Times had a reporter in the Monmouthshire valleys, where they get the coal, and that is where the answer came. If some hon. Members had attended the debate a little longer they might have heard a bit more of what is happening in Monmouthshire and Nottinghamshire; they might have heard what is happening in the country, and why the appeal of the Prime Minister was so hopeless and so counter-productive. This is the sort of thing we read in The Times today. George Stewart, a dairyman in Monmouthshire, a comrade of the miners, said:
Mr. Heath and people like him must think that miners are illiterate tribesmen to be crushed. Before his speech on Friday I was 100 per cent. behind the men here; now I am 500 per cent. behind them. Ask anybody in Newbridge and you will get the same answer.
Hon. Members opposite may sneer and jeer at such sentiments if they wish, but their shouts and jeers will not dig any coal. The only way to get coal is to get the miners to go back and cut it.
How can we do that? The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost) put the question to me. I have no power to instruct miners to go back. I have no power to exhort any miners to go back. But this House of Commons, if it has any sense, should use its brains and its skill to try to produce conditions which will persuade miners to go back.
That is what I believe in, the politics of persuasion. The politics of persuasion should have been tried in this dispute at least four-and-a-half weeks ago, or five weeks ago, before the strike ever started. That is the time when it should have been done. No one can say that I have not said this to the House before. Some hon. Members who have spoken in the debate have asked what was said in previous mining debates. They should study what happened and what arguments passed in this Chamber not merely this winter but last winter, too. We had debates about these matters, which the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State will remember. He will recall them, even if his hon. Friends do not.
I do not like to quote my own words—I know that hon. Member would not care for that—but I said that it was only by a hair's breadth that we escaped last winter the situation that we have this winter Fifteen months ago, in October, November and December, we on this side—my hon. Friends from mining constituencies can say it much more forcefully than I can—urged the House to learn from what happened. "If you do no4 learn", we said, "if the House of Commons does not learn, we are heading for catastrophe".
I have never doubted that a mining strike was a catastrophe for Britain. No one who has heard our debates on coal will dipute that I have always recognised that this country's fuel supplies are so dependent upon coal that, of course, every possible exertion, ingenunity and skill should be used to prevent such a strike as this ever taking place. Now, it is infinitely more—
—what the country has to understand, what the House of Commons has to understand, and what all those who have been to mining areas or who represent mining constituencies already understand, is that it is much more difficult to settle the strike now than it was four-and-half weeks ago. Of course it is.
Miners can be determined, too. Everyone who knows the situation knows that it is, therefore, far more difficult to settle today than it might have been four-and-a-half weeks ago, or, better still, before that, if hon. Members opposite and the Government had learned from the warnings that we were giving not weeks but months ago.
So I return to where I started, by saying that we certainly regard this as a most serious crisis. The responsibility for it rests upon the Government, but we have to solve it. The Opposition will vote against the emergency powers tonight not only because we believe the Government must bear the responsibility for their grotesque mishandling of the strike but also because if their emergency powers are voted clearly by the House there is no promise or undertaking that they will not use them to prolong the strike rather than to settle it. We have had enough of this from the Prime Minister already—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"]—even if he does not dare to come here and answer the case we have to put.
All over this episode, all over this industrial clash, all over the events of these weeks, all over the orders to the Ministers who have dealt with these matters so incompetently in their own Departments, has presided the Prime Minister and his determination. On the crisis is stamped the titanic statesmanship of the Prime Minister—full speed ahead for the iceberg. That is how British industry has been brought into the most serious situation this country has known for generations.
So I say to the Government that we shall have further investigations to make sure that the cost of the catastrophe is estimated, further investigations to see that the responsibility is properly laid. But what we demand immediately is a change by the Government and a recognition of what they have neglected throughout—the rights and the resolve of the miners to win their just claim.
Mr. Speaker—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where is Ted?"]—This has hitherto been a serious debate on a very serious day. I am rather disspirited to hear the extraordinary outburst which, before I have even uttered a word to wind up for the Government, greets the end of this debate. It is singularly out of character with the debate as it has so far proceeded.
Although I acknowledge the right of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) to put a long series of questions to the Government, to state his views of their incompetence, and ask them to answer to those views, what he had to say was purely incandescent—[Laughter.]—hon. Members opposite may laugh if they will, but at the same time I ask them to remember that to try to allow this debate to degenerate into hilarity and stupidity will do nothing to contribute towards solving the problems with which we are faced.
The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale may reproach the Government with many things. He may reproach me with many things. But he will not deny that I have spent my working life in and for British industry. I have spent it little expecting that, on Friday last week, I would find myself having to take, under the pressure of very distressing circumstances, the most drastic steps against the immediate future production of industry whose interests have lain at my heart for so many years.
In the debate, out of the many issues that have been raised, I have detected perhaps five principal points upon which there is great questioning of the Government and great doubt of what they have done. First, there has been a strong charge that the Government were taken wholly unprepared by the circumstances which have arisen. The second is that the Government failed to consult those who, at an appropriate time, could usefully have advised and helped them. The third is that the Government tampered with the operations of the National Coal Board in the conduct of its negotiations. Fourthly—and rather contradictorily—it is suggested that the Government did not intervene early enough after the breakdown.
The fifth item has been the whole question of picketing. [Interruption.] If the Leader of the Opposition wishes to have a good joke with his neighbour, please let him have it—and let me get on with my speech.
As I was saying, the fifth item is the whole question of picketing and its effect upon the circumstances we have witnessed. That item I propose not to try to deal with extensively. It has been extensively dealt with by many hon. Members on both sides of the House, particularly by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.
Before I come to these specific criticisms, to which I promise to come, and in detail, let me first of all—because I believe that it would be for the use and convenience of the House—state what are the conditions in industry today and what is the effect upon the working life of the country. The whole House would wish to know what are the latest figures that I can give of the situation.
The amount of coal stocks at generating stations at the moment is approximately 4·8 million tons. Of that total quantity, about 2·2 millions tons were denied to use by the Central Electricity Generating Board by picketing and other factors. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I find it surprising that there should be any rejoicing at all. In normal conditions at this time of the year, the consumption of coal by the Board is about 1½ million tons per week. The restrictions which I set down last Friday are aimed at achieving something in the nature of 20 to 25 per cent. economy in the general load of the board. That proportion would be improved to the degree that the domestic consumer responds to the strong appeals made for economy. If that response were satisfactory, the total economy in use could rise to perhaps something of the nature of a third of the total load.
At present, with the stocks which are there and available for use, the anticipated endurance of the C.E.G.B. is approximately two weeks at the present rate of consumption. [An HON. MEMBER: "Go and dig it yourself."] The arithmetic, for those who are determined to look at it, is not exact because among these stocks there are undoubtedly quantities which are by no means recoverable.
I shall deal with the first of the charges—namely, that this has all blown up unexpectedly. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale made much of newspaper references and I appreciate that he draws a great deal of his information from that source. I should like to quote what my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry said on 9th January, the day the strike started:
Since it is impossible to predict the likely duration of the strike, it is most important that from now on all consumers use coal with the maximum economy. Coal-using industry, even where stocks are above the national average at five weeks' supply, should now adopt strict fuel control measures.
May I go on, since this was at a time when this House was not sitting. My hon. Friend continued:
Power stations have stocks equivalent to about eight weeks' normal winter consumption.
We are now in the sixth week of the strike. We have two weeks of endurance at present levels with no access to about 2¼ million tons of coal.
The figuring is, if I may say so, absolutely precise. The position has arrived exactly as the Minister for Industry foresaw it. It has been reinforced during this period quite clearly by various warnings which have come forward from the C.E.G.B.
I will come to that. At the end of the two weeks' period—I believe it is important that the House should know what the situation is—if there is no change at all in the situation as we see it today, the Generating Board's capacity will be down to approximately 20 to 25 per cent. of normal load. If it were at this level, it would about suffice only to keep essential services going. The total domestic and industrial load is approximately 80 per cent. of the Generating Board's capacity. So at the moment the clear inference is that there would be neither electricity for industry nor for the home. I say this because it is right it is realised precisely what could lie ahead.
Equally, I must tell the House that in such an event there is no experience in handling electricity supply at these low levels. The certainty of being able to provide for essential services must be regarded as pretty precarious. Therefore, if there is no shift in the present position it is inescapable that further and early restrictions of a still more determined kind might well have to be applied, and they will have to be applied to those areas not concerned with the essential services of the nation.
I say a word about other fuels in terms of oil and gas supply. Despite some incidents of relatively minor importance, the supply remains approximately normal, though there are some places where, owing to their reliance still on coal carbonisation, they may be in some difficulty for gas.
As for solid domestic fuels, the response to the statement of my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry has been exceedingly good—
If I may say so to the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin), this is a rather critical matter. It has proved possible, in response to that appeal, for coal merchants to do exactly what was asked of them. Despite some picketing, as a result I believe of the N.U.M.'s strong undertaking to its members, the restriction to priority customers of the kind called for at that time has been respected. Even so, stocks of household coal are now dangerously low.
As for industry, the position is also one of a steady consumption of the stocks available. At the beginning of the strike, stocks were of the order of five weeks' supply for industry. They are now down to a little over two weeks' supply. But the probability is that the more serious restriction, obviously, will be in electricity supply than in industries' own coal stocks. As I warned the House some time ago, the steel industry has been badly hit. It has been obliged to restrict its throughput to the point where it can retain fuel simply to preserve ovens at a reasonable heat for the purposes of future maintenance.
Looking to the future, if the picketing restraints were raised, the two weeks' endurance to which I have referred could reasonably be expected to be extended by between a week and 10 days.
If the strike were settled and there were early access to the pithead stocks which, in terms of generating coal, amount to some 4 million tons, clearly that would enable the situation of the run-back to normal work to be maintained on a progressive and sound basis, though the period of restriction of supplies will last for weeks after the resumption of work.
It is very difficult to estimate what the rate of production will be in the pits on a resumption of work. But if the strike goes on into and through next week, the progressive deterioration in the state of mines will constitute an important factor. The likely production on a resumption after next week, assuming there were a resumption after next week, would be not more than 40 per cent. of normal production in the first week. Thereafter, there would be a period of three weeks or so during which production would run up to a level of between 75 and 80 per cent. of normal production. When the remaining 20 or 25 per cent. would be obtained is a matter of conjecture. It would depend substantially on the state of pits when they were re-entered.
The most unhappy part of this whole dispute, I believe, has been the neglect of safety in the pits. Of 300 pits altogether, far more than 200 have not been maintained in a fit state. The fact that there has been maintenance at the level that we have seen is largely due to the very determined efforts of the supervisors, who have worked exceedingly hard trying to keep things going.
On all other fuel supply fronts, a resumption of work in the pits would ease the parallel rapid resumption of normal conditions in other sections of industry. But it is necessary to repeat that, whatever the outcome of this unhappy strike, whenever it is settled, the country must be prepared to see a substantial period of time thereafter when restrictions on electricity will be a fundamental problem in homes, the essential services and industry alike.
I turn now, as promised, to the question of the preparedness for the situation with which the Government have been so strongly charged. I refer particularly to statements made by the hon. Members for Ebbw Vale and Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams) and the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell).
Since the problems of last winter, when electricity supply was so seriously hampered, we undertook a massive programme of reappraisal of emergency conditions. It involved a wide degree of consultation with industry and other users throughout the country. As a result of this heavy programme of consultation, a plan was drawn up as long ago as last November under which we would meet conditions of the kind which we are now facing. Any kind of pretence that this was a completely unprepared and unprogrammed proposition is entirely erroneous.
At that time it was necessary to identify those 20,000 individual industrial users who had more than a minimium of 100 kilowatts use in industry and to deal with them individually in the case of major restrictions on industry. Consultation in this sphere was exceedingly wide and involved these many concerns as well as their representative bodies. To imagine for a moment that there has been, so to speak, an absolute vacuum of activity until last week is completely wrong and nonsensical. If I may say so, to be able to deliver 20,000 individual letters of direction to the 20,000 companies concerned on the day that I made my statement last week was not pure accident. Moreover—[Interruption.] I am endeavouring to answer the question which—
I am seeking, despite interruptions, to answer some questions which I was pressed very strongly to answer and which I now seek to do.
The outcome of this very big consultative exercise was a big dilemma, and I wish the House to listen to it because it poses the fundamental problem of dealing with this kind of issue. The fact is that one has to make a decision whether to prefer the maintenance of industrial supply or the maintenance of electrical supply to millions of households.
There are 18 million electrical consumers. Of these about 200,000 are industrial accounts of which 20,000 only are major accounts of the kind which I have mentioned. If we are to do what we decided to do—namely, to make the 18 million private households the critical factor in restricted supply—then we have to devise a system, which we did, whereby we do not concentrate in successive days on individual households the maximum risk of supply restriction. If we do, the natural result is that households where there is hardship—where there are old people, invalids, children, and the like—can, under severe conditions of restraint, find themselves day after day without hot water and heat. As a matter of cold decision we decided that we would—[Laughter.]—Hon. Gentlemen opposite may find it exceedingly humorous but the problem of trying to deal with this issue in a serious and competent way is immense.
We adopted a system of rota disconnections, but the inevitable implication of that from an industrial point of view was that industry could not have a way of ensuring that there were consecutive days of supply for industry because, if that were done, the result automatically would be that industry would not only have the days on which it was prohibited from using electricity but would also suffer on the other days from increasing risks of rota disconnection. I have sought to explain what went on in the consultations, that they were not at all superficial or late in the day, and that the Government had to face this major problem.
Now I come to why did not—[Laughter.]—Why laugh? Hon. Gentlemen opposite posed these questions during the debate, and I am seeking to reply to them. The question has been asked, why did not the Government act sooner to intervene in this operation? As I have sought to show, the Government were well aware of the situation that was developing and they had prepared themselves to deal with it. But they faced a big problem, and that was that the single main priority in terms of action by any Government in this respect was to bring about, if humanly possible, a negotiated settlement between the N.C.B. and the N.U.M.
When the talks between those two bodies broke down at the beginning of January, the parties were poles apart, miles apart in their approach to the problem. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale asked why we let four and a half weeks go by. Has he forgotten that on 19th January Mr. Feather, the General Secretary of the T.U.C., tried hard to bring the two parties together?—[Interruption.]—My right hon. Friend saw Mr. Feather to see what could be done, and the answer was "Nothing." The parties were so far apart that nothing could be done. The situation continued with the parties completely and resolutely occupying their own positions, without any intention of coming together for discussion.