Is the Prime Minister aware that following that meeting he is likely to go down in history as the Prime Minister who brought the nation to its knees because he was unable to handle a situation in which 1 per cent. of the nation's work force banned overtime and which is supposed to have plunged us into a crisis? Will he now consider his own position? Will he stop acting like Captain Bligh on a shipwrecked "Bounty" and consider handing over the helm to the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who seems to solve bigger problems with a lot less fuss and trouble?
I absolutely repudiate everything that the hon. Gentleman is saying. He may recall that it was after my meeting with the NUM that Mr. Gormley, the president, proposed that the whole matter should be put to a ballot in the coalfields. That was not done, because he was defeated by other members of the executive.
Noting that many responsible members of the Opposition are calling for firm leadership from the Government in these difficult times, does not my right hon. Friend agree that the Government are entitled to expect from the Opposition a certain amount of firm opposition to unfair and inflationary wage claims? Would not it be helpful if members of the Opposition did their best to influence the NUM to call off its industrial dispute?
Sir Harmar Nicholas:
Is my right hon. Friend aware that his first meeting with the National Union of Mineworkers took place before the stringency on oil supplies from the Middle East resulting from the conflict was brought to bear? Does he appreciate that every reasonable person in the country would understand it if, in the light of what has happened since then and as a consequence of that stringency, the offer made to the miners had to be reduced? If that meant legislation to amend phase 3, how hon. Members voted would reflect how much they wanted to put the country's survival in front of their own party feelings.
Yes, Sir. I believe that the people of this country are now coming to understand more and more the consequences of the fuel shortages arising out of the mining and oil situations, about which I propose to make a statement later. I have had two meetings with the NUM—the first was before the stage 3 code was introduced in the House—in order that I should have a very full discussion with the union about the particular situation in the mining industry and the way in which the code would affect the NUM. No Government could have gone further in consultation with a union than the present Government have done.