Orders of the Day — Economic and Energy Situation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 19th December 1973.

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Photo of Mr John Cronin Mr John Cronin , Loughborough 12:00 am, 19th December 1973

I do not think that even that is a substantial factor, but it is astonishing that the Government cannot find effective measures to cope with something which is one of the great scandals of the age.

One wonders why the Chancellor's measures are so inadequate. One wonders whether there is not some dishonesty behind them. Is he deliberately avoiding taking effective action in the hope that the present industrial troubles will rub some unpopularity off on to the Labour Party, so that the Government may have an election, win it and then introduce the really effective deflationary measures needed after the election? Is that the trap being prepared for the electorate? If that is the case, the Government are likely to have a serious disappointment.

The Prime Minister's speech yesterday gave a lot of credence to the views expressed by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) some weeks ago. The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West expressed doubt as to the Prime Minister's mental stability. When one hears the Prime Minister saying that the Government propose to continue having a three-day week until the miners return to normal work, one cannot help feeling that there is a good deal of strength in the argument of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West. One feels that the Prime Minister is really becoming unhinged. There is a slight feeling that we have a General Amin sitting on the Treasury Bench.

The Prime Minister's obstinacy about this has no affinity to virtue or wisdom. The miners are determined to have a fair deal and are not to be talked out of it. The Leicestershire and South Derbyshire miners in my constituency are firmly behind the industrial action taken by the NUM. If they are a sample of the psychological attitude of the miners, as I am sure they are, there is no question of the miners giving in.

The miners are particularly affronted by the despicable tactics of the Prime Minister and the Government in suggesting first of all that their industrial action is illegal. But this again is part of the delusion of grandeur, which is a serious psychological symptom. Again, it has been suggested that the miners are in conflict with Parliament, but even the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West has insisted that this is an. absurdity.

The important thing we have to bear in mind is that the cost of continuing the three-day week must be thousands of times the cost of giving the miners the little they want. It is incredible folly. Because of the Prime Minister's reckless adherence to phase 3, he intends to subject the country to enormously more economic hardship than it would suffer if the miners were given their modest requirement.

We have to accept that coal is a very cheap form of energy and that, with the rundown in the industry's manpower which is taking place, the miners have to be paid more sooner or later. It is so obvious that there can be no escape from it. Why do we have to go through the horrible tragedy of having three-day working week after week when paying the miners would put an end to this economic disaster?

The Secretary of State for Employment suggested that to pay the miners what they require would have a very inflationary effect. Could any effect be more inflationary than mass unemployment resulting from a three-day week, accompanied by unemployment benefits, which will be spent in the usual way? This will be infinitely more inflationary than settling the miners' comparatively modest claim.

The Government should face the facts of political power. The miners have control of the industry of this country; there is no escaping from that. They cannot be talked out of the situation by the words of the Prime Minister and other Ministers. The miners must receive some concession. Confrontation will achieve nothing but an increasingly disastrous effect.

Few hon. Members, on either side, would disagree that, from the point of view of justice and equity, the miners require to be paid much more than at present. Their work is most arduous, dirty, unhealthy, dangerous and inconvenient, and it involves living in social isolation. How can we get men to continue working under such conditions when it is proposed to pay them rather less than some people get for sweeping the floors of motor car factories? It is an absurd situation.

The miners are hardworking, courageous and loyal members of the community. The time is overdue for the Government to face the facts and to make sure that the miners have a substantial concession which would end the present tragic situation.

One of the worst aspects of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's measures—and perhaps the worst aspect of the Prime Minister's speech yesterday—was that no concession has been made, and nothing has been done to cope with the appalling divided state of the country. A small minority of people are enjoying the profits and a large majority are carrying the burdens. That is the psychological reason behind all the industrial disorders. The Chancellor's measures have done nothing helpful. There has been no increase in taxation of the higher incomes groups. The Government do not intend to deal with the anomalies of the Industrial Relations Act or to do anything about the Housing Finance Act. Neither do they intend to deal with the iniquity of tax relief on interest payments.

There is nothing in the Government measures, at this crisis in our lives, for the impoverished people of the low income groups. There is nothing for the trade unions, for hardworking, respectable people. The time has come for the Government to get out and to make way for people who can run the country in a less catastrophic manner.