When the Prime Minister met the TUC leaders last night did he discuss with them, or does he intend to discuss with them in the future, the possibility that if the constituent parts of the TUC gave an undertaking that they would not seek wage increases over and above phase 3 he would try to bring to a conclusion the dispute the Government now have with the mineworkers? Is that the situation for the Government?
The discussion last night centred almost entirely on the question of the three-day week, how it would be organised, the consequences for industry, and so on, before the "Neddy" meeting tomorrow. The point raised by the hon. Member was not specifically put to the TUC representatives, but they made it plain that they were in no position to give any such undertaking, and in fairness to them this has always been their approach throughout the discussions we have had. They have always said that they are not in a position to give an assurance of that kind.
I cannot give my hon. Friend the total recruitment figure, but 85 per cent. of recruits to the mines were adults. That is 35 per cent. higher than the figure for the last six months of the previous year. One of the difficulties about recruiting younger people is the increase in the school leaving age. We have seen a considerable increase in the proportion of adults returning to the mines. About 70 per cent. of total recruitment is of people who were previously miners.
The right hon. Gentleman has given the House the impression, by previous answers—and perhaps the House has been given the same impression today—that the decline in the number of people in the pits is due principally to the overtime ban. Does the right hon. Gentleman take into account the fact that there is hardly a pit in the country which has not been short of miners, not for weeks but for months, and even years? What does he think will be the effect on the mining communities—the only places from which the country will get new miners—if he carries through confrontation to the point which he has seemed to indicate in all his previous replies?
The hon. Gentleman must be exaggerating. Why is it that the number fell by 185,000 during the administration of the last Labour Government? Why were many men made redundant? Special arrangements were made for redundancies, and this Government continued with those arrangements. In fact we improved the arrangements.
When the Government are carrying through a policy which has been approved by Parliament and enacted—the code has been approved by Parliament and nearly 3 million workers have registered under that policy and accepted it—why, because one group of workers opposes it, are the Government causing confrontation? Nothing can be further from the truth.
I thank my hon. Friend for drawing the attention of the House to this matter. The President of the CBI has drawn attention to the fact that he made no such statement. It was twice suggested that he made such a statement by the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey). The President of the CBI says that he made no such statement. In fact, he set out all the possible options which the CBI, the TUC and the Government could consider. One of those options was the one put forward by the TUC, namely, that there should be price control and no incomes policy. The President of the CBI has always rejected that option in all the talks which have been held.
The reply which the right hon. Gentleman gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) did not sound convincing to me. At a Conservative gathering the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House said that the Government were engaged in a struggle with the coal miners and the train drivers. Does that represent the policy of Her Majesty's Government?
The right hon. Gentleman knows the position perfectly well. The Government are standing firm by stage 3. If there is a group in the community which opposes the Government's policy, any confrontation which may result is not the responsibility of the Government. I have constantly made it plain that the Government do not want confrontation. The railwaymen's dispute has nothing to do with stage 3. ASLEF is in conflict with two other unions as well as the management.