Adjournment (Christmas)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 20th December 1973.

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Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft 12:00 am, 20th December 1973

One of the most fascinating aspects of debates of this kind is that some of the many hon. Members who say why we should not go into recess, giving copious reasons, disappear before the end of the debate or were not present at the beginning.

We have debated a number of matters of considerable importance to our constituents, and one recognises at once that we do so at a time of national crisis But I remind the House that we are resuming one weék earlier than usual, and, if the situation is such that the Government think it desirable to recall the House earlier, I have no doubt that the necessary arrangements will be made through Mr. Speaker.

If there are hon. Members who have problems about their constituents which they feel should be raised during the Christmas period, I shall be in my office on Thursday and Friday of next week. I shall welcome any hon. Member who telephones and makes an appointment if he comes to see me, and I shall see that the views of his constituents are put to my right hon. Friends. Ministers will be on duty next week and the week after that and the week after that to make certain that as many as possible of the problems are ironed out.

The task set for us by the problems of the energy and fuel crisis are enormous administratively—indeed, of a size the country has probably never had before. Of course there will be difficulties and very considerable problems. We all wish that they could fade away, and of course they could fade away if the miners and the railway workers went back to full work. Then, although we should still have the problem of oil shortage, we could manage it and deal with it. The problem over the price of oil is again one which we could deal with. But coal supplies 70 per cent. of our electricity demand, and at the moment the stocks at the power stations are running down at about 1 million tons a week while they are getting about 40 per cent. less than their normal expectation at this time of year.

There are those who say that it would be all right if the Government were reasonable. To them I point out that already nearly 3 million people have accepted agreements under phase 3. Are the Opposition suggesting that those 3 million people would be content to see the miners now breaking through phase 3? I do not believe they would. I think that it would grossly unfair to them, and only the other day a trade union leader said, We have accepted a phase 3 agreement, but of course if phase 3 is broken we shall be back tomorrow for more. That would result in inflation becoming rampant once more, as it did after the Wilberforce agreement last time, which resulted in the introducton of the statutory policy. The present policy will do more to improve the position of the miners relative to other people than perhaps any other form of incomes policy yet devised.

My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) mentioned the unsocial hours provision. I assure him that in the offer made to the miners full advantage was taken of that provision. But I have noted what he said and I will see that his views are given immediately to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, together with any other views which may contribute towards a settlement of the dispute.

Settlement of the dispute is paramount in the interests of Britain and of all Members and their constituents who are worried about the effect of the three-day working week. Several hon. Members have raised specific points about the three-day working week. I will deal first with the general point that some firms are having to work Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and some Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and the inconvenience that this causes to those who have to work late on Friday afternoon or on Saturday—which is a particular problem to certain of the orthodox Jewish community and also affects those employing large numbers of women who do not want to work on Saturday because of their children. These are all very great difficulties with which the Government and the electricity boards have had to contend.

Some hon. Members have asked whether these three consecutive days could be rotated. It is necessary at present to specify the days on which electricity can be used in order to ensure that, if load cuts become necessary, industry and commerce can have three consecutive days with uninterrupted supply of electricity. This is what industry asked us to do. It wanted three consecutive days with uninterrupted supply rather than what happened on previous occasions, when there have been full weeks working but interruptions of supply during the course of each day. On the other hand, the three days do have the disadvantages I have mentioned. We shall certainly keep under review the whole situation and consider whether, if circumstances allow, it will be possible to rotate the days on which the use of electricity is permitted.