In that speech the Prime Minister said:
Britain will continue to have a Government capable of seeing the nation through difficult times ahead.
When he said that, did he mean that there would be no election this spring or was he trying to manoeuvre a situation in which he calls an election while picketing is taking place, with all the potential of violence on the television screens, in order to cash in on the law and order issue?
The hon. Gentleman, having read the speech, should know what I was asking for—namely, that all groups in the community should consider the interests of other groups. What we were trying to do with the incomes policy was to find an arrangement that was fair. I believe that we have succeeded, and in fact 6 million people have already settled under stage 3. It is a clear demonstration of the general acceptance of these standards.
Lest the nation has failed to see the wood for the trees, will my right hon. Friend confirm that, if the face workers in the coal industry were to accept the offer made to them under stage 3, they would have had a wage increase of not less than 68 per cent. since the Conservative Government took office? Is not that by any measure just, fair, exceptional and overdue treatment?
I believe that my hon. Friend is right. With an increase of 68 per cent. during the period of office of the Conservative Government, with the pensions increase at 55 per cent., average earnings increase at 48 per cent. and a cost-of-living increase of 34 per cent., the miners will have had an increase—if they accept the offer—precisely double the increase in prices. Everybody wants to be able to improve the conditions of miners and of other workers who have difficulties as well—because many of them do have difficulties—but it cannot all be done at once in one year.
Why does the Prime Minister continue to brag about an increase of 68 per cent.? In 1972, 20 per cent. of that figure was gained not as a result of the Prime Minister giving it but as a result of the miners battering on the door so hard that they kicked it in. Is he further aware that although it is one thing to talk to a Conservative audience at Eastbourne about these matters, it is quite another to solve this dispute in the way in which it needs to be solved? Why does he not stop—
The House—and, I hope, the country—will have noticed the hon. Gentleman's first remarks and the way in which he put the events of 1972, in exactly the same way as the country will have noticed through these past months that the NUM, to our regret, has never been prepared to negotiate on any aspect of the subject.
Was not the present situation very well summed up in the New Statesman a year ago when it said:
Thus, in our time, we have seen groups of workers heedlessly destroying the livelihood of their fellows, operating as it were a brotherhood of Cain … and using their massive collective strength to trample upon the rights of their fellow citizens "?
Should not the public decide?
In an endeavour to deal with this situation the right hon. Gentleman the then Prime Minister proposed certain action under the Labour administration which was defeated. We proposed action under the prices and incomes policy and until this dispute with the miners we had been successful. Therefore, it is to our infinite regret that the miners have not accepted the will of Parliament.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the nation is in a very serious situation as a result of the proposed miners' strike? We have utterances of glee instead of sorrow from the Government benches. Is it not irresponsible for any British Prime Minister to encourage such behaviour? Will the right hon. Gentleman, even at this late date, try to see some sense and amend the proposition which he has put to the House that the miners have never wanted to negotiate? The miners want to negotiate, and we challenge the Prime Minister to negotiate today.
There is no glee on these benches. I have invited the miners to come again to discuss this matter and they have refused. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment has also invited them to see him today, and again they have refused. Every effort has been made to reach a negotiated settlement.