asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he is satisfied that recent wage increases in the coal mining industry have produced the expected increases in productivity, improvement in industrial relations and reduction of absenteeism which he sought.
The settlement of last winter's pay dispute in the mines paved the way for the coal industry examination, a unique exercise involving all sections of the industry. Productivity has been significantly better in recent weeks than at the same time last year. Absenteeism this year has been substantially below the level of recent years.
I did not quite hear the right hon. Gentleman answer my Question. Is he or is he not satisfied? Does he agree that it would be a great help in obtaining better industrial relations if he were to come off the fence and support those members of the NUM who have explained quite clearly what is going on within the union? Knowing the right hon. Gentleman's position in the NUM, may I ask him to take positive steps to support the moderates in the union?
I support harmonious industrial relations in the mining industry, and I hope that over the next few months Conservative Members will not make mischief that would only aggravate the situation.
Does the right hon. Gentleman now feel that it is possible to reach the figure of 120 million tons by the end of March? Does he agree that the determination of the NUM to insist on the implementation of the three-week holiday agreement could have the effect of reducing coal production by more than 2 million tons next year?
I want to be frank with the House. I think that it will be extremely difficult for the NUM and the NCB, even now, to get the 120 million tons, but I still think that coal stocks and our electricity system are secure this winter. On 18th September I met the Chairman of the CEGB and Sir Derek Ezra, Chairman of the NCB. Assuming that even without any productivity scheme, normal supplies come through this winter, our electricity system will be secure.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the miners have responded magnificently to national appeals in the past and have increased production in times of national need? Would it not be more appropriate at this point to make a declaration from this House that the miners can increase production on a national scale to their own advantage by agreeing to a bonus payment for each million tons produced over and above the average output for the past six months?
It is not for me to get involved in the day-to-day negotiations of the NCB. I think that the fact of Ministers doing so has probably led to some of the trouble in the past.
It is regrettable that we have not got the 120 million tons this year, but there are good reasons for that. There is the fact that development work earlier in the year did not go ahead, essential maintenance work was not undertaken but was put on one side, and about 600 men were leaving the coal industry every week prior to the stoppage. But we have to look to the future. I think that coal has never had a more beckoning future than it has now, and there can be real expansion provided we can all get down—Government, unions and the National Coal Board—to work out together the long-term future.