Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government have been justified in having a fully-manned and fully-equipped police force, which has enabled it to strengthen and maintain public order throughout the country? Does he further agree that in the face of violence and intimidation the police have done a marvellous job and are ensuring that Scargill and his travelling storm troopers do not succeed in bringing down the Government?
I agree with my hon. Friend that one of the valuable measures which the Government have undertaken is to enable resources to be available to secure an increase of 14,000 in the number of police since 1979. All those who watch their televisions night after night will realise what a highly professional task they perform in securing one of the most socially worthwhile objectives—freedom under the law—and ensuring that those who wish to work may do so.
I will, of course, convey to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister the point that has been made by the right hon. Gentleman, which shows just how shallow and completely — [Interruption.] — bankrupt are the Labour party's comments in this context. The revelations of the Daily Mirror show that in these matters the Prime Minister and the Government have paid proper and prudent regard to the national interest.
Will my right hon. Friend have time to explain by what logic it is folly to win coal at twice the world market price but wisdom to carry on winning it at one-and-a-quarter times the world market price?
I do not know whether I would have time, but much of my audience would be wholly unappreciative. All those who are contesting the National Coal Board's proposals are contesting what I believe to be the only strategy for prosperity — that of an industry is concentrated upon low-cost production.
The Leader of the House ought to be ashamed of the reply that he gave to my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Mason). Is it not absolutely clear that, quite contrary to all the assertions that have been made again and again in the House, not only the Prime Minister but others of her colleagues have been intervening continuously in the pay negotiations conducted by nationalised industries? Far from having been left alone, the chairman of the British Railways Board has been treated like a puppet on a string. Is it not now time that the Leader of the House put to the Prime Minister the urgent need for her to come to the House and make a candid and honest statement about what the relationships are, because this has great relevance to the settlement of the coal dispute?
Neither Mr. Reid nor any of his predecessors merits the term puppet. Certainly the correspondence reveals that Mr. Reid put to the Minister, for information, plans that he was proposing, and had them endorsed. There is no question whatsoever of this Government trying to sit on the shoulders of the managements of nationalised industries, as Governments did of which the right hon. Gentleman was a member, and in which he personally tried to arrange for legislation which would supervise in every jot and tittle the payment of the public sector.
Is it not the case that the letters published yesterday reveal that the chairman of the Railways Board was actually instructed—[Hon. MEMBERS: "No"]—to keep in touch with the chairman of the Coal Board, and, further, not to approach the Attorney-General, presumably on whether he should use the 1982 Employment Act and its procedures?
I certainly do not think that the correspondence bears that construction at all. What it shows is that this Government, having responsibilities to the public interest, the taxpayer and the industries where there is an enormous public financing content, have a very proper and prudent regard to the level of pay settlements.
In the absence of the Prime Minister, can the Leader of the House confirm that it is still Government policy to support free collective bargaining and unfettered arbitration in pay claims? If that is the case, what is the Government's policy where pay disputes arise in the public sector? Is it all just left to diktat from 10 Downing street?
It is absolutely absurd to suppose that anything that has been revealed in the last few days indicates diktat from 10 Downing street. The freedom of collective bargaining in the current condition is there for all to see and contrasts with the statutory pay policies that were endorsed by the Liberal party.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that no miner is currently facing compulsory redundancy as a result of the National Coal Board's plans and that the most immediate threat to miners' jobs is the irresponsible action of Mr. Arthur Scargill, which is putting at risk no fewer than 15 pits. Because of geological faults?
Will the Leader of the House recall that he has a duty to the House and come clean on one matter? Will he confirm that the Government issued an instruction to Mr. Reid, the chairman of the Railways Board, not to approach the Attorney-General's office, and, if so, for what purpose did they want Mr. Reid not to get the Attorney-General involved?
Has my right hon. Friend noticed that, despite the protestations in support of agriculture from members of the alliance party, they, along with members of the Labour party, voted in Committee on the Rates Bill in support of the rating of agricultural land? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Would my right hon. Friend like to take the opportunity now of stating unequivocally that this party and this Government will not take such a course?
I am glad to give that confirmation to my hon. Friend. There is no question of this Government rating agricultural land, and our commitment to farming remains as firm as ever.
Will the right hon. Gentleman persuade the Prime Minister to introduce the milk quota order before the Euro-elections next week, so that dairy producers in this country may know whether they will be adequately compensated for loss of business?
The early and full exposition of the plans of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food would, I am sure, be of immense electoral advantage — [Interruption]—I shall, therefore, bear in mind what the hon. Gentleman is requesting; but there may be some technical difficulties.
Can my right hon. Friend say whether the Prime Minister has seen a reported statement by the chairman of a committee of the Greater London council to the effect that the Crystal Palace sports centre would be deprived of its grant if a certain athlete did not make a statement of political policy agreeable to the GLC? Is that not fascist in any sense of the word——
My hon. Friend may find that the original remarks gave rise to expectations of policies that will not now be pursued, and I believe that there will be general happiness in the House that that is so.
Will the Leader of the House comment on a lottery organised by police officers in which officers involved in policing the mining dispute contributed £1 to a kitty, to be awarded to the policeman who arrested Arthur Scargill? [Interruption.] That is perfectly true. Did Inspector Nesbitt, who arrested Mr. Scargill on a trumped-up charge, benefit financially from that dubious act?
The hon. Gentleman can always be relied on to dignify our proceedings. He asked a number of questions to which, clearly, I am totally unable to reply. Indeed, I sidestep his questions cheerfully because they are all part of a policy of disparaging the police force at a time when the police need all our support and help.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in its understandable desire to achieve a settlement of the mining dispute, the NCB should not lose sight of the fact that the stand that it took in the first place was correct? Does he accept that any settlement which ignored that fact would mean that the battle which we are now having to fight would have to be fought next year and in the years to come? Does he agree that this is an issue which must be settled once and for all and which cannot be fudged?
I agree with my hon. Friend. There is no doubt that in this House and outside there are those who can see no satisfactory end to this contest other than in beer and sandwiches and the white flag—[interruption.]—borne not so much out of love for the mining industry as of a detestation of this Government.
Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that at an early stage in the dispute I asked him whether he would give an assurance that the armed forces had not been put on alert? Has he seen the letter from the Prime Minister to me in which she admits that the facilities of the armed forces have been put at the disposal of the police? Will he say whether he or the Prime Minister were misleading hon. Members in the matter?
Has my right hon. Friend seen the report in this morning's papers that the Bolsover colliery, which is still working, has won a contract to replace gas with coal as the principal fuel for an ICI cement works? Is this not precisely the sort of commercial opportunity that Ian MacGregor has been striving to win for the industry? Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to remind prejudiced Labour Members that the best thing that they can do this afternoon is to remind the lobbying miners that it is the customer and not the taxpayer who can give them security of employment?