Adjournment (Summer)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:04 pm on 26th July 1984.

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Photo of Mr Stan Orme Mr Stan Orme , Salford East 7:04 pm, 26th July 1984

I am sorry, but I have very little time.

This disputes takes place at a time of mass unemployment. The unemployed figure is now 3 million, and much of that unemployment has been created by the Government's run-down of industry. We need look only at steel, shipbuilding, motor vehicles, heavy engineering and textiles—to name but a few—to know that that is so. The miners have said, "Enough is enough." They will stand up and fight for their jobs as well as for the future jobs of young people. That has led to great hardship, but, as some of my hon. Friends have said, the pain barrier has been passed and the miners will continue to fight.

Unfortunately, the Government have thrown their full weight behind the political and financial fight against the miners. This dispute has already cost the nation more than £2 billion, including lost coal production, lost taxes, social security payments and a massive bill for policing the strike.

We were told that there was an excess of 4 million tonnes a year which Mr. MacGregor wanted to remove. Since this dispute began, we have already lost 48 million tonnes, or 12 years of excess. The Government may say that some of this is uneconomic in that it is deep-mine coal which costs too much, but coal is an asset which is precious beyond what simple profit and loss accounting methods would have us believe. The value of our supplies goes way beyond the balance sheet.

The closure of pits will not release other valuable resources that are of benefit to the nation. These pits can be put to no other use, and there is little likelihood of redundant miners finding alternative work. Coal left in the ground means a net loss to the nation now and in the future.

In The Guardian on Tuesday, Lord Kaldor said in a letter: But even this ignores that uneconomic pits, though they cause financial losses, bring a net benefit in the form of an additional supply of exhaustible resources which otherwise would not be retrievable. The gross national product, now and in the future, will therefore certainly be higher if they are kept working than if they are closed down. That is the answer to the uneconomic pit argument.

Some Conservative Members have criticised my role. It has been said that I have achieved nothing in 20 weeks. My achievement has been to bring both sides together—[Interruption.] I do not find the issue funny. People are suffering in mining communities and we are endeavouring to bring about negotiations.

The last negotiations did not break down when they ended last Wednesday evening—they were adjourned, and we must attempt to restart them. I have spoken to Mr. Scargill, Mr. Heathfield and Mr. MacGregor about resuming talks, while acknowledging the difficulty about the word "beneficial". However, that is a big word which deals with the uneconomic pits. It is an important division that must be bridged, and I believe that it can be bridged.

The Government are wasting money when they should be putting that money into the areas that need it. We shall need the coal from those pits in a few years' time, but we cannot reopen any pits that are closed. We might need that coal sooner rather than later if there is another oil crisis in the middle east. We are already importing too much coal.

There is a different way to deal with the issue, which requires a vision of the coal industry and energy generally. It should be based on "Plan for Coal" — which, incidentally, the Government endorsed in 1981. I see a smile on the Under-Secretary's face. It is not, as the Prime Minister said, that the Government endorsed the 1974 document — they endorsed the 1977 document, from which the word "uneconomic" was removed.

It would be absolutely wrong for the House to go into recess during such a major dispute. The Government must intervene to resolve it—not to extend it. We do not want to hear any nonsense about the Government agreeing to close pits and make redundancy payments as a way to split the mining communities. We are past the stage where the mining communities can be split. Those working will probably continue to work, but those who are not working will remain on strike, and they form some 80 per cent. of the mining industry's workforce.

Conservative Members should apply their minds to the question of how the dispute can be resolved. The Leader of the House, as a senior member of the Government, has a responsibility to answer our points. This dispute can and must be resolved by negotiation, but any agreement must be acceptable both to the unions and to the NCB. I believe that that can be achieved, but it needs a Government who believe in the mining industry. The Government must approach both sides in the dispute to bring them together. They must use their role—which they are entitled to do —on the tripartite basis of "Plan for Coal". It is on that basis that we move the amendment. The Government have a case to answer. They should—indeed, they must—intervene. We believe that this dispute can be resolved.