Coal Industry Dispute

Oral Answers to Questions — Energy – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 26th November 1984.

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Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South 12:00 am, 26th November 1984

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what is the number of miners that have returned to work since the current dispute in the mining industry began.

Photo of Mr David Hunt Mr David Hunt , Wirral West

In the eight months from the beginning of the strike to 1 November around 6,000 former strikers returned to work. In the 17 working days since then, over 14,000 more have gone back.

There have been considerable increases in the number of men at work in Scotland, the north-east, south Yorkshire, north Derbyshire, Lancashire and north Wales.

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

If my hon. Friend will give the House a categorical assurance that the 20,000-plus men exist, and that they are being paid, that would be some evidence. How does the answer square with Mr. Scargill's assertion at the weekend that there were 144,000 men on strike—4,000 more than a month ago, according to his figures?

Photo of Mr David Hunt Mr David Hunt , Wirral West

Yes, the figures that I have given are correct, and they are the figures for those being paid. The NCB's external auditors, Thomson McLintock and Company, have been to north Derbyshire and tested and confirmed the reliability of the board's systems for reporting the number of men returning to work. I, too, heard Mr. Arthur Scargill yesterday mention the figure of 144,275. The actual figure is 123,000. That shows the level of distortion that Mr. Scargill uses.

Photo of Mr Michael Welsh Mr Michael Welsh , Doncaster North

It would appear that the auditors agree only the north Derbyshire figures. According to The Observer yesterday, the auditors could not agree any other figures which the NCB put forward. Does the Minister agree with the report in The Observer?

Photo of Mr David Hunt Mr David Hunt , Wirral West

No. The board's external auditors were asked to go into the north Derbyshire area only. They visited all collieries and other units there and verified the reporting systems. Similar reporting systems operate in all the 12 NCB areas.

Photo of Mr Hugh Dykes Mr Hugh Dykes , Harrow East

Does my hon. Friend think that it is because the return to work figures are so good and encouraging that Mr. Scargill keeps going on secret trips to Paris, or is it that Mr. Scargill is beginning to get nervous about his own hit-men, as he has now grudgingly and slowly begun to half-condemn violence?

Photo of Mr David Hunt Mr David Hunt , Wirral West

I cannot be held answerable to this House for the travel activities of the president of the National Union of Mineworkers. Today over 66,000 members of the NUM are no longer on strike. Today 99,000 people are at work in the coal industry.

Photo of Mr Ted Rowlands Mr Ted Rowlands , Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney

Do the Minister's figures include the Merthyr Vale pit at Aberfan, where two miners went to work last week and this morning? [Interruption.] They went in at 7 o'clock and left at quarter to 11. Is that what constitutes two working miners? Instead of quoting figures, will the Secretary of State come down and see for himself what the argument is about? He has never been anywhere near the coalfields.

Photo of Mr David Hunt Mr David Hunt , Wirral West

The House must understand that to be among the first to return to work at a pit demands great courage. [Interruption.] It demands the sort of courage that was shown by the first six miners to enter the Bilston Glen colliery on 5 June. I am happy to report that nearly 900 men are at work there today.