More than two dozen miners have been sacked in my constituency, but dozens are working who have been convicted of the offences to which my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) has referred. No one has been sacked in my constituency for a conviction of a breach of the peace.
I am the fifth consecutive Opposition Member to speak due to the absence of the majority of Conservative Members. However, during the 12 months of dispute there was no shortage of Conservative Members who wanted to vent their spleen on the coal mining industry. We have an opportunity this evening to debate the industry at length but the majority of Conservative Members are not in their places. I suppose that they are somewhere in Mayfair or in their flats getting a good night's sleep.
I accept that one or two Conservative Members are in the Chamber. I hope that the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) will participate in the debate. I shall be interested to hear what he has to say about the coal mining industry.
The hon. Member for Erewash (Mr. Rost) seemed to have some difficulty giving way to me when he was talking about privatising the mines. My hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West was right to remind the House that the mines were in private hands for generations prior to January 1947, and that they were found to be in a fair mess. On two occasions they were taken over by the state before 1947. That happened during the first and second world wars, when private ownership was not capable of providing the coal that was needed to enable Britain to fight world wars. It is sad that Conservative Members cannot remember what took place before 1947, which is a comparatively recent date.
I note that the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Cockeram), like the hon. Member for Erewash, has left the Chamber. The hon. Member for Ludlow talked about the miners wanting £2 a week from those who are working. I have a photocopy of a letter that was sent to my father in 1951. Perhaps copies of the letter were sent to those of my hon. Friends who were working in the mines at that time. It was sent by the then Prime Minister and it is dated 11 January 1951. It is a reflection of what the miners have done for Britain, even if the hon. Member for Ludlow is right and they are asking for £2 a week from all those who are working. I have not studied the figures but I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. I would not agree with him even if his figures were shown to be correct.
The letter of 1951 starts:
Prime Ministers were friends of the miners, as some of my hon. Friends will remember. The letter continues:
Before Christmas the leaders of your National Union called on you to make a special effort to increase output and in particular to work on Saturdays. There was a fine response and I want to thank you for what you did then. But I want to ask you to carry on with your effort right through the winter months. We are still threatened with a serious shortage of coal. Apart from the difficulties in our homes there is a real danger that industry
may be slowed down. You will realise that this would mean unemployment for your fellow workers in other industries and hardship for their wives and families. It would also be a blow to our national recovery. I am therefore asking you personally to do your best to help avoid this danger.
It is signed
Yours sincerely, C. Attlee.
The miners have given for this country for generations.
Conservative Members supported the attitude of the coal board and the Government towards the strike for 12 months, but they have the gall now to complain about the cost of the strike. We told them on numerous occasions what the cost would be. Conservative Members should think before they comment on the coal mining industry. They are talking about the £2 billion that will have to be invested in the industry, but much of that sum will be used to put right what was lost over the 12 months of strike.
When the Secretary of State opened the debate, he spoke of his regret that the strike took place. I do not know the extent of his regret. The Government knew what was happening in the industry and in mining communities over the course of the strike, but they chose to stay away from the problems. Apparently they wanted the hardship to continue and everything else that went with the strike. I do not know how those people can say now that they regret the submission of such a Coal Industry Bill.
The Secretary of State said that 1984 should have been a break-even year, and one of growing efficiency and productivity, and then he went on to comment on the "Plan for Coal". He talked about how much investment the Government had made in the industry, but I remind the House that, for all their talk about investment, since they came to power in 1979, the Government have opened only one coal mine. That is in the Vale of Belvoir. When the plans for that coal mine were first presented, there were to be three mines. The Duke of Rutland threatened to lie down in front of the bulldozers if the Government tried to sink those three mines in what he presumably believed to be his back garden, and stopped the plan. It is a great pity that he did not lie down in front of the bulldozers; if he had done so, we could have had all three mines, which will be needed by Britain in years to come.
I know that it is not sunk yet, but they have started it. We still await the fruits of the investment in new pits.
The Secretary of State also said that the industry, for one reason or another, had failed to meet the 4 per cent. a year growth in productivity that was agreed. I accept that, but there are many reasons why productivity has not increased since the "Plan for Coal" was introduced in 1974. We could have an all-night debate on that subject, and I am sure that many of my hon. Friends who have worked in the industry since 1974 could contribute to such a debate. But the Secretary of State omitted to mention the production targets contained in the "Plan for Coal". Indeed, during the strike, Ministers consistently forgot to mention them. They talked about the closure of uneconomic pits and the need to get rid of old capacity, but they never talked about the fact that the "Plan for Coal" would have meant that Britain would have been producing more than 125 million tonnes of deep-mined coal a year, whereas the reality is that, in the year before the stike, it produced less than 100 million tonnes.
We should examine that matter, because the coal board is talking about the new 25-million tonne capacity that is coming on stream to replace old pits. The new capacity has started at Selby, which was a project started by the Labour Government. Selby uses high technology mining techniques, which means that it will need less labour. It is predicted that, when it is in full swing, between 10 and 12 million tonnes of coal a year will be produced by just more than 4,000 miners. At present, it takes about 10,000 to 12,000 miners to produce that amount of coal. The 25 million tonnes of high-cost capacity that Mr. MacGregor, even after the strike, said would have to go would mean the loss of more than 66,000 jobs. Those so-called high-cost pits are not all in areas that went on strike. There are many in the north and south Nottinghamshire coal fields.
There are two such pits in my constituency. Ministers talk a great deal about the NCB Enterprise Board providing jobs. One of the pits in my constituency will close in four years' time, and its closure has been accepted by the NUM. The other one should be workable until the next century. At present, unemployment in the village is 25 per cent. If the colliery is closed and work cannot be found for the people who work there now, the village will have an adult unemployment rate of about 50 per cent. That is unacceptable to me, and it should be unacceptable to any reasonable Government. I hope that if the Minister is considering closing old collieries, his scope will be much wider than the narrow scope talked about by the NCB and the Government over the past 12 months in relation to how they see the shape of the industry in future. It is not acceptable for them to do such damage to my communities if their projections for the coal industry are brought about.
The Minister talked about the NCB enterprise board. He said that it created 200 jobs. I am sure that I have no need to remind the House of this, but perhaps I should. The enterprise board was an afterthought. The Government were embarrassed about adding people to the unemployment list in mining areas, the vast majority of which have way above the national average of unemloyment anyway. The scheme was brought in in August last year at £5 million, and then the expenditure was increased to £10 million, months after the strike had begun. It has created 200 jobs. Possibly another 400 are now in line, and there could be 1,000 more after that. Therefore, perhaps in 12 months' time that £10million will have created 1,600 jobs.
I remind the Minister that many more people than that are unemployed in my constituency. I could do with the money in Rother Valley to get rid of current unemployment, let alone the unemployment that might arise if two of the six collieries close. The Government are going nowhere near to addressing the problems created by the closing of collieries. They should go away and consider multiplying the £10 million by the 650 constituencies represented by hon. Members, or at least constituencies with coal mines in them. We should look at the matter at that level before we do anything else.
In view of what has been happening over the past 12 months, I should like to consider certain payments about which the House is concerned, although they are not directly connected with the bill. Unemployment benefits are paid to coal miners who accept redundancy. For the first 12 months they can get unemployment benefit from the state, and-then a percentage of their take-home pay is made up by the redundant mineworkers pension scheme. Up to the end of 1985, that will be fine, but many people are likely to be made redundant next year who, because of the strike over the past 12 months, have not been able to make national insurance contributions. In those circumstances, they will not be eligible to claim from the redundant mineworkers pension scheme. I ask the Minister to look at that. Perhaps the scheme should be altered so that those people will not lose benefit. I refer also to people claiming sickness benefit, who also have not paid national insurance contributions, although the case is not exactly the same. They might be affected under the sickness scheme under which employers have to pay.
I am pleased about the introduction of the Bill. However I echo the sentiments of my hon Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West. The Bill is specific about areas where money will be paid and used. We should have told the exact projections of the likely manpower loss in the coal mining industry because of the Bill. I do not believe for one minute that neither the NCB nor the Government do not have those projections. If they do not, how can they ask for specific amounts of money to go to the redundant mineworkers pension scheme? They must know. They should tell us. We who represent coal areas have enough problems with unemployment and the lack of job opportunities for school leavers and many others. We should know exactly what the future manpower losses are likely to be. The Minister must come clean about redundancies in the coal industry. He should make a statement to the House so that people can prepare themselves for the possible disaster.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) has brought reality to the debate. He read a letter from Clement Attlee. I was one of the people he was talking about. I am proud to have made a contribution. I received a similar letter for my contribution to the mining industry.
What galls me more than anything is to hear Conservative Members talk about the mining industry when they do not have a clue what it is about. In the main, Tory Members are business men who are bothered about the profit motive. They are not bothered about the destruction of communities and jobs. They have destroyed jobs and communities ever since they came to office in 1979, and still they continue.
I argue not about the money provided in the Bill until 1987 but about whether the Bill prepares the way. We do not have short memories. I have a particularly long memory. I remember what was said by previous Secretaries of State for Energy about pit closures. When the NUM said some pits were on the closure list, the Government denied it. When we talked about 70,000 jobs going in one fell swoop, the Government denied that, too. We are now back to reality. The truth is out. What the Government said was not true is true today.
The Government say that management should run the industry. In the past we have run the industry together. We worked together from the first day of nationalisation. The previous owners of the coal industry received royalties even after nationalisation. It took a Labour Administration to stop that.
We appear to be returning to the old days according to what Tory Members say. They want the managers to have the big stick with which they used to belt our backs many years ago. They want to put the stick into their hands.
We understand what is happening. We have worked in the industry for a long time. We know what it is all about from A to Z. The Secretary of State is a new boy in this game. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has been involved in the industry. The Secretary of State is interested only in finance and filling pockets with profits. We must consider jobs and communities. We must save, not destroy, the pits. Coking coal for Scotland has been mentioned. The tragedy is that the coking coal would have been available if the pits had been closed. I do not criticise the Conservative Government alone, because the Labour Government closed pits. However, it was a different ball game then. There were other jobs for people to take. Now, when a pit is closed, there are no jobs.
It is all very well for the Secretary of State or the Minister or Mr. MacGregor—a real butcher—to make suggestions. It is all very well to talk of making jobs available at other pits. There used to be nine pits in my constituency. Now there are five, and one of those will close in August. Another pit, in Broxtowe, will close shortly afterwards. The only work available for youngsters in that area is in the pit, but the shutters are being pulled down and the lads are not being taken on. They are on the dole, and we are paying them for doing nothing. I am not talking about school leavers joining the youth training scheme; I am referring to older youngsters who cannot get jobs at the local pit.
Those two pit closures in close proximity will cause a serious problem. I advised the chief executive of the district council to write to Merrick Sparton at Hobart house to ask for some of this marvellous enterprise money, with a view to dragging in some industry so that the youngsters will be able to get jobs somewhere. He wrote the letter, but he has heard nothing. We were told that £5 million was available; and a few days later we were informed that the amount was £10 million. It may be peanuts, but where is it? We need it in my constituency to provide some jobs.
I was a local branch official for many years at the pit where I worked. I was involved in building up industrial relations. The Government imported a fellow from the United States who destroyed the industrial relations in two years flat. For many years, the way in which management and men in the mining industry worked together was held up as an example to the rest of the nation. That situation has been totally destroyed. Man is fighting man and man is fighting management, and we are making no progress at all. In my years in the industry, we accepted mechanisation and lost coalface jobs as a result. However, the men were able to go to other jobs in the industry. We played the game from the first day, and the industry benefited.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley mentioned the letter in which Clement Attlee congratulated the miners. That was how things always were until 1972. There were no strikes between 1926 and 1972, when the Tory Administration of that time started to destroy the industry. The present Administration have continued the process.
The Government must try to understand the mining industry. We have heard about exports. We should remember that we import coking coal because we cannot produce enough. The pits that contain it have already been closed. We are paying for it through the nose, and that affects the balance of payments. An application has been received from a European country which wants coal of all types—not just coking coal, but other types and qualities, too. I have heard nothing about that.
I believe that negotiations are going on with Romania. I was lucky enough to visit Romania for three days with Lord Wilson of Rievaulx. We went to see the President because he has an energy crisis on his hands. We came back with a deal. We put this to the Secretary of State and the chairman of the NCB in the hope that something could be done about Romania's problem, because we can produce the coal that that country requires. Romania made another suggestion. I should think that the Government will jump at this one. As regards those coking coal pits that have been closed, Romania has suggested to the Government and to the NCB that its people should come over here and open them up. I bet the Government will jump at that because it is a way of private enterprise coming in—not the British people, the British Government, the British mining industry or the NCB, but somebody from outside. If that comes about, it will at least mean that some jobs will be knocking around, and that is more than the Government are achieving.
The Government are bragging about what they are doing, yet the unemployment total continues to climb. The Government have to understand that the mining industry is, and has been for many years, the lifeblood of this country's economy. It is all very well for the hon. Member for Erewash (Mr. Rost), who has now left the Chamber, but he does not understand the situation either. All that he keeps cramming down my throat every time he speaks is PWR, but he does not realise how much that costs and the dangers involved in going ahead with more nuclear power stations.
We have had the co-operation of the mining industry and the people who work in it in modernising the industry, and that will continue. The miners have always accepted modernisation. Miners work together and, as I said earlier, they have worked with management. The Government have allowed the industry to be destroyed, and they have played a part in that by appointing that stupid American who came here supposedly to chair the NCB.
I understand the Bill, and in one way I accept it as a good thing. More money will come into the industry, but there will be a price to pay for that money coming in—the loss of more jobs. Fewer jobs will be available is the mining industry when we should be building up the industry. The work force is ready to move forward and to create a better, larger and more profitable industry.
I maintain that the mining industry has always made a profit. The interest rates have shackled the industry. Conservative Members may laugh, but they do not understand what I am saying. They have been in the House five minutes, yet they know everything. I am talking about an industry in which I worked, and I know what it is all about.
Then there is the question of the Duke of Rutland and Belvoir. When I attended a meeting in his castle one day, I was surprised to find that he heats the place with solid fuel. He has solid fuel under his feet; but he does not want to work it, and he does not want us to work it. When I was in the castle, I noticed that he had a whacking great fire and a wheelbarrow full of solid fuel to put on to the fire when the previous load had burnt itself out. He still burns solid fuel. I welcome that, because it is in the interests of the industry, and, after all, he is paying for it to the benefit of the industry.
I agree with some of the things that have been said by many of my hon. Friends. The Government are privatisation balmy. Make no mistake—they mean to privatise the mining industry. They are closing the so-called uneconomic pits, and, by their actions, they are making profitable pits unprofitable in preparation for what they want to do.
I appeared on a Central Television programme with the hon. Member for Erewash a short time ago to discuss the sale of pits. That is what the hon. Gentleman was pushing. Not long ago the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry was pushing for action in that direction. When prominent Tory Members talk like that, action is likely to follow in due course. It is obvious to many people—certainly to most on these Benches—that that is the direction in which the Government will be moving. If so, I assure them that we will put up a blooming fight—I almost used different language—against any such move. We shall defeat the Government not only on the sale of pits but at the next general election.
I shall concentrate on some of the worries that exist in the aftermath of the strike. First, however, I shall comment on some of the criticisms that have been made about the Bill in general and, in particular, about the amount of money that it provides and the way in which the NCB has been financed.
We are talking not just of a subsidy to the mining industry but of subsidies to every industry that feeds on that industry, and some of the companies concerned are represented by Conservative Members. Many firms depend on the existence of a large and thriving mining industry.
I refer to companies which supply, for example, mining machinery, supports, conveyor equipment and belting, clothing for miners and safety equipment, including safety boots. If those companies did not have a mining industry to supply, they would have few customers. In addition, the NCB successfully exports expertise, such as management experts. Those experts advise other countries, and, in the process, the mining industries of those countries purchase their equipment from private manufacturers in this country.
It is sometimes forgotten that at the time of nationalisation, the NCB had to buy out the coal owners and for a long time pay them royalties. A great deal of mechanisation had to be undertaken because, under private ownership, the owners had let the industry run down to a dreadful extent. Indeed, that was why nationalisation came about; had the private owners been successful, there would have been no need for the pits to be nationalised.
Immediately after nationalisation, vast closures took place to bring the coal industry into the order that could not happen under private ownership. In other words, we had to create a viable industry out of the scrap situation that had been left by the coal owners, who had taken the easiest coal and left the most difficult. It is worth noting that that is the way in which the oil industry is going.
When coal was in short supply and it could have been sold at the market price—so that the industry could have been viable for all time—the Government stepped in and said that it should not sell it at the market price. As a result, many companies can be said to have lived off the back of the mining industry. Money must now be ploughed into the industry to make up for what was taken out in days gone by. But investment takes a long time, perhaps 10 years, to work through. Much of the money goes into development capacity, and the coal resulting from that comes on stream in due course.
When the Secretary of State talks about its being impossible to stop miners from wanting to become redundant, he is running into a very dangerous situation. If he is going to take that attitude, what happens to a coalmine which is prosperous and could continue to be prosperous in the future if the men at that colliery decide that they want to go? Will that colliery close because the men have gone, because that is what the Secretary of State was saying?
Near my area, many years ago, Barnsley main colliery closed. Some of us wondered why, because there were quite considerable reserves at that time. It had probably the best contracts for workmen in the area, but it had industrial relations that left a lot to be desired. The rumour went round that there was a possibility that the mine would close and the men were encouraged to leave. It was said that the board would transfer them to where it wanted them to go and that if they wanted to choose their own pits it was time to go. So they left in droves and that colliery closed—just as the Secretary of State is predicting now—not because there were not the reserves there, not because it was not a good colliery, but because the men had been encouraged to go.
Now, Barrow colliery is to close and all the workings are to be taken over to Barnsley main colliery, which closed some 30 years ago and is now being reopened. So the things that were feared at that time were evidently true.
I am concerned about the NCB's reluctance to set up the new review body which it agreed on with NACODS. The reputation of the Secretary of State hangs on this, because in the debates during the strike he emphasised his backing for a review body of this type. It is a sad commentary on our times that the National Union of Mineworkers, NACODS and the British Association of Colliery Management cannot trust the chairman of the NCB.
The Secretary of State would do well to recognise this, because he is himself, I suggest, vulnerable. The chairman of the NCB was for the first time appointed not after discussions with the trade unions concerned, but by the Prime Minister; therefore, he no doubt has the ear of the Prime Minister. The Secretary of State probably did not get on too well with the chairman of the NCB during the strike and I would suggest that the chairman has a word with the Prime Minister and it may be that we shall see a new Secretary of State for Energy when the Government shuffle comes about.
Two meetings have taken place and the NCB is very reluctant to bring in the review body. It is also adamant that it will not go back to the old review procedure. I suggest that the reason for this is that it is thinking of the number of men it would like to lose and the number of collieries it would like to close. It would suit the chairman of the NCB to get rid of the men he does not want and to close the collieries he wants to close before he brings the new review procedure into being. This was behind the question that I asked the Secretary of State during energy questions, but to which I did not get an answer.
There is no trust and no co-operation, and these must be regained. We can only regain them in the present climate if the NCB gets a new chairman.
In the area that I represent, there is a strong rumour that the colliery of North Gawber is to close. It probably has another five years of life, but the strike is being used as an excuse to close it. The Houghton Dunsil seam is to close. It was the Dunsil seam which had transferred men from Wentworth Silkstone colliery on the understanding that, as it was a small colliery, they could work togeher in the seam and have the same atmosphere as they had had at the Wentworth Silkstone colliery, but the Dunsil seam is to close.
We understand that Woolley colliery, in which a massive washer for the west side has been built, is to cut its production. Those are rumours, but they have not been dispelled by the NCB saying whether they are true or not. The colliery review which is to take place will no doubt help to enlighten us.
The Secretary of State does not seem to understand the colliery review procedure. It starts well before a colliery closes, not when it is imminent, and not after the decision has been made. That gives time for the unions to send in their engineers and experts to see whether the board is right in its assessment, or to make suggestions about the retention of the colliery. It is no use having the review procedure if it is to look at a colliery's position after a decision to close it has been made.
There is a need for a strong and viable coal industry. The energy policy report of 1978 indicated strongly that the gas and oil reserves were becoming depleted. The oil industry recently produced a report stating that a critical stage has been reached in the development of Britain's oil and gas resources, and that production is near its peak and is expected to decline in the mid-1980s. To the end of 1983, 41 fields containing 13·3 billion barrels of liquid and 32·7 trillion cu. ft. have been committed for development. Oil and gas production from those fields will peak in the mid-1990s and then decline by 80 to 90 per cent. towards the end of the century.
The Government have to make up their mind. We can either have a viable coal industry which will help to support the lack of energy resources as they run out, or we can let the coal industry go and have to give strong support to the oil and gas industries. As the reserves run down, it will be necessary to go further afield into the sea to get the other existing reserves, which will be costly and probably have to be subsidised, or there will have to be a massive increase in the price of energy, which the country cannot afford.
Therefore, it is vital to consider the need for a viable coal industry. If the Government let Ian MacGregor have his way, we shall run into trouble in the year 2000 or 2010, because we shall not have a coal industry to sustain the depletion of oil and coal. It is a critical time, because the lead-in time is 10 years. We need investment in new coalfields. We need investment in the old collieries to sustain them. There is a great need to ensure that the coal industry is viable and, if possible, prosperous; but whatever the cost, there is need for a continuing coal industry, otherwise we shall be in trouble in the year 2000.
It may surprise you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to learn that I have some sympathy with the arguments that have been put by Labour Members, especially by the hon. Members for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) and Ashfield (Mr. Haynes).
I compliment my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State on the way in which they have conducted themselves during the recent strike. I think they were the first to recognise that the strike might continue for a very long time. Whatever their influence over the NCB, it was a benign influence, and the pace arid tone of the board strategy owed a lot to the way in which the Ministers conducted themselves. In my view, they renewed public faith in the role of Ministers during a dispute of this kind. Nevertheless, the ending of the strike presents to my right hon. and hon. Friends which have never before been presented to their predecessors an opportunity to think again about the coal industry.
I have to say something else which may surprise you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If it were not for the Marxist purpose of the strike and the dictatorial leadership of the strike, I might well, if I had been a miner, been on strike. About 40 years ago the National Coal Board was charged with securing the efficient development of the mining industry. The board, I submit, is not simply technically insolvent but, far worse, is morally insolvent. In almost every year of the board's existence pits have closed and communities have been demolished. The hard-working, loyal miners whom the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) praised so warmly have been condemned in every year of the board's existence to an uncertain future in an unsuccessful and loss-making industry.
I had hoped not for a Bill that would simply tackle the board's finances but for a Bill that would revitalise and modernise the industry. I had hoped that in return for the huge sums of money that the taxpayer is pouring into the coal industry a medium term coal mining framework would be established within which the mineworker and the taxpayer could be provided with answers to pertinent questions. Why is coal mining the only unprofitable extractive industry in Britain? Why does it continue to lose money and markets? Why does it continue to lose jobs? I should have thought that, in return for the huge sums of money that are demanded of the taxpayer, at the very least there ought to be evidence of a more radical approach, not just in terms of finance—why has the NCB not been devolved, why has its centralised, decision-making structure not been split up, why has it not copied the. example of the National Union of Mineworkers and moved away from its close proximity to Buckingham palace to the heartlands of the mining industry and why has private capital not been attracted into an industry which could be profitable—but in terms of those areas away from the deep mine collieries that are of enormous importance to the industry.
In the case of small mines, the section 36 savings provided for in the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act 1946 ought to have been abolished years ago. Certainly they ought to be reviewed. In return for these huge sums of money I should have thought that at the very least my right hon. and hon. Friends ought to say that the section 36 savings were on the table for review.
I should have thought that Ministers would now be able to promote and encourage small mines, in the same way as other Ministers promote and encourage small businesses. I also thought that we might have heard a little more about opencast mining. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will be more aware of the facts than many other hon. Members, because of the situation in county Durham. We tend to forget that opencast mining is not merely profitable, but very profitable; in the last proper years for which the NCB has furnished accounts, it made a profit of at least £200 million.
The capacity in opencast mining is not being developed. Throughout the strike, and even today, there has been a virtual freeze on opencast mining, particularly in the north-east of England. The NCB does not appear to be granting licences—certainly not a flow of licences—and the county councils, especially those that are Labour controlled, refuse time and again the planning permission required by operators who have won licences.
The situation in the north-east is serious. Opencast mining is a large employer there. It employs at least 2,000 people directly—including a small number of my constituents—and many thousands indirectly. It provides cheap coal and provides it locally. I shudder to think what might have happened to some of our industrial plants in the north-east during the past year—you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will know of as many examples as I do—if opencast mined coal had not been available.
Opencast mining is an important part of NCB activity. It contributes formidably to the board's revenue through the royalty system, provides additional employment at a time when jobs are being lost elsewhere in the board's activities, and provides cheaper coal to those who need it.
I thank my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for the attention that he has been giving to this matter, but it is time that we had a thorough review of opencast mining. The money being voted in the Bill will be wasted and will not further opencast mining. We need a review of legislation, of the strategy for opencast mining and of its financing.
It is nearly 25 years since the principal Act was passed. I submit that the quantity controls on opencast mining can no longer be justified. Indeed, even the geological isolation requirements on opencast mining can no longer be justified. We require new guidance to local authorities on planning applications. If counties such as Durham—almost a wholly owned subsidiary of the NUM—are to refuse planning applications as a matter of policy and every application goes to appeal, the Department of the Environment must give clearer guidance about the criteria that should govern consideration of such applications.
As for the strategy for opencast mining, we need a much higher production target. Without any effect on the rest of the NCB's finances and major strategy, production in opencast mining could be increased dramatically. Half as many tonnes again could be produced with little effect on deep mining.
No; I am about to conclude.
As for financing, given that the Opencast Executive is highly profitable and has a good future, it should be liberalised and eventually privatised. With sharper management and a much more liberal framework, there is no reason why the Opencast Executive should not, within the lifetime of this Paliament or certainly the next Parliament, become the Opencast Mining Company.
I should have hoped that the Government would not come to the House yet again asking for unlimited funds to meet the deficit and increase the borrowing powers of the NCB. I should have hoped—and I still hope for this from my hon. Friend the Minister when he winds up the debate—for a broader view and a further vision of how to make this industry profitable and, above all, how to serve the interests of those who work in it and extend to them a more certain, secure and profitable future than that which now stretches before them.
The hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Fallon) began by trying to sound reasonable but did not take long to revert to type. He gave us an interesting foretaste of the brave new county Durham of years to come if the Tories have their way, with unlimited privatised open-cast mining. If the hon. Gentleman is preaching that message in Darlington, we can confidently look forward to the return of Ossie O'Brien to the House—and the sooner the better.
Some serious points were made earlier in the debate by Conservative Back Benchers, all of whom complained about subsidies being paid to the coal mining industry. In the inevitable banter that takes place in debates such as this, several of my hon. Friends commented that the agriculture industry certainly gets its fair share of subsidy, if not more than its fair share.
I have the privilege of representing a very mixed constituency in which both mining and agriculture are significant. One of the great differences between Socialists and Conservatives is that Socialists believe in sustaining key industries where that is necessary for the sake of the industry and of the communities in the areas concerned. That applies as much to agriculture as it does to coal mining.
Coal is a key strategic industry for this country. In an energy-hungry world it is a foolish nation which, having the resources that we have, allows them to fall into jeopardy as the present Government have done. Anyone who does not recognise the case for coal should see the power station sites in the United States originally intended for pressurised water reactors but increasingly being converted to coal-fired stations. That speaks for itself and that is where the future lies for this country, too. I am certainly convinced of the long-term case for coal in this country; and the Government stand condemned for putting that key industry in jeopardy.
The Bill is supposed to be about the long-term future of the coal industry. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) has said, there can be no realistic prospect for good performance in the coal industry while the present stupid provocation continues at many pits in this country and especially in Scotland. I listened with interest to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) about the long history of good industrial relations in the coal industry, but I have bad news for him. The bad news concerns one job loss in my constituency with which I am prepared to live—that of Mr. Albert Wheeler, director of the national Coal Board in Scotland, who I understand is being transferred to Nottinghamshire. If my hon. Friend thinks that there has been reasonable industrial relations in his part of the world in recent years, I fear that he will be disappointed soon because of the havoc that Mr. Wheeler will be wreaking in that neighbourhood.
There can be no prospect of trust or good faith in the mining industry while 200 Scottish miners remain locked out after the year-long dispute. On 5 March the Prime Minister said on three separate occasions during Prime Minister's Question Time that those miners who had been sacked throughout the country, with particular reference to Scotland. were guilty of serious criminal acts.
Seventeen miners in my constituency have been sacked. I shall refer to a few of them at random. Mr. Billy Davidson of Prestonpans served the industry for 11 years. He is married with two children. He was convicted of a breach of the peace and fined £50. He was sacked and now faces long-term unemployment. Stuart Shepherd, also of Prestonpans, served seven years with the NCB. He was charged with a breach of the peace, fined £30, sacked and now faces long-term unemployment. William Cockburn of Tranent served for 16 years, was fined £50 for a breach of the peace, and was sacked. Mr. Derek McLeod of Prestonpans was charged with a breach of the peace, fined £50 and sacked. That is a particularly interesting case because Mr. McLeod was a member of the specialist mines rescue team. He was called upon by the NCB on a number of occasions to do dangerous and arduous work rescuing some of the pits affected by fires during the strike. He had just returned from one job in Fife—some way away—when he found that he had been given notice that he was to be sacked.
My final example is Mr. John Glen of Musselburgh, who had 34 years of unblemished service in the industry. He is a married man with two children. He was charged with a breach of the peace, was admonished by the court and was sacked.
If all those people are guilty of serious criminal acts, there are many people in this country who are serious criminals. A significant number of young Conservatives must be serious criminals. Probably a significant number of English football supporters are serious criminals. Are they to face long-term unemployment because of minor breaches of the peace on football terraces? It is an obscenity to talk in those terms.
What did the Prime Minister say when we drew her attention to the people who she said were guilty of serious criminal acts? She told us to go to the NCB. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) said, we went to meet Mr. Wheeler, Mr. MacGregor, the Secretary of State for Energy and the Secretary of State for Scotland. They said that they gave us their sympathy. Mr. MacGregor led us to believe that we had made a powerful case that would be considered. But no, Mr. Wheeler stuck to his guns and these men remain sacked.
The Prime Minister says the men should go to industrial tribunals. They are doing so, but, unfortunately, industrial tribunals have no power to remedy cases of manifest injustice. It will not do. We have heard talk of ratting and twisting during the past couple of days—what the NCB has done to those people can be described in much stronger terms.
It is interesting that many representatives of bodies of public opinion in Scotland have been lending their support to miners who have been sacked manifestly unjustly. They include the chief constable of Lothian and the Borders, the police force which covers my constituency. He has said that in his view the cases of the sacked miners should be reviewed. Presumably, like most respectable policemen, he believes that it is for the courts to punish those who are guilty of having committed offences and that the coal board should not punish them as well. The churches have supported the sacked miners. The hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn) had the courtesy to listen to some of the sacked miners at a recent meeting of the Scottish Grand Committee in Edinburgh. He said that he was concerned at what had happened.
Most recently, I read in today's edition of The Scotsman that Princess Alexandra is joining the chorus of those who are concerned about the miners who have been sacked unjustly. It is reported that
the princess met some of the miners during the strike who volunteered to act as labourers to complete the conversion of two buildings bought by the Leukaemia and Cancer Children's Unit Fund (Scotland).
One of the volunteers who worked long hours on that job during the strike was a constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie), Mr. Frank Barr of Mayfield. He spoke to the princess yesterday in the course of the opening ceremoney. He said:
I told her that the volunteers from the Dalkeith miners' strike centre were back at work and how I was the odd one our. She wished me the best of luck and hoped that I would be back at work soon.
Amen to that. We even have royalty supporting these miners.
These dismissals are in fact and in effect illegal under the terms of the nationalisation Act 1946. There is a conciliation procedure for dealing with such cases, and it is a crime that the coal board and the Government are not allowing conciliation to take place. It is a scandal that sacked miners have been victimisd in such a manner. If there is to be any future for the industry, these men must be allowed to return to work alongside their colleagues. I want a secure future for the nation and its key industries, including the mining and energy industries. I want to see investment in the future of the mining industry. Massive resources such as those off the coast at Musselburgh bay in my constituency must be developed. We need a future for the industry and we need justice for it. The Bill is a gesture in that direction, but we must go much further.
I agree with the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Fallon), who is no longer in the Chamber, that uncertainty and doubt surrounds many of our coalfields. The sense of insecurity is to be found especially in the South Wales coalfield. a appears to have been encouraged deliberately by the Government and Mr. Ian MacGregor, who seem to relish its existence as a political weapon with which to punish the South Wales coalfield for its extraordinary solidarity and strength during the strike.
The people of South Wales deserve better than this. Government cliches about the need for industrial harmony rightly fall on deaf ears when men and women sense that their manufacturing jobs are being eroded by short-sighted economic policies and mean-minded political bias. The British Steel Corporation, the Central Electricity Generating Board and other major customers owe it to the people of Wales, who have sustained them for so long, to drop the absurd pretence and secrecy, and in so doing allow vital long-term planning to take place in a civilised atmosphere of reasonable security.
The Financial Times commented last week that there is a difficulty because the profitability of coal depends heavily on the prices paid by its large domestic customer, the CEGB. No one can deny that it is within the power of Ministers to lean on the CEGB to ensure that the prices paid are consistent with the coal industry's break-even point.
South Wales has been told that it will not receive capital for major projects such as replacing capacity in new mines until it has wiped out its overall losses, which by March 1983 amounted to about £100 million. But the area is in a catch-22 position. South Wales cannot cut its losses if it continues to mine coal in out-dated units, using inferior machinery operated by an undermanned work force. Yet the beneficial effects of investment on production are obvious from the performance of collieries in the so-called central block areas.
It is clear that where greater mechanisation and proper transport have been introduced, performance improves dramatically compared with pits which have suffered from investment starvation, as have most of the pits in south Wales over the years. If the National Coal Board and the Government are to be taken at their word, the coalfield must retain sufficient capacity to produce 7 million tonnes of deep-mined coal. At present, production is unlikely to reach that target, and the shortfall in deep mine production could range from 0·4 million tonnes to 1 million tones.
Some of the shortfall will be made up by the lifting of pithead stocks, by licensed mine and open-cast production and by retrieved coal from tip clearance, but it is difficult to see where the extra capacity to make up the 7 million tonnes will come from. To speculate which pits are likely to survive is to dodge the problem of understanding that we have not benefited from the massive reconstruction which some areas have undergone. To win new markets and to meet the demand of existing ones we need the sort of money currently being spent on one airport in the Falkland Islands—about £0·4 billion.
The present choice of financial priorities is a perversion of business logic and a clear sign of the absence of any awareness in the Cabinet or in the Welsh Office of the plight of coal fields such as south Wales. To talk, as the NCB is talking, of having sufficient markets to warrant 7 million tonnes of deep-mined coal a year, when our pits are unlikely to produce 6 million tonnes a year by 1986–87, is nonsense. We need immediate and major reconstruction of a large percentage of our existing deep-mine capacity. We need a massive overhaul of our transportation and coal preparation facilities. We need two or three new mines. There is a possibility, if the Government would use a little imagination, of making several radical departures from past practices to supplement production and mining employment.
For example, it would be possible to carry out a rapid feasibility study into the prospect of sinking as many as 10 or 15 small drift mines into the upper seams. They could provide a swift profit—the Government are fond of talking about profits—on a fairly small investment, and would provide up to 750 new jobs in the south Wales coalfield. Almost 100 licensed mines operating on a similar scale in the upper seams of south Wales in 1985 are giving their owners a good return on their investment and labour. Why should not the NCB or workers' co-operatives share in the fruits of those ventures?
To take the most optimistic predictions for the south Wales coalfield up to 1988, if present trends continue and the downward spiral of mining production and employment is unchecked, by April 1988, NCB South Wales is likely to be employed at the most 12,800 deep miners, producing about 5·8 million tonnes of coal. That would mean the closure of 13 units, the loss of 1·2 million tonnes of capacity and the shedding of 6,000 jobs.
On the pessimistic scenario, worrying noises are coming from Brussels. I am not satisfied with the assurance given by the Secretary of State that there is nothing much in the Commission's proposals. Commission proposals that we have heard about them in the past, and that I was involved in discussing when I was in the European Parliament, have subsequently come to fruition. We want an assurance from the Secretary of State that he will definitely veto those proposals if they ever come before the Council of Ministers. If the proposals were to come to pass, the south Wales figure would fall to 9,500 directly employed in just nine pits producing around 4·7 million tonnes a year. It would mean the closure or merger of 17 units, the loss of some 2·3 million tonnes of capacity and shedding of 9,000 jobs.
Both those scenarios—the optimistic and the pessimistic—assume that the Margam coking coal mine will be sunk, employing some 750 men producing around 600,000 tonnes of coal. That is an optimistic assumption which given the prevailing political and economic climate, appears less grounded in reality as each day passes.
We in south Wales need greater investment in new mining capacity and equipment, and an end to deliberate manpower shortages in south Wales pits. We must have our fair share of the new technology to avoid experiencing an even swifter widening of the performance gap between south Wales pits and central block pits that is occurring now.
Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), I remember the experience that we had in south Wales with Mr. Ian MacGregor as chairman of the British Steel Corporation. I remember going to see him as a member of the European Parliament to argue for a slower run-down of the steel industry in this country. The run-down was accelerating at a faster pace in this country than in any other country in the EEC. When I reminded him that part of the EEC treaty of Rome argued for such a thing as social policy when we were running down our older industries, he turned to me and said, "What is social policy?" He neither knew nor cared. That is also the situation in the coal industry.
While the Secretary of State and his colleagues talk about reconciliation in the coal industry after this damaging strike, which was exacerbated by the actions of his Government, I remind him that five men in my constituency were sacked eight weeks ago for allegedly spitting at the one miner out of 6,000 who worked through the 11-month dispute. Two of those men were not even present when the alleged incident took place. They were sacked on the say-so of one man—they were sacked on the say-so of the chairman of the National Coal Board. Eight weeks later their appeal has still not been heard. I ask the Secretary of State to ensure that that appeal is heard as swiftly as possible.
While such injustices as that prevail in coalfields such as south Wales and elsewhere in Britain, there can be no reconciliation in the coal industry. I ask the Secretary of State to use his good offices to ensure that those men's appeal is heard as swiftly as possible.
I am pleased to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd). I shall come to the point about sackings on which she ended her speech.
I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity that you have given me to say a few words in the debate. Patience is eventually rewarded. It is appropriate that we are taking the Bill into the night shift because that is what coal miners do. It is what many of my constituents do day in, day out, week in, week out, to provide the coal that the nation needs and will continue to need.
Most of the weak-kneed flaccid specimens on the Government Benches have not managed to remain with us. I give credit to the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart) who is still with us. It is notable that the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels), who is always determined to get to his bed early, is not here. We heard a lot from the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) during the strike, but he has not been present for one moment during our debate.
We are talking not only about future investment in the industry, but about the cost of the dispute. The dispute was unnecessary, and it was engineered by the Government. Anyone who read the article in The Economist knows that the present Secretary of State for Transport was the principal architect of the dispute—[Interruption.] The Secretary of State for Energy, as usual, rollicks with laughter. He is well-heeled and can afford to do that. We know how the plan was engineered, how social security benefits were undermined and how trade union legislation was changed deliberately to deal with the dispute.
During the dispute I was with my constituents on the picket lines. I went regularly to the strike centre and spoke at meetings. I make no apology and I have no regrets.
I say to the pundits and to the punters, "Do not make any political or industrial assessment of the outcome of the dispute too soon. Let us see what happens in the next two years." I think that something unexpected by Tory Members will take place.
A strong commitment to coal has been made in the debate. Many of my colleagues have worked for years in the coal industry, and, unlike Tory Members, they know what they are talking about.
I shall comment on some ideas expressed by Conservative Members, starting with the hon. Member for Sherwood, since he has had the courtesy to remain in the Chamber. Recently I saw the headline, "Andy Stewart to Retire." Unfortunately, that referred to the excellent Scottish singer rather than the not so excellent Scottish Member of Parliament. The Register of Members' Interests provides a clue to the hon. Gentleman's commitment. He declares that he owns Beesthorpe Manor Farm, Newark. He therefore receives a great deal of public money in subsidy. Unlike the poor mining lads in his constituency, how much did he receive in 1983 in guaranteed payments, compensatory allowances and other subsidies?
Mr. Andy Stewart:
Britain's three major industries are agriculture, steel and coal. The highest subsidy per employee goes to the mining industry, the second highest to steel and the third to agriculture. That is the truth. Subsidies to any industry are for the benefit of consumers, not of those who work in the industry.
That does not answer my question, the hon. Gentleman protests and gives wrong statistics, as other Gentlemen farmers know.
Let us consider what other Conservative Members have said and discover where their real interests lie.
The hon. Member for Erewash (Mr. Rost) is a director of Northcott Investments Ltd. and Penrhos Electrics Ltd., and investment adviser to General and Overseas Trust Ltd., parliamentary consultant on energy matters to Associated Heat Services, to the Warmer campaign and to Weleda United Kingdom Ltd. Those are not the types of jobs that miners can pick up; they are picked up by hon. Gentlemen who are part-time Members—who are elected to represent the interests of their constituents but who look after their own interests.
The real interests of the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Cockeram) lie not in the coal industry, but in his directorships, his employments and his profession——
Conservative Members call for the privatisation of the coal industry and the opencast mining industry. The hon. Member for Ludlow paid a flying visit to Namibia, sponsored by Rio Tinto Zinc, which has an interest in privatisation.
I can see that Conservative Members do not like what I am saying. Many of them are involved up to their necks in businesses that take advantage of the coal industry. If there is privatisation of opencast coal mining, Conservative Members will benefit. The public should know where those hon. Members' real interests lie. I am speaking of the Flash Harry types who spoke earlier in the debate.
The coal industry will never recover fully while the bitterness of the sackings remains. The same problems exist in my constituency as in those of my hon. Friends. The aftermath of the strike is bitterness indeed. Whatever the managers may tell us, neither productivity nor morale will recover fully unless there is justice, fairness and honesty in the management of the industry. None of those qualities has been evident in the sackings.
I wrote to Mr. Albert Wheeler, the NCB director in Scotland. He asked me how I could justify the reinstatement of men who had been guilty of acts of sabotage or serious offences but it is not true that most of the sacked men had been guilty of such offences. As my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) said, more than 200 men have been sacked; yet I had an answer from the Solicitor-General for Scotland to the effect that only just over 30 miners in the whole of Scotland had been convicted of offences that could even remotely be considered serious. Seven had been convicted of assault, some of possessing dangerous weapons and some of other offences. Where are the acts of sabotage among those 200 men? I asked Mr. Wheeler if he would say which men had been involved in serious offences or acts of sabotage. I have had no reply.
There is a vendetta against certain activists. Union activists have been picked out. We see that happen in totalitarian countries. We see it happen in Latin American dictatorships. I never thought that we would see it happen here.
I accept that point. I shall not elaborate on it.
Mr. Wheeler told me in his letter that the men could seek redress through industrial tribunals. Apart from the time that it takes to go to an industrial tribunal, and the fact—as was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) and has been argued on occasion by my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie)—that the conciliation procedure has been bypassed entirely, I asked Mr. Wheeler whether a man who went to the industrial tribunal and was cleared would automatically be reinstated. The answer was no. What sense and justice is there in that? That is what the men in Scotland are having to face. While that situation continues, there will be no reconciliation in the coalfields. That is typical of the negative and devious attitude of the management of the coal industry in Scotland in the last few years.
I shall give one other example of deviousness. It is a case study in deviousness in the NCB workshops at Lugar in my constituency. We suspected that the NCB might be planning to close it. The board deliberately let it run down, all the time maintaining that it had no plans to close it. By encouraging transfers and voluntary redundancies, the board got it down to a level at which it was no longer viable and could no longer continue, and closure then became inevitable. The board then said, "What can we do? We do not have the men; they have all moved elsewhere." But the board did that deliberately.
Let me refer next to the future for Ayrshire coal. Ayrshire coal at the time of nationalisation was mined in over 40 pits in the great Ayrshire coalfield. When I became a Member of Parliament, there were still four pits open. Now there are two open, and two with an uncertain future—Killoch and Barony. At Killoch and Barony, all the faces are back at work, and have been for some weeks. Those are the pits that in the course of the strike the management said were devastated and would take months to get back, yet they were back quickly, proving that that was a scare story by the management during the strike. Now we are getting stories from the NCB again showing its deviousness and negative attitude. We are told that Killoch and Barony have geological difficulties. My God, they are not new. By their nature, there have been geological difficulties almost since the earth began—at least for hundreds of thousands of years.
I spoke to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary about Killoch and Barony, and, to be fair, he was reasonable and helpful. I know that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary says that each individual pit is a matter for management decision. We are talking now about the money that is available and the strategy for the coal industry. The hon. Gentleman said that one of the Government's criteria for keeping pits open was that there should be a market for the coal. Even the chairman of the NCB has said that. My hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley and I had a discussion about this the other day. The coal in Wales and in Ayrshire is of high quality. It is low in chlorine and in sulphur. Therefore, it is the best quality coal environmentally. There is a market for that coal. The NCB and the Government agree that there is a market for it. Nevertheless, the director of the NCB in Scotland has made the ridiculous, divisive, negative and devious statement that he can guarantee the future of Killoch and Barony for one year only. I ask the House to imagine the effect of that on the morale of the work force and on people contemplating the future and what they are going to do. It is a guaranteed death sentence—not an immediate death, but a slow. lingering death. That is the kind of attitude that we are facing.
I hope that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary will give some pledge to reconsider this matter. Perhaps he can tell us the position, particularly with regard to Kilroot power station. To give some credit to the Government and the the chairman of the NCB—he has not had much tonight—the chairman has been trying to get Kilroot power station converted to coal so that it can take Ayrshire coal.
We need a commitment about the future of the Ayrshire coalfield. It would be catastrophic if Killoch and Barony were closed, because there would be no coal mines in the whole of the west of Scotland—in the whole of Strathclyde. Already the Lanarkshire coalfield has gone. About 4,000 men are employed in mining in the region five years ago. The number is now down to 2,300. That is how many jobs we must replace already.
If those pits were closed, what would happen to those 2,300 men? There are not many jobs nearby. I am sure that my hon. Friends the Members for Dunfermline, West and for East Lothian will confirm that there are no jobs available for the Ayrshire men in Lothian and Clyde. So where will they be transferred? In addition, what future do the young people have? They have seen the coal industry in Ayrshire as their only, or almost their only, opportunity for a job. I am unable to convey to the House the sense of aimlessness and hopelessness among the young people.
In answer to a recent parliamentary question from my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), it was revealed that whereas the Prime Minister spends days and weeks, even months, abroad, she does not spend much time visiting the regions of the United Kingdom, seeing the problems at first hand. I hope that I have conveyed to the Minister the sense of frustration, aimlessness and hopelessness among the youngsters in areas such as mine.
My hon. Friends have described the amount of money that is being put into NCB (Enterprise) Ltd. as peanuts, and they are right. The leader of the SDP has tried to claim that he thought of the idea of NCB (Enterprise) Ltd., but I am sure the Minister will confirm that for some years many people have suggested that type of operation. Cumnock and Doon Valley district council suggested the establishment of such an organisation some years ago, and I recall writing to the Department on the subject.
Ayrshire is a traditional coal-producing area. If Killoch and Barony were closed, we should have to import coal into the area for the concessionaires. Even more important, we should have to import coal to fuel the boilers of schools and houses. Ayrshire county council made sure that the boilers for which it was responsible were coal-fired because of its commitment to the coal industry. It would be ironic and catastrophic if that situation occurred and we had to import coal.
I am worried about the fact that sometimes the management of a nationalised industry does not demonstrate a commitment to the future of that industry. It seems sometimes that those concerned do not want to make a success of it. I shall give a recent example of a contract to transport coal from Knockshinnock in my constituency to Longannet. It was an interesting case, and at the time some of my hon. Friends and I kicked up a terrific fuss about it.
In that case, a £3 million contract—it was said to be the first of many other contracts that would follow—was awarded to the South of Scotland Electricity Board, a nationalised industry, over the telephone, within three hours, to Yuill and Dodds and two other firms in a consortium.
The first protest against the award of that contract came from a company named Wilsons of Coylton. Mr. Wilson is a rich man who lives in the constituency of the Secretary of State for Scotland. All his employees live in my constituency, which is a revealing fact in itself. Mr. Wilson complained because not only was he given a different mileage for the contract, but he was not given an opportunity to form a consortium.
Not only was that huge contract awarded over the telephone, but I now discover something even worse than that. There was collusion between the Secretary of State for Scotland and the electricity board over the award of that contract to make sure that the railways were not allowed to participate. I have a copy of a letter from Donald Miller, the chairman of the South of Scotland Electricity Board, to the Secretary of State for Scotland, in which, referring to a discussion between them, he says that one reason for rushing the contract through and doing it on the telephone was to keep British Rail out.
Is that not crazy? How are we going to get nationalised industries to make a profit if they are not allowed to compete for contracts of this kind? Hon. Members know about the environmental impact of hundreds of Yuill and Dodds lorries careering along the roads of Strathclyde, making holes in the road, with all the cost that that involves for the local authority, and with dirt coming off the lorries, quite apart from the immorality of keeping out British Rail. I hope that the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State will look into that, find out why there was this collusion, and perhaps make a statement about it.
With reference to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley about the EEC proposal, again today, as at Question Time on Monday, Ministers pretend that they know nothing about it; they claim ignorance of the Commission's proposal. I find it impossible to believe. First, Lord Cockfield is a Tory member of the Commission, so they ought to know exactly what is going on. If not, they are incompetent.
I suggest that the Ministers do not know what is going on. They know that the Energy Commissioner has made a devastating proposal and that it has been thrown back by the Commission. However, knowing what happens in the EEC—and I have got to know it in the last year—we shall see that coming back again and again, and the coal mining industry in Britain will suffer. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will give the reassurance in his reply that the Government will have no truck whatsoever with this proposal from the EEC Energy Commissioner.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the EEC ought to be using more British coal than coal from other parts of the world? The EEC imports over 18 million tonnes of coal each year from South Africa. That is immoral at the present time when South African miners are being shot because they will not accept contracts that are being forced upon them by the companies working there. Does he further agree that, if we are really partners in Europe—something I am personally very sceptical about—we ought to be selling British coal to that market?
Would my hon. Friend care to remind the Minister that, as I understand it, the Italian Minister of Agriculture, keen to serve his national purpose, is urging the EEC to ensure that all schools in Europe encourage the consumption of wine? I do not think that he has gone so far as to demand that wine be given out free in schools, but he has come very close to that. If he can serve the interests of wine producers in Italy, surely the very valuable role of coal in Britain could be served if our Minister took a leaf out of his book.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and glad that he came to that conclusion. For a moment I thought that he was going to say, "Let them eat coal." We do not have enough pregnant women around to make that a profitable enterprise.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) raised the question of imports, It is not just the EEC. I hope that we shall have a clear indication that the Government have done something to curb imports. I hope that we shall have a categorical guarantee that the Government will not import any coal whatever from South Africa.
I hope that we shall have an indication of what future investment there is to be in Scotland. What is to happen to Happendon? What is the future for Canonbie? Where are the future Scottish coalfields to be? Is there to be a future for the Scottish coalfields? What I hear from the NCB and the Government makes me pessimistic. The only suggestions appear to be for a major opencast development. We heard that from the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Fallon).
Let us not forget the environmental impact of opencast mining. Let us not forget the promises that I and other hon. Members have received—that if the local authorities agreed to the development of opencast mining, it would be a quid pro quo for the continuation of the deep mines. I had a promise in my own constituency that we would see Sorn and Highhouse pits maintained if opencast was allowed to develop, but the opposite was the case. Instead of being complementary, they became competitive. and the pits were closed down.
I join my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Dormand) in commending the work, the plans and the proposals of the communities' coalfields campaign. Those are from local authorities which know the coalfields and the miners. Unlike Conservative Members, they feel for the future and want to participate in a future for coal.
There is—there must be—a future for coal in Britain. If the Government do not indicate it, then after one or maybe two years, when there is a general election, we shall see the return of a Labour Government and of a positive commitment to coal.
I heard some comments about the wind-up speeches being on the night shift, and that has proved to be the case. I do not think we should be too fussy about that, because this is an important subject, it is an important Bill, and it deserves argument and debate.
In the debate, points were raised which, in relation to the history of our country and the history of the coal mining industry, are well worth studying. My hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) mentioned a former Member of this House, Billy Blyton, how he had been victimised and the struggles that he had. Billy Blyton served all his life in the mining industry and he had a favourite phrase. It was, "I was a miner by profession and I am now a Lord by accident." We are pleased to see that he is still in the House of Lords.
In looking back at the history of the industry we should think of another person, and I say this particularly to the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart). I refer to Lord Taylor of Mansfield, a former Member of this House. Indeed, he wrote a book which all hon. Members of this House should read, because it would give them a general feeling for the background to the debate.
I became a little annoyed—I apologise to the House—because someone was giggling when my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Woodall) was talking about the tragedy he had when his father broke his back in 1926, and about his mother's struggles. That tragedy reminds some of us of our own personal experience. I cannot approach these matters without feeling emotionally involved, because I am the son of a victimised miner. When filling in a nomination paper, I recalled that I started in the coal industry in 1934. I remember my father being victimised in 1926. I often say that I was not brought up; I was dragged up. When I started in the pits in 1934, my father was still going into the pits. I managed to get a job in the pits because the lad whose job I got—he was a bogie driver—had been killed the week before. I worked for about 18 months before my father finally got back to the pits, between 1926 and 1935. He was victimised throughout. I am very proud of my father. Each of today's victimised miners is as good as ever my father was.
Although the Bill deals with the provision of money, we must not forget the future consequences of the strike for the industry. The Opposition have tried to make the point throughout the debate that we are talking not simply about money but about the future of the industry and how it can return to sanity in terms of better industrial relations.
The Bill is the consequence of what the present chairman of the National Coal Board described as "a little local difficulty outside of town." That remark alone should have ensured his dismissal for monumental incompetence. The Secretary of State for Energy must bear some responsibility for the fact that the chairman of the NCB still holds office. Mr. MacGregor is probably the most spendthrift, incompetent chairman of a nationalised industry that this country has ever experienced. It is to the eternal shame of this Government that they continue to prop him up. It denigrates this great industry.
We have listened to lectures from Conservative Members about finance, and we should not forget that the Chancellor of the Exchequer described the miners' strike as "a worthwhile investment." It has been made perfectly clear tonight that the Government have no energy policy and, moreover, have no intention of creating one. They are operating a pragmatic, mixed energy strategy. If during the last 12 months their policies contained any element of strategy it was designed not to reach a negotiated settlement but to defeat the National Union of Mineworkers.
The Secretary of State for Energy can mumble as much as he likes, but I shall continue to say that he could have settled the strike honourably. I telephoned him from Sheffield and told him what had been said in the House of Commons—that the Government would accept the NACODS agreement without it being signed. The strike could have been settled because I had the full authority of the NUM behind me, but the right hon. Gentleman refused even to speak to me. He had no enthusiasm for ending the strike.
It gives me no pleasure to say that the Government will come to regret their strategy. Many of my hon. Friends and I have a great feeling for the industry. We have worked in it and we believe in it. It is necessary for the nation. I say that pointedly to the Secretary of State.
The Government were prepared to use any weapon to achieve their ends. They were willing to use the energy sector as a blunt instrument, involving nuclear power, imported coal and huge revenues from North sea oil. It has become obvious over the past 12 months that the Government have been prepared to use vast amounts of the nation's capital wealth to gain what they saw as a "victory" in the miners' strike.
We do not know the exact figures, but perhaps one third of the annual revenue from North sea oil has been spent on the strike. Even if it is £5 billion or £6 billion, it is likely to increase as the knock-on effects run through the economy. We do not know the price of that industrial dispute.
Energy supply and use remain uncertain in many respects and the Government do not have a free hand. For example, a massive nuclear power programme would take 10 years to get under way. Building the facilities to handle huge quantities of imported coal would be too expensive, and the strengthening of the dollar, which is still strong, has reversed the competitive position of coal imports anyway. Oil prices are not expected to fall substantially and the large price advantage enjoyed by coal will, therefore, be maintained.
I think that I speak for my hon. Friends when I say that the nation and the Government cannot do without NCB deep-mined coal. There is no alternative in the short term or the medium term.
I am not sure about the CEGB agreement on coal use. I have read conflicting figures. I am told that the CEGB may have agreed to take up to 95 per cent. of its coal from the NCB, but the price aspect is interesting. The price is lower than that at which even South African coal can be imported into power stations. In addition, I learn that the CEGB has been ordered to replenish its stocks to pre-strike levels, which means that it needs another 20 million tonnes. The market position has changed since March 1984, and the nation needs coal.
It is about time that we were given a satisfactory reply about the victimised miners. Ministers in the Department of Energy have been dodging the issues. The problem will not go away. Ministers cannot sustain for much longer their response that it is a matter for the NCB. It is not.
As I said in the debate on the redundancy payments scheme, the NCB is a creature of statute. Parliament and the sponsoring Ministers therefore have a responsibility in relation to the board. The Coal Industry Nationalisation Act 1946 requires Mr. MacGregor and every area director of the NCB.
to enter into consultation with organisations appearing to them to represent substantial proportions of the persons in the employment of the Board".
As my hon. Friends have said, and as the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) also pointed out, a procedure for conciliation and consultation is written into the Act but it is being deliberately and blatantly violated by the National Coal Board. Under the conciliation procedure, every miner who is dismissed has the right to have his case individually considered. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) said, there are three stages—the last of which is consideration by the umpire, whose decision is binding on union and management alike. To do as Ministers suggest, and as the National Coal Board itself has the audacity to suggest, and to refer cases to an industrial tribunal as a road out is a wanton deception when Parliament has already laid down the procedures to be followed.
When I raised one of the cases with the Secretary of State—I am grateful to him for being present now—and pointed out that the procedures for conciliation and consultation had not been carried out by the NCB, he replied on 15 April:
You raised a particular point about the NCB's conciliation procedures. I suggest that you get in touch with the Board direct if you find it helpful to have clarification about the operation of those procedures.
That is a complete abdication of responsibility.
I will deal with the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Fallon) later.
As the sponsoring Minister for coal, the Secretary of State is accountable to Parliament to ensure that its statutes are observed. Failure to do that is dereliction of duty and the Secretary of State should be censured for that today.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland described the position of a miner whose case had been found not proven in the court. I think that the position is even worse than the hon. Gentleman suggested. The miner in question was NUM secretary at Bilston Glen colliery, in my constituency, and he was charged with having committed a breach of the peace because he had overstepped a white line.
Last week Lothian regional council, which is Tory controlled, wrote to the NCB in Scotland criticising the board for drawing the white line because it was illegal and the NCB had no business to put it there. When will Ministers at the Department of Energy exercise the responsibility given to them by Parliament? We are certainly entitled to censure them today for failing to carry out their parliamentary responsibilities. My constituent was victimised because the NCB broke the law by drawing that white line.
That is rubbish. The hon. Gentleman has not been long in the House. I hope that he was listening to me. I do not understand how he can reach such a conclusion. I shall deal later with his speech.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Roberston) drew attention to an article in yesterday's edition of The Scotsman. He made important points, but they are not the real issue in that story. A strike centre was set up in Dalkeith in my constituency. The lads were on strike for 12 months. The article in The Scotsman tells of a centre in Edinburgh designed specially for the treatment of children suffering from leukaemia. The lads went to Edinburgh and did all the labouring work to make the centre ready for the children. That is why the article said that the Princess hoped that the miners would get back their jobs. Indeed, she met one of the victimised miners.
Many of the lads in the strike centre in Dalkeiif have been victimised, yet they showed feeling and compassion for the community. They have been found guilty of trivial offences, but we are told by the Prime Minister, MacGregor and Wheeler that they are criminals and vandals. We are entitled to resent that. Those lads voluntarily gave time to ensure that a centre was prepared for children suffering from leukaemia. It says a great deal for those who organised the function that when they asked Princess Alexandra to open it they had the thoughtfulness and decency to invite some of the lads to the opening ceremony. I am proud of the lads, not ashamed of them.
I wish to deal briefly with the hon. Member for Darlington, who made a peculiar speech. He began with a conciliatory and sympathetic tone, but then said that one panacea for solving the problems of good, cheap, indigenous coal was to develop opencast mining. I do not think that many of his Tory friends will thank him for the suggestion that we should go to Oxford, Sussex and Surrey and develop mass opencast mining. If the people of Oxford, Sussex and Surrey are worried that that may happen, I can allay that worry. The hon. Gentleman suggested that we should substantially increase opencast mining. The Minister can confirm that the maximum production of opencast is about 15 million tonnes.
The hon. Gentleman should have researched more carefully before suggesting that opencast mining would solve the fuel problems of this country. When Mr. MacGregor arrived in this country, he thought that we could get all the cheap coal we wanted by doing what they do in America. They call it strip mining; we call it opencast. He then discovered that even developing opencast mining to produce 15 million tonnes is very doubtful and that there is only 30 to 35 years of opencast. If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that we double opencast production, its life would be about 17 years. The hon. Gentleman seems to think that there would be a bonanza as a result of substantially increasing opencast production. I do not know with whom he is associated, but I am sure that he has in mind private capital and private investment. That would enable the so-called entrepreneurs to make a killing from the mass development of opencast mining. I know that the hon. Gentleman was educated at St. Andrew's university and I live in the county of Fife. He will understand when I say that he was blathering. He will understand at least that much of the Scottish language.
I did not say that I wanted opencast production to be doubled. I suggested that production should be increased by at least half as much again. I did not say anything about a bonanza and I have no financial interest in the opencast operation. I want to know whether the hon. Gentleman agrees with the quantity controls on opencast production, with the reluctance of county councils in the north-east to grant planning permission and with the reluctance of the board to grant licences to its licensed operations. Is he happy that men are to be laid off in the north-east—some of them will be my constituents—who are not employed by those for whom he acts and who are members of the Transport and General Workers Union and not of the NUM? Is he happy that the industry should be frozen and fossilised in the north-east rather than expanded slightly to the degree that I have accepted?
I am not happy about the Government's attitude to providing employment opportunities. If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that in the interests of employment we must ride roughshod over people's environment, whether for opencast production or deep mining purposes, my response is that we are entitled to consider the environment of others.
There should be inquiries. We should know precisely what we are doing. The opencast operation provides only a small part of our energy needs and our energy needs will not be met and our problems will not be solved or mitigated through increased development of the opencast operation. I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman again as I have answered his question.
It is not unreasonable for the Opposition to ask about future investment in the industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) addressed himself to this very issue. The Government must know what the future holds. The Secretary of State claims that he has an arm's length relationship with the chairman of the board. He is always trying to kid us that that is the relationship. I was a Minister in the Department and I am aware of the Department's relationship with the coal board. It is bound to have an idea of the new pit sinkings that are planned. If it has not, it should be asking the board for information. We are debating the provision of substantial sums and we are entitled to know what is planned. The people are entitled to know; Parliament is entitled to know. The Secretary of State does not like it when I say that it is to the eternal shame of the Government that not one new pit has been sunk since the Government came to office in 1979.
If we are talking about investment, we are entitled to know about new pit sinkings. We are entitled to know whether the new pits will be sunk. Some of my hon. Friends have asked about investment, and we are entitled to expect answers from the Minister.
On 10 March, Mr. MacGregor was reported in The Sunday Telegraph as saying that the number of pits would be reduced to between 80 and 120 by 1990, and that year is not a long way away. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) said, we are talking about a massive contraction of the mining industry and not merely pit closures. Are we talking about a replacement strategy? We must know whether this is to be the strategy, and we must know when it will happen and the precise location. What is the projected output envisaged not only for this year, but for the next five years? We want to know how many pits will be left and what the manpower will be.
By any standards, the Bill contains substantial borrowing powers, and this is one point on which my hon. Friends agreed with Conservative Members. The Minister should tell us the rate of interest on the money borrowed by the coal board. We know that the rate is decided by the Treasury, and I believe that we are entitled to that information. How much interest will the NCB pay on its borrowing as a result of the Bill?
Many questions asked in the debate remain unanswered. Some of them are probably best dealt with in Committee. I give notice to the Minister that when the Bill reaches Committee we shall want a great deal of information about the consequences of the Bill, including pit closures, pit sinkings and coal board enterprises. I hope that when the Minister replies he will be able to answer some of the questions that we have asked. If not, I trust that he will either write to me or give us the information in Committee.
Tonight we have had a wide-ranging debate on matters relating to the coal industry and, as the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) said, relating to this important Bill. A wide range of opinions have been expressed, and many points have been made with which I shall try to deal in the next few minutes. However, as to the specific questions on points of detail, I should be grateful to the hon. Gentleman if he would allow me to respond to them either in writing or in Committee, if they relate to mattes that will come up there.
It is right that there should be such widespread interest in coal because of the importance of the coal industry to the British economy. More than one third of the primary energy demand in the country is met by coal, and three quarters of our electricity is normally produced by coal-fired generation. Britain is richly endowed with energy resources, including gas, oil, nuclear power and coal. It is important that all those options should be active and developing. Coal production must include not only deep-mined but open cast, and the relevant points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Fallon) were, to some extent, misunderstood by the hon. Member for Midlothian.
The debate was primarily about the resources to be made available to the coal industry during the coming two years. The hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) went rather far when he said that this was a little gesture from the Government. It is much more than that. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart) rightly said, it is enough to incite a strike by taxpayers. My hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Cockeram) reminded us that this is a depressingly familiar ritual involving massive sums of money, and he reduced it to the simple figure of £2 a week compulsory taxation. He stressed that that level of subsidy was intolerable. We seemed to float from one statement to the next, with the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Woodall) saying that the Government were just paying lip service to the industry. No wonder my hon. Friend the Member for Warwickshire, North (Mr. Maude) said that any stranger coming into the debate would be incredulous, and rightly so, because we are talking about substantial sums. As my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Mr. Rost) said—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"]—he had seen it all before, and he made some points——
If I might respectfully put the point, I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash raised an important question when he pressed me as to whether the Government would now turn their attention towards privatisation of the coal industry. I wanted to make it absolutely clear that the Government have no plans for privatisation. What the coal industry now needs is a period of consolidation and growth as we recover from the strike. We have stressed that time and again.
The hon. Member for Doncaster, North (Mr. Welsh) gave some figures for subsidies from the European Community. It is right that we should put them in context because this country provides more support to its coal industry than any other Community country. The comparison must take into account long-term support in the form of investment finance as well as short-term support in the form of production subsidies. The amount of investment that this country has put into the coal industry has been at record levels under this Government.
I accept that there has been a tremendous amount of investment. But does the Minister agree that the coal board cannot get investment finance from anywhere else? The coal industry is not allowed to go to the open market for investment finance. We are not allowed to go to Europe for investment finance. It can come only from the state. We pay the going rate—in fact, a little bit more—to pay back the finance, or a negotiated rate, which the Minister might tell us about. That fact must be brought to hon. Members' notice. The only place from which we can get investment finance is the Government of the day.
But as the hon. Gentleman will know, it is a convention that nationalised industries borrow from the national loans fund. They do so because, for the country that is a cheaper way of borrowing money than borrowing it on the open market. That is a fact of life. I do not want to go into the detailed points that the hon. Gentleman raised. He mentioned several other important matters, on which I shall write to him.
I should like to refer to the crucial point raised about the alleged leaks from the Community mentioned by the hon. Members for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) and for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes). I remember the hon. Gentleman debating many years ago. He has probably forgotten it. Time has not moved on for him since then, but for me I hope it has. I saw the Commissioner, Mr. Nic Mosar, with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on Monday. He categorically denied that there was any such proposal.
Of course I accept what the Minister said, but does he accept that I have heard, from a reliable source, that the energy Commissioner put forward to the Commission a paper on the phasing out of state aids to the coal industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Cy non Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) has had exactly the same information. It has been published in the press. In view of that, will the Minister go back to Mr. Mosar, find out exactly what the position is, and try to clarify it? It is very worrying if such a proposal is in train.
My right hon. Friend and I had a good and constructive meeting with the Commissioner on Monday. He made it clear that there was no such proposal, but he is working on a paper that will come before the Commission. A further proposal must be made because the current regulation expires this year.
The industry must continue to receive support through the funds available so that it can break even. That is the sane solution and the only way to secure jobs in the industry.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has set out clearly what is to happen about closures. Negotiations are in progress to agree the new procedure. It is a matter of common sense. I am sad that the right hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme) did not understand, but I do not think that he wanted to understand. The hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) and the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) reminded the House that pits have always been closed because they are exhausted, because mining conditions have become too difficult or because they have become too uneconomic. Between 1964 and 1970 an average of 44 pits a year were closed—a total of 260. Under Labour Governments, 330 pits were closed. Pits containing significant quantities of coal underground were closed by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn).
Nobody denies that a decision to close a pit can have serious implications and should not be taken lightly. We are now dealing with a serious situation in the coal industry. Devastating damage has been caused by the strike—that sad, unnecessary and pointless strike. My right hon. Friend has explained how appalling the wrecked faces are.
If a pit is closed because of damage caused by the strike, there will be an opportunity for the unions to consult the NCB. I am talking about what happens now when the majority of a work force wants to accept early redundancy or to transfer to another pit because it is obvious that their pit has no future. The NCB intends to introduce the modification to the review procedure. I hope that all parties will be reasonable so that current discussions are successful.
Dismissals have also been an important factor in the debate, but many hon. Members forgot an important factor. They forgot the background to what occurred. The country still remembers those disgraceful scenes of mob intimidation and violence. I shall not comment on individual incidents because many people named might be innocent.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said that some workers were dismissed for trivial offences. I want more details so that I can draw the NCB's attention to the cases. I warn the House, however, that the NCB has already responded to the demand that every case be carefully considered and dealt with.
We are becoming fed up with dodging and hedging. The point is that a procedure exists in the industry. It is no use the Minister saying that every case has been considered. That is not true and the Minister knows that it is not. Every miner is entitled to have his case heard individually at his colliery until the umpire makes his decision—which is final and binding on both management and men.
That is not true. At the time that most of these dismissals took place, the NUM was not involved in the process of consultation and conciliation. This is a recognition of the true position. It is also a recognition of where the responsibility lies. It lies with an employer. The employer is the National Coal Board. It is right for cases to be raised with the NCB, and I shall raise the cases that have been mentioned in the debate with the NCB, but let us not get this out of proportion.
The hon. Member for Hemsworth asked what was wrong with verbal intimidation. I think it is deplorable that a small number of miners should continue to practise the tactics of intimidation such as we saw during the strike. Let no one doubt the NCB's determination to tackle this problem with firm disciplinary action, including dismissal if necessary.
The Minister said that there has been no verbal intimidation. We both speak without any knowledge of the facts. These sackings occurred only this week, in fact, yesterday. This has involved the whole colliery in a strike. The neighbouring colliery has come out on strike in sympathy, and the strike is likely to get worse.
All that I said was that, if grown-up men cannot disagree and fall out verbally without men having to lose their jobs, there is something wrong with the state of the industry. I maintain, even without knowing the facts of the case, that verbal intimidation is not grounds for sacking a man.
I apologise for not having observed that the hon. Gentleman is present. Had I done so, I would have directed my remarks to him.
I made clear that I was not commenting on individual cases. I was attacking the hon. Gentleman's attempt to justify verbal intimidation. I do not believe that in the conditions under ground any verbal intimidation can be justified in any circumstances.
I have worked in the industry all my life, and I know for a fact that certain language is used which is called pit talk. Men talk bluntly to one another down the pit using very rough language. This has gone on from time immemorial. That is not verbal intimidation. It is just ordinary men in a man's world talking to one another. I do not think that it is grounds for men to be dismissed.
There is, I think, little difference between us in our assessment of what is tolerable and what is not. The Minister will be aware that at one point the chairman of the National Coal Board informed some senior officials of the NCB that he would like to have a certain portion of the anatomy of the general secretary of my association. That does not lend itself to decent relationships.
At the beginning of this section, the Minister said that we should not forget the scenes that we saw during the strike, and that we should put this into context. Does the Minister recall—I make no condemnation of what was happening, this is merely a comparison—that south of the border we saw riot shields and policemen on horseback? In Scotland, there was no riot equipment and nothing of that sort. Is it not paradoxical that proportionately more men have been sacked in Scotland than south of the border? Does that not give the Minister some cause for concern and some indication that this has not always been as fair as he thinks?
As the Minister will be aware, I live south of the border. He said that he does not want to comment on individual cases that have been raised. Will he accept, from what my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) and I have said, that conflict exists about the way in which individuals have been treated, bearing in mind the charges that were brought in the courts? Will he give an assurance that he will examine such cases to see, for example, whether there has been a discrepancy somewhere and whether miners in Scotland have been treated differently from miners in the rest of the British coalfield?
Is the hon. Gentleman also aware that in certain circumstances the conciliation procedure could not be implemented because during the dispute some people could not go to the NCB's offices or see the local officials because they were banned from doing that by the conditions of their bail? The Minister may consider that to be a red herring, but it is not. Throughout the strike in my constituency I came across cases of that type. My area was a hotbed of activity, particularly towards the end of the strike, and miners were confined to barracks, as it were, and could not leave home to take part in that conciliation procedure.
It is wrong for the NCB or for the Minister to say that those people should be denied the conciliation procedure. They should be permitted to go through that process and at this stage there should be no question of industrial tribunals. Machinery for dealing with issues such as this has existed in the industry since 1947, and but for the NCB chairman importing tactics from America, the vast majority of cases about which hon. Members have spoken tonight would have been settled within the industry and there would have been no need for debate in the House or comment in the press.
I have made it clear that I will bring every case to the attention of the NCB, and several Opposition Members have already been to see me about individual cases. The hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) has not provided any evidence but has hinted at cases where conciliation processes, though applied for, were denied. I should like further details of those cases. It is no good talking in generalities. I want the facts and the evidence.
The right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) derided the financial provision for NCB (Enterprise) Limited. The hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Dormand) did the same. I should like to investigate further the points made by the hon. Members for Hemsworth (Mr. Woodall) and for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) about the lack of cooperation that they said they had had from the Enterprise company.
The company has been in operation since October 1984. It has already established extensive links with enterprise agencies throughout the British coalfield and it is now actively considering—in addition to the £0·5 million already approved in loans by the company, which will create up to 400 jobs—requests for funds in excess of £3 million with the potential to generate more than 1,000 new jobs.
From the Government's point of view, funds have been made available to the company, but they will be kept under review as the company's operations progress. We are determined to see this company succeed, and I have been pleased with some of the comments made by hon. Members on both sides of the House tonight in that they have demonstrated that everyone shares that determination.
I hope that the message from the Government tonight is clear. We believe in the future of the coal industry. There can be no question but that coal will continue to be a major source of fuel for our power stations for the foreseeable future. I am confident that there will be real growth in the industrial market for coal.
I have recently visited a number of sites where horticulturists and industrialists have converted their boilers to coal firing, many with the assistance of a coal firing grant. They are all pleased with the results and the savings that they are making. The market for coal is there if the opportunities can be grasped and if there is confidence in secure supplies of coal at the right price.
The hon. Member for Easington said that confidence was returning. It is, but it is fragile in the present circumstances. It needs everyone to put the strike effectively behind them. It is recovering only because of those who truly care about their industry. One of the most important resources of our coal industry is the calibre of the men who work in it.
I hope that Opposition Members will admit that the post-strike recovery is built on the solid rock of miners who worked through the dispute, and I pay tribute to their courage and determination tonight—[Interruption]—as I shall pay tribute to them face to face in a few hours' time when I am three miles underground at Point of Ayr in north Wales.
They kept faith with the best democratic traditions of the industry and there could have been no possibility of any recovery had it not been for the hard work of NCB marketing, which worked tirelessly to ensure that no industrial customers went without coal during the strike.
But of course the strike set the industry back, and the deficit grant provision sought in this Bill for 1984 to 1985 gives some measure of the cost—a damaging wound in the side of Britain's economic recovery. The alternative was to have allowed an increasing haemorrhage of the coal industry's lifeblood pouring down on economic pits. The real cost, however, is even greater, as my right hon. Friend explained in his opening speech.
In the interests of his own Red revolution, Arthur Scargill—a name that we have not heard from the Opposition in this debate, which is why it has been a very unbalanced debate on their part—set miner against miner, community against community. He set out to sabotage the industry and he failed. We all know of his latest attempts to set up a Marxist dictatorship in the NUM. That is going to fail, as it must, because I believe that the NUM values its democratic traditions too highly for that.
There has been an attempt by the Opposition tonight to rewrite the history of the strike. We have heard the phrase, "If only there could have been a negotiated settlement". Well, there could have been if only hon. Members of the Opposition had supported the TUC initiative. But they were strangely silent when the moment came. They spoke from Scargill script then and they are still speaking from it tonight. My hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart) attempted to put the record straight.
The most ludicrous suggestion came from the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), and sadly the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) seemed to try and support this. It was the notion that Mr. MacGregor wrecked any possibility of a settlement. Yet the whole country knows and remembers that Arthur Scargill said time after time that he was proud of never having budged an inch in his position. Yet we have had no mention of the leader of the NUM from the Opposition tonight.
Let us put the record straight. We were talking about the meetings regarding the review. My information is that Arthur Scargill was very, very reasonable at the last two meetings. In fact, it was the NCB that was backing away. It was through those two meetings that the British Association of Colliery Management said that it had no trust in the chairman of the NCB and until that trust comes back there wll be no progress.
If only the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Sadie) had at the start of the dispute backed a ballot, I do not believe that we would have had a strike. It was one of the NUM leaders at Kellingley who admitted that one of the reasons why they did not have a ballot was that they believed that they would not win it.
Surely the time has come for Opposition Members to stop reopening their own self-inflicted wounds and to do what the vast majority of miners in this country are now doing—put the sad, damaging dispute behind them. Now is the time for the industry to look forward, not backward. There lies the real debate and the context in which this Bill is brought forward tonight.
I cannot believe that the Under-Secretary is going to conclude his speech without giving us any detail of the expected production of the industry in 1985–86, the job position or the number of pits. Having asked for these vast sums of money, it would be a gross disrespect to the House if he concluded his speech without giving us any indication whatever.
I have great respect for the hon. Gentleman but he must realise that—as in all previous coal industry debates—we are debating, at this early hour of the morning, the maximum financial requirements of the NCB in the form of deficit grant, pit closure grants and RMPS. As he will know, once that framework is decided, the NCB, which is meanwhile reviewing the reports that it is getting from areas, can within that overall financial framework set those targets and work out those detailed plans.
No, I am still answering the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas). The long-term future for the coal industry depends on its being able to face up to the problems and having the will to solve them. We cannot go on producing more coal than the market wants at a price that the market is not prepared to pay. I should have thought that was a general theme and undercurrent running throughout the debate.
In the short term there is a continuing need for the Government to continue support in the form of deficit grant. The Bill provides a sensible and realistic set of figures, up to £800 million for 1985–86 and 1986–87, but the objective remains, and that is break-even in 1987–88.
For the long term, good wages secure jobs and the proper level of investment cannot possibly be guaranteed in a permanent loss making industry. As my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Fallon) pointed out, for the sake of all those imvolved in the industry, the coal industry has to pay its way. The transition may in some ways prove to be painful. Facing up to reality often is, but that does not make it any less necessary. The Government are committed to a successful coal industry. That is the clear context in which we seek the support of the House for the Bill tonight.