Does the Secretary of State not recognise that, despite the answer given a few moments ago, most people in the industry and in the country are convinced that the National Coal Board was largely responsible for causing last year's dispute and is likely to cause a further dispute because of its apparent failure to comply with agreements that it has reached? Is it not time that changes were made so that the industry can start to go forward again?
After NACODS had a meeting last week, I was asked whether a meeting could take place with the National Coal Board. I conveyed its message to the NCB and a meeting took place at the invitation of the NCB. In accordance with its wishes, the matters that NACODS had asked to have clarified at its meeting with me were clarified completely at the meeting with the NCB. I hope, therefore, that NACODS members will quickly return to work.
Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Mason) represents the widespread feeling throughout all the coalfields that Mr. MacGregor, the chairman of the NCB, is utterly distrusted and that he is making a major contribution to the present dispute? We are all aware of the fact that the Secretary of State has had his disputes with Mr. MacGregor. Mr. MacGregor was insulting at the end of the dispute when he said that the Secretary of State had had nothing to do with the conduct of the dispute. That was misleading the country. We know that the Secretary of State never wanted him. Therefore, can he not now intervene and get rid of him?
No. At the majority of coalfields production has returned to normal levels and at many of them it is high. It is giving a completely distorted picture to say that there is great discontent throughout the coalfields. I am pleased to say that coal production and deliveries are reaching good levels at present. I am only sorry that damage is being done to the full recovery of the industry, which is necessary if we are to persuade industrialists and others to convert to coal in the future.
Is not the truth that during the dispute the Secretary of State allowed pledges to be given on almost any terms to NACODS to get the dispute ended? Now that the current dispute is more than three months old, NACODS feels entirely betrayed by the chairman of the board and by the Government. The result of victimisation of miners and some of the savage sentences is that more and more people think that the NUM was correct in the defence that it mounted last year.
No, Sir. The opposite is the truth. The reality is that the agreement on modified procedures was virtually reached before the NACODS overtime ban took place and was entirely in accordance with procedures. It is also true that I met the NACODS leaders for two hours, when they asked for two matters to be fulfilled, both of which have been fulfilled.
Order. That is just the point. If the hon. Gentleman will read the question and relate it to the board, he will be all right. I shall give the hon. Gentlman one more chance.
Is it not a fact that the board's membership means that the sackings were targeted at union organisers and that many of those who were sacked have been found not guilty in courts of law? Does that mean that the present membership of the board and the Secretary of State are setting themselves up as judge, jury and executioner?
There is a right of appeal in all cases. It would be pleasing if occasionally the hon. Gentleman showed some concern about the vindictiveness of some of those who have been sacked.
Does the Secretary of State agree that the NCB is responsible for the present NACODS' dispute? The board has violated the agreement and is demanning pits, such as Horden in the north-east and St. John's in south Wales. It is therefore getting round the agreement and allowing pits to be run down so that they can be closed. Is that not another example of the board's dubiety?
I wish that the right hon. Gentleman, with his keen enthusiasm for the future of the industry, would recognise that when a pit has been virtually destroyed, because of the coal strike, and the majority of the men at the pit want to be transferred or to take voluntary retirement, it would be right for him to criticise the board if it ignored the views of the majority at that pit.