National Coal Board

Oral Answers to Questions — Energy – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3rd June 1985.

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Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike , Burnley 12:00 am, 3rd June 1985

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he has any plans to change the membership of the National Coal Board.

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

No new appointments to the board are imminent.

Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike , Burnley

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?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

No. I believe that most people agree that last year's strike was politically motivated and that it was one for which no ballot of miners took place.

Photo of Mr Bowen Wells Mr Bowen Wells , Hertford and Stortford

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is essential for the present membership of the NCB to be maintained and supported by him and the country in order to put the industry right? Will he take this opportunity to explain the difficulties which have arisen between the National Coal Board and NACODS?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

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.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Blaenau Gwent

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?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

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.

Photo of Mrs Elaine Kellett Mrs Elaine Kellett , Lancaster

Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge the excellent work that the chairman of the NCB has put into securing export orders upon which a long-term future for the coal industry can be founded?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

The marketing of coal is immensely important both at home and abroad and is something to which I hope the board will give ever-increasing attention.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Chesterfield

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.

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

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.

Photo of Mr Dave Nellist Mr Dave Nellist , Coventry South East

What sort of vindictiveness is it that causes the Secretary of State to refuse to allow the 700 sacked miners—11 of them in the area of Warwickshire which I represent—to return to their jobs? Is it not a fact—

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. There is a related question on this issue.

Photo of Mr Dave Nellist Mr Dave Nellist , Coventry South East

Let me finish my supplementary question, Mr. Speaker.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

The hon. Gentleman must read the questions that appear on the Order Paper. Question No. 9 is about membership of the National Coal Board.

Photo of Mr Dave Nellist Mr Dave Nellist , Coventry South East

Is it not a fact that the sackings—

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

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.

Photo of Mr Dave Nellist Mr Dave Nellist , Coventry South East

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?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

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.

Photo of Mr Stan Orme Mr Stan Orme , Salford East

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?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

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.