National Union of Mineworkers

Oral Answers to Questions — Energy – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 13th June 1988.

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Photo of Mr Terry Patchett Mr Terry Patchett , Barnsley East 12:00 am, 13th June 1988

To ask the Secretary of State for Energy when he next proposes to meet officials of the National Union of Mineworkers; and what matters will be discussed.

Photo of Michael Spicer Michael Spicer Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Energy)

My right hon. Friend and I are always willing to respond to requests for meetings by trade unions from the energy industries. No such request has been received from the NUM.)

Photo of Mr Terry Patchett Mr Terry Patchett , Barnsley East

The Minister regularly refers to or asserts the great future for coal in this country, yet he has never met representatives of the work force to hear their opinions, fears and concerns. Why is there this lack of interest? Is it because, as we suspect, the greatest interest lies in imported coal rather than in the British coal industry?

Photo of Michael Spicer Michael Spicer Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Energy)

We regularly meet members of the UDM because they have asked on many occasions—

Photo of Michael Spicer Michael Spicer Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Energy)

The hon. Gentleman may call them scabs, but they represent a very large proportion of the British Coal work force. That shows his prejudices in asking this question. We have never wanted to encourage imports. We have said that a privatised electricity industry will be able to buy in the best market.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Hind Mr Kenneth Hind , West Lancashire

If my right hon. Friend meets leaders of the UDM and NUM, will he emphasise to them the importance of the participation of the unions in the mining industry in the Government's employment training programme? In future, that will fill a necessary gap in skills in the mining industry and throughout industry.

Photo of Michael Spicer Michael Spicer Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Energy)

I will certainly pass on to British Coal the points that my hon. Friend has raised. There is no doubt that training in all aspects of industry, including mining, is very important.

Photo of Mr Martin Redmond Mr Martin Redmond , Don Valley

If the Minister receives a request from the NUM, will he agree to a meeting and discuss with the union the privatisation plans as they stand to date?

Photo of Michael Spicer Michael Spicer Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Energy)

The hon. Member speaks about privatisation plans, but the Government have made it clear that there are no plans to privatise the coal industry before the next general election. However, as has also been said, the Government are considering the possibilities for private capital to play a greater role in the industry. If the NUM wishes to discuss that, and the prospects that it might create for new jobs, we shall be willing to hold such discussions.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell , Gedling

When my hon. Friend next meets officials of the National Union of Mineworkers, will he tell them that miners in Nottinghamshire have five times broken their own productivity record? Will he point out what a tremendous tribute that is to the collieries' men and management, and that such an achievement gives the best possible guarantee for the long-term future of the British coal industry?

Photo of Michael Spicer Michael Spicer Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Energy)

It there were to be a meeting with the NUM, I certainly would convey the points that my hon. Friend has just made. However, as mention has been made of foreign imports, I would have to accompany those sentiments with the advice that foreign competitors, particularly the United States and Australia, continue to enjoy a productivity rate three times higher than our national average.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Vice-Chair, Labour Party

If the Minister does meet officials of the UDM, will he tell them that they were very successfully used by the Coal Board and by the Government during the miners' strike? They were promised roses all the way for combining with the Tory Government. Will the Minister explain in what circumstances he felt it necessary to connive with the British Coal management to shut the pits in Nottinghamshire—in other words, to say to those UDM members who formed the bosses' union, "We will use you when it suits us but we will also drop you when it suits us—and we shall sack you in the process"?

Photo of Michael Spicer Michael Spicer Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Energy)

No, it is unlikely that I would say very much of that to officials of the UDM. I would say to them that the UDM, far from being a "bosses' union" has been extremely tough, not in debating politics with British Coal, but in debating the interests of its members. As a result, the UDM is getting better deals for its members than is the NUM in many cases.