§ Again considered in Committee.
§ Question again proposed.
§ Mr. Stones
The primary object of the Clause is to accelerate the elimination of uneconomic colliery capacity, but in this process certain coalfields will be affected more than others. I think of Durham, Scotland and South Wales particularly, but Durham will probably be the most seriously hit. When the process of elimination has been completed in my constituency, there will be one pit continuing whereas 10 years ago, as an inspector, I visited 16 in my division.
I assure the Committee that this is causing grave apprehension, if not resentment. I recognise that the Coal Board has a duty to the nation to provide an adequate and constant supply of coal at the lowest possible price to the consumer and that to continue operating uneconomic collieries which might bring great losses year by year would be regarded by any reasonable person as futile and foolish, but I urge upon the Government and the Coal Board the need for the greatest caution when considering the closure of a mine.
Any practical miner, as well as the mining engineers employed by the Coal Board, will agree that, with all the exploratory work which can be done today, it is not always possible to predict accurately the geological factors which can affect——
§ The Chairman
Order. The hon. Gentleman is now getting away from the Clause which we are discussing.
§ Mr. Stones
With great respect, Sir Samuel, I thought that the primary object of the Clause was to accelerate the process of colliery closures.
§ Mr. Stones
I bow to your Ruling, of course, Sir Samuel, but, in all sincerity, I must remind the Committee that closures will have a serious effect upon our miners. It is vital that the financial provisions here made, which we welcome shall be on a really generous scale in order to satisfy the people who live in the mining communities that their interests are being properly served.
§ Mr. Alison
I ask the Minister to comment on sub-paragraph (iv) of Clause 3(3), which reads:the provision of houses for such persons as are mentioned in sub-paragraph (iv) …In other words, those miners who are redeployed are to be provided for under this sub-paragraph. Provision of housing is what I am particularly concerned with. It is an important aspect. The right hon. Gentleman said on Second Reading that, out of a total of 85,000 men he hoped to retain in the industry, about 60,000 would be able to get to work from their own homes, leaving a balance of 25,000 who might have to be redeployed elsewhere, necessitating the provision of housing for them. In that case, we shall be involved in a housing programme by the National Coal Board of substantial proportions.
If the whole of the 25,000 men to be redeployed need rehousing, this will entail a capital undertaking of about £50 million to £60 million. Admittedly, the Bill provides for expenditure up to £30 million, but what happens in an area like my own part of the West Riding of Yorkshire, which is a very prosperous and progressive part of the industry but which is desperately short of manpower and where voluntary wastage is about 6,000 a year?
What will happen where the Board seeks to redeploy a large number of miners into this reception area, as it were, of the industry? What happens when coalface workers arrive in a reception area to find that, even although they may be "market men", their earnings drop substantially, and although they have been rehoused in accommodation provided by the Board they quickly decide to go into other industries, such as manufacturing or construction?
1772 If redeployed coalface workers are provided with houses in the reception areas, will it be a condition of occupation that they can only remain in the houses so long as they continue employment in the coal industry, so that if they go for higher wages in manufacturing industries they must vacate their houses? I hope the right hon. Gentleman can give a clear answer. If the men are not required to vacate the houses under these conditions it will mean duplicating the housing programme.
§ Mr. Swain
Ever since nationalisation, when a man living in an N.C.B. house has left the industry, he has been given his notice by the Board to quit the House. We have always contended—and it is in practice—that an N.C.B. house is a tied house and, therefore, the Board has—and will continue to do so, as I see it—taken to court cases of people who have left the industry arid who occupy N.C.B. houses.
§ Mr. Alison
That may well be the answer to the problem. But I shall be surprised if the Minister of Housing and Local Government likes the note struck in that provision in view of his position on tied cottages in agriculture.
Is it the Minister of Power's intention that houses required for redeployed miners are vacated by them if they leave the industry? Can he give an estimate of the sort of scale of provision of houses and expenditure which may be involved? I am not trying to strike a negative note. I regard this provision as rational. It is vital to the West Riding of Yorkshire that redeployed miners should be provided with houses. It is a matter of considerable importance.
§ Mr. Symonds
I have heard a good deal tonight about the provisions to be made for men who are transferred to other coalfields and who are to have grants for removal expenses and so on. Clause 3 deals with grants made in connection with pit closures. What provision does it make, however, for men who are 50 and who want to work at the coalface, or for men in receipt of compensation?
Five collieries will be eliminated in my area. Some men will be transferred to other collieries, but they will not go straight back to the coalface. They will have to take their turn in the queue of men already engaged at their new 1773 colliery. The nation needs coal and it would be wise of the Board and the Minister to reconsider the elimination of collieries which might have an economic capacity, because, apart from the saving in grants, that might keep some men working at their present collieries. What provision is it intended to make for the men who are left after the transfers have been made?
I appeal to the Minister to make adequate provision for the men who cannot find other jobs and who cannot be transferred because there is no work for them, for the injured men and the men on light compensation. I appeal to him to recognise their case as he has recognised that of the men who are to be transferred.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies
I am sorry that I cannot support the Clause in any way. I had hoped that an Amendment of mine would give us an opportunity to discuss what I regard as the most unacceptable part of the Bill. I strongly object to the words:With the object of accelerating the redeployment of the manpower resources of the Board and the elimination of uneconomic colliery capacity".I am extremely sorry that the Minister has included that phrase. On Second Reading some of us took the strongest exception to its use before the making of provision for alternative employment for those displaced from closed collieries. Last week I had something to say—and I did not say it with any pleasure—about the tragic situation now facing the coalfield where I was born. These words in this Bill compel me to condemn the Bill from the first to the last sentence, but I must now confine myself to Clause 3. I take no exception because the Chair has to keep a critical eye on things, but I have sat from the beginning of this debate, with the exception of about 20 minutes, when I had to go and look for a cup of tea. I have heard all the speeches and discussions and I have appreciated the keen sense that lids been shown on both sides of the House.
What has made this Clause more revolting than anything is the statement made, as late as last Monday, by Lord Robens, the Chairman of the Coal Board, who is, incidentally, a very old friend 1774 of mine. I know that he is doing his best, but last Monday he said:Because the Government was prepared to spend money to alleviate social problems caused by closures, the current programme, which would have taken five years, would have to be completed in two to three years.That is most relevant to Clause 3. Last week a document circulated by the Ministry of Fuel and Power told us that out of the 91 collieries now in the Welsh coalfield 45 would certainly be closed in the comparatively near future. The Chairman of the Coal Board would now close these pits in a far less time than even I in my innocence had believed. The Minister must tell his fellow Ministers that he will get trouble in some of our older coalfields when this slaughter of employment takes place, within the next year or so. I shall be sorry for my right hon. Friend, because he deserves something better than that but he must not accept without protest this slaughter of employment before alternative employment is provided. We have no alternative to colliery work in South Wales worth mentioning. I cannot vote for Clause 3 standing part of the Bill.
§ Mr. Mendelson
I would like briefly to refer to a point which I raised with the Minister in an interruption on Second Reading. It concerns the general employment consequences of pit closures in a number of areas and it arises under Clause 3(3,d,i). There is there mention of payments under the Redundancy Payments Act, 1965. Obviously this refers to a number of workers who will lose their employment in the coal industry, and the problem then facing the area will be the supply of new work. The time spent on making the redundancy payments and the social consequences for the area will depend very much on the time which passes before new industries are brought to the area.
As I merely interrupted the Minister during the Second Reading debate, he gave as good a reply as he could have given in the circumstances. But this point has been brought to the notice of many Members in coal mining areas. It was brought very strongly to my notice at various meetings in the coal area last weekend, and I must press it very strongly on the Minister.
I urge my right hon. Friend to do two things. First, can he give us an even 1775 clearer reply on the timing of the arrival of new employment opportunities in the areas affected? This point is underlined and made more important because some areas where pits will be closed and in respect of which provision is made in Clause 3 have so far, happily, not had a very high unemployment rate. But, as the Minister will realise, the result is that they have received no special consideration as development areas. I make no complaint about that. They were not entitled to special consideration and there was no reason why they should receive it under the Local Employment Acts.
But, equally, my right hon. Friend will realise that a number of new industries which have been attracted to some of these areas have not been channelled into them. They have gone, quite rightly, to different areas because they attracted special allowances and other advantages. This has led to a certain distortion of economic development. If there had been no special allowances and attractions, some part of this new development would have gone, for normal economic reasons, to areas with old industries, including the coal mining industry. The result will be that, because of the closures which take place in such areas, there will be a serious time lag in the provision of new employment opportunities.
We are therefore very much concerned to receive from the Minister the assurance that it will be his policy to ensure that if pits have a certain amount of life left in them the timing of the arrival of new industries should precede or at least coincide with the closure.
Having urged my right hon. Friend to give us the most far-reaching reply on this point which he can this evening, may I press on him a second consideration? He is regarded as the spokesman of the people who work in the industry. He is regarded by those who sit behind him, in particular, as having special responsibilities to the mining areas and as the spokesman for our people in the Cabinet. He has a special duty to fight in the Cabinet for these areas. There will be competing claims. Other Ministers and Departments will have other considerations to put forward. He has to make a special case for these areas.
1776 There is a parallel case in some of the other provisions in the Bill and in Clause 3. There is the provision, for instance, of housing and various grants connected with it. Here my right hon. Friend will work in close collaboration with the Minister of Housing and Local Government. He will work in close collaboration with other Ministers on other matters. He must regard himself as our special spokesman and must oppose all those who might argue that a considerable time lag is inevitable. He will be judged by the work which he does on this point. It will not be accepted as an excuse in the mining community that, in addition to the inevitable and very serious social consequences which will follow from mine closures, there should also be a long time lag between the closure of pits and the arrival of new employment opportunities. If it be argued that this might involve keeping a pit open beyond a certain time, or beyond the time originally contemplated, then I urge quite definitely on my hon. Friend that he must insist that the pit should continue working till the new employment opportunities have arrived. If against this as, it is argued, a second consideration that this might involve some additional expenditure at both ends, then he must stand firm and equally insist with his colleagues that the least which the community owes to the areas to be affected by this serious dislocation and these serious social consequences which will arise is provision for those social needs, even if some additional expenditure has to be incurred.
Let him not be deflected from this consideration by some of the arguments we have heard from time to time in these debates by people who have very little to do with the mining communities and mining areas. This is a clear-cut case of keeping faith with those who for many years have done their best not only for their own industry but that it might be an effective base for our exporting industries and the other industries which have been referred to in the debate.
I conclude on this, that there will be other consequences in these areas even if what I am pleading for is provided. Even if the timing of the arrival of new industry coincides with the closing of a pit there will be a number of people who inevitably will be drawn away into another area. What we do not want 1777 to see in an area where a pit has been closed is that there should be a period in between where the younger and more energetic people are induced to leave altogether. This would lead to a new composition of the community, and thus even some new employment opportunities would create communities which would be seriously unbalanced. I therefore urge my right hon. Friend also to see to it that when new industries arrive they provide opportunity not only for one section of the community, that they are not industries which are regarded as providing work—for instance, mainly for women and youngsters—but are new industries which provide work for balanced groups of employees, so that 1778 the normal social composition of those areas can be properly maintained.
§ Mr. R. J. Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
Would the hon. Member be good enough to tell the Committee what he intends to do about it if the Minister does none of the things he has been suggesting he should do?
§ Mr. Mendelson
I do not very much mind discussing that. I do not mind it at all. We are pressing this policy upon the Minister. I shall listen to his reply. There are many other opportunities, provided in the House and outside, to bring home to the Minister and his colleagues their responsibilities in this matter.
§ Mr. Dan Jones
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. S. O. Davies) I have sat throughout the whole of the debate, but it is not my intention at this late hour to keep the Committee much more than two or three minutes, though, like him, I have some serious misgivings about Clause 3 in relation to the sums of money to be used for the redeployment of miners. In the terms of the Bill it is on a fifty-fifty basis—£30 million to £30 million. I feel very strongly that that liability should really belong to the Government, and in the briefest fashion I want to say why.
I do not think anyone in this Committee can deny that previous Governments have led the National Coal Board to believe that the target figure was some 240 million tons. We know perfectly well that that figure has been progressively reduced, but what we know as well is that the coalmining industry has really spent capital on that basis and, as a consequence, is now, perhaps, substantially over-capitalised. That is not the fault of the industry. If the Government issue specific instructions that the target must be reduced, the obligation for that reduction should rest upon the Government.
I cannot understand why certain hon. Members opposite constantly reject an idea of that kind when the mining industry is involved, yet those who care to look at the figures will find that since 1947 no less than £3,500 million has been spent on subsidising agriculture. I do not want to go on with that line, or I should be properly ruled out of order. Without saying anything against agriculture, however, I must ask why the same dispensation cannot be given to coalmining. On balance, if agriculture has served the nation well, so has coalmining.
§ Mr. Warbey
I do not want to repeat my speech at an earlier stage of the Clause. My right hon. Friend the Minister has referred to it and I am fortified in thinking that he will be in order in replying to me because speeches which have been made on the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill", have touched upon points similar to those raised by me.
My right hon. Friend must take two points seriously. The first is that as 1780 Minister of Power he has overall responsibility to the House of Commons and to the community for the promotion of dynamic economic activity throughout the country. Therefore, the policy of the National Coal Board in the redeployment of its manpower resources, which is the subject of the Clause, is a matter with which he must, I hope, be seriously concerned.
I hope that in making any grants under the Bill my right hon. Friend will draw the attention of the Board and of his colleagues in other Government Departments to the local social and economic consequences of this manpower redeployment policy. They are extremely serious and likely to be even more serious in future, not only in respect of the development areas or the scheduled areas of high unemployment but also in those areas which are regarded by the Board of Trade as being areas where the encouragement of alternative industry or the expansion of other industries is not at present part of the policy of the Board.
What the Coal Board is doing in the Nottinghamshire coalfield, the most prosperous coalfield in the country, is to concentrate the industry within that coalfield in certain areas. There is a shift of colliery activity from the west to the east. Even in advance of the closure of short-life pits on the western side of the country, as I pointed out in my earlier speech, the East Midlands Division is seeking to encourage men to transfer from the areas of the short-life but continuing pits into the areas where they wish to concentrate the coal industry for the future.
It is already beginning to give rise to very serious problems for mining communities, and, in my constituency and adjoining constituencies, these are urban communities which have been built up on one industry, and they now see that the centre of that industry is being shifted. They see that the Coal Board is even officially, in advance of the passing of the Bill, setting about a redeployment policy and encouraging men to transfer from one area to another.
I want to know whether the policy of the Minister of Power and his colleagues is that when industries are concentrated men should be encouraged to move from the places in which they have resided 1781 with their families for generations into the new areas of concentration, so leaving the old urban industrialised districts as decaying areas, or whether it is the policy of the Government that in those areas from which the main centre of industrial activity has been transferred, the Government will seek to promote the provision of new industries in order that the men living in those areas may go on living and working in their own urban industrialised areas, instead of either having to shift 30 or 40 miles away or become suburban commuters of cities like Nottingham or Manchester or some other conurbation.
§ Mr. Swain
I come from an area that was so ably described by my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson). I do not want to repeat my Second Reading speech of last Thursday, but in my area we have lost 6,150 men in the last five years and, depending upon the interpretation given to the word "acceleration" in the Clause, we are due to lose 6,050 men in the next five years. That makes a total loss of 12,000 miners in my constituency.
Assuming that every miner in my constituency who has lost his job has been absorbed by industry in places up to 20 and 30 miles away, inevitably it means that potentially we shall have 12,000 fewer jobs in north-east Derbyshire within five years from now. I forecast that we shall have no unemployment problems in north-east Derbyshire in 10 years' time, because we shall have no one living there to be unemployed.
There has been a lot of play made during the debate about comparisons between subsidies to agriculture and loans to the National Coal Board, but I would remind the Committee that there is a big difference between agriculture and coal-mining. One cannot produce coal and miners by artificial insemination. One only gets coal out of the ground by dint of hard work and hard thinking. It is an industry which is dependent on very strong men battling every day of their lives with nature.
As I said in my Second Reading speech, I worked for 34 years in the pit, 30 of them at the coalface. I understand the very difficult problems in that battle with nature underground. Now, apparently, the battle is being transferred 1782 to the surface. I have lived in a mining village for 54 years, which is my age exactly, and I know how the whole social community has been gradually but inevitably brought down. Those villages have been in the past and will continue, I hope, to be in the future, very close-knit communities. But the Bill, particularly Clause 3, will drive a wedge through the centre of every such village in Great Britain.
This is one of the reasons why I attacked the Minister—viciously, perhaps, but honestly—during the Second Reading. There is insufficient provision in the Bill to cater for the needs of the communities which will have to be uprooted in the next 10 years. It is very hard for a man born and bred in a mining village, who has lived there for perhaps 40 or 50 years to be told, "Your pit will close. You will be transferred 40 miles away. A house will be provided, but you will have, at that age, to integrate into a new population".
Last week, we discussed immigration and apartheid. There has been apartheid in this country against the coalminers ever since I was born, arid a hell of a long time before that. It is not many years since the coalmines were the slums of this country—inevitably, because of the set of economic circumstances which demanded that we be the slums. We were at the bottom of the social scale, as compared with every other section of the community. As I said last week, we rose to a peak during the war and immediately after, but because of the machinations of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite we sank again.
Clause 3 of the Bill will go through the Committee tonight without a vote, but not without some representation from hon. Members representing mining constituencies, like my hon. Friends the Members for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) and Penistone. We intend to make our view heard in the House and the country about the conditions of the mining community today. I hope that my right hon. Friend takes cognisance of our representations and makes representations in turn to the President of the Board of Trade.
My county of Derbyshire is not a development area. It is an isolated pocket in the prosperous mining coalfield of the East Midlands. The people in that 1783 pocket will suffer hardships as great as those of any other pocket of the community in Great Britain. Therefore, ask my right hon. Friend to ask the President of the Board of Trade to see whether some sympathy might not be given to such counties—mine is not alone in this —which are in pockets of isolation within expanding coalfields, so that those areas are not denuded of their population and the community life of the villages destroyed forever in the not too distant future.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
I intervene only because the hon. Members for Burnley (Mr. Dan Jones) and Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain) drew comparisons between the mining and agricultural industries, and suggested that it was in some way unfair that the agricultural community had received a large measure of support from public funds, the implication being that this was disproportionate as between the agricultural and mining communities.
Since the question was asked, it is only fair that it should be answered. Support which is supposedly given to agriculture has, in fact, been a means of providing cheap food for people in this country, including the mining community——
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
No, cheap food for the people who eat the food. We can find thousands and thousands of people in the agricultural industry who work a 70-hour and 80-hour week for a total return of between £12 and £13—
§ 10.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
No, Sir Samuel. But, with respect, if it is in order to ask questions it must be in order to answer questions.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
I would willingly have pursued the matter had it been in order, because the question shows a lack of knowledge, by the hon. Member who asked it, of the number of hours worked by individual farmers. This is a lamentable ignorance.
As I must not pursue this matter in detail I will content myself by saying that if the mining community had managed to produce the product which it produces for the community at the same increasing rate for the same decreasing return——
§ The Chairman
Order. We are now dealing with the question of grants where colleries have been closed down.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
That is certainly so, but there is not only a flight from the coal-producing areas; there is a similar flight, for economic reasons, from areas of agricultural production.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop rose——
§ Mr. Frederick Lee
It was inevitable and right that there should be a wide-ranging debate on this Clause, for here we are looking at grants of up to £30 million, which are pertinent ones—that is, they are not concerned with the wider reaches of the capital construction of £400 million but with determining that those who will move should do so under the best conditions we can possibly provide.
It is therefore natural that my hon. Friends in particular should have been concerned about the provisions of the Clause. But when I hear my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. S. O. Davies) describe the contents of the Clause as revolting I would remind him that if the Clause does not become part of the Bill there will be no payment to miners who are now expected 1785 to move. This is an essential Clause if we are going to do the things which he has asked us to do in preserving decent conditions for miners whose jobs dry up in their present collieries.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies
I am sorry to intrude, but where is it suggested that the miners n South Wales—about 8,000—can find alternative employment in mining?
§ Mr. Lee
This is going back to the Second Reading Debate. I heard my hon. Friend's speech then, and I thought it was a good one. But I cannot go over that ground again. What I am saying is that without the Clause we would not be able to assist the displaced miners in the way we wish. Neither in the mining industry nor any other has there ever been in this kind of provision provision for hardship, this provision for men who would otherwise be unemployed. It is a new departure, and I definitely believe that without the provisions in Clause 3 this scheme would have been deficient and incomplete.
A number of vitally important questions have been put to me, one being concerned with the arrival of new work if a pit closes. We must remember that this is not an operation that will take place within a few months. There will be consultation in all localities between the local N.U.M., the Coal Board and the regional authorities, and the regional authorities have the responsibility of planning the new economic structure of the areas concerned. Obviously, the regional authority will, in conjunction with the Coal Board, take very much into account the dates of the arrival of new industry before phasing out the pits now in category C. That will be the kind of combined operation that we are now planning.
The Government are not intending just to dismiss this subject, and say it is something to be dealt with by the Coal Board and the N.U.M. or the regional authorities. We are keeping in constant session a. committee of Ministers to ensure that if there is any danger of a breakdown in the arrangements we can at once alter the facilities now provided in order to bridge the gap that may emerge in any area.
§ Mr. Probert
I am sorry to interrupt my right hon. Friend, but this is an important statement, and I wish that I had heard it before. Does it mean that, if a pit is to close and the alternative industry is not there, he will see that the pit is kept open?
§ Mr. Lee
I cannot say that. I have said that if that kind of emergency arises we will take it immediately into consideration. It would be stupid of me to say that one can guarantee that the last two or three people will be employed in new industry prior to the pit closing. The House would not believe me if I said that, and I would not deserve to be believed. Our concern is that the closing of the pit shall synchronise with the new industry coming into the area.
I was asked about some areas that are not development districts and therefore have not attracted new industry. This is a most important consideration, and one that we have very much in mind. My own constituency is just on the fringe of a development area. Any firm coming into the development district will be outside my constituency, so I am aware of that problem. But I invite the Committee to remember that the object of the National Plan itself is to ensure a full employment policy, because we are of the opinion that the greatest problem we face is shortage of manpower. Therefore, quite apart from the pit closure clement, in the Government's overall planning, there is a plan to ensure that wherever there are pockets of unemployment we can provide industry to mop up those pockets. That is the overall policy.
§ Mr. T. W. Urwin (Houghton-le-Spring)
When my right hon. Friend talks about the provision of new jobs to absorb labour made redundant by the pit closures, will he accept the fact from me that on the perimeter of my constituency a pit is to be closed on 16th January of next year—the very first in the Northern Region of the closures announced about a week ago—and that a similar pit within a stone's throw of this one closed in January of this year, resulting in a 16 per cent. wastage of manpower in that particular colliery. Is he in a position to say that sufficient jobs will be provided in six weeks to take up the slack of this one imminent closure?
§ Mr. Lee
It depends on the object of the exercise. We are now turning over from a very highly labour-intensive industry to an industry which is becoming more capital-intensive than was once the case. The number required in the industry will not be the same as formerly. No doubt, my hon. Friend can remember when there were a million men in the coalmining industry, and during the last few years the number has declined by some 200,000—a very substantial figure —but no unemployment has been created.
In other words, the problem before us is not only how to redeploy within the industry—as I pointed out on Second Reading, the vast majority will be redeployed within the industry itself—but how to get men into the new, emerging, modern industries which we require for the prosperity of our economy as a whole.
I was asked about redundancy payments. The answer is that men who cannot be offered suitable employment within the coal industry will be entitled to redundancy payments, even if they find other work immediately they finish in the mining industry.
On the question of housing, the position is that the majority of the houses are expected to be provided by local authorities. They form part of the stock of houses available in the districts, and when a miner leaves the industry the local authority normally tries to provide another house for the Coal Board in exchange for the house in which the ex-miner has been living. This is not new. This is the method which local authorities, by arrangement with the Coal Board, have been practising for many years. When a man is transferred he requires a house, and, as has been said, 25,000 men transferred means that 25,000 houses are needed. The Coal Board will be providing about 6,000 houses at a capital cost of some £18 million. However, it is the annual losses on the houses which will rank for grant, at a rate to be agreed, under the Clause.
§ Mr. Swain
Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that 25,000 houses mean 25,000 families, which means that X number of places will be demanded in comprehensive and grammar schools for the children of those families? Has my right hon. Friend had consultations with the Minister of Education or with the 1788 local authorities in the receiving areas about what provision is to be made within the higher strata of education for the education of boys and girls who will be transferred along with their fathers and mothers?
§ Mr. Lee
I cannot give a specific answer about education. I can say—I think I made this clear when I was speaking earlier—that this is not an operation to be carried out by me alone or by any one Minister. A large number of Ministers are greatly concerned in this matter. As I mentioned on Second Reading, there is the question of rehabilitation units and retraining facilities. This is obviously a job for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour. The Board of Trade, too, is greatly concerned. In addition, the Minister of Housing and Local Government is concerned with the housing aspect, and is in touch with the local authorities in the receiving areas.
I have tried to deal with the main points which have been brought to my attention during the debate on this Clause. It is quite natural that anxieties should be shown at a time like this, but I ask the Committee to bear in mind that there is an eminently constructive angle to the question which the mining industry should be told about, rather than concentrate on the negative or destructive points.
I have been reminded by some of my hon. Friends that I have certain duties in ensuring that this operation goes according to plan. I have been reminded that, so far as the financial provisions are concerned, I must take my share of the infighting to make sure that I get as much as I can. I reply to that that I do not think that I have done too badly up to now, and I hope to continue to do as well in the future. Looking at the operation as a whole, I believe that the recognition of all the things which have been said tonight about the admiration of the nation for the mining community is enshrined in the moneys we are now providing for the industry. The National Coal Board will provide one-half, equal to the £30 million we are putting up, and we believe that this will cover the problems which have been revealed in this debate. As I said on Second Reading, if we feel that there is a short-fall, if we see that our 1789 assessments have been wrong, we are willing to look at the matter again. On that note, I hope that we can have the Clause.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Clauses 4 and 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Schedules 1 and 2 agreed to.
§ Bill reported, without Amendment.
§ Motioa made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
§ 11.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Probert
I apologise for detaining the House. I promise not to be long. I have sat here throughout the Committee stage. In view of the strictures on my hon. Friend the Member for Consett (Mr. Stones) in Committee, I felt that what I have to say would be more appropriately said on Third Reading than in the debate on the Question, "That Clause 3 stand part of the Bill".
Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. S. O. Davies), I believe that Clause 3 is a very important Clause. Although I shall be critical of my right hon. Friend the Minister in a few moments, I say at the outset that I welcome Clause 3. What I think my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil was complaining about in Clause 3 was the wording at the commencement of it:With the object of accelerating the redeployment of the manpower resources of the Board and the elimination of uneconomic colliery capacity.This is what my hon. Friend resented. This is why I am making these comments.
The Explanatory and Financial Memorandum says that the Billenables the Minister to make grants to the Board for accelerating the redeploymentof the manpower and resources of the Board. This is precisely what is covered by Clause 3. It is this approach which has caused so much heart burning amongst my hon. Friends representing mining constituencies and, indeed, amongst the mining communities.
I consider that it is a tragic mistake to approach the problem in this way, and it could be very costly for the nation. My 1790 right hon. Friend spoke about the miners being aware that what should happen should be eminently constructive. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the miners, their leaders, and the National Coal Board over the last 5 to 10 years have been facing the problem and have done a miraculous job of phasing the contraction of the industry and its manpower but that at the present moment they are fed up to the teeth and cannot do much more?
My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, with whom I have very close contact and friendship, said on Second Reading, quoting Mr. Aneurin Bevan:'What we want is a guarantee we should have work. If we can find new forms of energy, well and good, we would rather work in white overalls on top than black underneath.'"—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, 25th November, 1965; Vol. 721, c. 884.]But my hon. Friend failed to see that what Mr. Aneurin Bevan was talking about was implicit in that first sentence.'What we want is a guarantee we should have work.No one in the industry, arid no one who represents a mining constituency would fail to realise that miners do not by choice want to go down into the bowels of the earth. They all want white overalls, but what we are insisting upon is the right to have a job when pits are closed. It is as simple as that, and that is the burden of our complaint about the approach here to the human factors involved.
It is no good shrugging off the problem by saying that it is a challenge to my right hon. Friends the President of the Board of Trade, the Secretary of State for Wales or the Secretary of State for Scotland. The responsibility for this Bill lies fairly and squarely in the Ministry of Power, and it is up to that Ministry to face the responsibility and see that by the provision it is making it supplies the necessary jobs.
I should like to deal with the consequences of the Bill to the nation. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Power said in a Written Answer on 9th February last:The present capacity of the industry is around 200 million tons and there is no question of the Government arbitrarily requiring a reduction in this … I hope this statement of the Government's intentions towards the coal industry will dispose of recent alarmist reports 1791 in the Press about the prospects of employment in the industry."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th February, 1965; Vol. 706, c. 51–2.]I have no need to tell my right hon. Friend that the present reaction in the mining industry and in mining constituencies gives no credence to what was said then.
To go a little further back, I would refer to the document, "Britain's Coal", the Report of a Study Conference organised by the National Union of Mineworkers, held on 25th and 26th March, 1960. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, taking part in those discussions, said:It was decisively a Government responsibility not to let the coal industry run down, and possibly out. There must be certain priorities. Indigenous fuels must come first, home refined oil second and imported products third.It is because of the reversal of this policy that we at present feel so strongly about the way in which this matter has been approached. I want to be as fair as I possibly can, because my right hon. Friend went on to say this—and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power will seize upon it:The Government should set a target for coal production some years ahead. Even if it were decided that the target should be slightly lower each year, there would be some stability, and both the Board and the Union would find it much easier to plan their working.As usual, the Prime Minister had prescience to see what might happen in the future.
My only comment, in the light of those two statements, is that the Bill, despite its very generous financial provision to the industry, which I have never failed to acknowledge, is a negation of what we have been told in the recent past. This is why I quoted from the very first paragraph of the Explanatory Memorandum to prove the force of what I am saying.
I shall not repeat what I said about this problem in the debate on Welsh affairs. I dealt then with the disastrous effect that these proposals can have on the balance of payments. I only hope that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be seized of this point and consider what the consequences will be for this country not in 1970 but by about 1975 as a result of the policies now being put into effect. In my view, although the Bill is based upon prospects 1792 for the next five or six years, five years is too short a period for sound prognostications about what will happen to this country's fuel requirements. In any case, every estimate during the past ten years has been proved absolutely wrong.
Looking to the 1970s, it is extremely likely that the position as regards oil will harden considerably, and the price will certainly rise. It is estimated that oil supplies, at the present rate of consumption, will last for only about the next 35 years, and, what is more, consumption is increasing each year by about 8 or 9 per cent. [Interruption.] Hon. Members opposite may sneer. I hope that these forecasts will prove wrong. But what if they prove right? We shall have denied ourselves the indigenous fuel which we could have available.
I sincerely hope that the National Coal Board will go ahead with production, despite what it is encouraged to do by the proposals in the Bill. We require this indigenous fuel. It seems to me that many people in the Ministry itself are not concerned about the problem. To talk of a figure of about 170 million tons by 1970 is to make a dangerous assumption, particularly as it will put the nation so gravely at risk in our balance of payments.
I come now to the minor, but, none the less, important question of the effect of these proposals and prognostications upon the port and railway authorities. How, in heaven's name, can we expect those authorities to undertake sufficient capital investment to meet what we believe to be the requirements of our export trade in 1970 and 1971 if, on the other hand, we encourage them to believe that there will be a contraction of the industry? Improved rail and port facilities are vital for the success of the nation's exports, particularly coal, and it is emphasised in the National Plan that the port and railway authorities should have sufficient foresight to provide the necessary capital investment. But they are not encouraged to do it by the provisions of the Bill.
I make this final plea to the Minister. On Clause 3, I raised with him the question of retaining a pit, if it were doomed to be closed, while alternative work was being provided. I do not expect my right hon. Friend to give a specific assurance. I do not expect him to promise that old measures in the pit 1793 will be kept open. But this is his responsibility, not necessarily that of the Secretary of State for Wales or the President of the Board of Trade. It is the responsibility of the Ministry of Power to see that, before closures take place, adequate and suitable alternative employment is provided for the men displaced.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.