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Column 534Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Townend, John (Bridlington)
Twinn, Dr Ian
Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Waddington, Rt Hon David
Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Waldegrave, Hon William
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Winterton, Mrs Ann
Young, Sir George (Acton)
Younger, Rt Hon George
Tellers for the Noes :
Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones and
Mr. Tony Durant.
Question accordingly negatived.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Committee do report progress and ask leave to sit again.-- [Mr. Hurd.]
Mr. Hattersley : I do not propose to argue against the motion, but I want to say to the Home Secretary that if we are to have a proper debate on the Bill, such as we have had today, the time will have to come when the House sits long into the night. I hope that he understands that the fact that he asks the House to rise at this late--but not intolerably late--hour must not be used as an excuse for his future conduct, whatever that may be.
Mr. Winnick : On a point of order, Sir Paul. You were here during many of the deliberations of the Committee, and I think that you will agree that there has been no time-wasting, that no speaker, either for or against the amendments, has tried to prolong the debate and that there have been no wasted interventions during speeches. I hope that you accept that that is accurate of the past four hours and more of debate and that other clauses of great importance need to be debated, as is agreed by hon. Members of all parties.
It would be wholly unfair, in those circumstances, if the Government were to come back next week with a timetable motion. It would mean, in effect, that there would be no opportunity to discuss matters such as we have debated today. I know that the matter is outside your control, but all I am asking is that these remarks should be placed on record because it would be wholly wrong for a guillotine motion to be tabled as a result of the Government's lack of patience.
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : On a point of order, Sir Paul. May I draw to your attention the fact that, during the last vote, which was on the character of what many hon. Members felt was an authoritarian Government, a Government Whip was listing all the Conservative Members who came out of the Aye Lobby? That is very strange conduct in view of the fact that our votes are on record. I can only assume that the Tory Whips of this authoritarian Government intended to intimidate Tory Members into voting according to the party line. Can you confirm that intimidation is a serious breach of our Standing Orders?
Question put and agreed to.
Committee report progress ; to sit again tomorrow.
That at the sitting on Monday 6th February--
(1) if proceedings on any Motion in the name of Mr. John Wakeham relating to the Water Bill (Allocation of Time) have not been concluded before Seven o'clock, the Private Business set down by direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means for consideration at that hour shall stand over until the conclusion of such proceedings ; and
Column 536(2) the Private Business may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.-- [Mr. Kenneth Carlisle.]
Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(5) (Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.)
That the Food Protection (Emergency Prohibitions) Order 1989 (S.I., 1989, No. 3), a copy of which was laid before this House on 6th January, be approved.
Question agreed to.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(5) (Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.)
That the draft Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications and Deemed Applications) Regulations 1989, which were laid before this House on 21st December, be approved.
Question agreed to.
Column 537British Coal (Opinion Polling)
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Kenneth Carlisle.]
Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse (Pontefract and Castleford) : I am grateful for the opportunity to draw the Minister's attention to the concern among miners at Kellingley colliery about a survey carried out by Research Services Limited on behalf of British Coal. The Minister will have seen early-day motion 328, signed by more than 150 right hon. and hon. Members, condemning British Coal for conducting the survey.
During the week beginning 16 January, a team of researchers visited the homes of some Kellingley miners, unannounced and without prior arrangement, armed with a questionnaire which, the miners thought, sought to obtain views and information that would be helpful to a private company when British Coal was privatised.
The miners were not given sight of the questionnaire, but they were asked whether they were prepared to work for a British Coal consortium, whether they would buy shares in British Coal and whether they would work for a private company. They were asked about the state of industrial relations and morale at the colliery, what bonus payments they received and what was their standard of living. The miners' trade union is concerned about the invasion of their privacy and their homes, as is their Member of Parliament. The miners were upset that their names, addresses and works numbers had been given to a public relations company, presumably by British Coal, without their consent. They are concerned to discover that British Coal's money--taxpayers' money--can be spent on a survey for the benefit of potential private owners. They are upset that British Coal has supplied a public relations company with their private addresses and works numbers and feel that that action could be a breach of the Data Protection Act 1984.
Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield) : I congratulate my hon. Friend on the service that he is doing to members of the mining industry and the mining community. Let me add my experience to his. When the Government have closed coal mines in Nottinghamshire, lists of miners to be made redundant have been made available to private insurance companies and brokers--sometimes on the same afternoon that the miners themselves have been told. That has happened in my area and in that of the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart). Is that yet another example of the way in which British Coal is flagrantly breaching the privacy of those who work for it?
Mr. Lofthouse : I thank my hon. Friend for that example. I have had it confirmed by British Coal that since the survey to which I referred similar surveys have been carried out at 70 other collieries. That gives further weight to the opinion of the Kellingley miners that a campaign is under way leading up to the privatisation of the British coal industry.
Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale) : There is a great danger in these developments. Can my hon. Friend imagine a situation where this information collected by private pollsters could be used in the event of privatisation, and where those miners who have been visited and expressed
Column 538opposition to privatisation plans might be blacklisted by the companies as a result of this disgraceful behaviour of British Coal?
One has to understand the problems of the mining communities to realise why miners feel so concerned about such surveys. Since 1984, they have seen their industry devastated by the policy of this Government. In the area covered by the Wakefield metropolitan district council, where these miners live, they have seen the loss of 11 pits and 11,000 jobs, and their workmates and friends have been thrown on the scrap heap, some without hope of any future employment. They are aware that the average age of the British Coal work force is 34. They are also aware that the miners' redundancy payment scheme is not so generous as it was previously. They are seeing their redundant colleagues hounded by the Department of Employment, which could mean the loss of the benefits that they were promised when accepting voluntary redundancies.
Mr. Meale : Is my hon. Friend also aware that redundant miners aged 50 and over have been told by employment officers when they applied for a retraining allowance of £10 plus bus fares under the restart scheme that they could not go on to the scheme, because the £13.95 payable under the pension scheme from British Coal would cease?
Mr. Lofthouse : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing that fact to the House's attention. I was aware of that problem. The miners are aware of the threat from privatisation of the electricity supply industry, and believe that their industry is to be run down even further before privatisation, to as few as 45,000 men. This view is supported by the report of the Coalfield Communities Campaign. They are indeed in fear of the loss of their jobs. We are talking of men with an average age of 34, without any guaranteed weekly benefits when they are made redundant, and without hope of any future employment.
The miners believe that the coal industry could be privatised before the next election. I am beginning to think that their fears might be well- founded. They are concerned by the Government's track record to date, which indicates that there will be no encouragement to replace mining jobs with alternative employment.
In the area I am referring to, there has not been any Government aid to make good the loss of those 11,000 jobs. The Government have refused to grant it assisted area status, which means there are no national Government or European Community grants. There has been no input of any alternative jobs to employ those 11,000-plus former miners.
I had the privilege this week of listening to the suffragan bishop of Sherwood, giving evidence to the Private Bill Committee on the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill and the North Killingholme Cargo Terminal Bill on 31 January. I sincerely advise all hon. Members, and indeed the Prime Minister and members of the Government, to take a few moments of their time to read and digest the evidence given by the bishop. In answer to a question about whether there had been any change in miners' morale or self- confidence, the bishop replied :
Column 539"They have a certain not actual depression but a fear hanging over them that the industry is not as flourishing and has not got the future that they thought it had."
He also told the Committee about the effect on a mining community when a colliery is closed down. He said :
"It is a pretty traumatic experience. It is expected. They know it is coming and there is great sadness because a pit village without a pit is a place without a soul."
I confirm that statement. My constituency has had the same experience over the past four years.
Miners get angry and worried when their homes are invaded by public relations people asking questions about privatisation of the coal industry. With justification, they say that it is a further kick in the teeth for miners who have always stood by the country in times of need and provided the required energy and fuel.
They know that privatisation of the electricity industry followed by privatisation of the coal industry, means a loss of jobs and possible unemployment for the rest of their lives. No hon. Member can disagree with that. The miners know what privatisation means for the coal industry. They know all about profit taking priority. They know about cutting corners and slips in safety standards. They are aware of the reason some foreign companies can export cheap coal. They know that the accident rate in South African mines is eight times greater than in this country. They know also that the accident rate in American mines is four times greater. They know what conditions in Britain's coal mines were like before nationalisation ; they have been told by their fathers. I never get fed up with telling people what mine conditions were like before nationalisation, because I saw them myself.
That was the climate in the mining community when the public relations people arrived with their questionnaire. The miners want me to ask the Minister some questions. I spoke to the Minister on the telephone this morning and told him of my questions. He may not be able to answer them all, and it may be appropriate for British Coal to answer some, but I hope that he will be able to answer some. Why did British Coal commission the survey? What were the questions on the questionnaire? What was the information to be used for? Who gave British Coal authority to release miners' names, addresses and work numbers to the public relations firm? Why was I, as their Member of Parliament, refused a blank copy of the questionnaire? Was British Coal's action in breach of the Data Protection Act 1984? Is it possible that the coal mining industry will be privatised before the next general election? Why was the local area management of British Coal not aware of the survey? Why was the local branch of the National Union of Mineworkers not informed? Why is British Coal allowed to spend its scarce financial resources--in effect, taxpayers' money--to obtain information which could be of benefit only to the private sector? As I pointed out, British Coal has confirmed to me that the exercise took place at 70 collieries.
The Government have a duty to the miners to provide alternative jobs if the industry is to be run down to the extent that I have suggested. I hope that the Minister will take note of that and attempt to answer the questions which I have put to him.
Column 54011.24 pm
The Minister of State, Department of Energy (Mr. Peter Morrison) : I congratulate the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) on having secured a debate on this issue, which is important to him. I know that he has had a long personal involvement in the mining industry and that he speaks from that experience and from the heart as well.
I listened carefully to what he said and, indeed, to the interventions of the hon. Members for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood) and Mansfield (Mr. Meale). I shall try to cover all the points they raised. I hope that part at least of the debate will be read carefully by my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Employment and for Trade and Industry.
At the outset I should stress that a decision by the British Coal Corporation to carry out surveys of the attitudes of its employees is a matter that falls entirely within its day-to-day management responsibilities. It is not a matter for the Government. I am, however, delighted to reply to any concerns about the corporation's actions that are brought before the House. Indeed, I welcome the opportunity to correct a number of misconceptions and
misrepresentations that have arisen over the corporation's survey of the attitudes of its employees, some of which were referred to by the Member for Pontefract and Castleford.
First, I should like to deal with a general point raised by the hon. Member in arguing that the purpose of such attitude surveys is to usurp the function of the trade union through which employees should properly express their views. Certainly a responsible and realistic trade union has a role to play in such exchanges. In practice, as the hon. Gentleman will know, and unfortunately in the case of the coal industry, one of he unions, the National Union of Mineworkers, has effectively cut itself off from the negotiation process with the corporation by persistently refusing to accept new conciliation machinery. That machinery recognises a substantial body of miners now represented by the Union of Democratic Mineworkers. This sad state of affairs makes it vital for British Coal to conduct such surveys if it is to know how its work force feels on issues that are important to the future of the industry.
I will set out some of the key facts of this survey. First, it was not the first such survey conducted by British Coal. Indeed, such surveys have been conducted for a long time. Hon. Members in all parts of the House will be interested to know that these surveys extend back over the whole period since nationalisation of the industry. That, of course, includes periods when the Labour party was in government. I do not recall, nor do I know of, any similar complaints by the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford or by any of his hon. Friends about those surveys.
Mr. Lofthouse : The Minister is right. There have been surveys in the past. Is he aware that this questionnaire, which unfortunately we are not allowed sight of, had questions on it which were never on the questionnaire, before?
Column 541completely voluntary? The Minister shakes his head. I can assure him that that is right because I conducted some of them.
Mr. Morrison : I would not for a moment suggest that the hon. Member was making an incorrect statement to the House. Some of them might have been conducted by British Coal but, as I will explain in a second, others were not.
Perhaps, I could be helpful to hon. Members by referring to a survey which was carried out in 1976 by the National Coal Board, as it then was. That was not carried out directly by British Coal, but by an arm of Imperial college, London. The questions that were asked in 1976 were similar--I accept that they were not precisely the same, as any survey will move on as time moves on--to the ones in the survey we are now discussing. The 1976 survey related to job satisfaction and security, prospects for the industry, and there were a number of personal questions relating to the age and marital status of the miners concerned. In fact, in 1976 questions were also asked about the mineworkers' wives, which did not feature in the 1989 survey. I accept that the surveys were conducted at the pithead on a one-to -one basis, as the hon. Gentleman has said, which is a difference that I accept.