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Mr. Morrison : I can confirm that. Even if I could not have confirmed it, I would almost certainly have been able to say that I can confirm it, because I believe that in 1976 the privatisation of British Coal was naught but a twinkle in the eye of the then Government. It would, therefore, have been an unlikely question to have been asked. I can confirm that it was not asked.
Given this background, I find it difficult to understand why hon. Members are so complaining about the current survey. I am looking at like with like. There is never any obligation--there was not in 1976--on any member of the public or a householder to agree to be questioned in such surveys. I am assured that this was the case with the agencies employed by British Coal, and, indeed, the code of practice that governs the operations of such agencies--it was an opinion research agency, not a public relations agency- -and, which the agencies accept, specifically rules out any pressure whatsoever on members of the public to participate. When met with a refusal, the interviewers simply walk away and pass on to the next name on their list.
Moreover, the survey referred to in the early-day motion was not, as has been reported, restricted to Yorkshire or to Kellingley colliery. The survey was conducted among a sample of the Corporation's employees at some 70 collieries. Between 1,000 and 1, 100 men were interviewed, representing just over 1 per cent. of the total workforce.
It has been alleged that the method used to conduct the survey amounted to an invasion of privacy. As I have already pointed out, no invasion was involved. Those who did not wish to be interviewed could turn the agency's representatives away from their doorstep, as indeed, some
Column 542did. I am also advised that the conduct of such surveys among employees on behalf of their employers is a common practice. That is particularly so among large organisations, which find it a very positive way of seeking their employees' views. Moreover--and I have specifically asked--British Coal states that it is satisfied that it has acted in accordance with the Data Protection Act.
As said, the survey was carried out on only a sample of the Corporation's work force. At Kellingley colliery, which has a work force of over 1,600 men, the names of just under 100 were provided to the research agency, of which only 30 interviews were required for the survey. I understand that only seven of those contacted exercised their right not to be interviewed. The interviewer simply walked away. There was no debate, no argument and no compulsion. Indeed, I think that the House would agree that it would be a particularly foolhardy interviewer who would seek to argue such a matter with a miner on his own doorstep.
There has also been some wide-of-the-mark speculation about the use to be made by British Coal of the information received from such surveys and in particular about whether answers might be traced to individuals or to collieries in which they worked. I have been advised, and I can assure the House, that the results of the surveys carried out on their behalf by British Coal are presented by the research organisation in statistical form only.
The data collected are analysed at area and national level, not on the basis of individual pits, and there is no possibility that the attitudes of individual miners expressed in the interviews can be traced back to them.
Indeed, this is not the purpose of such surveys. British Coal is by no means the only employer to seek by these means to have a better understanding of the opinions and wishes of its employees. It is surely reasonable for any employer concerned about the future of its company and the health, safety and welfare of its employees to be as accurately informed as possible of its employees' views on aspects which are crucial to the current operations of the company and its future. Such surveys provide helpful feedback to employers on reaction to initiatives and plans that they may put into action. The hon. Gentleman also suggested that this survey was in part aimed at securing information that would assist the privatisation of the industry. There is no truth whatsoever in that suggestion. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made clear on several occasions, the Government's intention is that after the next election we shall privatise the coal industry. In those circumstances it was entirely reasonable for British Coal to seek to establish how this prospect is viewed by its present employees.
Mr. Morrison : I can repeat what I have said. The answer is, in practice, yes, but as my right hon. Friend has said--even, I think when we had energy questions on Monday of this week--it is our intention after the next general election to privatise British Coal. That amounts to the same point as the hon. Gentleman was making in the way that I think he and I understand it.
The hon. Gentleman requested that British Coal release the information obtained by such attitude surveys. This
Column 543again is a matter for British Coal, but I have no doubt that it will read with close interest the remarks made by the hon. Member, albeit that releasing the information is not the normal practice. Finally, I congratulate the employees of British Coal on the really great efforts they have made to put the industry back on its feet since the disastrous events of 1984-85. Whatever attitudes they may have expressed in the surveys, they have worked hard to improve productivity. This has increased by well over 70 per cent. since the strike and within this extremely creditable record there have been some really outstanding performances.
Mr. Lofthouse : The achievements referred to have come about with a much smaller work force, and many records have been broken. Those achievements have been by men accepting voluntary redundancy. Will the Minister pass on to his Secretary of State and to the Secretary of State for Employment the present position of these redundant miners aged 50 and over who are being hounded by the
Column 544Department of Employment to answer questions, and so on, which could mean a reduction in the weekly redundancy payments that they were promised when they accepted voluntary redundancy?
Mr. Morrison : My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy was asked a question on similar lines at Question Time last Monday. I cannot remember the precise words that he used, but I recall that he responded in a hearing sense. I shall respond in precisely the same way and shall draw my right hon. Friend's attention to that point.
British Coal has come a long way, in productivity terms, since those really bad days of 1984-85. Those efforts are indicative of the basic attitude of most mineworkers towards their industry. They want it to succeed. That is the attitude most needed to enable the industry to produce assured supplies at competitive prices and so help safeguard its future and that of its employees.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at twenty minutes before Twelve o'clock.
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