Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I think I have generously been given five minutes to respond. Can I say how pleased I am to receive that award with which I have been associated? I remember well presenting it to Keith Joseph Keith and I notice you said that he brought new thinking. I think that Keith would be the first to say that what he did—and the Centre of Policy Studies did—was to revise old thinking; old thinking which, in fact, had built this country to the great, big, industrial power that she became.
I remember saying to some of my friends in Singapore who had met with such success: “Tell me, what is the recipe for the colossal achievement you had?” and they, politicians and industrialists and service industries alike, said to me: “But we learnt it all from you, all the lessons of free enterprise. It is just that you have forgotten them and we have taken them on!” And, of course, one has to remember that the richest country in the world, the United States, is founded on commercial free enterprise. It enables her to be most generous to other people and most generous in the amount she spends on the defence of the free world. I would also say that she is very fortunate indeed in having both political parties agreeing on free enterprise, because most of us think that you could not long have political freedom if economic freedom were ever to die, and that I believe is the philosophy which activates the United States and I believe it activates most people in this country.
Now, you spoke so kindly and generously about Keith Joseph and I echo everything you have said, but I also want to say that not only did he look quite smart in his dressing gown on the Brighton promenade, but he looked even smarter on the platform when he had been kitted out by Marks and Spencers ! Indeed, I had never seen him look so elegant and I commented on that, so that again was just another comment on the speed with which free enterprise works and so it has many many satisfied customers.
It also gives me particular pleasure to follow in the footsteps of last year's winner, Peter Thompson , whose outstanding achievement in making the National Freight Company a successful private sector concern has been a practical demonstration of all that is sound in free enterprise, and of course, it has brought great rewards for the people who work in that particular company. Trading profits have been doubled and investment is rising and the value of employees' shares has increased sixfold in 2½ years, so that was a tremendous practical achievement for free enterprise.
As you know, my Government is trying to reduce the amount of state control. It is always very ironic that some of my opponents accuse me of trying to increase the power of government, when I am actually trying to reduce it as fast as I can in those areas in which I think government has no right to be. As you know, we denationalized Cable & Wireless, Amersham, Jaguar, many many others; but those have had superlative results recently and when I look and see what happens when we propose to denationalize great state concerns, well they promptly pull up their socks! British Telecom's waiting list, for example, is down from 122,000 to 2,000 since 1981 and British Airways is now one of the world's best airlines and, of course, both of those are going into the denationalization stakes.
I felt, Mr. Chairman, that you would want me to say just a word about coal at this particularly difficult time and therefore I would like to make a few points.
First, can I remind you that the National Coal Board made an offer to those who work in the coal industry that was the most generous they have ever had; generous in pay, generous in investment, generous in guarantees for work in the future, generous for voluntary redundancy. Indeed, it was an offer that many people who work in other industries and who will have to finance the offer the National Coal Board made, many of those people would have liked to have received for themselves. That is point one.
Secondly, may I make it clear that the worst uneconomic pits have always had to close and had closed; that the procedures for their closure had not changed from one government to the next, but have been totally retained. Indeed, when I look at those procedures, we find not only are they identical, but let me show you how they have worked in the last ten years.
Seventy-nine closures have been dealt with under those procedures. Of these, the majority, fifty-eight, were agreed locally. The remaining nineteen were referred to National Appeal Meetings. Of those, ten were closed, nine continued in operation, but were subsequently closed by local agreement. And in the case of two other pits, it was informally agreed that their reserves should be worked from neighbouring collieries. That is how that procedure has worked in the last ten years. That is the procedure that has not been changed in any way under this Government.
Nevertheless, it was asked by the unions that there should be improvements in that procedure. The National Coal Board were prepared to consider improvements and the matter went to ACAS. As you know, talks continued at ACAS for some considerable time. Indeed, when you add the length of those talks to the length of all previous negotiations then the negotiations between National Coal Board and the unions have continued for sixteen days in all.
At ACAS, the National Union of Mineworkers put forward their proposals and the National Coal Board put forward theirs. ACAS considered them both and then, having considered them both, put forward their own compromise text of proposals for a solution. There was only one compromise ACAS proposal. That was it. The National Coal Board accepted it. The National Union of Mineworkers rejected it. Indeed, there has been no move whatsoever from the National Union of Mineworkers. It has pursued implacably its demand that no pit can close other than on grounds of exhaustion or safety, no matter at what cost the coal is mined nor whether there is a market for it. And at some of the most uneconomic pits the coal costs four times the cost of coal from good pits. The better pits can produce it at £25 a tonne pithead price; the uneconomic pits at £100 a tonne, and so it is obvious that the worst of the uneconomic pits have to close.
You, the tax-payer, last year paid £1.3 billion to the coal industry to meet its losses; a very very large sum, and I sometimes wonder: if everyone is to demand subsidies and demand even bigger subsidies, unlimited subsidies, if everyone wants to be kept, who is there to do the keeping? Who is to keep the kept?
I notice that Peter Walker the Secretary of State for Energy is inaugurating the Beryl ‘B’ platform today. It is very very significant that the oil industry, which is private enterprise, and which wins its oil from below the North Sea under great and very difficult conditions, produces a year some £10 billion towards the Exchequer—£10 billion into the Treasury which, of course, goes out on such things as education, health, defence, and so on; makes a contribution of £10 billion from private enterprise. Coal, which is won from below ground, takes out £1.3 billion. It is actually competing with health and education for resources. Private enterprise in; the nationalized industry out. That is not true, I might say, of all nationalized industries, but the fact is that coal can be turned into a good profit-making concern and that is the only way you get a really secure future and the pride of working for a concern that can and does make profit.
The third point I want to make is this: NACODS sought a mandate for a strike because they had a number of grievances. NACODS, in a number of talks, met the National Coal Board and all of those special NACODS grievances were met and I find it difficult to understand, therefore, and I am sure many NACODS members will also find it difficult to know why the strike is being called when solutions to the specific NACODS grievances have been offered.
But I want to make this clear. The worst uneconomic pits must close as new investment in new pits continues to be made. The coal industry must be managed efficiently. Indeed, that is what legislation passed by Parliament requires. That responsibility cannot and will not be surrendered.
May I once again thank you for that award. Could you just bring it to me a moment, because I want to make one comment about it. It is a private enterprise award and it has one sphere up here, which is private enterprise and a number of spheres down here which are still trapped in a cage. That was 1975. Don't you think you could untrap one or two? (applause)