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Mr. Parkinson : The hon. Gentleman is trying to get me to issue some form of instruction to the negotiators. The two sides are in negotiation, seeking to arrive at an agreement. The generators do not want to be over- dependent on a single United Kingdom supplier--they have been bitten by that bug four times in the past 20 years. They also know that there is an enormous advantage in having a secure, reliable, home-based supplier, and that being over-dependent, or dependent to any major extent, on imports can be dangerous. They do not need the hon. Gentleman to remind them of that. I trust both sides to negotiate sensibly and to come to a sensible arrangement. All sorts of figures have been bandied about in the past. The only ones that matter are those which emerge from the final negotiations which are about to get under way--
Mr. Blair : Let us get this straight. If the privatised electricity industry decides that it wants to second-source its supply--to look to imports for a substantial, not the
Column 764main, chunk of its coal supply--are we to take it that the right hon. Gentleman will not stand in the industry's way? If it wants to make an agreement for 60 million tonnes, 60 million tonnes it will be?
Mr. Parkinson : Once again, the hon. Gentleman is trying to get me to predetermine the negotiations. I have already made it clear that we have put the industry in a position to protect itself. We expect it, on the basis of its new competitiveness, to land the lion's share of the business, but I am not prepared to put a figure on what it will or will not achieve. It must negotiate--
Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West) : Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
As I told the UDM annual conference earlier this month, I am sure that the generators are well aware of the reputation of particular pits and coalfields for good industrial relations and for reliability of supply. The UDM pits have and deserve that reputation ; others have not, and do not.
The hon. Member for Sedgefield asked why British Coal, having obtained a core contract, should not be allowed a first option to sell additional coal at the lowest price quoted by its competitors. That is what the hon. Gentleman demanded the other day. He does not suggest in any way that British Coal can win this business. The hon. Gentleman wants me to give it permission to buy the business with taxpayers' money. Volume for volume's sake is a recipe for bankruptcy, not security. I am not prepared to intervene on such an option. The Opposition motion refers to the duty that the coal industry owes to the environment and I agree with that. We have to recognise that even so-called "clean" coal-burning technologies have damaging environmental effects. We cannot wish away the environmental advantages of other fuels such as gas, but we can help to reduce the disadvantages of coal, and particularly of British Coal.
As many hon. Members will know, British coal is relatively high in sulphur- -I believe the average figure is around 1.5 per cent. but it ranges from less than 0.5 per cent. in some Scottish coalfields to 3 per cent. or so in Yorkshire. To reduce sulphur emissions to more acceptable levels, generators have essentially two choices : they can either burn low-sulphur coal or they can install fluegas desulphurisation equipment.
I am able to confirm today that we have asked the privatised generators to continue to plan on the basis of installing 12,000 MW of FGD capacity during the 1990s. That represents a very large cost indeed--about £1.6 billion. The first of those installations at Drax should come on stream by 1993-94, and should provide a secure outlet for up to 10 million tonnes of indigenous coal, and should substantially eliminate the need for low sulphur imports.
Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian) : The Secretary of State has acknowledged that Scottish coal has one of the lowest sulphur contents in the United Kingdom. Why has he stood back and allowed the last of the Lothian coalfields to be mothballed, in spite of the fact that we have more than 100 million tonnes of good quality and low-sulphur reserves in that coalfield?
Mr. Parkinson : I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has pointed out to the House that the capacity has been
Column 765mothballed and can be opened up if it becomes economic. The plain fact is that the Scottish pits are far and away our most uneconomic. We are seeking to ensure that there continues to be a market for high-sulphur British coal. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman-- [Interruption.] If we were to revert to low-sulphur coal, we would have to import massive quantities from overseas. The fitting of Drax and other stations with FGD equipment will ensure that there is a substantial market for British Coal, which would otherwise have been at a major disadvantage.
We have also agreed that British Coal should pursue a joint venture with the private sector to construct a pithead power station in Nottinghamshire, using a modern and efficient boiler design, and we are encouraging the next stage of the Grimethorpe topping cycle experiment, which holds out the possibility of much higher efficiencies than in conventional boilers. All these developments will help British Coal to compete more effectively and fairly against imported coal in the power station markets of the 1990s.
The Government have shown in many ways their commitment to coal. By its own performance and with the taxpayers' support, British Coal has put itself in a position to win the major share of the electricity industry's coal business.
By contrast, the "new pragmatists" in the Opposition are as ready as ever to revert to type and to the failed policies of the past. When the young lion roared today, what we heard was exactly the same noise as the old lion of Chesterfield used to make--protect, subsidise, interfere, direct, ban competition. They claim to care about the environment, but they plan to make us almost totally dependent on the most polluting fuel. They claim to care about the workers, but they back the most reactionary union in Britain, the NUM, and reject one of the most progressive.
I invite the House to reject the Opposition's defensive and defeatist motion and to support the Government amendment.
Mr. John Cummings (Easington) : I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to address the House on an issue which is very near to my heart and the hearts of all my constituents. I speak as someone who has worked in the industry for 29 years. My father worked in the industry for 51 years, so between the two of us we have 80 years' service. I am a sixth generation coal miner. For six generations, the colliery in which I worked has supported not just my family, but the families of many thousands of hard- working people. After hearing the Secretary of State's remarks, I believe that the Government no longer have faith in the mining industry of Great Britain. Since 1985 we have had from British Coal false promises about the north-east area, followed by half promises, lies and deceit.
We have had closures, which became restructuring, which in turn became reorganisation and then rationalisation. All of them had the same result-- the redundancies of a valued and precious work force, who require work and the dignity of being able to work. However, the Government and British Coal have denied them that dignity. The Government and British Coal are not just selling short a very valued work force ; they are selling short the
Column 766British nation. The Secretary of State has sold short the nation's most precious assets--assets which the Japanese would give their eye teeth for and assets which could take this nation forward well into the next millenium. However, the Government are prepared to sell now for a quick buck and to hell with the future. I believe that that is a disgrace of national proportions.
There are now seven deep coal mines in the north-east. Capacity in those mines has been reduced, while there has been expansion in opencast mining in west Durham. The countryside has been raped and pillaged in a way that has never been seen in the north-east. The Government are supporting the production of coal by means of slave labour in such countries as Colombia, South Africa and Poland in the eastern European bloc. There has been rape and pillage, too, of those nations. Such coal production is, however, supported by the British Government against the interests of miners in the north-east, who are producing coal economically and profitably and with greater productivity than ever before. That filthy Colombian coal--won on the backs of slave and child labour--is being imported into the ports of Sunderland, Middlesbrough and Hartlepool. That is a disgraceful affair, of which any proud Englishman would be ashamed.
I want to consider industrial relations in British Coal. I was a lodge secretary for 20 years at my colliery, and I sat on a consultative committee for close on 30 years. We engaged in consultation and conciliation. We knew the manager, the under-manager and the officials. We entered freely into conciliation week in and week out to improve safety and industrial relations. There was understanding and agreement between people who had a common love of the industry. What is happening now? The industry is managed by silhouettes from British Coal headquarters. They are the marionettes of the Secretary of State and his cronies in the Department of Energy.
The finest consultation and conciliation process within any industry in Great Britain has been subjected to the manipulation of the Secretary of State and people who have neither love nor understanding of the industry. For example, my forefathers and I worked at Murton colliery which is 150 years old this year. The lodge secretaries are very anxious about C seam-- the old yard seam. They wrote to the area board asking for a meeting of the Murton Mining Federation. They received the reply, "What is the mining federation?" That federation has been in existence since 1890 and it has dealt with manager after manager from the days of the South Hetton Coal Company, through the managers and agents of the National Coal Board, to British Coal. However, British Coal had the impudence to ask, "What is the Murton Mining Federation?"
The Murton Mining Federation has existed for the benefit of the community, through the provision of colliery housing, swimming pools, welfare parks and welfare of the elderly. It has also existed for the benefit of management. Management has been able to discuss matters with all the unions from Murton colliery for nearly 100 years, but the gen boys at British Coal have had the impudence to come in and ask, "What is the Murton Mining Federation?"
In the north-east area of British Coal, as in other areas, we have undergone change. We have freely accepted mechanisation, and we accepted computerisation with enthusiasm. We did that freely, without agreements or seeking financial remuneration. We accepted those things
Column 767for the good and the benefit of the industry. Where has it got us? Spite and vindictiveness of a kind which we have never seen before--not even from the South Hetton Coal Company, the Landonderrys or other private enterprise--has been levied at us by the Government and the corporation. The Secretary of State has announced a sell -out of treacherous proportions today and that will be remembered by this and by future generations.
Mr. Andy Stewart (Sherwood) : Today's debate on the coal industry gives the House the opportunity to review the Government's commitment and to contemplate the future of Britain's major source of energy in the new green environment and privatised power generating industry. The British Coal industry exists only if there is a market for its product. The cost of coal in a free market determines whether it succeeds or loses out to other carbon fuels. We must remember that the consumption of coal is now only half what it was 50 years ago. The consequence has been pit closures under both Labour and Conservative Governments, although from what we hear from Opposition Members, one would think that closures happened only under a Conservative Government.
During the Labour Administrations between 1964-70 and 1974-79, a total of 295 collieries were closed, of which 32 were closed by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) when he was Secretary of State for Energy.
When I became the Member for Sherwood in 1983, my constituency had 10 collieries employing 12,000 men and producing 7.5 million tonnes of coal. After losing Hucknall and Linby pits as their reserves ran out, and Newstead which joined the nearby Annesley complex, only Blidworth, which closed in March 1989, was closed because production was uneconomical under British Coal management.
With coal reserves at 30 million tonnes, many miners believed that with different management the tragedy at Blidworth could have been avoided. Many of the miners facing redundancy at Blidworth were convinced and prepared to put their money into forming a company to keep the pit open. However, at the time of the closure announcement, a British company carried out a feasibility study and was convinced that it could make Blidworth colliery a success. It offered to manage the pit from British Coal under the Coal Industry Act 1947, at no cost to British Coal or to the taxpayer. Sadly, that offer was rejected out of hand.
Today, there are six highly productive and efficient collieries in Sherwood which employ 6,000 men and produce 7 million tonnes of coal. That streamlining of the industry has take palce without the need for any compulsory redundancies. Nevertheless, I have always publicly urged miners who must face the choice of taking redundancy to stay with the coal industry unless they were satisfied that they had a marketable skill which was in demand locally. Those who have stayed have seen another year of improved earnings and conditions. It is ironic that those conditions which were skilfully negotiated by the Union of Democratic Mineworkers benefit all mineworkers throughout the industry.
I want to thank my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Energy and for Employment on behalf of my
Column 768retired miners who rightly took advantage of the enhanced redundant mineworkers payments scheme, for accepting the miners representation through Roy Lynk, the president of the UDM, and for meeting my hon. Friends the Members for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester), for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo), Nottingham, East (Mr. Knowles), Newark (Mr. Alexander), Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) and myself, to put their case.
Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton) : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Stewart : No, many hon. Members want to speak. I will give way later if I do not answer the hon. Gentleman's points.
The prompt response from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment that he would change the unemployment benefit rules to meet those circumstances was greatly appreciated. However, I was puzzled, because during that time we heard numerous allegations from Opposition Members of miners being harassed and intimidated by staff working in employment offices to sign up for work at restart interviews or their benefits would stop. Only last week, the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) during Employment Question Time was still running the Labour party line of alleged harassment. I contend that, for political gain, Labour Members sat on their hands, allowing rumour to escalate and thus causing unnecessary alarm before they did anything about it. I may be asked what proof I have of that. I need say only that complaints of that nature came from Labour Members. In my constituency, which the House knows has more miners than any other, 1,500 men used the redundant mineworkers payments scheme to retire permanently.
In the week after the Second Reading of the Employment Bill last January, I received two telephone calls and three letters drawing attention to a letter from the unemployment benefits office in Arnold concerning restart and benefits. One telephone call made by me to the employment deputy manager for the Nottingham area clarified the position, and my statement to the local press reassured my constituents that there was no need for alarm. I suggest that, when Opposition Members are confronted by a similar situation in future, instead of making mischief they should give their constituents the service that they deserve.
Mr. O'Brien rose--
Mr. Stewart : No, I shall not give way. I have too many important things left to say.
Overall, Nottinghamshire's super-miners clocked up an operating profit for British Coal in the financial year 1988-89 of £65 million, which represents half of British Coal's profits from deep mining--a record that no other coalfield area can match. British Coal's total operating profit of £500 million is the highest figure since the industry was nationalised in 1947. However, the downside to that achievement is that the industry carries an interest burden of £430 million, representing a charge of approximately £5 per tonne of coal sold. That highlights the need for restructuring British Coal's finances.
I ask my right hon. Friend urgently to consider giving British Coal the same preferential treatment as that afforded to British Steel in the early 1980s. Although
Column 769British Steel's profits are similar to those of British Coal, as a consequence of restructuring, its interest charges amount to only £17 million.
We hear a lot about the past in coal industry debates. Unfortunately, we cannot turn back the clock but should use the past as a guide to the future, in meeting the challenges that face the industry after the electricity industry is privatised in 1990. National Power and PowerGen-- the two successor companies to the Central Electricity Generating Board-- will require coal at a price that will provide the nation with its primary source of energy at a cost that will make our industrial goods more internationally competitive, and one that will not be considered a luxury. Competition for annual contracts of 75 million tonnes must be fair, and British Coal must not be subjected during negotiations to pressure from the new companies, with the threat of cheap, subsidised imports. If allowed, that would exacerbate the nation's already stretched balance of payments. British Coal's ability to continue as the supplier of choice rather than of necessity is well demonstrated by its progress over the past four years. Productivity is up by more than 90 per cent., while costs are down 32 per cent.
Mr. Terry Patchett (Barnsley, East) : The hon. Gentleman has spoken at great length about colliery closures and the necessity for them, and about the beautiful redundancy terms that were offered. Is it not the case that the hon. Gentleman was one of the Conservative Members who, during the 1984 strike, assured the Union of Democratic Mineworkers that it was no part of British Coal's programme to close pits? What changed his mind?
Mr. Stewart : I can tell the hon. Gentleman what changed my mind, and I thank him for asking the question that I deliberately prompted. Hansard of 4 December 1978 quotes the then Secretary of State for Energy, the right hon. Member for Chesterfield as stating : "I have never found the NUM in any way unreasonable where closures are necessary because of exhaustion or because pits are out of line in economic terms."--[ Official Report , 4 December 1978 ; Vol. 959, c. 1015-1016.]
I believe that that answers the hon. Gentleman's question. Of paramount importance is a reduction in coal prices of 22 per cent. in real terms, representing a loss in sales realisations for British Coal of £900 million per year. Collieries continue to improve their performance. In Nottinghamshire, there is a big switch to retreat mining. This year, 52 miles of underground roadways will be completed. Leading the way are Thoresby and Rufford collieries, with record-breaking performances of 130 m per week. Bilsthorpe pit is about to begin a £10 million underground motorway 4,000 m long.
Mr. O'Brien : Will the hon. Gentleman give way now?
Mr. Stewart : It seems that every Opposition Member wants to intervene, but I am not giving way again. I have done so once, and that is enough.
A further £18 million will be spent on heavy duty coal face equipment in the coming year. Some of that machinery will be fitted with British Coal's new automatic steering systems, which reduce the amount of dirt mined by up to 40 per cent. and give better roof control, enabling productivity to increase by a further 30 per cent. Such improvements will make the industry highly competitive by 1992. However, before then, many collieries will be vulnerable to subsidised imports. It would be tragic to
Column 770threaten their progress for the very short- term gains to be made from importing coal. By 1995, any savings made by an all-out import policy in 1990 would have disappeared and the electricity supply industry will be paying millions of pounds more for imported coal than if it had bought British.
There is a risk that many deep mines that could compete with imported coal in 1995 will be closed by 1990 if the Government encourage an early free- for-all on imports. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will dispel rumours that British Coal can compete for only 60 million tonnes of the new companies' total requirements of about 75 million tonnes, even if it agrees to meet the last tranche of 15 million tonnes at world prices.
The Union of Democratic Mineworkers has always accepted fair and unfettered competition, but the threat posed to Nottinghamshire by imported coal is potentially catastrophic. Restructuring has already seen 15,000 men leave the industry. Recently, the UDM president proposed a five-year honeymoon period after electricity privatisation, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will seriously consider that suggestion. It is not a case of special pleading. As the Nottingham Evening Post commented, the UDM's attitude is the stuff of realism. The union is forward-looking, prepared to modernise agreements and to adopt working practices that relate to the reality of highly capitalised mining technology--without which the coal industry would be hopelessly ill prepared for the 1990s.
Decisions affecting the next decade will be governed by the environmental debate on the greenhouse effect. Misleadingly, that is being equated with the operation of coal-fired power stations. Although coal burning is responsible for 15 per cent. of the global greenhouse effect, coal-fired power generating contributes only 7 per cent.
Mr. Cummings : How does the hon. Gentleman know? Who says so?
Mr. Stewart : That is not the basis on which to base a switch to nuclear power, which was once seen as the panacea in providing cheaper electricity, but which is now accepted both by the Government and by the CEGB as costing about 40 per cent. more. To have any significant effect on emissions would require a worldwide nuclear programme of impracticable dimensions. Action in Britain alone, or action concentrated only on coal, would be ineffective. Annual consumption of coal in Britain is 115 million tonnes, from a worldwide total of more than 3 billion tonnes. The United Kingdom coal-fired power stations contribute less than 0.5 per cent. to the global greenhouse effect. Remedial action must be on an international scale. Already, all are agreed that increased efficiency in the use of energy would be an effective way in which to lessen the greenhouse effect.
Leading the way is British Coal's new system, called the topping cycle, which will allow new coal-fired stations to generate electricity at 45 per cent. efficiency rather than the 37 per cent. from standard stations now in use. It would be clean in terms of sulphur and nitrogen oxide, and would reduce electricity costs and carbon dioxide output. A miniature high-tech station based on the system is planned in my constituency--where else?--at Bilsthorpe colliery. It is the joint project of British Coal and the east midlands
Column 771electricity board. The principal reason for the choice of site is the excellent industrial relations in the Nottinghamshire coalfield. A unique feature of the project is that mineworkers will be offered shares at preferential prices. Their opinions were echoed by their president, who said, "It is a chance of a lifetime for the working miner to have a financial stake in his future, and we are very enthusiastic about the project and its prospects."
I share that optimism. The technological revolution has arrived. In a debate in 1984, I said :
"Every day we hear of the sunrise industries. The greatest of these is the coal industry. It will be here when the others have gone".--[ Official Report, 7 June 1984 ; Vol. 61, c. 474.]
I have neither heard nor seen anything since then to change my statement. Come 1992 and the single European market, the British coal industry will be ready and able to supply the home market and the highly protected European markets, particularly those of France and Germany.
Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker) : Unless speeches are brief, I am afraid that some hon. Members will be disappointed. 8.22 pm
Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse (Pontefract and Castleford) : I follow what appeared to be a brief written by the Democractic Union of Mineworkers and the Department of Energy--
Mr. Martin Brandon-Bravo (Nottingham, South) : What is wrong with that?
Mr. Lofthouse : It depends on which side of the issue we stand. This evening, however, we have listened to what amounted to nothing less than NUM-bashing from the Secretary of State. We have come to expect it from the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart), who always has a prepared brief-- probably from the UDM, but we do not know. Personally bashing a major union, however, does the Secretary of State no credit. I should have thought that it would be wiser to leave that subject well alone.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) said, the debate is not about market forces ; it is a continuation of the bashing of miners and the mining industry that began in 1984. As the Secretary of State knows, I have spent many hours over the years on the Select Committee on Energy, listening to many expert witnesses, including the right hon. Gentleman. At no time have I heard any evidence that the Government's policy was not deliberately to run down the mining industry purely for reasons of dogma and revenge. The Secretary of State will recall that in his evidence to the Committee he said that the increased import of coal posed no fears, because the capacity of the ports could not cope with it : that was his defence when he was challenged. Of course, it was part of the plan to increase port capacity to enable more coal to come into the country. His permanent secretary does not really agree with the proposals : only a fortnight ago he told the Select Committee that there were no plans to interfere with the
Column 772free market, and suggested that his Department was sitting on the sidelines. It is fairly obvious this evening, however, that the Secretary of State is prepared to accept a much lower percentage of fuel for the CEGB than is guaranteed by the agreement now in operation, which can mean only that there will be more imports. Sir Peter Gregson--the permanent secretary to whom I have referred--told the Select Committee on the same occasion that the £311 million in the Department's estimate for the restructuring grant was equivalent to 15,000 miners' jobs in the current financial year. Given that the overspill from the previous year was 5,000 jobs, we are talking about the loss of 20,000 jobs. If Sir Peter Gregson is wrong, I invite the Secretary of State or the Minister to say so. If he is right, however, I remind the Secretary of State that the same Select Committee, in its 1987 report on the coal industry, said that never again must this or any other industry be run down so rapidly without consideration of the social consequences.
Those consequences have been pointed out in the House time and again, but the only reply that we have received from the Secretary of State and his hon. Friends is a reminder of the attractive redundancy terms enjoyed by miners. Not once have they been able to give an instance of measures to encourage alternative employment in the mining communities. In areas such as mine--the Wakefield area, which has lost 11,000 jobs since 1984--there is no evidence of that to this day.
I hope that the Secretary of State accepts the figures that I have given, and will tell us whether his Department, the Department of Employment and the Department of Trade and Industry are taking part in discussions to try to solve the problems of communities that have been devastated by the rundown of the coal industry.
Mr. Parkinson : Let me clear up that point. What Sir Peter Gregson said was that the total available provision was £311 million. We do not know how many redundancies there will be, because we are not in charge of the closure programme. Last year we under-provided and had to come back to the House for a supplementary estimate. This is not a prediction ; it is a provision which may or may not be needed. If it is not needed, it will be carried forward into the next year.
Mr. Lofthouse : Sir Peter Gregson made it clear that the figure might also be an under-estimate. If that is the case, we are talking about more than 20,000 miners.
Hon Members have referred to attractive redundancy terms, and I do not deny that men over 50 received reasonable compensation in the form of lump sums and weekly payments, which some of them welcomed. But it is a different ball game now : the average age of miners is 34, and they have no weekly payments to cushion the blow. Young men have nowhere else to go. One of the schemes guaranteed that a further payment would be made if men took redundancy, based on so many years' service. The agreement expires in August, in the same financial year as about 20,000 job losses in the mining industry. Does the Secretary of State plan to extend the redundancy payments scheme for mineworkers, bearing in mind that a devastatingly large number of men will be made redundant? If he does not do so, the mining communities will suffer even greater hardship than they have experienced hitherto.
Column 773The Government's policy is deliberately to encourage coal imports. Lord Marshall has repeatedly told the Select Committee that he will shop in the cheapest market. He made no bones about it. If that happens, profitable pits will have to be closed. The miners have been congratulated on their wonderful achievements since the miners' strike, but 20,000 of the miners who have done such wonderful things will lose their jobs this year. That is on record. Only a fortnight ago Sir Peter Gregson told the Select Committee on Energy that 20,000 miners would lose their jobs this year.
I am convinced that the CEGB, or its successor, will not take the same amount of coal from British Coal as it has taken hitherto. There will be even more coal imports. It is economic lunacy to run down the coal industry and close profitable pits. In 1987 the Select Committee on Energy said that the industry would be down to 67,000 men by 1990. The then Secretary of State for Energy pooh-poohed that forecast. However, it is now forecast that the industry will be down to 50,000 men by the end of this financial year. When the industry is run down to the extent that it cannot meet demand, how much cheap coal will there then be? Kids in primary schools in my constituency know the answer to that question. When we cannot meet demand from our own resources, the price of coal will spiral. That will be the effect of the Government's policy.
I hope that the Secretary of State will note the comments of Sir Robert Haslam. In his evidence to the Select Committee, Sir Robert made it clear that he does not share all the views of the Secretary of State. I hope that the Secretary of State saw the press statement issued by British Coal on 14 June in which Sir Robert expressed his concern about the future of the coal industry and about the unfairness of the Government's policy regarding nuclear power. The Secretary of State's policy is to cut the aid that is given to British Coal, but at the same time he is introducing legislation that will featherbed the nuclear industry.
In his press statement Sir Robert Haslam
"expressed great surprise that nuclear power--with costs for producing electricity at least 40 per cent. more than coal--is now being justified as the environmentally friendly' fuel resource." Sir Robert went on to say that the United States does not think that nuclear power is environmentally friendly because nuclear power stations are to be closed, partly for economic reasons but also because of the views of people in the United States. They have found that nuclear power stations are not the great economic success that they had hoped for ; they do not result in the production of cheap fuel, the argument that is used against coal.
The Secretary of State took over from his predecessors the job that the Prime Minister began during the miners' strike--to destroy the miners, to get revenge on them and damn the consequences to the country's major source of energy.
Sir Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead and Highgate) : A notable feature of the debate is the total absence of Liberals, SDPs,
nationalists--all those who claim to be interested in the environment. The last two speeches by Opposition Members to which I have listened were very similar to those that I heard when I entered the House some 20 years ago. They were genuine, from the heart and full of understanding. They reminded me of what I call the
Column 774old mining group of the Labour party. They were in sharp contrast to the speech by the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), which was full of entertainment value but very short of understanding. I, too, heard the radio interview that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Energy gave. I should have been very angry if he had said what the figures would be, because it is not his job to carry out the negotiations. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made clear, negotiations are now taking place and we shall have to await the results. It is not for Ministers to interfere in negotiations of that kind.
I am probably the last remaining Conservative Member who has worked underground for more than two years in the pits, mainly as a back ripper. I remember my very happy association with the mining industry. For a couple of years I was on the national committee of the Bevin boy movement. I did my training in Nottinghamshire and I worked in Derbyshire. My one claim to fame is that in those days I worked at the same pit as Cliff Gladwin who is, of course, in "The Guinness Book of Records". I, probably, never shall be. Perhaps we could do with Cliff Gladwin in the England team today, if he was able to score runs now as he did in that particular match, with one leg bye off a certain part of his anatomy.
It cannot be right that the electricity industry, whether under nationalised or private control, should be forced to buy from any particular source. The industry has to provide a service to the consumer. It is the consumer who in the end decides whether he is satisfied. He is entitled to expect that those who supply him are buying in the best market in terms of both calorific and monetary value. I would place my reliance on the common sense of those who are carrying out the negotiations. I only wish that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State could knock a few heads together to stop unnecessary legal fees being accumulated in a certain dispute between part of the coal industry and part of the electricity industry north of the border. That is a total waste of money and I only wish I could persuade my right hon. Friend--I have failed so far --to give a direction to stop that nonsense.
My second point may not command as much support as what I have said already. The Labour party seems to have learnt virtually nothing in 40 years. It is still blinkered by outdated ideas. I recall a speech on this subject. I had to do a lot of research to find it and I should quote from it briefly :
"The coal situation is one of the gravest and most complex in the whole of our affairs to-day and one which will have its repercussions on every sector of national life. With the formation of the National Coal Board, the middleman will be eliminated, but this will not mean cheaper coal".
How right that was.
"Lord Hyndley has already indicated that the price of coal will almost certainly rise."
The speaker opposed the formulated policy of the National Coal Board because, he said, it ignored technical improvement ; it would not stop the fall in production or help our export trade. It had no recruiting policy, and would be one of the worst monopolies in the country. It would impair the freedom of the miner ; there would be no impartiality in price fixing and no protection of the public. That speech was made on 10 January 1947, and according to the press report it was given by a certain Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg. I stand by every word that I uttered 42
Column 775years ago. I said then, as I say tonight, that in the end it is the consumer who matters and the National Coal Board grossly let down the consumer.
Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone) : As one Bevin boy to another, does the hon. Gentleman agree that we would never have been Bevin boys had the system of market forces not ruined the coal industry to such an extent that it has to be privatised because it could not supply coal when it was wanted?
Sir Geoffrey Finsberg : I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman, who in circles outside the House I would call a friend. He omits the facts at the time. I shall not take a long time to answer his point because we have been asked for short speeches.
The industry could have found the capital to have re-equipped the industry without the taxpayer being called upon as a result of nationalisation.
I saw the flag of the NCB being raised to immense cheers from miners who thought that a new world was beginning. Sadly, that new world never came about because they were let down by those who ran the industry and those who ran the National Coal Board.
Mr. Jack Thompson (Wansbeck) : Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that many of the people who took over the industry in 1947 were the same people who ran the industry before 1 January 1947?
Sir Geoffrey Finsberg : I agree with the hon. Gentleman. That was how most of the miners for whom I had and have immense admiration were duped. They thought that a new panacea was being created by the raising of that flag. They were duped by the Labour party which was then in government. The hon. Gentleman knows that that is true. I believe that the sooner the coal industry is in private hands the better it will suit the miners who work in it and the customers who buy its products. If what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is doing to speed up the denationalisation of the electricity industry will help that, I give him not three cheers but four cheers.
Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale) : First, I should like to comment briefly on the speech by the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart). I shall not say too much about the parrot nature of his written speech in case I embarrass him, but Opposition Members well know who must have written it. The hon. Member for Sherwood told us quite a lot about Bilsthorpe. Bilsthorpe has a Labour parish council, a Labour district council, a Labour county council and, as of last week, a Labour MEP. The only link that is missing is a Labour Member of Parliament.