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score. Another project in conjunction with BP would use heavy fuel oil with water or coal dust turned into an emulsion. Those are simply suggestions.

I come to my last point, because I do not want to hog too much of the time.

Mr. Illsley : Hog is the right word.

Sir Trevor Skeet : It is important to view the position not through rose--coloured spectacles but in the clear light of day. Power stations absorb 80 million tonnes of coal per year in the United Kingdom. However, there have been problems. West Burton has been deferred, Fawley B has been cancelled and we have heard nothing more about Kingsnorth B. Projected capacity totals 5,400 MW. It is possible that the three nuclear power stations at Hinkley C, Wylfa B and Sizewell C which could produce 3,600 MW will be shelved at least until after the review.

The Government, PowerGen and Natonal Power favour combined cycle gas turbines. I have the figures in front of me. Between them, National Power and PowerGen will use gas turbines to produce 4,223 MW or 5,000 MW under current plans, which is a considerable figure. If that is the case, what are the prospects for the coal mining industry? What opportunities will it have? If everyone goes for small power stations, which will mostly be gas- fired, and if there are to be some small coal-fired power stations, where is the justification for the manpower and the number of pits in the mining industry today? That is the question that hon. Gentlemen must ask. If they do not, they will reach the wrong conclusions.

Imports from Electricite de France work out at 5,000 MW a year. Coal imports from abroad will be modest and kept modest. I accept that coal production may come down to 65 billion tonnes, which was the figure mentioned by Professor Robinson about five years ago. He was a man of great vision. He saw what could happen to British Coal. Labour Members seem to be completely misled. They have not taken any of these matters into account.

Mr. Hardy : I should like to challenge the hon. Gentleman on a whole list of points, but I hope that he will comment on two. First, he called on British Coal to engage in land sales. Is he aware that the changes in derelict land grant which the Government inflicted on coal-mining areas brought a blight on any question of developing substantial areas? The hon. Gentleman should have been aware of that problem, but he seems to be out of touch. Apparently he still thinks that Lord Ezra is chairman of the British Coal industry.

Secondly--this is a serious point--the hon. Gentleman pretended to have considerable knowledge of the industry and referred to importations from Electricite de France to Sellindge in Kent. Does he accept that the appalling secrecy surrounding the price of that importation will have to end as we approach 1992? Will he join me in hoping that, during the Bill's passage, we may establish the true price?

Sir Trevor Skeet : The hon. Gentleman is acute to ask three or four questions which I have no intention of answering now. [Laughter.] The price of electricity from France works out at about 1 p per kWH. That is comparatively cheap. We cannot produce if for that in the United Kingdom.

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Mr. Hardy : The price is secret.

Sir Trevor Skeet : The hon. Gentleman says that the price is secret. Perhaps he can find the answer for himself and understand that it is cheap. It is profitable for Electricite de France and for the United Kingdom, which is why we import it. If the hon. Gentleman had an opportunity to go back to university, he might learn something about economics and understand some of these problems.

I do not think for a moment that we have seen the end of nuclear power in the United Kingdom. If all Europe, except Spain and the Netherlands, and particularly France can run nuclear power stations profitably-- [Hon. Members :--"That is not true."]--if the United States can run nuclear power stations profitably except in areas close to the coalfields, if Japan can run them profitably and if throughout the world more than 20 per cent. of electricity production is generated from nuclear power stations, there is no reason why we should not run nuclear power stations profitably in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Hood rose --

Mr. Buckley rose --

Sir Trevor Skeet : Hon. Gentlemen can listen to me for a change. The privatised sector wants both to write off the capital of the power stations, not in the life of the plant but over a shorter term. That creates one difficulty. Another is that they demand an increased rate of return because all private companies will be quoted on the stock exchange. That is understandable. If one is preparing a package for the market, it is not unreasonable to take economic considerations into account.

Mr. Buckley rose --

Mr. Hood : Come on.

Sir Trevor Skeet : Don't tell me to come on. I happen to be on my feet at present.

The swifter write-off which we have been able to bring about and the opportunity for more people to work in small mines in the United Kingdom will be a godsend for miners. The valuable, profitable, opencast workings will be substantially acceptable to the private sector and, indeed, the coal industry. This will lead to greater profitability which the industry could never otherwise achieve. 5.24 pm

Mr. Lawrence Cunliffe (Leigh) : I find it strange to listen to the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, North (Sir T. Skeet), who is joint chairman with me of the all-party minerals group. I listened to his statistical slug -out--something of a lecture--and never cease to be amazed that he is not a Minister for the fuel industry simply because of his highly technical knowledge, which the House has just experienced. Indeed, I recommended him for that several years ago to the majority party. His knowledge is in balance, but highly technical.

I am sorry that the Secretary of State has left the Chamber. In every energy debate that we have had, Conservative Secretaries of State have all quoted Government energy policy. Since 1979, the Government have never had the framework for a sensible, planned, energy policy. Their philosophy denies that. The Government have a pricing policy, today more than ever.

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Their philosophy has always been to leave everything to market forces, and every Secretary of State, whether at the Department of Energy or another Department, has been subservient to free marketeers. Today we are back on that same avenue.

For the first time ever, a Conservative Government have embraced in a Bill pure state intervention. Intervention has always been a dirty word in the Conservative party. Tory Members think that it should not be mentioned, but it glares from the Bill. Why? Certainly not because of Conservative Christian charity to the mining industry. It is there for selfish financial motives. It is to provide a financial base for privatising the whole of the British mining industry, and the return of another Conservative Government depends on it. That is the basis. We shall talk about the coal debt write- off later.

I pay tribute to the mining industry. I worked in it all my life and I have represented a mining constituency all the time I have been in Parliament. As the Secretary of State partly acknowledged today, there has undoubtedly been a phenomenal reconstruction of the mining industry. It is now one of the most streamlined, efficient and effective fuel industries in the world. I do not want to dwell on the industrial trauma that took place. We are now in a settled period--although unfortunately not for industrial relations-- with British miners producing some of the highest outputs per man shift in the world. I pay tribute to them for that achievement.

During that reconstruction, 90,000 jobs vanished in four and a half years, the number of collieries was halved and 98 collieries were merged or closed. Coal output from the 74 producing collieries is magnificent. No one, not even the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, North, could be glad to see literally thousands of miners lose their jobs in the past 10 years or to see the vast mining fraternities, which were the bases of family life and tradition, disappear. That is sad and is a matter for regret. The Bill will do nothing to console the mining fraternities about job security.

The pit lads, who have achieved magnificent productivity levels, will be demoralised when the Bill is enacted and far more than the 30,000 to which reference is made in the leaked Government document lose their jobs. That will result in many mining communities disappearing.

British Coal is providing cut-price coal to the Central Electricity Generating Board for about £850 million a year. Coal prices have been reduced over the past four years to the tune of about £1,000 million. The achievements of the miners and British Coal are now to be frittered away and the speculators, City investors and other sharks will be waiting for the subsequent rip-off. The Bill will fatten the goose prior to the privatisation of the coal industry. That will be the reward for services rendered.

We know now that the British nuclear industry is not competitive with British Coal because its costs are so very much higher. We know that the Magnox stations are the white elephants of the nuclear age. There has, of course, been cross-subsidisation. The market mechanism has not been operated. There has been no free competition. The Secretary of State says that the Government will have to impose a non-fossil fuel levy. It seems that this will be done to support the nuclear industry. That is unprecedented. The nuclear industry is already ring-fenced to the tune of about £12 million. It is protected because of its high costs. There is state intervention and protection, and a levy of

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about £1.4 billion a year is paid, in effect, by the British miner. It is the coal industry which has to pay the major part of the levy. In effect, the coal industry is subsidising electricity prices. This is a classic example of unfair competition.

The British mining unions have for years told the Government about the high cost of nuclear energy. We were told, however, that it would be cheaper in the long run. It was claimed that it was the fuel of the future and would solve the energy supply problems faced by industry generally. That has been proved to be a myth, and it seems that the miners are expected to pay the price of the nuclear industry's failure.

Since 1980, about £1.2 billion-worth of price cuts have been extended to the customers of the coal industry. The industry is told that it will have to produce more if it is to remain competitive, and it seems that miners will have to work harder and harder. In doing so, they will know that the profits that they produce at their pits will be hived off to subsidise the electricity industry. As my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) said, there would be a 6 per cent. reduction in electricity prices if account were taken of the subsidised prices that British Coal charges the electricity industry.

There has been talk of incidentals, such as the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill and import licences, within the general debate on the future of British energy generally and the British economy. The free marketeers argue that, with the development of port facilities and with a private coal industry, we could import about 30 million tonnes of coal a year. With existing facilities, we can import 10 million tonnes. That means the loss of another 35,000 miners' jobs. The Government would have no scruples in taking that course. They know that eventually they will be able to attract speculators into a privatised electricity industry.

Third-world countries and undesirable countries, such as South Africa, export coal. It is considered that any import surge is highly unlikely. Why? The answer is that there is a security problem. Overseas suppliers are grappling with major difficulties. For example, China, the USSR and Poland are preoccupied with the decline of their exports. China could become an importer of coal. I represent a constituency which produces some of the most advanced mining equipment in the world. There is tremendous mining technology in the Wigan and Leigh areas, and the products of it are sold to China. The export achievements are acclaimed.

I know, however, that in due course the machinery will be used to compete with the British miner. That I understand, but I do not understand how the market economy can be linked to countries that are politically unstable. Surely it would be too great a risk to have links of that sort. British industry would never fall for that. The racial tensions in South Africa, for example, are still unresolved and there is violence in Colombia. Australia is still beset with industrial relations difficulties.

The leaked document tells us that another 30,000 miners will lose their jobs for economic and financial reasons and not as a result of supply and demand considerations. The Government believe that they can intervene and cause British Coal to provide cheaper and cheaper coal for privatised industries. I and many others believe that this will result eventually in a suicidal supply of coal.

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Sir Trevor Skeet : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Cunliffe : The hon. Gentleman did not allow me to intervene in his speech. I shall give way to him, however, as I have every reason to believe that he will be a member of the Committee that considers the Bill.

Sir Trevor Skeet : If countries such as Germany, France and Italy can import coal in measured quantities and--as in the case of Germany-- utilise their own, why cannot the United Kingdom operate a similar arrangement? The hon. Gentleman mentioned China. If its annual production is roughly 1 billion tonnes and if it is a "third country", could we not help some of the teeming millions to survive by accepting some of its imports?

Mr. Cunliffe : I should have thought that what I have said was pure Conservative philosophy : charity begins at home. Certainly it should. [Interruption.] I do not intend to deprive the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, North of an opportunity to speak, but we have listened to him lecturing the Chamber for 20 minutes or so. He has asked for answers, so let me give him some.

I am not suggesting that we should erect barriers against Third-world countries ; I am merely arguing for conditions of fair and honest competition, based on all the costs that can be amalgamated to provide the cheap coal to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. That will require reasonable working conditions, a fair living wage and pure trade union practice. As the hon. Gentleman knows, many of those countries do not meet such criteria. South Africa is a classic example. We have never run away from such practices, and it should be remembered that we operate different pricing in parts of the British coalfields as well : there is a degree of competition there.

That seems to have stopped the hon. Gentleman from intervening. Let me now deal with the question of safety.

Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South) : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Cunliffe : Does the hon. Gentleman's point concern safety?

Mr. Porter : Before the hon. Gentleman moves on to that subject, I feel that the House is entitled to know the answers to a few questions. If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that the mining industry should receive a subsidy, I think that we should know how much it will be, the levels of employment and production that will be involved and whether the subsidy will be a cost to the Exchequer. If the answer to the last question is yes, I think that we should know where it is to be met. Will it be substituted for some other form of expenditure, or will it be additional thereto? That is a reasonable question, is it not? Incidentally, I have no intention of serving on the Standing Committee.

Mr. Cunliffe : I do not know that that is a reasonable question ; it is a bit of a mixed grill. I shall give the hon. Gentleman his answers in writing. I can say now, however, that we believe in a degree of protection for our industries--why should we not? Nevertheless, I do not hesitate to add that a future Labour Government would introduce selective import controls if the economy ever returned to its present state. I have no scruples about recommending such action. As for subsidies, they should be provided according to need, not want, and Labour will take account of that.

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Now let me return to the important subject of safety. [Interruption.] I am not interested in whether anyone is looking pale or anaemic. Hon. Members who look pale should leave the Chamber. In the past seven weeks, there have been three deaths in the Lancashire coalfield. That is a sad fact ; it is not a subject for jest. I concede that British Coal has tried to improve its safety record and techniques, and the lessons that have been provided have helped, to an extent, to avoid potential accidents, but we are still far from achieving a 100 per cent. safety record, and I doubt that we shall ever achieve it. Certainly we shall not do so without the professional concern and expertise that is imperative in extractive industries such as mining.

The pit safety union has expressed grave concern about the Government's proposals, and the chairman of British Coal has already voiced his surprise at the Government's announcement that they intended to liberalise the limits of privatised licensed mines. He was, he says, somewhat taken aback.

"We had assumed",

he says,

"that any changes in the statutory limits on licensed mining had been overtaken by the decision to privatise British Coal early in the next Parliament."

Clearly a degree of unpredictability has been involved. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) said earlier, unless a clear instruction is given for an increase in the number of coal mine inspectors, and unless deputies and overseers in private licensed mines are educated, trained and given clear responsibilities dictated by coal industry legislation there could well be many more accidents in such mines than there are now, while the coal corporation has such responsibilities.

The essence of the Bill is that it is a basis for the privatisation of the British mining industry. Its only saving grace is that that may never come to pass. We can, I believe, legitimately claim without boasting that, if the current Gallup opinion polls are correct about the political disposition of the British people, the legislation will never be enacted.

Essentially, privatisation means piratisation. It plunders the nation's assets ; it paralyses our public services and lowers their standards ; it pursues and promotes private greed, which I believe Conservative Members equate with godliness. A future Labour Government will ensure that those who produce the wealth of the British mining industry--let alone that of the nation--will become the possessors as well as the creators of wealth.

5.47 pm

Mr. Andy Stewart (Sherwood) : Today's debate marks a new beginning for British Coal. The Bill is simple, having only four clauses, but it lays the foundation for a secure and prosperous future for the industry.

The miners of this country deserve a new dawn. The Coal Industry Nationalisation Act 1946, which promised so much for so many, could be seen as a political fraud because it delivered so little to everyone--until 1984, when the Nottinghamshire miners, through the ballot box, cast off the shackles of union dictatorship, and introduced democracy at the coal face.

The results have been spectacular. Productivity is up by 100 per cent., an achievement unmatched by any other industry. Coal prices to the main customers are down by 30 per cent. in real terms that too is unmatched by any

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other industry. Modern industrial relations between men and management, involving conciliation rather than strife, provide an example that other industries could follow.

This remarkable turnaround, spearheaded by the Union of Democratic Mineworkers and achieved in such a short time, is the principal reason why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is so confident about introducing his Bill. Let me offer my congratulations and thanks to my right hon. Friend, who, in his short time at the Department, has recognised the strategic and important role of the British coal industry, and has acted accordingly.

Today's announcement that contracts have been agreed between British Coal and the new generating companies, National Power and PowerGen, for more than 200 million tonnes of coal, at fixed prices, during the next three years will be widely welcomed in the coalfields. That will remove the cruel deception created by the Labour party, which purported to have received a leaked Cabinet paper stating categorically that the future coal requirements for the new power-generating companies would be 60 million tonnes per annum, and that 30,000 men would be made compulsorily redundant.

Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield) : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Stewart : No.

Why the Opposition stoop so low as to spread despondency and dismay among the miners of Nottinghamshire, only they know.

Several Hon. Members rose--

Mr. Hood : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Stewart : No, I do not intend to give way. Our speeches are limited to 10 minutes.

Several Hon. Members rose--

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order.

Mr. Stewart : Opposition Members can bawl as much as they like, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I am not giving way.

I believe that they stooped so low because of the Socialist inferiority complex of being unable to accept that successful contracts were in the offing.

Clause 1 wipes out British Coal's accumulated debt to the taxpayers of £5 billion. In view of the Labour party's concern about taxpayers' money, one might legitimately ask why it is not making a fuss about it today, remembering its view last week about the sale of Rover to British Aerospace. To remove the debt burden, which is an annual charge of £5.70 on every tonne of coal mined, will lead to British Coal having a realistic prospect of viability, without continuous interference by politicians. Those written-off losses will be more than justified by the success of British Coal and its staff and the benefits gained by industrial and domestic electricity users.

Mr. Hood : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman is aware that the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart) does not intend to give way. He should therefore not persist in asking him to give way.

Mr. Stewart : I am an optimist by nature. My optimism about the success of Britain's coal industry is well known

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in Nottinghamsire, compared with the daily prediction of doom and gloom by Opposition Members. Nevertheless, my constituents' jobs in deep mines will be put at serious risk by the electoral self-interest of the Labour party, which is opposed to any opencast coal mining. Those of us who work in the interests of the industry know that in today's green environment the future of our deep mines is dependent on output continuing at our opencast sites. Without coal from opencast sites, we should be faced with two choices : either to close the deep mines or to import coal that is low in chlorine content. To accept either choice would be totally unacceptable.

My hon. Friends and I who represent Nottinghamshire constituencies believed that we should oppose the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill, for the reasons that I have just outlined and to protect our constituents' jobs. However, because of its policy on opencast mining, the Labour party recognised that low chlorine coal would have to be imported in order to keep the deep mines working. Therefore, it decided on a sham during the Second Reading of the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill on 23 June 1988 --that Labour Members would make synthetic speeches during the debate, and 180 Labour Members were advised to be absent when the Division was called at 8.20 that evening. That deception has not gone unnoticed in Nottinghamshire.

Mr. Hood : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart) ought to be less disingenuous when he accuses Opposition Members. He told us that the Bill will be good for Nottinghamshire miners. However, it would lead to the closure of the Annesley, Calverton, Cotgrave, Gedling Rufford, Silverhill, Creswell and Clipstone pits.

Madam Deputy Speaker : That is not a point of order for the Chair. I remind the hon. Gentleman that my impression is that he is seeking to catch my eye during the debate.

Mr. Stewart : This might be an opportune moment to remind the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) that in his usual calm, quiet voice during the Queen's Speech debate he went over the top of the slag heap in his condemnation of the opencast coal mining industry. No fewer than 13 of the 18 Nottinghamshire collieries produce coal with excess chlorine. That is unacceptable to power stations and other commercial customers. The hon. Member for Ashfield might, when away from the glare of the cameras, explain to Nottinghamshire miners how he expects to protect their jobs without the sweetener of opencast mines.

The importance of British Coal's opencast operations must be fully recognised. Last year, 50 per cent. of the corporation's profit of over £400 million came from that source. In addition to blending the deep- mined coal that was delivered to our power stations, it sold 10 million tonnes to commercial users such as Bowaters and ICI. If low chlorine coal was not available to them, they would have no alternative but to turn to foreign suppliers.

Clause 4, which frees small coal reserves of up to 250,000 tonnes, to be worked by private operators, can only enhance the future of our deep mines. However, I welcome my right hon. Friend's commitment that all new sites will still have to abide by planning regulations.

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We cannot have industrial expansion and keep a rural economy. Unfortunately, all developments affect communities. That is the price that we have to pay for a modern, industrial society. Nevertheless, we can minimise the length of time of extraction at opencast sites and restore them as quickly as possible. During the summer recess, I spent some time with British Coal's opencast executive. I looked at its operations in the east midlands, in particular at its restoration work at Morrells in Derbyshire, which is now recognised by environmentalists as an outstanding landscaped restoration. Speedy extraction and sympathetic restoration must be a pledge that we give to those who are affected by opencast mining. Nothing less will be acceptable.

Clause 4 will also foster diversity by increasing the manpower limit in private mines from 30 to 150 men. That change reflects the fact that the existing limit was set many years ago and that it has inhibited investment to improve productivity and safety. It has therefore militated against the creation of new jobs in depressed mining areas. However, in the light of the experience that we had last year in my constituency at Blidworth, will my right hon. Friend consider in Committee making exemptions to the clause when British Coal has announced a pit closure, due to it being uneconomic? Blidworth colliery, with 30 million tonnes of reserves, received £10 million of new investment but failed to perform. When the closure came, 350 men were convinced that it was viable and, given a chance, they would have proved it. Their judgment was confirmed by a feasibility study that was carried out by a major British company which was prepared to take over the mine at no cost either to British Coal or to taxpayers. However, because of the existing rules it was not allowed to do so. That is an example of why I wish consideration to be given to an exemption rule.

Safety in the mining industry will be frequently mentioned during the debate, and rightly so. If coal is king, then safety is lord paramount. Therefore, let us remember the lessons from the past and build that knowledge into our mining and quarries safety legislation. One life lost is one life too many.

Although I have welcomed the Bill, my constituents will share one great disappointment with me--that it contains no mention of help to overcome the problem created by mining subsidence. My right hon. Friend is fully aware of that problem. I realise, nevertheless, that subsidence legislation is complex and needs to be carefully considered. Could my right hon. Friend therefore promise that in the next Session of Parliament a Bill to deal with subsidence will be introduced? That would go some way towards reassuring my constituents that that problem has not been forgotten.

The Coal Industry Bill has been drafted by a listening Secretary of State. It wipes out a debt of £5 billion, provides generous restructuring grants of £1.25 billion and introduces a small measure of flexibility which will protect and create new job opportunities. In all, it is a generous package in recognition of the commitment made by British miners to their industry. I cannot imagine that anyone in his right mind would vote against the Bill. I commend it to the House.

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5.59 pm

Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) : I concur with the concluding words of the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart). It is extraordinary that the Labour party proposes to vote against the Bill, which increases funding for the coal industry. One can only assume, if the debate continues in that format, that we are seeing the ideological gulf on coal translated to a point where Members vote against anything that comes from the opposite side, regardless of the contents of the proposal.

Mr. Dobson : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Bruce : If the hon. Gentleman wants to clarify the way in which Labour will vote, I shall give way.

Mr. Dobson : Does the hon. Gentleman, who represents the Liberal Democrats, believe that it is an ideological matter to oppose shifting more people into pits that are between two and four times as dangerous as British Coal pits?

Mr. Bruce : I intend to address that point. The essential point is that the Labour party proposes to vote against increased funding for the coal industry. I cannot see how that makes good sense. Having served on the Committees on the Electricity Bill and, before that, the Gas Bill, I have heard the argument a few times. One of the problems with debate in the House is that there are so many ideological divides on coal industry issues that it is difficult to address the changes and how best we can plan for the future and ensure that the industry develops in a sensible, economic way taking account of strategic long-term interests and environmental considerations. Regrettably, those points tend to be overlooked or forgotten in the heat of the argument.

The Bill is essentially about the financing and restructuring of British Coal. Points have been made about the preparation for privatisation. The Secretary of State said that that may or may not come down the track, but there is no doubt that British Coal is charged with preparing for privatisation. The Conservative party has said that it is committed to privatising the coal industry. Consequently, British Coal is forced to aim for short-term maximum profitability to prepare the industry for a sell- off. That affects the way in which it approaches management of the industry. It raises legitimate questions as to whether the actions of British Coal are in the long-term interests of the country, whether British Coal is compromised by short-term commercial considerations and whether we should review the basis of organisation of the industry.

I stress those important points. It is interesting to note from the comments of the hon. Member for Erewash (Mr. Rost) and some other Conservative Members that there is, at least on the Government Back Benches, recognition of the fact that British Coal's monopoly of coal licensing is not satisfactory and should not continue indefinitely. It is strange that the assets of oil and gas are owned by and administered on behalf of the nation by the Department of Energy. The assets covered by the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act 1946 were transferred to the National Coal Board, now British Coal, which in moving into a commercial world must take account of considerations that did not apply when the NCB was created in 1946. I give notice that my colleagues and I will support the Bill

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but will propose amendments to transfer ownership of the coal assets from British Coal to the Department of Energy, thereby making significant developments possible.

British Coal has a vested interest in preventing potential competitors from moving into its market place. It has the power to prevent them from doing so. That is an extremely dubious position for British Coal to be in. The hon. Member for Sherwood quoted an example from his constituency. I have been slightly involved in two recent examples, in Scotland and in Kent. Bilston Glen colliery in Scotland was closed at short notice, although British Coal had announced that it had substantial reserves and considerable potential for investment. There is interest in forming a miners' co-operative to take over and operate that pit as a private venture, using private finance. It is interesting that the Labour party opposes miners getting together with private capital interests to reopen a mine that British Coal has closed. The interests of the miners and the communities should demand at least proper and fair examination of those matters.

I made representations to the Scottish director of British Coal and was told that he was not prepared to allow a representative of this potential co-operative access to information or to the pit. He had determined that the pit was not viable and did not want anyone else to have access to information that might be used against British Coal. That is wholly unsatisfactory. It is inappropriate that there is no right of appeal to the Secretary of State and no alternative way of getting a licence.

Mr. Eadie : How deep was the hon. Gentleman's involvement in the pit which he mentioned, which is in my constituency? I did not hear of him being involved in any way. It is customary for a Member to have the courtesy to inform another Member of involvement in his constituency. Can he tell us the names of all the people in that community who were involved in the co-operative? Can he tell the House what private finance bodies were so anxious to be involved? We did not hear about it. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has information that we do not have.

Mr. Bruce : My information was in a circular letter written to all Scottish Members by representatives of some of the miners who wished to gain access to the pit. I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman did not read his post. I did and responded to it. I spoke to the people in question and this is the information that they gave me. I accept that in the end they may not have been able to put together a viable proposal, but British Coal should not determine the matter. It should be determined independently.

The same thing is happening at the Betteshanger colliery in Kent. British Coal is determined to take out machines over the next four weeks, resulting in the pit being abandoned and flooded, and at least 30 million tonnes, possibly 100 million tonnes, of workable reserves will effectively be lost for ever. Both cases involve low sulphur reserves of coal, which will be valuable when we pursue a low-sulphur electricity generation policy. In these circumstances, we are operating against the interests of our long- term strategic needs and of miners in pits who are exploring the possibility of saving their jobs and communities.

I have been advised by union representatives that they have made an offer to British Coal to pay to keep the machinery in, pending negotiations on the possibility of a workers' buy-out, and have been told that British Coal has

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