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Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli) : When opening the debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) welcomed the clause in the Bill that gives British Coal some financial assistance. Let me make a brief plea for some of that assistance to come back to the anthracite coalfield of west Wales in the form of investment.
My constituency and Carmarthen contain at least 50 million tonnes of mineable anthracite reserves. Apart from the dwindling pocket of anthracite in the West German coalfield--which will dwindle further if the European Commission starts having a go at the way in which the
Column 86German coal industry is financed--there is no anthracite between Llanelli and Poland. The potential for development of the anthracite coalfield and its reserves in Britain and Europe is enormous ; yet despite that, and despite the potential markets, British Coal has walked away from the anthracite coalfield, and especially from deep mining it. It has closed the largest anthracite pit in Britain--indeed, in western Europe--and has mothballed a drift mine into which it had itself put £18 million. My area has only one deep-mined anthracite pit left.
There is plenty of opencast, however, and if the Bill is passed there will be a good deal more. Apart from its awful, damaging effects on the environment, opencast mining--at least in the anthracite coalfield-- sterilises the coal beneath, which the opencast machines can reach and mine. When the earth is put back, anyone wishing to drift-mine or slant- mine the coal beneath it must incur all the costs of digging through the earth to get to it.
There are a few small producers, but they are very small, and they are finding it difficult to make a living. Anthracite is sold mainly to the domestic consumer market, and I am told that the current price for best west Wales anthracite "run of mine"--that is, as mined--is between £27 and £29 per tonne. My constituents, many of them elderly, are paying £155 per tonne ; moreover, they cannot obtain the anthracite very often, because British Coal has closed the mines. We are forced to import Chinese anthracite, which is of inferior quality.
I understand that coal must be washed, sifted and distributed, but does a mark-up of 500 per cent. make any sense? A cartel is operating. It is not a cartel of miners--they are not benefiting from it--or a cartel of elderly consumers, but a cartel of private factors in south Wales. Someone is receiving the difference between £27 or £29 and £155 per tonne. I do not know whether that is a matter for the Office of Fair Trading, but it certainly does no good to anthracite production or anthracite consumers.
The market is enormous, but, over the years, British Coal--whatever it has done in other parts of the country--has not paid much attention to the market in anthracite. First, there is the market in power stations. British Coal has said that anthracite cannot be burned in power stations, although it can be mixed with other coal. That is not true. Very clear fluidised bed technology has operated in Finland and the United States for years, burning not only the anthracite but the anthracite dust which is a cheaper component of it. Thereby a market is being provided for the better-class and better-priced anthracite. Apart from the domestic consumer market, schools, hospitals and other public institutions constitute a market for the use of anthracite for central heating. The competition is intense. Certainly gas is a great competitor. I have been told that there are only two British manufacturers of small anthracite boilers for central heating. One of them is too small to engage in research and development. The other is not interested. I am certain that it is possible to burn anthracite in schools and hospitals on the continent. British Coal, however, is not interested in it. British Coal should reopen the drift mine in my constituency on which it has spent £18 million. It should open small slant and drift mines to replace much of the opencast mining and get together with boiler manufacturers to try to sell anthracite to power stations. In addition, British Coal should get together with the smaller
Column 87boiler manufacturers and ensure that anthracite can be used for the heating of schools, hospitals and other public institutions. The miners in my constituency have shown loyalty and dedication to the mining industry and to British Coal. It is time that British Coal repaid their loyalty and dedication by investing in our coalfields. 8.21 pm
Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark) : Since I became a Member of Parliament I think that I have attended virtually every debate on the coal mining industry. I seem to recollect that there has been a constant cry for more support for the mining industry. I recollect too the Opposition's total ignorance of the fact that £2 million a day has been invested in the mining industry since the Conservative party came to office. I am astonished by the Opposition's lack of generosity of spirit in their comments on the Bill. One would never think that an enormous debt is to be written off and that consequently British Coal will be profitable and able to compete with imported coal, about which the Opposition are rightly worried. During the last five or six years the coal industry has undergone massive restructuring. Coal is now competitive with most other fuels. Since 1983-84, about 84 pits have closed. Only 86 collieries are now left, but they produce virtually the same amount of coal as was produced five years ago. The number of employees has virtually halved, to the current 86,900. That reduction has taken place without any compulsory redundancies. Productivity has increased by over 90 per cent. during that period, and it is still increasing.
To reach those figures, everyone in the coal industry has played a part-- often a difficult part. I pay particular tribute to the Union of Democratic Mineworkers in Nottinghamshire and to its president, Mr. Roy Lynk.
The industry is basically profitable, but year after year what would otherwise be a profit is turned into a loss because of the huge interest payments that it has to make to the Treasury. That is what the Bill is about. It is not about imported coal or about fattening up the industry for privatisation.
A healthy coal industry plays a vital part in our national economy. Both sides of the House recognise that fact, despite the invective that we some times hear. If it is not healthy, costs rise, there are expensive imports and the industry cannot offer long-term contracts, based on certainty of supply and price, to the electricity supply industry. It makes sense, therefore, as Opposition Members have argued for a long time, to write off the accumulated losses. British Coal is entitled to say to the Government, "We have done what you asked, we have restructured, we are now profitable and we have played our part. The Treasury must now play its part." I know that my constituents in Nottinghamshire will be very happy with the Bill, in particular with the writing-off provisions that are fundamental to it. They will also find it astonishing that Opposition Members think so little of the Bill's provisions that they intend to vote against the Bill.
Without this help, the industry will find it very difficult to restructure. It will also benefit from the proposed increase in the restructuring grant that will rise to £1,500
Column 88million by 1993. The Government's policy has always been to try to ensure generous redundancy terms and, if possible, no compulsory redundancies. With the increase in grant, British Coal can offer generous redundancy terms without eating into annual profits. There must surely come a time, however, when the redundancy process will cease. The industry seems to be run by accountants, not by entrepreneurs. Accountants decide whether a pit is uneconomic. Engineers and visionaries should play a major part in that decision. Pits which produce fine, excellent coal are in danger of closing because they verge on the margins of profitability. They cannot satisfy an accountant's eye if he looks only to next year's balance sheet figures.
Apart from aiming at a high-wage, high-profit industry that produces coal that is attractive to the consumer, industry and the electricity supply industry, we must do more than just make it the supplier of choice. We must go to the young colliery manager, the young pit deputy and the trained young worker and ask them what they see as their future. They are getting good coal out of pits that have considerable reserves, yet they fear for their job security. They have no conception of what British Coal's accountants have in store for them and their pit in even a year's time.
The opportunity should be taken to draw up a new plan for coal, otherwise the industry will drift, with each Secretary of State having a greater or lesser commitment to it. What does my right hon. Friend think the coal industry will look like in five years' time, yet alone by the end of the century? My right hon. Friend will not be there in five years' time ; he will have moved to a different job. However, will his successor be able to look back and say, "This is what we planned five years ago ; we have achieved it", or will he be living from day to day?
We have one of the finest indigenous industries in the country, with a dedicated work force at all levels and a product which is the envy of the world. If we want young mining engineers and coal face apprentices with ambition to come into the industry, they must surely feel that someone, somewhere up there has a commitment to their future. Does the board ever tell them what its vision of the future is, what its enthusiasm and commitment are and the obstacles to achieving those ambitions? Paring the industry down to the lowest sustainable economic unit until someone takes it off the taxpayers' hands is not a plan for coal.
Mr. Cunliffe : I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on making a genuine, sincere contribution to the debate. He recognises the human and fundamental elements of the industry which we are debating. I put it to him that the theme of his address supports what I said--we must get out of the market force arena and free-for-all and away from the free marketeers who indulge in cost per unit price production and instead get back to a planned fuel economy, where each industry knows what it is expected to produce under a planned energy policy. Does the hon. Gentlemen agree?
Column 89Perestroika for an industry is not a banner under which young people can come in and work. We must give them more than that--a vision. I should like that to come out of the Bill.
Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone) : The hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander) talked of a vision, but that vision was seen in the mining industry only as a result of nationalisation. Before nationalisation, the industry had no future, no hope and no vision. Only since the industry moved into public ownership has that vision been created. Judging by the Bill, however, I am afraid that that vision will disappear, for a number of reasons.
I have been proud to work in the coal mining industry for more than 30 years, both as an electrical engineer and as an industrial relations officer. I have been proud and privileged to watch it come from nothing to one of the finest highly technical industries in the world. I have been proud and privileged to work among and with the people who have brought the industry through that era. The British coal miner stands second to no one anywhere in the world in terms of his workmanship and adaptability to anything that comes before him. That is why the British miner has always been prized outside the industry, when anyone has been able to get hold of him.
The miners worked for the industry because they worked for the vision of which the hon. Member for Newark spoke--a blue flag flying over the winding gear, proving that the British coal industry belonged to the British people. That is what it has all been about. The Bill marks the end of that vision, and the beginning of the end of an era. The next election, which the Conservatives will not win, will decide how the coal industry proceeds. The Bill is an enabling and paving measure for the privatisation of the coal industry. Conservative Members say that they cannot understand why the Opposition intend to vote against it, but that is the answer in a nutshell- -we want a nationalised coal industry.
Although many of my colleagues and I approve of the £4.5 billion or £5 billion write-off, we must recognise what it will mean. We should not hide from the fact that this is a subsidising Bill for the electricity industry. In a way, it is a crafty Bill. The Minister will say, "Although we are aiming for the privatisation of the British coal industry we shall not bring that about until we win the next election." The Government have had two bites of the cherry. They have provided the means of achieving privatisation should they win the next election, but in their current term of office they have provided the means for subsidising the electricity industry. By the write-off of £4.5 billion or £5 billion, British Coal will be able to compete with any coal industry in the world--not for its own benefit, but to provide cheap energy for the electricity industry. There is nothing untoward about that. It has happened in the past. The coal industry has always been used as a milch cow for private industry. In the era when coal could have been sold on the open market, as it was highly profitable and a bank balance had been built up, it was not allowed to be sold. The National Coal Board directors patted us all on the head and said, "You should not ask for a wage increase because it will cause the closure of the pits and raise the price so that we cannot sell coal." The pits have closed anyway, and coal has been sold at a cheap
Column 90price to the electricity industry. That is why the coal industry has always been a milch cow. Through the Bill, the electricity industry will continue to be provided with cheap coal, especially through the nuclear levy.
The history of the coal industry is not surprising. Over all these years, the industry has carried out research and development through its electrical and mechanical engineers--for example, into the hydraulic systems which the aeroplanes use, coal-burn research, and mine support systems which had not previously been developed. The industry has provided electrical and mechanical engineers for mining industries throughout the world.
The hon. Member for Newark talked about electricians and mechanical engineers for the future. There has never been any other apprenticeship scheme like that provided by the NCB for its workers. Anyone who worked for the board could join its mechanical and electrical schemes. It put the workers through its technical schools and sent them on to the universities to get degrees. The NCB provided this country not only its fuel and with expertise in many subjects, but with its wherewithal. That is where the expense came in. I should like to talk about concessionary fuel and cash in lieu. Historically, the coal belongs to the miners. I used to get 13 tonnes of concessionary coal per year. It was part and parcel of our wage agreement. [Interruption.] Conservative Members may not have seen a Yorkshire grate. One used not a shovel but two buckets, and the ash from Yorkshire grates has provided miles of pathways through allotments. That concessionary coal was included in the negotiations as part of the wages. We gave it up, tonne by tonne, to provide a pool of coal for the widows and retired mineworkers.
Who will pay for redundancy once the industry is privatised? I asked the Secretary of State about that earlier. As the Minister knows, redundancy has been paid in two ways--a lump sum payment and a weekly payment until the age of 65. Each time the age of redundancy has dropped, the ceiling on the money has dropped as well. Under the Bill, people in the mining industry under the age of 45 or 46 will be made redundant. Will the redundancy payment scheme be such as to provide the same benefits as people receive now? Will there be a lump sum payment based on age, wages and the number of years worked for British Coal, and then a weekly income until people find work or reach the age of 65? It is important that we should know. Other hon. Members have mentioned small mines and licensing, but they did not mention that licensing was a bond. British Coal gave out licences, which were also bonds because so many private mines left areas of dereliction when the operators had finished getting out the coal. British Coal had to put matters right and it provided the expertise. If there is any alteration in the licensing system, we must ensure that the bond remains so as to ensure that the environmental problems created by private mines are dealt with. Clause 4 raises the permitted number of workers under licensing from 30 to 150. Can the Minister tell me now whether the management structure under the health and safety rules will be the same as now? Will there be a manager, an under-manager and an over-manager? Will there be mechanical and electrical engineers? At present, they are not found in the small mines and most of the small mines, which run at the periphery of the large mines, have
Column 91used British Coal's technical engineers for their work. It was supposed to be a free service for small mines, although it was in fact a charge on British Coal.
All those developments will be halted by the Bill. A lifetime of progress--
Mr. Neil Hamilton (Tatton) : It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay), who is one of the most respected hon. Members. I share with him an emotional bond with the coal industry because my family has been involved in it for many generations. Both my grandfathers were coal miners, my father spent more than 30 years in the industry, and I was myself briefly an employee of the National Coal Board at Hobart house. I am happy to say that I have now mended my ways.
I greatly welcome the Bill and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Under- Secretary on his work in bringing it before the House. I mean no disrespect to his precedessors in saying that he has been the most forward-looking and effective Minister for coal since I have been a Member of Parliament, and I pay tribute to his work. I especially welcome clause 4. I was sorry to hear that the Labour party rejects clause 4. It is a proposal to which it is not accustomed, but I hope that it will grow on the Labour party with some experience and that the Labour party will extend its new attitude into other areas of policy as well.
Clause 4 proposes a liberalisation of the opencast regime, which I welcome. The Government have belatedly accepted the recommendations of many who have gone before. In 1983, the Monopolies and Mergers Commission recommended that the limit on opencast sites that were operated by licensed operators should be increased to 100,000 tonnes, and in 1986 it reiterated that in a report on the South of Scotland electricity board. In 1986-87, the Select Committee on Energy recommended that the statutory limit should be removed altogether. I am glad that the Government have gone part of the way in raising the limit to 250,000 tonnes.
Under section 1 of the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act 1946, British Coal has a duty of
"making supplies of coal available, of such qualities and sizes, in such quantities and such prices, as may seem to them best calculated to further the public interest in all respects".
The Bill is one of the means by which that primary duty of British Coal can be fulfilled.
There is, of course, a conflict of interest for British Coal because it is the licensing body. It is extraordinary that the primary producer in the industry is responsible for licensing its competition. That does not seem fair, and the results have been nothing other than we might have expected. British Coal has the power not only to license competition, but to saddle it with royalties. The average royalty now paid by licensed opencast operators is £11 a tonne and the figure was as high as £16 until recently. In effect, at various times, the royalty has been greater than the profit that the opencast executive has made on its own opencast operation. If the opencast executive had had to pay a royalty to the Crown on its production, it would not
Column 92have turned in any profit in many years. Yet it is only the notional profits that the opencast executive has produced that have made British Coal's recent results acceptable.
Private producers have been very much the creatures of British Coal. They have not had the freedoms that they could have expected to find elsewhere in the private sector, but have been wholly controlled by the nationalised monopolist. They are controlled not only on the supply side, but on the demand side. The Central Electricity Generating Board has been the almost monopolistic purchaser of the coal that we produce and there has been an agreement between British Coal and the CEGB that has greatly affected the private sector. In the 1986 supply agreement, it was announced that 50 million tonnes of coal would be taken from British Coal at nearly £47 a tonne, 10 million tonnes at £34 a tonne, and 12 million tonnes at £30 a tonne. The average price of that coal was just over £42 a tonne, but the price that has recently been forced on the private sector is not the average price, but the marginal price of the third tranche of the coal--£30 a tonne--out of which it is paying to British Coal £11 in royalties. The private sector has to make its profit and cover its costs out of a fraction of the revenue that British Coal derives from its own operations.
Mr. Hamilton : The private sector does pay its interest, unlike British Coal. It does not have the taxpayers' cheque book behind it to cancel debts. It not only pays interest, but contributes to the revenue of the Treasury by paying tax on the profits that it makes. That is a major difference between those two sections of the industry.
The private sector has been operating under severe difficulties. It is an astonishing achievement that it has made small-scale production profitable in spite of the arbitrary output limits and royalty levels that have been set above the average profit of the coal that is produced by British Coal.
What on earth is the logic of restrictions? I agree entirely with the Select Committee on Energy in its 1986-87 report that there is no logical basis for a tonnage restriction on opencast production. Competition is good for British Coal--or it would be if it was exposed to it--just as it is for everybody else. I should like the mineral rights of the coal to be vested in the Crown. Let British Coal pay royalties on the coal it extracts in the same way as the private sector and let it compete for the right to exploit the coal. It was a Conservative Government in 1938 who nationalised royalties and gave them to the Coal Commission. As a result of the 1946 Act, the bounty that was supposed to be provided for the taxpayer has been channelled into the coffers of British Coal, not to the taxpayer. It has been a disguised form of subsidy all along, which has helped to mask the real disaster of British Coal's finances.
The changes are most welcome. In any case, they only keep up with technical developments in opencast mining over the past 30 years or so. In 1958, a mechanically driven dump truck of maximum size was about 20 tonnes, whereas today it is 10 times that--200 tonnes. All the machines are much more productive. Equipment is now available to licensees which in 1958 was not available even to the National Coal Board. Equipment improvements
Column 93now permit extraction down to a level of 100ft, whereas the maximum 30 years ago was 10ft to 20ft. In 1958 a site with 25,000 tonnes of coal would take two to three years to complete, whereas today the process would take less than six months. The two to three -year period would now be long enough to permit the extraction of 250,000 tonnes of coal. In increasing the amount from 25,000 tonnes to 250,000 tonnes, the Government are only taking account of those technical developments.
The hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone said that bonds were required because British Coal had to clear up the mess following the involvement of the private sector. I have yet to discover a company that has given a bond that has had to be called upon to fulfil the obligation to which it has exposed itself. No business that wants to stay in business and make profits over a long period could afford to behave in the way that the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone hypothesised.
The hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) talked about the safety record of the private sector. The mines and quarries inspectorate imposes a very tough regime--rightly so--upon all mining and extractive operations, and the private sector is subject to that regime in the same way as British Coal. It has no reason to fear investigations into its safety record. It is arguable that the safety record of the private sector will be enhanced and improved by the changes because it will now be in a position to have large enough operations to take advantage of larger and more expensive equipment and to spread the cost of investment in it over a larger area. That should lead to an improvement in conditions in the industry as well as to cheaper coal.
The overall benefits of liberalisation are many. This is not an anti-coal Bill but a pro-coal Bill, as a result of which the lot of the mining communities will be much improved.
Mr. George J. Buckley (Hemsworth) : We have had a far-reaching debate. The Secretary of State opened by referring to the praiseworthy results achieved by the British mining industry in the past three or four years. He commended the 70 per cent. increase in productivity that miners have achieved. He also outlined the continuing closure programme that has taken place over the past four years and said that 90 mines had been closed as a consequence of the rundown of the industry. As a result of the Government's policy, manpower has been reduced by 130,000.
The tragedy of the Government's policy is that it has had a devastating effect on mining communities. The Secretary of State congratulated British Coal Enterprise Ltd. on the regeneration of jobs. I can tell him that he is under an illusion. A considerable number of jobs have been lost in my area but British Coal Enterprise Ltd. has provided little of the available alternative employment. Ackton colliery was sold to a private developer on the basis that it was not the job of British Coal Enterprise Ltd. to promote and generate employment. I thought that that was the whole purpose of British Coal Enterprise. Surely its role was precisely to inject money and regenerate employment. I have to inform the Secretary of State that little alternative employment has been provided in Hemsworth, 75 per cent. of whose male population has traditionally depended on coal mining for employment.
Column 94The Minister said that clause 1 was intended to give the Secretary of State the opportunity to wipe away British Coal's debts, which he estimated were £4.5 to £5 billion. Many hon. Members have referred to the Government's generosity in writing off British Coal debts. The hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) and the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, North (Sir T. Skeet) claimed that the Government had repeatedly written off the industry's debt. My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) gave us the answer to that argument. In the 1950s--the era in which the Government are supposed to have written off millions of pounds' worth of National Coal Board debts--the board was prevented from taking advantage of the very market forces by which the Government set so much store. In the 1950s, coal was fetching a price on the international market well above the price paid to the NCB by the generating industry. In effect, British Coal and the British miner were subsidising the Central Electricity Generating Boad. Had the NCB been able to command the world price for solid fuel it would not have needed to borrow from the Government or obtain Government grants ; it could have reinvested the capital that it had accumulated. The Government would then not have needed to write off the accumulated debt.
The Minister referred to the rundown in manpower, and Opposition Members envisaged a further rundown as a result of the Bill. A leaked Cabinet document suggests that 30,000 jobs will suffer as a result of the Government's present policy. That would reduce the number of jobs in the mining industry from 90,000 cited by the Secretary of State to 60,000. I suggest that the main reason why the industry is beginning to be economic is that the number of miners' jobs has been reduced. The burden on the British coal industry has been an accumulation of capital debt incurred in the restructuring of the mining industry over a number of years which has made it a highly productive industry comparable to any deep-mining industry in the world. That debt has been paid for mainly by the reduction in manpower in the industry, yet the Government have the audacity to suggest that the Bill provides the opportunity to write off £5 billion of debt. [ Hon. Members :-- "It does."] I accept that. The most honourable contribution from the Conservative Benches was that made by the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Woodcock), who said that the Bill is the prelude to the privatisation of the coal industry. That is why £5 billion will be wiped off, as it will fatten up the industry for privatisation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) has described the other debts carried by British Coal, as a result of subsidies, contracts and price reductions, which amount to £800 million. British Coal and the miners have subsidised the generating industry. The subsidisation of the electricity industry is paramount to the Government because they must sell the electricity industry on the stock exchange and at a price that the stock exchange is prepared to accept. We take careful note that the stock exchange and investors are interested in electricity generation from solid fuel only and it is that solid fuel which will subsidise the future generation of electricity.
The hon. Member for Bedfordshire, North asked what was wrong with importing Colombian coal if it is cheaper than that produced by British Coal. If the hon. Gentleman believes in competition, why did he advocate in the
Column 95Committee considering the Electricity Bill that the nuclear industry, which is not efficient, should be kept in the public domain? He believes that the management of private enterprise is more efficient, so why was he afraid to put the nuclear industry into the private sector?
In comparison with the mining industry, nuclear power is not competitive and that is why he was anxious to keep it in the public domain, subsidised by the taxpayer. The leaked papers from the Cabinet suggest that the Secretary of State withdrew the nuclear industry from the electricity sale because private investors would not take on the liability of that industry. The generation of electricity from nuclear power is twice as expensive per unit as the electricity produced from coal.
The Secretary of State made great play of the contract made between British Coal and the generating powers. British Coal will provide 70 million tonnes of coal in the first two years and 65 million tonnes in the third year. Why was that contract struck? The answer is simple. The importation of large tonnages of foreign coal through the ports that were the subject of a Bill that we opposed cannot begin for three years. That is why the CEGB has bargained with British Coal. It is unable to import the necessary coal to make up for the shortfall that would result from forcing down still further the supplies that it receives from British Coal. The CEGB has a monopoly on demand and therefore can blackmail British Coal, as it has done recently in terms of the prices negotiated.
My hon. Friends have already stated why we will oppose the Bill. Clause 4 is a recipe for disaster and a danger to our miners. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) wants to make a contribution. I represent a mining constituency and every hon. Member representing such a constituency must make a contribution.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) has already said that clause 4 is dangerous as it will allow private companies to extend opencast and other mines. The Bill will allow the expansion of private mines, so the danger of injuries in those mines will increase. Parallel to that, however, is the fact that the regulations governing mine safety are to be reviewed, much to the consternation of people who work in the industry. Regulations are being liberalised as a consequence of improving profitability in the industry. I foresee that the number of people injured and the number of fatalities in the industry will escalate as a consequence of changing the regulations. Every hon. Member who represents a mining constituency must take that into account before going into the Lobby tonight.
The hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart) has constantly badgered us about the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill. The Nottinghamshire miners and other hon. Members representing Nottinghamshire should know that he supports opencast mining. Such mining usually takes place in areas where deep mines have been closed and, as a consequence, many jobs lost.
Opencast mining is no substitute for the large reduction in employment in mining communities, and local authorities will show greater and greater resistance to it--as they do now, even to the small scale currently permitted by legislation. There will be greater resistance as a result of expanding opencast mining to 250,000 tonnes.
Column 96Local authorities will demand public inquiries about why opencast mining on such a scale should be permitted, and those inquiries will be the order of the day in mining communities.
Hon. Members should deeply consider the factors inherent in the Bill, and I hope that Opposition Members will oppose it when we divide.
Mr. Eadie : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. With the exception of 45 minutes, I have attended this debate since it started. Is it not an abuse of the procedures of the House that an hon. Member should be called who has scarcely been in the Chamber at all? [Interruption.] It is monstrous that many of my hon. Friends who have attended the whole of the debate have not been called.
Mr. Brown : If the hon. Gentleman was listening to the hon. Member for Gordon as intently as I was, he will recall that the hon. Member for Gordon had some worries regarding clause 4. Those concerns have been expressed elsewhere in the House today. I remind not only the hon. Member for Gordon, but Opposition Members generally and even my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart), whose speech I had the privilege of hearing from beginning to end, that clause 4 benefits the British coal industry. It is no coincidence that my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood, the hon. Member for Midlothian, who raised the interesting point of order, and the hon. Member for Gordon have been opposing a private Bill with which I am associated. Clause 4 enables the British coal industry--both the private and the nationalised sectors--to compete against foreign coal. All hon. Members who have a view about the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill must take into account what they are doing when they face the House and speak as eloquently as they have in opposition to that Bill and then express their opposition for clause 4 of the Bill before us. In doing that, they are saying that they want to keep cheap, foreign imports of coal out of this country. Yet when legislation is presented to the House enabling the United Kingdom's coal industry to compete on fair and equal terms, they are anxious to reject the clause.
It is fantastic that the hon. Member for Gordon should say as glibly as he did that we must recognise that Australia, Canada and South Africa have massive supplies of opencast coal, but that we in this country have environmental considerations and thus could not possibly allow ourselves to do the same as they do. He said that by rejecting the clause he was prepared to expose this
Column 97country's coal industry to more unfair foreign competition than anything that the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill could do. I can tell Opposition Members and those of my hon. Friends who have opposed the private Bill with which I have had some association that if they want effectively to scupper the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill the best way to do it is to support this Bill and especially clause 4. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) could scupper it even more effectively than that.
I was amazed when I heard that the Opposition opposed the injection of £5 billion of taxpayers' money as proposed in the Bill. The Opposition will rue the day they opposed the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill, this Bill and, in particular, clause 4.
Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield) : I understand why the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) made such a speech. He is only a young lad and he has not lived yet. I listened to the speech by the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart), and I should like to respond to his comments. He is a farmer's boy who knows nothing about coal mining. I spent 35 years underground before I came here. I went into the pit in 1944 and came out in 1979 to come to this marvellous place. I had three years under private enterprise before the industry was nationalised and I know what the privatised mining industry was like. The hon. Member for Sherwood should not scowl like that.
I have a friend in the other place who was 94 in September. He was victimised for 11 years by the private coal owners. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) knows all about that. His family also know about it because they suffered under private ownership of the mining industry all those years ago.
The hon. Gentleman keeps bawling, but I listened to him and I want him to listen to me.
I can tell the Minister that we shall have a whale of a time in Committee and that he and the Whip will have a rough time. The Government Whip cannot speak, but the Opposition Whip can--and by God I shall make good use of that when I get upstairs. There was a recent pit closure in my area but there was no argument about it because the trade unions agreed. British Coal wants to sell the land for housing development.
Mr. Haynes : The hon. Gentleman has just walked in. The people had a public meeting because they wanted industry. There is nothing there for a population of 4,500. Where are the youngsters to go? Youngsters who want to go into the mining industry are turned away from apprenticeships and training. The Secretary of State for Employment talks about the kind of training that exists in the nation, but that is a load of rubbish. We want a proper system of training. We had that in the mining industry until the Conservative Government got in in 1979 and ruined everything. The Bill will ruin things even more.
Column 98We had 13 pits in my constituency, but we are now down to three. The leaked document says that two more are to close, which will leave only one. Where is everyone to go? Industry is not coming into my constituency, but opencast mining is rolling in thick and fast. My constituents have had a bellyful of that and they do not want any more. It is all right for the hon. Member for Sherwood--the farmer's boy--to talk about opencast mining being the saviour of the industry but I can tell him that it is not the answer to the problem. He should listen to some of his colleagues who have already said that they are against it.
While I was working underground at the coal face the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) was pushing a pen in Hobart house-- [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes is bawling and shouting and not listening to what is being said. When I was underground, we used to talk about the pen pushers in Hobart house not giving an ounce towards the production in the mining industry. The hon. Member for Tatton made a contribution about opencast coal, but he did not declare an interest as an adviser to the body involved with opencast mining. He declared his interest in the Register of Members' Interest but not in his speech. He is two-faced as well-- [Interruption.] I have taken worse from the hon. Member for Sherwood, but I do not bawl and shout about it. He is a stupid beggar.
Are we allowed to call hon. Members two-faced without saying which face we are talking to? It is outrageous and appalling to talk like that.
Mr. Haynes : I suggest that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark) should walk down the Corridor, buy himself an aeroplane ticket and fly off to where he usually goes. I have been here all the time.
Mr. Beaumont-Dark : I have never been so saddened as to have to rise again. I thought, Madam Deputy Speaker, that what you said was holy writ. I thought that you asked the hon. Member for Ashfield to withdraw "two- faced". If he does not do so, where do we all end up?