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Column 1012into the displacement of British coal it would mean the closure of 13 collieries or necessitate the rundown of more than 20 pits.
Mr. Michael Brown : May I answer the hon. Lady's charge on behalf of the promoters of the Bill? If, as Opposition Members have suggested, the world price of coal tonight or tomorrow should exceed the price of British coal and not one single piece of coal were imported through the Immingham terminal when it is built, that terminal would still go ahead because the promoters have calculated that there is sufficient demand from a variety of other products. If not one piece of coal came through that terminal, it would still go ahead. The promoters have made that investment and that commitment.
Ms. Ruddock : The hon. Gentleman may say that, but I and my hon. Friends maintain that calculations will have been made based on potential markets for the import of coal at current foreseeable prices for the near future. We have already conceded that there may be an increase in world prices of coal for the future, but that in itself is an extremely damaging prospect.
Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone) : My hon. Friend is quite correct in that assumption. Will she take into account, in addition to the arguments by Opposition Members, the comments of the World Export Coal Organisation, which clearly stated that the amount of coal likely to be imported through Immingham will not affect world coal prices but that the collieries that will close because of those imports will no longer exist when they are needed in the 1990s?
It is not for me to take up much of the debate as it is a private measure. However, I wish simply to put on record the view of the Opposition from the Front Bench. We have not been satisfied by the arguments of the sponsors and the supporters of the Bill and we maintain that it is the Government's responsibility. Had there been any honour among Ministers, they would have accepted that the national interest is at stake. As my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) said, the Bill will have a fundamental impact on our energy policy and on the balance of payments, which we all know are at an all-time and disastrous high. Most damaging of all, it will destroy the potential production of coal in Britain--coal that will be required in the 21st century and beyond. Any Government who are prepared to stand by and allow that industry to be placed in jeopardy--which they have already encouraged--are in my view not fit to be in government.
The security of our energy base for the next century and beyond is at stake tonight, and that is why I shall join my hon. Friends in the Lobby and vote against the Bill.
Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark) : I join my hon. Friend the Minister in confirming that this is not a Goverment Bill. It is not a whipped Bill and I intend to vote against it, as I have done throughout. I have not been pressured by the Whips or leaned on by anyone in authority, not even by my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown), who has been aware of my feelings on the subject, or my hon. Friends
Column 1013representing Nottinghamshire constituencies, who have consistently voted against the Bill. As my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) said in an intervention, he is a Parliamentary Private Secretary and has been subject to no sanctions whatsoever for voting against it. Had it been a Government Bill with all the intensity behind it that Opposition Members assume, sanctions would have followed, certainly for Parliamentary Private Secretaries, but that was not the case.
Mr. Brandon-Bravo : My hon. Friend mentioned the possibility of sanctions against Parliamentary Private Secretaries if they do the wrong thing. Will he confirm that one of the five Parliamentary Private Secretaries who voted against Second Reading was promptly promoted to Under -Secretary of State for Transport?
Mr. Alexander : No, I must move on to the main part of my speech. Hon. Members are aware that there has been tremendous reorganisation in the mining industry. I shall not weary the House by repeating the statistics, as they are well known. If we were to pass the Bill, all the courage, heartache and sheer hard grind involved in turning around a very difficult industry would be put totally at risk, because it would encourage cheap imports. I wonder whether my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes is aware of that. If cheap coal were to be imported, the power stations most affected would be West Burton, Cottam, Thorpe Marsh and High Marnham, one of which is in my constituency. They are nearest, so it would be cheapest for them to receive imported coal with which to carry on their generating activities. Those stations are taking 16 million tonnes of British coal, 11 million tonnes from Nottinghamshire and the midlands and 5 million tonnes from Yorkshire. Last year, 40 per cent. of all Nottinghamshire's coal sales went to those four power stations. The dependence of the Nottinghamshire pits on those markets cannot be exaggerated.
British Coal has estimated that 10 million tonnes of imported coal would cause substantial further closures of pits in Britain. Those would not be worn-out or near-marginal pits : productive pits would be closed because their market had gone. Their closure would also mean that the orderly restructuring of the mining industry, which I described earlier, would have to be abandoned. It would dangerously harm the ability to guarantee further long-term contracts for the electricity supply industry and would bring likely but unpredictable and high price hikes in electricity.
If we, by Act of Parliament, decide to cripple our coal industry, it will surely follow that we shall be at the mercy of overseas suppliers, who will be able to increase the price of their coal to this country. They alone will be this country's suppliers. Those overseas supplies are already extremely volatile. The electricity supply industry would hesitate if it believed that it would have to rely on them.
Dr. Michael Clark : Will my hon. Friend concede that he is making a strong argument against the importation of foreign coal rather than against the provision of additional port facilities for this country?
The coal industry in the United States has been hit by a long-running miners' strike. Australia has a good market for its coal in Pacific countries, but it is experiencing labour disputes. As South Africa comes out of isolation, it will surely sell to less-developed African countries. That leaves China, Russia and Poland. China will probably be a net importer of coal, and as Russia and Poland develop, they will have less and less to export. Yet, in the short term, the Bill will destroy our productive pits, and in the long term it will make us dependent on countries whose unreliability I have just enunciated.
The hon. Member for Doncaster, North (Mr. Welsh) said that, once a pit closes, it stays closed. A coal mine cannot be mothballed and be expected to be of any use within a few years if the international supply position changes.
I say to my hon. Friends who are thinking of voting for the Bill that it is not a protectionist measure. British Coal will have completed its restructuring by 1995. In view of the trauma which it, miners and their families have gone through to enable it to be able to achieve its aims by 1995, we should not have these port facilities until that time. By then, more long-term contracts for the electricity supply industry will have been settled, international prices and supplies will have settled to long-term levels and we will be well aware of the international position.
If the Bill were asking us to close a port to protect an industry, I would have nothing to do with it--this answers my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark)--yet arbitrarily and deliberately to create facilities that will strike at the heart of one of our indigenous industries would be a wicked thing to do. We owe a great debt to the coal miner in this country, particularly over the past 10 years, but we owe an even greater debt to the coal miner in Nottinghamshire. For those reasons, I shall continue strongly to oppose the Bill.
Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth) : I was brought up in nonconformity. We always rejoiced when sinners repented. I am therefore delighted to follow the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander). The nonconformist welcomed the reformed sinner and said, "Do not sin again," but unfortunately the hon. Member for Newark and his hon. Friends, who happily will join us in the Lobby tonight, will in future vote with the Government, whose position logically they perceive as completely inappropriate to the British economy.
My hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) spelt out the economic realities. We are building a dependence on imported energy at a time when our balance of payments is in an appalling position. Conservative Members cannot dispute that we have the highest balance of payments in the civilised world. However, we are seeing a determined attempt to compound that difficulty. Economically, the Bill represents a profound danger, which was perceived in the opinions which the hon. Member for Rochford (Dr.
Column 1015Clark) offered the House. As I said to the Minister, the House deals in legislation and not in opinion or documents.
I am glad that some Conservative Members will vote with us tonight, but I am sad that the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) is not in her place, because she did my constituency a profound disservice a little while ago. When British Coal decided to reduce its scientific laboratories from two to one, it decided that the laboratory at Wath upon Dearne in my constituency, which has enormous unemployment, should close and move to Bretby in the constituency of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South where there are no pits at all.
I assumed that that step was taken by British Coal--it is noted for taking decisions that are not always intelligent--to ensure that the hon. Lady remained one of the few Conservatives who supported the industry. I thought that it was providing a sweetener for her because her eggs had turned sour. Obviously, the moment that British Coal decided to locate the laboratory there, she decided that she would not remain one of the pro-coal minority on the Conservative Benches. She can now be attacking, offensive and damaging to the industry. She was most ungracious in her speech, with her new attitude to the coal industry. Hon. Members who have spoken in coal debates over a long time know that before she got egg on her face she was a consistent supporter of the industry that she now spurns.
The hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) spoke about £30 million of investment in the new port, but how many scores of millions, if not billions, of pounds of investment in coal mines over the past 20 years under successive Administrations since the "Plan for Coal" will simply be wiped out by the Bill? Pits will close on which millions of pounds have been spent in the past 20 years. My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) and I were talking yesterday about huge investment by British Coal in a plant at the side of the M1 motorway at Woolley, which every hon. Member will have seen. Some £40 million or £50 million has been invested--more than the cost of the port--yet as a result of the Bill that will almost certainly become what my hon. Friend described as a white elephant. The Bill will wipe out recent and substantial investment which dwarfs the investment proposed for the port. Every hon. Member perceives the inevitable contraction of the industry, no matter what camouflage they attempt. The Bill will destroy a large part of the remaining home base of our important engineering and technological industry. The whole mining engineering industry will be affected. [Interruption.] I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley) for drawing my attention to another piece of evidence of the Government's interest in the Bill.
The Government have been telling us for months that they are not in the slightest interested in it. Now in comes no other than the Prime Minister's Parliamentary Private Secretary, the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Mr. Lennox-Boyd), to consult the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes, the sponsor of the Bill. No doubt the right hon. Lady will want to know the score and will be worried about the powerful arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Newark and others who share our detestation of the measure. I hope that when the
Column 1016hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale leaves the Chamber he will tell his mistress, "Don't be on the losing side tonight. Stay in No. 10 ; then we shall not be associated with defeat." Defeat should certainly be the fate of this measure.
My final point--I do not think that my voice will hold out much longer--is this. On Monday I was with a group of people visiting Wath upon Dearne in my constituency to consider a serious problem that we face. I pointed to the east, where as far as I could see there was dereliction. I pointed to the west, and as far as we could see there was dereliction. There were hundreds of acres of land with closed marshalling yards, coking plants and science laboratories, and pit after pit had been closed in the past three or four years. Those hundreds of acres of dereliction and despoliation present my community and this country with enormous problems.
It is difficult to secure investment in such areas when the interest rate in the marketplace is 16 or 17 per cent. That is one of the problems that we face in Britain. It is not certain that we should have the industrial muscle to take advantage of the port facilities proposed in the Bill, because of the effect of current economic policies on investment.
As far as I could see to the east and to the west and in the middle of the Dearne valley, there was dereliction, despoliation and need. For a Government or a party--we had better say party in this context-- deliberately to support a Bill which will cause those intense and extensive difficulties to be repeated on a wider scale in other areas would be a criminal act.
I am glad that there are a few repentant sinners on the Conservative Benches. I only hope that there will be enough of us in the Lobby with common sense to make sure that the Bill is defeated. 8.32 pm
Mr. Jack Thompson (Wansbeck) : Before I begin the main part of my speech, may I refer to a comment made by the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) at the beginning of his speech. He almost flippantly suggested that coal imports have nothing to do with the Bill. It is clear to me that the purpose of the Bill is to provide a facility to allow large ships to come into Immingham, where now only small ships can enter, with coal from Rotterdam. It is obvious from the proceedings of the private Bill Committee that the main issue discussed there was the effect on the coal industry. Almost everything else seemed to be put to one side.
Like many other hon. Members, I decided to re-examine all the documentation and records available to me for the debate this evening. Since the Bill was first presented in the House two years and two months ago--that is a historic length of time--until tonight's debate, it has had a stormy passage. Originally, the Bill seemed to be marginally contentious, but it has caused justifiable interest and opposition.
The delays in processing the Bill have in many ways been fortunate. If it had received its Third Reading in May 1989, as originally intended, world events in the past six months would not have influenced opinion. I believe that world events should influence opinion on this issue.
I congratulate the Committee on its deliberations. It is evident from its wish to produce a special report and present it to the House that the proposal to use the port
Column 1017facility for coal imports was of the greatest concern to it. It brought the attention of the House and of the Government to what it believed would be the potential disastrous effects of large-scale coal imports. That is precisely the reason why Associated British Ports brought the Bill before the House.
I found some aspects of the Committee's report particularly interesting, especially the reference in paragraph 20 to the petitioners' assessment of the amount of coal likely to be imported. That assessment could be correct, depending on the state of the international market. I also agree with the Committee's view that 15 collieries and 15,000 jobs will probably be lost.
I am disappointed that the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) is not here. She said that her constituency has workshops on an experimental base only. I should like to tell her that, if the jobs in the mining industry go, so will the workshops. I have experience of that in my constituency, and it has happened in many other mining areas.
Vast areas of coal will be permanently sterilised. That will have an effect on local communities. The report suggests that the knock-on effect will be felt only in Nottinghamshire, south Yorkshire and Derbyshire. My view is slightly different. I believe that the effect will be far more widespread. If British Coal considers closing more pits in the face of competition from imported coal, it is probable that the least economic pits--despite their potential and coal reserves--will be the first to go. That may mean that collieries in other parts of Britain--the north-east and Wales--will close. The issue is of concern to all hon. Members with coal mining interests in their constituencies.
The Committee also commented--it is printed in heavy type in its report :
"In our view, it is the Government's duty to take whatever steps are necessary, in the overall national interest, to protect the indigenous coal mining industry."
We should all agree with that view. I commend the Committee for its wisdom in making that observation. It foresaw--deliberately, or by accident--that world events in the period after it produced the report would change the whole perspective of energy production and export. Many of the major countries which export coal to Britain are going through traumatic political and economic changes which could seriously affect their ability to supply coal to Britain. The potential loss of domestic production, which is difficult if not impossible to recover, could significantly influence our economy. International sources of coal imports, such as China, Russia, Poland and South Africa, are suspect in terms both of heavily subsidised coal production and of reliability. I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Newark remark on that. I had the opportunity to visit China in May and June last year during the student demonstrations. I was there as a member of the Western European Union defence committee. We witnessed some of the activities in Peking, Shanghai and Canton--demonstrations and other activities--and the deteriorating relationship between the Chinese Government and the demonstrators. In the end, the Government used violent and horrific means to quell further demonstrations.
I saw something there which I am sure will continue well into the future. Some time in the near future, the issue of democracy in China will be raised again and a long
Column 1018period of instability will ensue. China is a source of imported coal to Britain, and in my view it will be a very unreliable supplier.
We are all aware of the welcome changes taking place in Russia, but recent events point to domestic problems, one of which involves Russian miners. That instability will affect that country's ability to provide reliable supplies. Russia is another country with the potential to export coal which will not be in a position to do so for many years to come.
Poland has also moved on politically. Polish miners have been in the forefront of change. They seek a better quality of life. The price of that could be higher coal prices as well as unstable exports. Although I was pleased to learn that the Government are offering assistance to the new Polish regime, I hope that that will not take the form of support for Polish coal subsidies.
Perhaps I am an optimist for suggesting that significant changes are in the offing in South Africa--I hope without much more blood being spilt. Perhaps the hidden subsidies of low pay and low safety levels will be removed from South African mines. If there is no real attempt to reform apartheid, however, stronger sanctions should be imposed, especially on coal imports. I expect that the next Labour Government will apply those sanctions as soon as they come to office.
I shall not support the Bill, because I believe that we need a strong indigenous coal industry, which should be expanded. With positive marketing attitudes we could tonight be discussing coal exports rather than coal imports.
Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley) : It is important to draw attention to our balance of payments and its effect on energy source imports. Many hon. Members will be familiar with the circumstances of the past 20 years. They will recall the 1970s when the cost of oil, imported into this country for electricity generation, increased. In the 1970s, however, we began to see a gradual improvement in our energy needs deficit as North sea oil came on stream. In 1981 we moved into surplus for the first time in many years. That surplus peaked in 1983 at some 29.3 million tonnes of energy. In 1988, however, the surplus stood at just 9 million tonnes. Last year my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) produced figures for the first 10 months of 1989 which showed that the fuel trade deficit was some 15.4 million tonnes and gave a projected deficit for the year of about 18.5 million tonnes. That deficit is incredible when one considers our natural energy assets--we have many riches in terms of coal, oil and gas. The fact that we have moved into a deficit in our energy supplies in such a short time, given the expansion of those fuel industries, is a sign of a badly run Government energy policy.
At 1985 prices, the value of our surplus in 1986 was £6.4 billion. That was a great benefit to the British economy, but in the first 10 months of 1989 the sum had been reduced to just £76 million. We should also remember that, at the same time, it cost us £222 million to buy French electricity. In money terms, we are approaching a deficit in our energy supplies, yet we are such an energy-rich country.
After many years of argument we shall shortly vote on the Bill which, if passed, will take a major tranche from
Column 1019our energy industries. The country will head towards a larger energy supply deficit despite our natural resources. Many countries would love to possess just a small percentage of our energy reserves.
It is obvious that the Bill has been driven through the House and through Committee with scant regard for our national interest. The hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) once again said that the Bill was not necessarily about coal imports. He also spoke of the new contract that has been settled between British Coal and the new electricity generators. Every hon. Member should know that that contract is an interim one for the next three years only and that it includes the 10 million tonne loss that British Coal incurred on the market last year. That contract is ideal as it will nicely bridge the gap between now and the building of the port terminal. The contract that will follow will no doubt mark a further major reduction in the demand for British coal.
Mr. Redmond : If the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) said that he accepted that no coal should be imported through the new proposed port facility, I am sure that that assurance would assist my hon. Friends to support the Bill. He could give that assurance now if he so desired.
Mr. Barron : My hon. Friend will know as well as I do that British Coal tabled an amendment to the Bill in Committee with that precise purpose. It wanted an assurance that, for a short time only, no coal would be imported and it sought that amendment to protect the coal industry. The amendment was rejected.
Mr. Michael Brown : Let me respond to the intervention from the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. Redmond). It is not for me to decide whether coal is imported ; it is for customers to decide whether they want to buy British coal. It is for the users of the port, exporters or importers, to decide upon that given the market conditions.
Mr. Barron : The hon. Gentleman is not always consistent, and that intervention suggests that he has shifted his position a little. A few years ago I recall him saying that the Bill had nothing to do with coal imports and that the terminal would be used for purposes other than for importing coal.
Mr. Illsley : My hon. Friend was right to say that the contract between British Coal and the new electricity generators is an interim one. It is also important to consider the fixed-term nature of that contract. There will be no price increase in the cost of that coal for the next three years. If inflation continues at its present rate or increases, as it is likely to do under this Government, the contract will represent a net loss and a net price reduction to British Coal.
Mr. Barron : I do not know the exact details of the contract, but it has been mooted in the press--normally it gets to know about such matters well before Parliament--that that is likely to be the case. In the next three years, as in the past three years, further reductions in the price of British coal are likely. It is a great pity that, in the past three years, we have not seen commensurate reductions in the price of electricity. The cost of electricity increased so
Column 1020that the industry could be floated without debt. That has been achieved at a great cost to the electricity consumer, industrial and domestic.
No one will disagree when I say that the natural catchment area for the new port will be the Aire valley, the lower Trent valley and the power stations that they contain. Those power stations are largely served from collieries in the Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire coalfields. There are six specific power stations in that area--Drax, Ferrybridge, Eggborough, Thorpe Marsh, West Burton and Cottam. In 1987-88 those six power stations took some 34 million tonnes of British Coal's output--nearly half the total of British Coal's sales to the Central Electricity Generating Board. It is obvious that there is a strategic significance about a port on the Humber rather than in any other area.
All the power stations in that area are supplied by collieries of the north -east, Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire or Derbyshire. If the port is developed and is used to import coal it will have its greatest effect on the power station at West Burton. In 1987-88 that station drew 4 million tonnes of coal from the Nottinghamshire coalfields. It is also worth considering the effect on Cottam power station, in Nottinghamshire. On 6 January an article appeared in the Financial Times by Maurice Samuelson, who knows a great deal about the generation of electricity from British coal supplies. He described what is already happening in the catchment area and made some specific reference to Cottam when he said :
"Some 40,000 tonnes of Australian coal were tried out last week at the Trent Valley's Cottam power station, owned by the PowerGen division of the Central Electricity Generating Board. Colombian coal has also been tested there."
The article continues :
"Like similar trials carried out by the bigger National Power company, the aim is to prove the burning characteristics of different coals"
We all know that this is precisely what is behind the proposals that have been in front of us since May 1988. There can be no doubt that the 10 million tonnes of imported coal coming into the catchment area will have a major regional impact, putting at risk almost a third of the British coal supplies to those major power stations. Such a large reduction in the market would inevitably result in substantial closure of deep mine capacity. It would be impossible to rearrange the overall market for coal to avoid the greatest number of closures taking place in Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire, with Nottingham probably suffering the most. It is impossible to rearrange our internal market to stop that happening.
The hon. Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark), who has sat throughout this debate, chaired the Committee. That was contentious, not just because of the views expressed by Opposition Members but because many outside organisations petitioned against the Bill. We have commented on the special report that was published and I shall not repeat what was said at the time. My hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Thompson) reported on it only too well. When I tabled a parliamentary question it became clear that the Government were not going to take any measures to protect the indigenous coal industry.
My hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) mentioned a letter from the Secretary of State for Energy in July that year, explaining in five-page detail that the Government would not take action to protect the
Column 1021British coal industry. If any hon. Member wants to protect the British coal industry, he or she should join us in the Lobby to vote against the Bill's Third Reading.
Dr. Michael Clark : It is too early to say whether the Government will take measures to protect the coal industry. The idea of the special report to which the hon. Gentleman referred is to alert the Government to the dangers to the coal industry should the port facility--if and when built--be used heavily for coal importation. The Committee decided-- granted, with my casting vote--that there was a need for a port facility, but there was a danger if that facility was used too much for coal and that the Government should be alerted to that danger. It is too early to say whether the Government will respond to that danger.
"It is not this Government's policy to restrict imports of coal."--[ Official Report, 30 October 1989 ; Vol. 159, col. 21 .]
I shall give the latest news about what is likely to happen in the coal industry. During the past five years, while there has been a tremendous increase in productivity, of which all Members should be proud, the industry has suffered job losses of more than 100,000. On 9 January the Financial Times reported that a source of "senior coal industry officials" warned of another 5,000 job losses each year for the next three years in the British coal industry. That is without any increase in imports through the port facility proposed tonight.
The effects are only too plain. The Government say that it is not a matter for them, but, as has been mentioned, Government Departments have to pay out special assistance, whether to the coal industry in restructuring grants for 70 per cent. of the cost of colliery closures or to other organisations in coalfield areas to pay for the damage that they have already suffered through past closures.
"In responding to the Committee's concern, I must emphasise that it has never been the Government's policy to restrict the import of coal. Decisions on coal purchases, whether from indigenous or imported sources, must be for the commercial judgement of those concerned, on the basis of a willing buyer and willing seller. It would be quite wrong to compel coal users to purchase supplies from British Coal by denying them the right to buy from the supplier of their choice. But neither would we prevent coal users from buying as much coal as they would wish from British Coal."
That is a policy of "you go first and I'll go before you." Contrary to what the hon. Member for Rochford said, the Government have made up their mind.
Mr. Barron : I am grateful for my hon. Friend's intervention. There should be no question in anybody's mind and there is no way that any hon. Member can avoid the issue if there is a Division on Third Reading later tonight.
Money has gone from other Government organisations to coalfields that have already suffered from closures and we should avoid any further British colliery closures being caused by the Bill. I have a news release dated 9 January 1990 from the Rural Development Commission. I did not know about that organisation until I received the press
Column 1022release, but I have made inquiries and it is totally
Government-funded to look after problems in rural areas. The Department of the Environment has given the commission permission to set up projects in the British coalfields. The press release states that this is
"in the light of circumstances which have now arisen"
in the midlands areas following pit closures. It continues : "Particular emphasis will be given to those areas where unemployment rates have remained high--East Derbyshire, North Nottinghamshire and South Yorkshire."
The precise areas that are now suffering will suffer further if the Bill is enacted. It could not be clearer for anybody to see the implications of what will happen if the Bill is passed tonight. Hon. Members should ensure that they do not sit wringing their hands about the position in the one or two pits that may be affected, but should consider the major effects that the Bill will have on the country and the coalfields, and vote with us against the Bill's Third Reading.
Mr. Andy Stewart (Sherwood) : My views opposing the Bill have been well noted in previous debates, but I shall remind the House of the dangers of the Bill receiving a Third Reading tonight. The Associated British Ports proposals strike at the heart of Britain's coal industry and coal-fired power generating capacity. The proposed port will most directly threaten the collieries of the east midlands and Nottinghamshire, which have already paid a heavy price for British Coal's rationalisation and restructuring programme. Such communities face the loss of more efficient and productive pits, many of which have received substantial investment in recent years. More than 25 collieries in the east midlands have been identified as at risk from the Humber port. Up to 10 will be displaced by between 4 million and 5 million tonnes of foreign coal, and at least 15 will be closed by a 10-million-tonne importation, putting 24,000 miners at risk. Coalfield economies are highly dependent on the coal industry and a multiplier of two is a realistic assessment of the knock-on effect of the loss of one mining job--thus, every colliery job lost will lead to another lost in another sector. If 15 collieries closed, the total impact would be the loss of about 30,000 jobs.
The areas affected are those that already have very few job opportunities. For example, six of the 15 travel-to-work areas at risk lie in the botton 10 per cent. of travel-to-work areas, graded by long-term unemployment. The coalfield communities threatened by imports already face a range of economic, social and environmental handicaps. Employment structures have been dominated by coal and other basic industries, with a marked lack of the service sector engine of regeneration. Environmental quality is poor and land reclamation programmes will take decades to tackle the dereliction. If all the collieries at risk were to close, another 2,500 hectares would require reclamation
Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda) : I accept the hon. Gentleman's point about the communities that will be most intimately involved--the midlands and Yorkshire--but I assure him that the port will affect coal mining communities right across the country, particularly in south Wales, where British Coal recently issued a circular to all households receiving concessionary coal, apologising for the fact that the company had to give them inferior
Column 1023imported English coal instead of good Welsh house coal. British Coal suggested to the users, most of whom are elderly, that they should carry out certain practices to reduce the pollution from the low quality coal. The knock-on effects will be felt in other coalfields, too.
Mr. Stewart : I do not wish to delay the House by going over what I said about the closure of that colliery, but I am quite prepared to give the hon. Gentleman all the records of what I said here and in the local press.
High import levels raise the prospect of greater road transport of coal. Nottinghamshire county council secured payments from the CEGB for damage to roads from the increase in road movements during the 1984-85 strike. The loss of pits removes an important source of revenue from central and local government, whatever types of rates and collection are used.
I contend that the dramatic improvement in the fortunes of British Coal, the massive investment by Government and the enormous changes already borne by the coalfield communities should not be squandered for the illusory benefits of foreign coal. Development of the Humber port will severely damage the economies and communities of areas that have fallen progressively further behind the wealthier regions of this country. For these reasons I shall oppose the Third Reading. 9.2 pm