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Column 1039bank or the law courts. It is quite distinct. Therefore, one must recognise that the stresses and strains and the length of shift are important.
Just after I came to the House there was a debate which went through the night--thank heaven that does not happen too often these days. There was a vote at about 4 o'clock in the morning. I came back into the Chamber where two Conservative Members were sitting on the Bench below the Gangway with their feet stretched out. They looked exhausted, which I could understand. One asked me, "Are you enjoying this?" My response was, "Well, 4 o'clock in the morning is like 4 o'clock in the afternoon to me because I have worked shifts for 30-odd years." I asked him whether he had ever been awake at 4 o'clock in the morning before. I remember that he opened one eye and said, "Yes, twice, at a party." That was the difference between his experience of life and mine.
I know that when people are working with electrical equipment in a mine at 4 o'clock in the morning they must have their wits about them. They may work on a piece of equipment and repair it. Perhaps they are putting the door back on a switch, but if the gap around the door is not the right dimension for safety there can be an explosion. That has happened. That is why the length of shift is important. I advocate that no one, especially electrical craftsmen, should have to work more than the seven and a quarter or eight hour shift. I confess that on one occasion I worked 24 hours because it was an emergency. The 1908 Act allows for emergencies. On many occasions I have worked more than seven and a quarter hours because of an emergency. The problem that I and everyone else in my discipline faced was that we became so tired that we could not cope properly with the work. Safety is the most important consideration when deciding the length of shift.
With my experience in the mining industry, I cannot advocate that the length of shifts should be extended. I worked at the Ellington colliery which is in the constituency of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). He may have been down there on a couple of occasions. It is six miles out under the North sea. There is a long journey out and a long journey back--let alone the working time. If there is an accident, such as a man breaking his leg, at the far end of the workings, it is at least two or three hours before the accident victim can get to the surface and then to the hospital. Such factors should be recognised when we talk about the length of the working shift in a mine.
Some miners may be soaking wet the moment that they get down to the mine and they may be soaking wet for the whole shift. Miners can work in an area where there is so much dust and discharge from the blasting that they work in clouds of dust and cannot see more than one foot in front of their face. Such circumstances demand a limit on the working shift, and that is why seven and a quarter hours has been the limit since the Coal Mines Regulation Act 1908 was introduced. That figure could, in my view, be adjusted to seven and a half hours or to seven, but it should not be altered as proposed in the Bill. The provision in the Bill is open-ended. If the Bill had specifically laid down arrangements for working shifts in the mines, that would be another matter ; it does not. The Bill is so open- ended that I cannot support it.
Column 1040There are 19 private mines in north-east England--in Northumberland, in Durham and in Cumbria. Some are in my constituency. I have a copy of recent correspondence to the National Union of Mineworkers. British Coal suggests :
"The new form of Licence for small mines will come into general use early in 1992. It remains the Corporation's intention to omit any requirement as to the terms and conditions to be applied by Licensees in respect of their employees."
In other words, a worker in a private mine has no protection. Hon. Members should take the opportunity to visit a private mine, if they are allowed in, to see the working conditions there. Anyone who visits a British Coal mine and who then visits a private mine will be horrified by the conditions there, yet there is now an opportunity to withdraw any protection from private mines. An interesting document was sent to me, I do not know whether deliberately or by accident, from the Centre for Policy Studies. I am, of course, not a member of the CPS, but I checked through to make sure. The founders of the CPS are the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) and Lord Joseph. The patron happens to be the Prime Minister.
The letter offered me the opportunity to attend a conference on 25 February, and the subject of the conference is :
"Competitive Coal : how to privatise coal and compete with imports."
The talk will be given by Colin Robinson and Allen Sykes. The speakers include Neil Clarke, the chairman of British Coal Corporation, who will be there to defend the interests of the corporation, the right hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Moore), Colin Robinson, Crispian Hotson, and Allen Sykes, the co-author of "Competitive Coal". The conference is being held in central London to point out the value of privatising the coal industry.
It is important for me to quote from the document which says : "Decline in employment need not be greater than in the recent past"
if the mines are privatised. We have lost 100,000 miners and we do not have 100,000 left to lose. The document also says :
"the new and generous redundancy terms must be maintained." The document deals with private mines and says :
"Existing private miners should be encouraged by removing all restrictions on private mining".
There is a registration fee of £125. That did not put me off, but it would put off any miners who were planning to go to the conference, assuming that they were supporters of the Centre for Policy Studies. Is that not clear evidence of what the whole of this Act is for? The idea of privatising the mining industry is what worries us. I would have been interested in attending the meeting--although I would not be prepared to give them £125, not even £5 or 5p--as an indication of the way things will go under the legislation before us now.
Mr. Joseph Ashton (Bassetlaw) : We have had a fascinating debate. On the Opposition side, we have had all the fire and passion of people who care for the industry, because they have worked in it and know it backwards, while on the Government side we have had a cynical attitude, often filibustering waffle, from lawyers who have
Column 1041the cheek to talk about productivity when it takes a year to get a case to the Old Bailey and we could almost have dug a mine by then. The difference between the two parties has never been more apparent in my long time in the House than it has been tonight. We on this side of the House are talking about jobs and about the experience of our constituents, sold down the river with promises from the Government who have consistently told miners that if they work harder and get the price of coal down they will have nothing to fear. What a load of rubbish it has turned out to be.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) talked about Sherwood colliery closing yesterday, not because it is losing money but because it is not making as much money as the others. What we have in the mining industry today is the game of musical chairs, where the music is playing faster and faster, every week a chair is taken away and there are not enough to go round. There is an atmosphere of total fear in the mining industry because miners are competing not against a price or fixed target but against the pits down the road ; and no matter how hard they work or what they do, there is no guarantee that next week they will have a job. Those on the Government Benches are different. The hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) spoke for 20 minutes about productivity--this from a lawyer. With the money that they earn at the Old Bailey, lawyers have a vested interest in going slow, yet they talk about miners and productivity. I will tell hon. Members about it because I have worked on it, as have many of my friends on the shop floor. We have discovered that the more people produce, the faster they put themselves out of work. That is why we had vested interests and restrictive practices in the first place, right through the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s : people remembered the 1930s. If a man thinks, when the boss sets him a task, that it is his last task and that after that there is no more, he will go slow.
However, they have got round the problem in the mining industry by offering £10,000 not to have restrictive practices, encouraging people to grasp the money as fast as they can and put themselves out of work as quickly as possible, because the last thing that they want as they look to a general election is any problem in the mining industry. We have seen it to some extent with the farmers and over-consumption : farmers are being paid £70,000 to watch the grass grow. But the farmers are happy. We never see any empty farms. The hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart) is a farmer. He knows all about subsidies, all about productivity and consumption, but he says one thing for his mining constituents and a very different thing for his farming constituents. He tries to vote both ways. He will soon find out which way they will vote in May.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) is sponsored by NACODS, and he and I have spoken to them ; members of NACODS are the foremen, and they should know about productivity and safety. They tell us that what happens now is that the manager says to five or six men that 20 yards have to be dug or the roof lifted or perhaps there is difficult terrain. He says that he wants it done by Monday morning and they negotiate a price : five of them can have two thousand quid if they do it by Monday or perhaps Tuesday morning. The manager more or less tells them to forget about overtime rates or double time for Sundays. He does not say, "Forget about safety." But he does say that they can forget about limited hours down the pit, and shift length, which is what the Bill
Column 1042changes. It has been said already that when people are tired they make mistakes, accidents happen and the situation becomes dangerous. If the industry is privatised after the election, those who spend money buying the pits will expect them to be worked seven days a week, 24 hours a day. It will not be just the miners who are working all the time, but everyone who lives nearby. I have 45 parish councils and I am certain that the hon. Members for Sherwood and for Newark (Mr. Alexander), whose constituency is next to mine, have a similar number. They should be ready for the consequences when the pits start working seven days a week, 24 hours a day. The noise from the lorries and from the tannoys at the pits, as well as the smoke from those pits, will make life horrendous for those living nearby.
Once coal is imported from the new ports, including that at Killingholme, it will be delivered by lorry because that will be cheaper. Therefore, the environment of Nottinghamshire will be destroyed. That will knock thousands and thousands of pounds off the value of homes in the little villages through which the lorries will take short cuts. Those villagers will be Conservative voters. Imported coal will not just cause the closure of pits and put miners out of work ; it will destroy the environment of rural areas. There are two power stations in my constituency. There used to be three, but one is now in the constituency of the hon. Member for Newark as a result of boundary changes. Those power stations will use imported coal. The Government have allowed the import of foreign coal because it has less sulphur content and therefore will not spread acid rain across Europe. If those power stations had been converted into desulphurisation plants, it would have created hundreds of jobs for engineers and so on.
In March 1987, the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) told me that the West Burton B power station would be built. That power station would have created 2,500 jobs for construction workers, 800 jobs for those running the power station and would have kept five pits open. The right hon. Gentleman made that promise in March solely to save the seat of the hon. Member for Sherwood at the June 1987 election. Three months after the election, that promised power station vanished and was forgotten. Since then the Government have sold off the electricity industry and the power stations, which have now decided to buy foreign coal.
I will not mention RECHAR, because it has already been mentioned by a number of my hon. Friends. When the Common Market offers big grants to our farmers, the Conservatives grab the money with both hands to give it to their friends. When the Common Market offers big grants to the mining areas to make up for the shortfall in jobs, the Government say, "Oh, no. If the Common Market are going to give us that money, it should go in the general pot." The Common Market has made that cash available for the mining areas, but they have not got it.
Mr. Ashton : Yes, it is. The hon. Gentleman knows that, because of the big power stations at Bassetlaw and in other parts of Nottinghamshire, the region never got any rate support grant. The Government claimed that the rates that we received from the power stations meant that we were above the level eligible for support. Despite all the muck and filth caused by the power stations, we never got a
Column 1043penny for it. When the business rate was introduced, all the money went to London and we got nothing from the poll tax or from revenue support. We still cannot get the RECHAR money. The Government have robbed Nottinghamshire blind of that money.
Mr. Andy Stewart : The hon. Member is an honourable man. I have received a letter from Commissioner Millan in response to my invitation to come to London to meet the Conservative coal group to explain why he would not give us the money. He wrote back to say that it was not a problem of additionality, because that had been agreed. The problem was about how the money should be targeted. So the extra money for the pits has been agreed but Brussels will not give us our money.
Mr. Ashton : It is the argument. My constituency received grants under a Labour Government. People who brought jobs to Bassetlaw received 40 per cent. of the cost of the buildings and 30 per cent. of the cost of the machinery, and the scheme was successful. Within weeks of a Conservative Government coming to office, those grants were taken away and we did not get a penny. The money goes to Corby because it has a Tory Member Parliament and it goes to other places, but it does not come to mining areas in Nottinghamshire, and the hon. Member for Sherwood had never shouted for it either.
Mr. Ashton : I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for how I am speaking. Many hon. Members wish to intervene and I am very angry. We are all neighbours, but the hon. Member for Sherwood is simply advising the Union of Democratic Mineworkers to go down a blind alley and invest its money in privatised pits.
Mr. Ashton : The hon. Member for Sherwood is advising the UDM to invest its funds in privatised pits if the Tories get back in and privatise the industry. Once they have done so, by 1993, PowerGen and National Power will be giving out contracts for coal. British miners could never compete with 12-year-old kids in Colombia digging coal. They cannot compete with Poland's dumping of coal, or with South Africa. It is nonsense to talk of productivity, extra machinery and extra sweat when there is unfair competition.
Farmers do not have unfair competition. The Government do not let food in from outside the Common Market. The hon. Member for Sherwood is a farmer and he knows that that is true. He speaks with a forked tongue when he advises the UDM to invest in the coal industry. A year after the election, the UDM, if it is foolish enough
Column 1044to invest its money, will have to tell its miners, "We're sorry, lads, you've got to take a pay cut because we cannot get our coal down to Polish and South African prices".
Mr. Stewart : The hon. Gentleman talked earlier about that very point and I explained it to him. Let us get the record straight. The new contracts will be issued in April 1993 and the privatisation of the coal industry will not be until after that date.
Mr. Ashton : The first thing that a Conservative Government would put in the Queen's Speech would be the privatisation of the coal industry. The hon. Gentleman knows why they would privatise the industry. It would not be for the coal, because that is worth only 3p a tonne under the ground. They would sell it off for the land. They would sell thousands of acres at rock bottom prices next to the railways, roads and canals, and those who bought it would not care tuppence for the coal. The hon. Gentleman knows that. That is the profit in the coal mining industry.
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Cannock and Burntwood) : I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling a Staffordshire Member to participate in this friendly debate between the neighbours of Nottinghamshire. I am pleased to be able to follow the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) and to be on his side in a number of arguments, for he is a persuasive and powerful speaker and always speaks with great passion, which I admire. We could do with a bit more passion in this place sometimes. However, able and persuasive as the hon. Gentleman is, he should be doing a damned sight more to persuade Bruce Millan to give us back our money, for Mr. Millan is a former member of the Labour party.
Conservative Members entirely share Labour's belief that that money is necessary for parts of our country that have suffered difficulties as a result of the contraction of the coal industry. We share that view but believe that Opposition Members should try to bring pressure to bear not on the British Government, who have done everything they have been called on to do, but on Bruce Millan, who was a Minister of the Crown and knows exactly how procedures for public financing operate in this country. He is simply playing a miserable game of party politics.
The hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mrs. Heal) is not here at present, but she has an important interest in the Cannock Chase district council region, as do some of my constituents--[ Hon. Members :-- "Where is she?"] I do not know where the hon. Lady is or whether she intends to participate in the debate. She has an interest, as does Cannock Chase district council--which partly covers my constituency--in ensuring that we receive the RECHAR moneys to help the Lea Hall miners, some of whom are my constituents.
I think that the outside world will take a dim view of the way in which Opposition Members are attacking the Government and, perhaps, the way in which some Conservative Members then counter-attack the Labour party. Hon. Members should be united in ensuring that the European bureaucrats give us back our money. My hon.
Column 1045Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart) made it perfectly plain that Ministers have done their bit and that Bruce Millan has accepted that.
I do not wish to spend all night considering RECHAR, which is not within the scope of the Bill. I enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Thompson). As a child, I lived in Hamburg, and I always associate Wansbeck with a suburb of Hamburg ; perhaps one day I shall find the other Wansbeck that the hon. Gentleman represents. I listened with great interest to what the hon. Gentleman said, and I am sure that all hon. Members salute the contribution that he has made to raising technical standards, thus placing the British coal industry among the front runners in the world, if not the very best in the world. The hon. Gentleman said that he started in the private sector of the coal industry, and I am sure that he is looking forward with me to being able to end his active days, before a long and happy retirement, with the coal industry back in private hands. How right the hon. Gentleman was when he said that the mine at which he worked was not owned by the British people. The mines that are today owned by British Coal are not owned by the British people, but after the next election they will be, because the mines will be in private hands again.
I was privileged to be called in the debate on Second Reading. I have reread my speech, which I thought was good at the time, and wish to repeat only one part of it.
I am sorry that the Bill does not extend further, perhaps to encourage the present private sector of the coal industry by lifting still further the limits on opencast mining and on the number of miners allowed to work underground in private pits.
The hon. Member for Wansbeck talked about private mines, and encouraged us to visit them. The problem with private mines is simply that they are allowed to employ so few people that it is impossible to make them as viable as the much larger pits operated by British Coal. Therefore, it is important to ensure that the private sector is more viable than at present.
Such debates as this tend to have a predictable pattern. It is astonishing that the Labour party, which judges so much of our national life by the amount of public money spent, comes to the House and says that it will vote against a Government measure that commits a further massive slug of public money to the coal industry. The British people, particularly those in the mining industry, will view the Labour party's attitude with amazement. It is interested only in input, not output, and since 1979 the Government have made brilliant progress within the coal industry, according to every principle that the Labour party holds dear.
Every hon. Member with a mining constituency knows full well that the miners he represents have enjoyed the benefits of massive investment in safer and more productive equipment--money invested on the taxpayers' behalf by this Government. [Interruption.] I think that I heard the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) mutter from a sedentary position that he believes that. He is right about that, if about nothing else. I certainly believe strongly what I am saying, and I believe that the Labour party is making a big mistake by voting against a measure such as this, which will contribute yet more public money to the coal industry.
Column 1046Asfordby pit, which is intended to be fully operational by the end of next year, is now in its £290 million development stage. It is an example of the Government investing money to make the British coal industry not only more profitable but safer. The roof -bolting technique is employed in that pit. It is a key technique that I have discussed with constituents, and it is making an enormous contribution to rendering the coal industry more productive. British Coal hopes that each miner at the pit will produce 18 tonnes of coal per shift compared with the United Kingdom average of five. The costs of production would be rather more than half British Coal's average of £1.75 per gigawatt, and the coal at that price will compete even with some opencast coal.
This is a good example of the £7.5 billion investment made by the Government to enable the British coal industry to be viable and productive. As the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) said, it is fair to point out that both management and employees have responded in good measure. Let us not forget that productivity increased by 2.5 per cent. under the last Labour Government--that is all. Since 1985 alone, it has increased by 100 per cent. [ Hon. Members :-- "What about closures?"] But the miners have accepted those closures, and this Bill represents part of the process by which that productivity increase has been brought about, to the benefit of everyone working in the industry.
In the light of all this, the miners are recognising, as I said on Second Reading, that it is the Conservative party, not the Labour party, which is the miners' friend.
The redundancy terms in the industry are, as my hon. Friend for Newark (Mr. Alexander) said, among the most generous in Europe--and not one compulsory redundancy has been made.
British Coal Enterprise has been funded by the Government to the tune of £70 million, and it has attracted £500 million in private money and created 70,000 new job opportunities--a considerable achievement.
I should like to draw attention to three fundamental socialist contradictions in the Labour party's stance--
Mr. Howarth : Time does not permit me to enumerate more of them. We debated the Coal Mining Subsidence Act 1991, and I was able to serve on the Committee that scrutinised the Bill. Labour Members, who claim that they want British Coal to be successful and who talk much about how they represent the industry, wanted in that Committee to impose ever more burdens on the industry.
The Labour party's second contradiction is to be found in its attitude to opencast coal. Labour Members say that they want to promote a successful and prosperous industy. They know that opencast coal has made an enormous contribution to keeping down the cost of coal in general, but at every point they oppose it.
Mr. Howarth : The hon. Gentleman says that it is not true. Perhaps he will catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, and explain that contradiction. I am pleased to hear that he does not take that view, but everywhere I go I find that the Labour party opposes opencast mining.
Column 1047Mr. Terry Lewis (Worsley) : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
The third contradiction is that Labour's plans for coal conflict directly with its policies on the environment. The Opposition tell the mining unions that they are pledged to force the generators to burn coal at the current level irrespective of the cost and will seek to deter them from using gas for power generation and phase out nuclear power. They know that such policies would massively increase harmful carbon and sulphur dioxide emissions.
They tell the environmental lobby, which knows and tells Labour about such emissions, that Labour is a green party committed to the demanding target of stabilising carbon dioxide emissions at their 1990 level by the year 2000. It would be almost impossible for Labour to achieve that target without gas and nuclear power, especially in view of its commitment to maintain the least environmentally friendly fuel. Labour is a party of contradictions, and at some point it will have to explain them to the electorate.
I shall conclude on a point of unanimity, because there is nothing to be gained from engaging in a permanent slanging match. All those who have spoken in the debate, whatever their prospective, have a profound and sincere interest in the coal industry. The hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) spoke of record productivity at Silverwood, and I am delighted to report the record productivity of Littleton colliery just outside my constituency. It recently managed to reverse a loss of £2.3 million, and the miners brought the pit back to profit. That is a great success.
On Second Reading, I spoke about the risk that the generators were running in opting for an import policy. Because of the time factor, I shall not repeat what I said about the dangers that the generators face. They must be aware that their best interests lie in ensuring a stable supply of quality British coal supplied by highly productive British miners.
Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth) : There is much to say and too little time in which to say it. Suffice it to say to start with that the Bill clearly illustrates the Government's myopia. They are quite incapable of lateral thinking. It has rightly been said of the Government that they know the price of everything and the value of nothing. The problem is that they know only the price today and do not look at the cost tomorrow. They have not put the Bill in a world context.
Coal was king until 1960, at which time gas took over, but early in the next century coal will take over from gas. What preparations have the Government made for that? They have steadily reduced coal production, while in the rest of the world it is steadily increasing. That poses a tremendous threat to our economy, which has deliberately been put in peril by the Government's actions.
The Bill is based purely on short-term economics, and that is unfair to future generations. It does not look to future jobs in coal areas or to future customers for energy. We must bear in mind the fact that the more coal mines we keep open the more we substitute home-produced coal for imports and provide diverse energy resources. That will
Column 1048also mean that we will not be held hostage by one or two fuels or by foreign powers. At the time of the Gulf crisis, we saw how that could happen.
We can see that, unless we start to form European Community policies into a properly channelled energy policy, we shall be in trouble. Because of our regular reliance on outside energy resources, Japanese investment throughout the world will overtake us again, and sink us.
It has been calculated, not unreasonably, that, by the end of the revolution of which the Bill is part, the Government will have shoved down coal production in this country to what it was in 1700. If that is not a retrograde step, I do not know what is. How have they done it? The Government did a clever thing in getting Rothschild to prepare a special report for them, so that they could act upon it. Why did they choose Rothschild? I asked my friends what skills Rothschild had in mining. Where is its long history in the mining of coal? Nowhere. Why did the Government not ask British Mining Consultants, for example, to write the report? British Mining Consultants knows about coal. Rothschild, perhaps, knows about money--although I would rather have asked William Hill to examine the coal industry than Rothschild, considering how the report turned out.
The Government have done no real research into the use of coal--into clean coal technology, clean coal extraction or coal preservation. I shall take that back, because a very little has been done, in conjunction with the European Community--but not enough has been done to make the research worth while.
Some of the money should hve been put into such research straight away. The Government should be looking for a 20-year profit, and commissioning research that will take us at least 20 years on. Instead, they are saying that they want instant thrills.
In my constituency, the result of that attitude is that they insist on opencast mining at Upton, where every last grubby piece of coal has to be taken away before we can restore the site and make it decent to live with, whereas Aketon, where there is 30 years' of coal left, was closed last year. That was profitable coal, and coal on which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) can confirm, huge sums of money had been spent buying machinery that is now rotting on the site because the Government closed the pit immediately after it was installed. That is a disgrace.
The Coal Mines Regulation Act 1908 is to be repealed. In 1908, Herbert Gladstone debated with that arch-Tory, F. E. Smith. Smith had a good deal more wit about him than some of the Tory speeches that we have heard today. Nevertheless, he spoke in exactly the same tone--money, money, money, and grubbing, grubbing, grubbing all the way. He never talked about people. Gladstone, who represented Yorkshire at that time, had values based more upon humanity. It is a shame that the Government have told deliberate lies about directives in order to get us to agree to repeal the 1908 Act. I shall not quote, because of the shortage of time, but the Government statement says that we have to repeal the Act because of the directive. Surely at least one member of the Cabinet must know about directives, and therefore must know that that claim is false and that the directive cannot work in such a way. Indeed, the treaty of Rome explicitly states that directives must not lead to less
Column 1049safe legislation than that which already exists. As Gladstone showed in the original debate, the 1908 Act was about health and safety at work.
It is no good Conservative Members saying, as they have said, that, because the pits are mechanised, there are no longer the problems that used to exist when people used picks and shovels. When people are dog tired, there are worse accidents when there is mechanisation down the pit. Those accidents can be very serious indeed. A good friend of mine, Steve Kemp, who is the NUM treasurer at Stillingfleet, tells me that they have had to get a new filing cabinet in especially for the compensation claims that are outstanding--some 450, which is a record in his experience--even though Stillingfleet is supposed to be one of the safest pits in the country. Steve Kemp tells me that there is a very simple reason for that, which is that people are not observing the provisions of the 1908 Act. They are doing 30 hours' overtime, and that is leading to tremendous accidents.
We must work, within Europe, towards achieving the ends outlined in the treaty of Rome. We must start to obey European legislation, which the Government are curiously loth to do. They keep telling us that they observe European legislation better than any other country in the Community--but it ain't true. We have been had up before the European Court at Luxembourg more often than any other country for offences under article 119, which deals with equal treatment for women.
The same is true of RECHAR--re charbonisation. We should have that money ; it is quite clear. Let me tell the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart) that we must demonstrate additionality. Because a number of countries were not demonstrating additionality, notice was given three years ago that it should be shown, and that it should be shown in the areas for which the money was intended. In the case of coal, that cannot possibly be. The money has simply gone into the national Exchequer and, as my hon. Friend said, to support the poll tax in Westminster, where people have never had sight of a coal tip. The Government must stop cheating. At least the Secretary of State for the Environment has admitted to the mistakes of the Cabinet, and it is now up to the Minister responsible for coal to fight his corner. He may not wish to do so publicly tonight, but I certainly expect him to do it in future.
I urge all my hon. Friends to join me in voting against the Bill, because it is a thoroughly bad Bill with thoroughly bad intentions. 9.52 pm
Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley) : I shall try to be brief, because I know that hon. Members want to be away home. I know that we all expected a 10 o'clock vote but, unfortunately, some Conservative Members started filibustering.
We should look to see where all the investment to which hon. Members have referred is going. Some of it is going to close down mines, make miners redundant and put them on the dole. There is no doubt that the rest of it is going into the pits that will be left for privatisation. The Government are going to invest all that money in those pits to make them attractive to their friends in the City or to whoever may want to buy them. It has even been said that companies in South Africa are interested in buying British coal mines. No doubt we shall see that happening as time goes on.
Column 1050Coal mined in Britain has declined to 35 million tonnes, whereas there has been an increase of 15 million tonnes in the opencast coal produced. We have heard what opencast mining does to the environment. I know what happens in my beautiful county of Northumberland ; the place is dug up, and there are holes all over the place. It is an absolute disgrace, and the Government alone are responsible for that environmental destruction.
By the end of this year, 20 million tonnes of foreign coal are to be imported into Britain. That too is the responsibility of the Government. Rothschild said that he hoped that, by the end of 1993-94, there would be 20 mines left in Britain. He went further, saying that he hoped that only 14 or 15 might be left for privatisation. That is where the investment is going--it is going into the pits that are left. Rothschild suggests that, even in the north-east, which many years ago was the bedrock of the coal industry, there should be only one coal mine.
In the context of safety, I want to turn briefly to the Coal Mines Regulation Act 1908. Much has been said about this subject. Many of my colleagues have worked in coal mines, and they and I have spoken with experience and with passion. From Conservative Members we have heard very little passionate comment about safety. They know absolutely nothing about mining safety. They think that a mine is a factory that can be turned on and off with a switch. People who have worked in the bowels of the earth know that a mine is the most unfriendly place imaginable. In such conditions, miners need their colleagues to help them to ensure that, at the end of a shift, they can come out unharmed. Longer hours will make miners more vulnerable to accidents. Indeed, most accidents happen towards the end of a shift.
Some whippersnapper drummed up by the Government has said that, if miners were to work shifts of nine or 10 hours, there could be a productivity increase of 39 per cent. That is typical of people who sit with a pen in one hand and a calculator in the other. Having worked in the mines for 27 years, including 14 years at the coal face, I know that, after six hours underground, a miner is not a pretty sight. It is ridiculous to think of expecting a miner to work another two or three hours, with the possibility of two additional hours' overtime.
Let us remember the conditions in which miners work. I am thinking of the dust, the water and the noise. We have heard nothing about noise, yet it is a very serious problem. In the confined space of a pit, the noise of a machine is deafening. Indeed, I received compensation for deafness caused by my 27 years in the pits. Yet under this legislation, miners would be expected to work longer hours.
We may expect tough European Community legislation. I want Conservative Members to realise what is at stake for the British miner, and I want the British miner to understand what the Government intend to impose on him. Let hon. Members consider these figures : six 10-hour shifts per week, with three weeks on and one week off ; four 12-hour shifts per week, with three weeks on and one week off ; six 10-hour shifts per week, with two weeks on and one week off. I am willing to bet that, when a miner has worked 10 hours a day for three weeks, the pit manager--it will be a private pit-- will ask him to work during what should be his week off.
That is what is in store for the miner. There will be no week off ; he will be working all the time, and there will be
Column 1051more accidents. If the Conservatives are returned to power--God forbid--we shall be here to point the finger at them.