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Sir Trevor Skeet (Bedfordshire, North) : I must confess that the original statement by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade embarrassed me, but I welcome the review. Traditionally, the United Kingdom has had a four-fuel economy for electricity production, and a balance must be maintained among the fuels.
In Germany, by the end of the century, about 30,000 jobs will go. Their production will abate considerably from 72 million tonnes. Bearing that in mind, we must consider whether we will accept the German idea and have what is known as a strategic element for coal in the economy. The Government would then have to decide what that figure should be.
Column 490I am in favour of an expanding coal industry, as are the Government. They now have the largest share of electricity production, and that will continue to be so, but two other matters arise. One relates to imports and was dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Mr. Oppenheim). Imported coal has a 1 per cent. sulphur content, whereas local coal has a 1.5 per cent. sulphur content. That is why power-producing companies are turning to gas. They are turning to imported coal because of the lower sulphur content. [Interruption.] I hope that Opposition Members will listen to what I have to say.
Coal has many great problems. We have the problems of nitrous oxides, sulphur dioxide and carbon dioxide, all of which are inherent in fossilised fuels. Unless we confront those issues, and if we are eventually to face a European carbon tax, the industry will be in great difficulty. Further, there are some important issues regarding the disposal of fly ash and, if limestone is used, of calcium sulphate, which has no market. Also, there is subsidence and the fact that working in mines is still a dangerous occupation. All those matters will have to be dealt with in the review.
Hon. Members will appreciate that a coal mine producing coal for a power station has a maximum efficiency of 37 to 38 per cent. A gas turbine has an efficiency of 52 per cent. That is why people are seriously considering gas turbines.
I hope that the Minister realises that, in respect of nuclear power, which is one element of United Kingdom fuel production, a 1994 review later will be totally inadequate, and that we must bring it forward and let the industry know precisely what is to happen. Hon. Members will recognise that it would be wrong to destroy one industry, the coal industry, and at the same time destroy another by getting rid of our nuclear power industry. Those stations have been here for many years, and they are here to stay.
The Minister might like to consider the nuclear levy that is to terminate in about 1998. As the company made a substantial profit last year, that could be considered in the review. That might be a helpful suggestion.
I do not know why so many hon. Members fear the threat of gas. About 11,000 MW of new capacity is envisaged. However, in a free economy, much of that might not materialise. In respect of the assessment of domestic reserves in the United Kingdom, I firmly believe that between 45 trillion and 55 trillion cu ft may be available. Many of our reserves have not yet been discovered, but, believe me, North sea reserves have consistently been underestimated.
The House should have no problems in recognising the general position of gas in Europe. In the Netherlands, 50 per cent. of electricity is produced by natural gas. In Italy, the figure is 18 per cent., and in western Germany it is 8 per cent. If we are to share and have a balance between fuels which is good for the supply industry and, in particular, for the miner, it is right not to destroy another industry which contributes to the economy. I wish to say a few words about the cost of electricity from various sources. The price for the cheapest available low-priced gas-- although it has recently increased--is between 2.5p and 2.6p per therm. Higher-priced gas works out at 2.7p to 3.1p per therm. Imported coal with flue gas desulphurisation works out at 2.6p per therm, but British coal with FGD works out at 2.93p per therm. I apologise
Column 491for quoting so many figures. If coal is to succeed against its competitors, it must be imported coal. That would not be helpful to British miners.
We must also look ahead. We expect to hear shortly that the European Communities (Amendment) Bill will come back to the House. If we go further towards ratifying the Maastricht treaty, possibly a carbon tax will be introduced in the United Kingdom. That could be the final death knell of the United Kingdom industry. I hope that it will not come but that we will bypass Maastricht and keep sovereignty in our country.
It may be said that, having devalued the pound by 10 per cent., we are fairly successful and the prices of gas and coal will come into equilibrium, but it would require another 10 per cent. devaluation to bring about a proper equilibrium which will benefit the coal industry.
You have enjoined us, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to be brief to enable as many mining Members as possible to speak. I wish to make two further observations. We are naturally worried about one or two points. From the beginning of this century, the amount of coal produced in the United Kingdom has fallen consistently, largely because consumption has fallen. That has been traditional under all Governments. Therefore, the decision of the President of the Board of Trade is simply a continuation of that pattern.
A similar trend has occurred in western Europe. In France, little coal production remains. In Belgium and the Netherlands, it has been abolished. In Germany, it has been gradually diminished. In the United Kingdom, many people recognise that we cannot keep coal in stocks for ever. It is expensive to do so, and the more the coal is exposed to weathering, the more it is destroyed. By Christmas, the stocks of coal will amount to about 50 million tonnes. It will cost the taxpayer--to whom we must all account-- £800 million per year to maintain the stocks.
The burden on the taxpayer is enormous. I beg the House to ensure that we consider the matter coolly.
Mr. John Cummings (Easington) : I find it extraordinary that this evening the Secretary of State for Wales will reply to the debate and deal with problems in the county of Durham. That is little compensation to him for being ignored last week. I found the remarks of the President of the Board of Trade this afternoon insulting. I am sure that the 30,000 people who marched through London and the many millions of people who support the trade unions and the miners on this occasion also found his remarks insulting.
The President of the Board of Trade has been rumbled by the House and the nation. His platitudes and crocodile tears will not be accepted. People will treat them with the contempt that they richly deserve. Indeed, on Monday he did not even know where Vane Tempest colliery was. He could not respond to me about Vane Tempest. He referred to Easington colliery, which is one of the 21. He did not even know where Vane Tempest was. That showed his contempt for the workforce at Vane Tempest, the people of Seaham and, indeed, the population of Easington. For
Column 492his information, Vane Tempest has made a profit of £2.3 million this year. It can go forward with the correct inward investment to make further profits in future.
Easington colliery is in profit. It has tremendous reserves lying under the North sea, where subsidence is not a problem. The reserves lying under the sea cannot be exploited by opencast mining. They will be lost to the nation for ever. It will cost some £48 million to close Vane Tempest colliery. The hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Marland) had better wipe the smirk off his face or he might get it wiped off outside. The hon. Gentleman shows contempt for workers who have given a lifetime to the industry and the nation. It is disgraceful.
Unemployment in Seaham is the highest in Great Britain. Seaham has the smallest number of job opportunities. With the loss of Easington colliery and Vane Tempest, unemployment in Easington will be 17 per cent. overall. But that disguises figures of 20, 25 and 30 per cent. in villages which previously had coalmines. It disguises an overall figure perhaps in excess of 50 per cent. among young people between 16 and 24 who have never had a real job. It is a disgrace to see fine young men standing on corners who should be underground moving coal for the benefit of the nation.
In Easington we shall have an imbalance of population. Young people will have to move away. We shall be left with an aging population chronically sick and disabled from a lifetime of work in the mines and heavy industry at a time when services are diminishing as a result of the Government's attitude to expenditure on social services. A feeling of helplessness and hopelessness exists in the community of Easington and, indeed, in the north -east as a whole. We have heard the promises and platitudes of the Government. The people of Easington have not received one penny piece from RECHAR or any other funds. In 1984 and 1985 the finger was pointed at miners and people said that they were the enemy within. I ask now who is the enemy within. It is a Government who will rely on Algeria, the middle east and the Soviet Union for future gas supplies. We all know what happened when the Soviet Union fell out with Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania : the Soviet Union turned the gas off. Are we to be subjected to that in the future?
A tremendous amount of money--£15 billion--is in the mineworkers pension scheme. Who will get their grubby hands on it? Have Conservative Members and people from the City got their eyes on it? Of course, they have. Thousands of acres of land are also held in trust by the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation. There are tennis courts, football grounds and miners' welfare halls which were paid for off the pit point by miners. That property is held in trust which can be negated by this Parliament. We have to beware. We must ask ourselves what we can do. We can bring to an end the incestuous behaviour of the electricity supply companies--stop them involving themselves with generating plant. The Minister can ensure tomorrow that power generators burn British coal. This is Parliament. We make the laws, we amend the laws, and we can make a law tomorrow to make the generators burn British coal.
Column 493When I first came here I said that I was a child of the mining industry, and was proud of it. I have a great love of my community, heritage and culture. My grandfather did not leave me vast estates or money ; he left me an industry whose reserves had been worked prudently and had been conserved for future generations. I would like to be in the same position and to be able to leave future generations secure in their energy resources well into the next century. 7.30 pm
Mr. Winston Churchill (Davyhulme) : I understand and respect the passion with which the hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Cummings) spoke. Last week's announcement by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade angered and outraged the nation. In the 22 years that I have been in the House I do not recall any Minister so misjudging the public mood.
I opposed that decision and I shall continue to oppose it on social, economic and energy grounds. The scale, the time scale--five days to five months--and the brutality of that announcement, which consigned 30,000 miners and their families to the slagheap of unemployment at a time of the highest male unemployment since the 1930s, is unacceptable. And so it has proved for the nation and for millions in the ranks of the Tory party.
The miners are not asking for charity. They are asking for jobs and for a level playing field. What can they do with the average redundancy pay of £22,000 that they are being offered? As they live in isolated communities they cannot sell their homes. They cannot get on their proverbial bike--as Lord Tebbit would no doubt urge them to do--because they cannot move to a place where there are jobs, as they could not find a home even if they were able to find a job. I oppose the decision on economic grounds. A week ago, I wrote to the President of the Board of Trade to ask him two questions : what was the Government's estimate of overall job losses that would be consequent on throwing 30,000 miners out of work, and what would be the cost to the taxpayer of people who last week were contributing their tax, national insurance and value added tax to the Revenue, now that they are out of a job, on the dole and drawing social security? I have received no reply.
I had the opportunity to put those questions, face to face, to my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade and to the Secretary of State for Social Security. To my utter amazement they admitted that they did not know the answer, and that no cost benefit analysis had been made by the Government of the consequences of that decision to the taxpayer. No properly run company would contemplate sacking half its employees in a given field without carefully analysing the costs involved. I am at a loss to understand how the President of the Board of Trade felt that that was not necessary in this case.
Perhaps I may help my right hon. Friend. The best estimates that I have been able to get from the Commons Library--they will have to stand until the Government come up with figures of their own--are that putting 30,000 miners out of a job would lead to a loss of at least 100,000 jobs, and an annual cost to the taxpayer in lost tax revenue and increased benefits of in excess of £1.25 billion. On top of that is a further £1.15 billion in redundancy pay. The cost of throwing them on the dole would far exceed the £1 billion that would have been required to subsidise every
Column 494tonne of coal produced by British Coal last year down to world prices at a rate of £15 a tonne. I request that a cost benefit analysis be instituted by the Government.
I oppose the decision on energy grounds because, beyond the nostrums of the free market and laissez-faire, the Government have no energy policy. A free market is the last thing that we have. It is a rigged market, in which the dice are heavily loaded against British Coal and British miners. A nuclear subsidy of £1.2 billion a year is paid for by an 11 per cent. surcharge on every consumer's gas bill. Meanwhile, the regional electricity companies have a direct incentive to embark on a dash for gas because it provides the quickest way to establish generating capacity and not because it provides cheaper electricity. They are allowed to pass on the cost to the consumer. Nigel Lucas, professor of energy at Imperial college in London, said recently on BBC television :
"By buying gas-fired electricity from independent power producers, the RECs are probably paying up to 50 per cent. more than the price of electricity which might be available to them from existing coal-fired stations."
The dash for gas will almost double the rate at which we are using up our North sea gas supplies, which will run out in the early decades of the next century. What then? Pipelines from Siberia, at vast expense, or tankers from Algeria? The costs will be enormous. World energy prices are low, but what if there were to be another middle east crisis--we have had those in the past--and there were a shortage? Prices would go through the roof. We would have no security of supply and would rue the day that we abandoned British coal. Government policy--if such it can be called--is driven by opportunism and short-term considerations. That is something that must change. I welcome the major change in Government policy and thank them for it. It represents a victory for common sense. If people power in my Manchester Davyhulme constituency, and in every other constituency, has played its part, let us not forget the silent and lonely vigil kept by an elderly miner 1,200 ft under ground in Silverhill pit Roy Lynk, to whom the House and the Tory party in particular owed a debt of gratitude when parliamentary democracy was threatened by the Scargill strike of 1984.
I am grateful to the Government for heeding requests for a full and wide- ranging review of energy policy and for the assurance that I have received from the President of the Board of Trade that his review will tackle the unlevel playing field which operates against British Coal.
On that basis, I shall support the Government in the Lobby tonight, but that is not the end of the matter. This is just the first round. Ahead of us lie three months of hard pounding. The Government have to convince us in the debate on the Floor of the House early in the new year. The Government have 90 days to come up with a detailed, coherent energy policy--
It is no good my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade saying that there is no alternative. He must make it his task before the 90 days expire to come up with an alternative ; he must set his Department the job of finding an alternative. If he fails to do so he will be selling short future generations and the security of Britain's energy supplies. He will be failing the Government and the Prime Minister. He will be letting down the nation. He will rekindle the anger and outrage that he has stirred up, and will lead the Government to defeat on the issue when we have the substantive vote. It is not only the 23,000 miners who have been granted a 90-day stay of execution ; the same is true of the President of the Board of Trade.
Mr. Terry Patchett (Barnsley, East) : I am grateful to be called in the debate, and I have promised my colleagues that I shall be brief. I was anxious to speak in the debate as two of the 10 collieries that are to close are in my constituency : Houghton Main and Grimethorpe. I worked at Houghton Main for 26 years and I am familiar with its reserves. Those two collieries are linked, and many is the time that I have walked the two and a half miles underground to Grimethorpe colliery, so I am also familiar with its reserves. The argument is not about reserves, but about losses. When I investigated the position at Grimethorpe colliery I found that it had made a profit in the past two years. In recent months it has produced coal at £1 a tonne cheaper than imported coal that the generating industry has attracted to this country.
Some four or five collieries have been closed in my constituency. The closure of a further two will mean an additional 2 per cent. on the already high unemployment figure. The Barnsley metropolitan authority has lost between 25,000 and 30,000 mining jobs in recent years. We have been concerned about that and have looked to the Government to assist us in rehabilitation. They have promised help once again. But our experience has been that any movement has come from the local authority in spite of the Government, whose standard spending assessment has always worked against the Barnsley local authority.
There have been many arguments in the House about the RECHAR money, designated to assist our district. We finally received a commitment, and central Government tried to take the credit for that allocation, which came from Europe. As yet, we have not had a penny of that, and I blame that delay on the Government. Therefore, it is easy to understand the cynicism that we feel about promises made about replacement jobs.
Grimethorpe colliery is profit making. Houghton Main colliery had some trouble a few months ago, but has now settled down and is making profits. The reason for the trouble was that the management insisted on throwing money down the drain on an area of coal that the local branch of the National Union of Mineworkers knew was a waste of money. If we are to have moratoriums and investigations, and if British Coal is to report to the Select Committee, will the conclusion be that the pit could have
Column 496been profitable but the management persevered and lost it millions? There must be a detailed analysis that goes much wider than merely studying a broad spectrum of pits. I would not expect the colliery manager of any of the pits involved to say that it was his fault and he was sorry about the bad mining practices. We must make a deep and clinical analysis of the profit and loss.
I listened carefully to the President of the Board of Trade this afternoon and I still do not understand the position of the 10 named collieries--I do not know whether they are in or out of the review. The President's speech this afternoon tended to confuse me more. We are dubious about what he has said, as we have experience of previous reviews.
When the news was announced in my constituency that we were to lose Houghton Main and Grimethorpe collieries, there was shock, outrage and disbelief. Then the moratorium was announced and we could not honestly believe how the Minister or British Coal could have decided that 10 out of the 31 collieries would not be treated in the same way and would not have the same review or investigation.
One of the main problems that has faced Houghton Main and Grimethorpe has been the ever-moving targets. One week the staff were told that they were doing well if they had made a specific advance, and were given a pat on the back and told to go home and play. The next week a different target was put forward. I do not entirely blame British Coal for the moving targets, as I do not believe that it knew what was happening. It has been blackmailed by the generating industry with overseas coal and for too long it has not had proper answers. It has also been blackmailed due to the dumping of coal in Europe, about which it has complained to the European Commissioners. It has received no assistance from the British Government for the two to three years that the dumping has occurred.
The Government can do nothing about energy because they have neglected their responsibilities. They have sold off the power generators who are now dictating the terms. I do not expect PowerGen to be concerned about the state of the country. I expect its loyalty to be to its shareholders. What matters to it is its shareholders, not the balance of payments, who pays for unemployment and the loss of revenue through loss of taxes. It has no responsibility for those aspects, yet it dictates our energy policy.
I accuse the Government of having no say in this country's present energy policy. They have been happy to see our manufacturing base smashed. We have become the laughing stock of people all over the world who cannot believe that a country such as this, which is so rich in energy sources and indigenous fuels, has got itself into this mess.
I understand that the review will analyse what has been called the uneven playing field. However, I have already heard Ministers saying how much has been put into the industry. We have had to repay with interest a large chunk of capital investment, while the Government have made out that the money was a gift of assistance. However, a major slice of the money was used for redundancies, not to support the industry. We remain cynical and angry.
Whatever the review or the Government's amendment says, I cannot accept that the people who made the initial blunder in introducing such a policy in the way that they did will change their minds when they hear the results of the review. We are setting those same people up as judge, jury and executioner.
Column 497I do not expect Ministers to change their minds radically, but I hope sincerely that they will stand back and look at the overall impact on the economy. When they consider not only the number of jobs that are likely to be lost, but the effect on the rail and steel industries, the energy market, transport and local traders in my constituency, I hope that those Ministers do not remain sitting back. I hope that they will at least put the 10 pits alongside the other 21, and treat all 31 in the same way. I hope that they will consider the overall economic impact on the United Kingdom of their stupid decision.
Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Gedling) : There would be little point in using the short time available to me tonight to flagellate the Government further for the errors of judgment in last week's announcement. The situation has changed significantly over the past five days. I want tonight to be constructive and to make a number of suggestions to the Minister about the way ahead.
I speak as a Nottinghamshire Member of Parliament whose last pit closed shortly before the last general election. I want to express my gratitude to the President and the Secretary of State for Wales, to whom I spoke over the weekend. I fear that I called him out of his constituency surgery. I am grateful for the clear hearing that I received from both of them.
The Government have made it clear that they want to look again at these issues. I trust what the Government have said. I have five suggestions to make.
The first is that there is immense confusion over the relative prices of coal and gas. There is a real fear that gas is being wrongly favoured and that the treatment of written-down power stations that produce from coal is not correct.
As I understand it, the regulator has all the powers that he needs. Condition 5 of the licence granted to the regional electricity companies makes it clear that electricity must be produced "at the best effective price reasonably obtainable having regard to the sources available".
In a recent announcement the chief executive of Powergen, Ed Wallis, made it clear that
"our portfolio of coal-fired plant is able to generate more cheaply than most of the independent gas-fired plant which is now threatening to displace it."
We need these matters urgently investigated by the regulator ; and we need a report, to be issued rapidly.
In this country, unlike in the United States, the regional electricity companies can invest in gas projects and guarantee the offtake from them. In the United States that would be illegal. I hope that that will be considered too, because two can play at that game. If it is acceptable for the industry, why could not the Government, when they come to privatise the mining industry, include in that package the 40 per cent. stake that the Government hold in the generators? We need a level playing field in this area.
My second constructive point is that there are serious question marks hanging over the judgment and management skills of British Coal at the most senior level. I am not talking about area management ; I have the greatest possible respect for people like John Longden who try to manage the Nottinghamshire coalfield. But there is little confidence in the negotiating skills at the top of British Coal. I am delighted that the Secretary of State has once again called in Boyd to advise him, and I know that
Column 498an earlier Boyd report made a number of recommendations making it clear that British Coal is not well managed at the top.
We all accept in Nottinghamshire--I hope that we are realistic--that coal is under great pressure, and I accept that manpower will have to decline. But some of the old mines can be worked for two or three years by a relatively small number of miners--the coal comes out for practically nothing. These are the sort of management decisions that we need to examine.
We need to look at Richard Budge's suggestion, announced last night from his company RJB. I cannot understand why Calverton--not in my constituency but not far from the border--was in the list of pits originally proposed for closure. It sells about 70 per cent. of its coal to the private sector- -70 per cent. does not go to the electricity industry. Obviously the pit should not be closed down ; the 70 per cent. should be expanded to 100 per cent.
Some pits have access to huge reserves and it is clearly futile to close them. Perhaps they need to be mothballed, but certainly not shut. Above all, I urge the Government to use the expertise and advice of Malcolm Edwards. He is respected throughout the industry ; he is a realistic friend of the coal industry ; he is a keen privatiser ; and he is an adviser to the Union of Democratic Mineworkers. The Secretary of State should see him urgently and hear what he has to say.
My third suggestion is that the Government follow the lead given by Commissioner Cardoso, who in his latest initiative said that coal capacity in Europe may need to be reduced. But he asked : why start with Britain-- the lowest cost producer ? The German industry is contracting. Let us put flesh on the idea of the single market. British coal could be delivered to central Germany, including all transport costs, at a saving to the German economy of £40 per tonne. These are important matters relating to the single market, and I urge the Government to pursue that initiative.
Moreover, British Coal has launched an anti-dumping complaint which may have fallen foul of subsidiarity. Will the Government look into that again, and allow British Coal to pursue the complaint ? My fourth suggestion has to do with coal stocks, which are very large. They need to be. British Coal carries the whole strategic reserve. We cannot store hydro-electricity or nuclear power, gas, or very much oil, but we can store coal. At the moment British Coal is carrying 14 million tonnes, which is probably 4 million tonnes too much, and the generators are holding 33 million tonnes ; but if, as we hear, the generators are seeking to run down 10 million tons in one year that would cause a massive distortion of the market. We need to be wary of temporary expediency affecting long-term strategic judgments about size.
In the House I have consistently opposed the arguments for imported coal. Half the coal that comes into this country through the ports is not necessary. I notice that the original plans which the generators had in respect of new port facilities--I voted against them in the House--are not proceeding at the moment, which is evidence that the economic case for imported coal has not been made.
My fifth constructive point is this. There will be similar problems in the nuclear industry unless we announce as soon as possible that the nuclear levy is to be dismantled between now and 1998. The facts are well known : if the same levy were available to the coal industry, coal could be delivered free of charge and still show a profit of between
Column 499£10 and £15 a tonne. Bradwell, the old Magnox reactor, is being kept open until 1998 purely because of the levy. That is not a level playing field ; it hopelessly distorts the market. We must dismantle the levy.
I want to make it clear that I am not starry-eyed about the coal industry-- I understand the pressures that the industry is under. They are many and various. There has been a long-term contraction in the coal industry and that contraction will not end overnight. It will continue, and I accept that.
The emissions targets to which both parties signed up almost toll the bell for the industry. But our aim must be to give coal a fair deal. These matters must be handled sensitively, not in the manner of some 19th-century mill owner. I genuinely believe that the coal industry deserves better-- none more so than the UDM, whose members have met every single productivity target set for them. They have done everything management has asked. They have negotiated for the industry--the NUM has not had a look-in in recent years. They ushered in modern, forward-looking, constructive trade union practices and sounded the death knell of a peculiarly unpleasant form of militant trade unionism--and saved this party and this country's bacon in 1984. Many of the UDM and their families paid a high personal price during the strike and the national contribution of Roy Lynk, one of the heroes of the 1980s, has been greatly underestimated.
In the public interest there should be 10-year contracts with the generators. That is what happens around the world wherever deep mines are worked except when pits have an arrangement with a captive power station. The UDM has earned the right to these contracts, not for reasons of sentiment but because of its record of reliability and on economic grounds.
These are five constructive suggestions. I invite the President and Lord Walker, who achieved remarkable success in regenerating Wales, to visit Nottinghamshire as soon as the plans for the East Midlands development office are further advanced. I want them both to come to Nottinghamshire to talk to local people, to those in the industry and to all the many bodies concerned about regeneration there. I shall support the Government tonight. It would be churlish not to in view of the change in their position of the past five days. I believe that the review is real, and I and my constituents will be among the first people to contribute to it.
The hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) has done himself a disservice, as do other Tory Members who have enjoyed a great deal of publicity defending the coal communities, if they deny the words that they uttered a few days ago and go into the Lobby with the Government. Certainly there have been many promises, but many of the touches that the Government have applied to their policy in recent days have been cosmetic.
I tried to intervene in the Secretary of State's speech because I wanted to ask him whether, during the review, he intended to give licences to the gas -fired stations which are now in the planning process. I intended to ask whether, if
Column 500the review revealed that an arrangement of great disadvantage to the electricity consumer applied, he would revoke the licences that he has already granted. I would have asked for a guarantee to the House that the legislative base upon which faulty licences were issued would be amended during this Session.
The right hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) spoke about the splendid productivity at the Selby pits. Enormous productivity matching that at Selby has been achieved in many other collieries. The right hon. Gentleman failed to understand that even the most profitable pit is likely to disappear by the end of this century unless a different regime applies, because collieries will not have access to baseload electricity. If coal is to be allowed to work only on the margin of peak demand, no one will wish to work in collieries, because they will be at an appalling disadvantage.
Hon. Members who seek to defend the industry should pause before deciding to vote with the Government, because the Secretary of State joined in the rejoicing of some Conservative Members who spoke about the importation of coal from Colombia. That coal is mined by children in dangerous pits. I represent not only my constituency, which has been devastated by Government policies, but NACODS, the colliery association of underground officials who have made such an enormous contribution to mine safety. That contribution has enabled Britain to have a proud record, but apparently that record is not admired by some Conservative Members. Because of the success and safety record of British mines and mining technology, a considerable export market can be maintained.
It is time that Conservative Members started to consider the economy and the balance of payments deficit, because the fundamental weakness of the British economy is the failure to export. Sooner or later, the enormous trade deficit will have to be resolved or Britain will continue the decline which has marked the Conservative years. To write off the export potential of coal and mining engineering would be irresponsible. However, I have not detected any great concern about that in what the President of the Board of Trade and his colleagues have said.
The Secretary of State for Wales visited my area when he held another office and will remember the work carried out by David Trippier in securing, or attempting to secure, the future of the Dearne valley, which has been viciously assailed. In the last few weeks, the Environment Minister who was supposed to be caring for the Dearne valley has been replaced by an Under-Secretary of State for Social Security. That means that, instead of speaking to a Minister in the Department of the Environment, I have to speak to a Minister whose responsibility is social security. Does that mean that the Government have now written off my area, and that, although cosmetics have been applied to try to bring Tories into the Government lobby, we are not to have the sincere and serious review that an energy policy requires?
I have real reservations, and my questions about the licences need to be answered quickly, as do the questions posed by my hon. Friends. If the answers are not satis-factory--and so far they have not been--I hope that the hon. Members for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock) and for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill), who have been eager to secure publicity for their championing of the mining communities, will act with some consistency and vote with us.
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Mr. Michael Bates (Langbaurgh) : We have heard much about the importance of jobs and communities in mining areas. Those matters are important, but I wish to speak about the jobs and communities which depend on gas-fired power stations. There are no coal mines in the county of Cleveland, nor does it have a coal-fired power station. It has a nuclear power station, and a gas-fired station is under construction.
Two important companies, ICI and British Steel, are desperate for cheap energy and jobs, and communities depend on those companies. The lobby of Parliament has been impressive in terms of the number of people who came to London and those who wore lapel badges in support of the coal industry. However, workers in the gas supply industry have families and mortgages and live in communities as well. The gas supply industry is important. In parts of my constituency, unemployment is as high as in any of the mining areas. Gas will soon be delivered via the new CAT pipeline from the North sea into Teesside at Seal Sands. That represents a capital investment by Amoco of £500 million. That is important for the local economy, and jobs have been created not only because of the pipeline but because of the gas exploration platforms.
Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda) rose --
Mr. Bates : I shall not give way, because time is short. Those two gas and oil exploration platforms were constructed in Scotland. Gas is already being piped ashore, and the Enron power station represents a commitment of about £1 billion of capital investment. Some 2,000 jobs in my area depend directly on the construction of that power station. Another gas-fired power station, the Neptune project, is on the drawing board. It is likely to be constructed and that will mean more than 2,000 construction jobs. The pipeline is delivering about 300 million cu ft of gas per day and has the capacity to bring to Teesside about 1,500 million cu ft of gas per day. That will have a dramatic effect, not only because direct jobs will be created in two new gas-fired power stations, but because some of the gas will be processed to produce propane, butane and naphtha.
The Opposition talk with vigour and determination about the balance of trade. Naphtha is used by companies such as ICI and BASF in Cleveland and is currently imported from Rotterdam. By 1996, Teesside will be able to export to Rotterdam gas derivatives such as propane and naphtha. I hope that all hon. Members agree that that industry is important to us. About 4,000 to 5,000 jobs depend upon it in my area, and just because the general election is over we cannot ignore the environment.
Gas-fired power stations produce less than half the CO emissions of coal- fired power stations that contribute to the greenhouse effect. Nitros oxides are crucial when it comes to protecting our environment, and these are key concerns. As I have said, industries in the north-east need to be competitive as a result of cheap energy. I have in mind ICI, BASF, British Steel, Nissan and British Alcan. Thousands are dependent on cheap energy.
Some say, "Listen, is there that demand? Is it really going to be cheaper?" Would companies be investing about £2.5 billion if they thought that the plants would not
Column 502be effective? Would AMOLO be investing £500 million in a 250-mile pipeline out into the North sea if it were not to be cost-effective? Of course these projects will be effective.
In the north-east, I am second to none in acknowledging the part that the coal mining industry has played in the past. I do not deny that role. However, the strength of the north-east has always been its ability to look to the future. In the 1890s and the early 20th century, much of our wealth and prosperity depended on coal, but the prosperity of the region and of industry generally in the 1990s and early 21st century will depend upon gas, and that industry should have our support as well.