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Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield) : Entirely lacking from the Conservative party has been any awareness of the sense of public outrage that people could be treated as the President of the Board of Trade did when he announced the closure of 31 pits. Of course, individual Members may take a different view, but I say that it was callous and brutal. That treatment came from a party that prides itself upon a citizens charter and a classless society. That is why hundreds of thousands are marching in London today. The little seminar on gas prices does not get near what the real argument is all about.
All my right hon. and hon. Friends know that these events are part of a sustained attack upon the mining industry. It is taking place because the previous Prime Minister regarded the National Union of Mineworkers as the enemy within. That term was coined for that reason. It gives me huge pleasure that the Tory party threw out Thatcher and the miners re-elected Scargill. That man told the truth, and truth still has value in the politics of our society when all the lies, half truths and half promises about independent reviews are dismissed.
The President of the Board of Trade said that he agonised over the decision that was before him. He is not the one who will suffer agony if pits are closed. If he agonised, why did he not have a review during that process? If there had been a review, others could have submitted other views while his discussions took place.
I have a letter that came from the office of Cecil Parkinson when he was Energy Secretary. It is a response to someone who wrote from Derbyshire, and states that the privatisation of the electricity industry will have no effect on pit closures. Ministers have lied, lied and lied again about the mining industry. That is why people are so incensed.
Do not tell us that this is all about market forces. If those forces applied to the farming industry, half the farms in Britain would have closed years ago. We could get cheaper food from New Zealand and Australia. Of course, the Tory party depends on the farmers and so it supports them. I am not in favour of applying market forces to farms. It is not possible to close a farm one year and open it the following year. We all know that the miners have not received set-aside grants. They have not been given money to stop producing coal. That is the reality of the debate.
There was a preparedness to pay a great deal of money to the gamblers two weeks ago when so-called market forces were working on the currency. That, I think, has played a part in these matters. I am intensely proud that I had a role to play in the energy policy of the Labour Government. That Government authorised the Selby project, as we
Column 503authorised the Drax B coal-fired power station. We encouraged 42 million tonnes of extra capacity to be found. Selby was opened and there was an assisted burn scheme. We recognised that the then Central Electricity Generating Board needed a small grant to change the merit order of the power stations so that more coal could be burnt. We introduced earlier retirement for miners, something for which they had pressed for a long time. We then-- [Interruption.] Closures took place after negotiation and agreement. They concentrated mainly on pit exhaustion and dangerous working. As the then Secretary of State, I offered the NUM a veto on all closures. I discovered that Australian coal had been imported on the instruction of the now Lord Walker when he was Secretary of State for Energy. When it arrived it was so expensive that the generating board sold it to France at a loss.
We require a re-examination of energy policy that brings fuel suppliers, fuel industries, customers and unions together. There was such a re- examination from 1976 onwards ; the papers were published and the discussions were serious. When that process takes place it will be necessary to determine the objectives of the energy policy, and one of the objectives of the Labour Government was extremely simple. It was that everyone should have heat and light at home. That was not a bad energy policy objective. It was a recognition of the fact that in the end an energy policy is judged by whether people can get hold of energy.
It has been said, "If there is surplus coal, why not give it to pensioners?" That is a sensible argument. Coal could be supplied free of charge to the generators to pump it down the wire, as it were, in the form of cheap electricity. There are those who shake their heads in dissent, but that is an energy policy. It is one in which Conservative Members do not believe, because they believe in profit and not in people. That is what the argument is about.
We must think about imports and opencast mining.
Mr. Benn rose --
Mr. Benn : I hope that the time taken by that point of order is taken into account, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am advancing a serious argument that has more in common with what those outside this place are thinking than with the little arguments that we have heard from Conservative Members.
It is necessary, of course, to consider opencast mining. The environment of a village is destroyed by stripping it,
Column 504as it were, for opencast mining. We must have regard also to desulphurisation, assisted burn and winter fuel concessions. As many have said, how can we justify subsidy by way of the nuclear levy, a fuel that is three times as expensive as coal?
The House should not think that that for which I am arguing cannot be done. In 1945, Winston Churchill as Prime Minister, a distinguished predecessor, presented the Fuel and Power Act--I operated under it and so does the President of the Board of Trade--which, when enacted, charged the Secretary of State with the general duty of securing the effective and co-ordinated development of coal, petroleum and other mineral resources--fuel and power- -in Great Britain. That is the statutory responsibility of the President of the Board of Trade. He is not merely a spectator of market forces. Indeed, in 1973 he was a member of a Government who introduced the Fuel and Electricity Control Act which bore on every fuel transaction in the country. When the right hon. Gentleman was a junior Minister he controlled the supply of fuel to the aircraft industry. The result of tonight's Division will not determine the issue that is before us. If anyone thinks that it will, he or she is making a great mistake. In fact, the British public have been awakened to the realities of the mining industry and to the rotten philosophy of the 1980s. We were told that everything was about cash and that chartered accountants had to be brought in to tell us what to do. That is not what it is all about. The issue is whether our society puts people in a place of dignity and serves them or whether we hand over money to gamblers who create no wealth. Arthur Scargill has been rehabilitated more quickly than any man I have known. Within 24 hours, everyone knew that he was right. The miners certainly did.
What has happened--I warn the Government about this--is that after 10 years during which people took things that they should never have taken, there is a return of self confidence and hope. It was that sort of self confidence and hope that got Mandela out of prison and got the Berlin wall down. Next it will get the President of the Board of Trade out of his office in favour of a better society.
Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark) : I have to advise the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) that the spectre of Arthur Scargill is one that would unite those on the Conservative Benches and our constituents as never before.
When the pit closure programme was announced last week a wave of anger swept over north Nottinghamshire such as I have never known before. In a time of deep recession that decision was brutal. I therefore called, together with other colleagues, for a moratorium for the sake of people's lives, their hopes and their aspirations. Until then, there had been no hope, no appeal, no reprieve. Therefore, I welcomed the decision to have a review and a moratorium on the closures. My immediate reaction was that they would give the pits a breathing space in which to prove themselves. I regret that that has not apparently proved acceptable to my constituents, but perhaps one can see why.
In my area of north Nottinghamshire--Opposition Members also represent that region--those closures, any closure, mean devastating unemployment in our travel-to-work area. The pit closures mean that possibly up to an
Column 505extra 20 per cent. of the local population will be unemployed in that travel-to-work area and 30 per cent. extra in the villages. I am articulating those concerns to the House tonight. There are 3,000 jobs in the industry and 6,000 ancillary jobs at risk. My constituents have said that I should look after their interests and express them in the House tonight.
It is a Member of Parliament's duty and task to look after his constituents. I recognise that even the potential closure of some of the pits, in such large numbers and even after a review, is unacceptable to my community. If I vote against the Government tonight, would I be acting in accordance with unacceptable pressure, or would I be acting in accordance with the wishes, and indeed instructions, of literally thousands of people outside who have asked that I should express a view in such a way?
I have never faced such a difficult decision on behalf of my constituents. I accept that I am not the only one with such a difficult decision, but perhaps with the number of people involved, the pressure on me is greater. Tonight I voice that anxiety to the House and I express the words of pressure that I received this afternoon and continue to receive tonight.
My constituents, of all political parties and at all levels of society, have told me that they require a full and independent--I stress the word-- inquiry, which must include the 10 pits which are subject to closure. I accept what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said about the problem with some of those pits which are unprofitable. However, the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon) has told me that one of those pits, Silverhill, which is next door to my constituency, has been profitable over the years. We are considering the future of the coal industry and the Government have said that we will have a review of it, but it will exclude one large pit in my area which, on the figures given, is profitable.
A difficult decision must be made. It is not the viability of the Silverhill colliery as such that is really at issue, but all the pits. If we are to have a review it must be a complete one. I have asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to ensure that during the review it is business as usual. I have put to him two or three specific examples about how the work force felt that that might not happen. In fairness to my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Minister, I should say that I have been given absolute assurances about those anxieties. I have referred those assurances to my constituents, but I received a fax today from one firm in my constituency, Northern Specialised Site Services Limited, which said :
"Development work at Bevercotes"--
that is in my constituency--
"like other threatened collieries has been stopped".
I accept from my right hon. Friend that he has given instructions that that work will recommence, but, as I said earlier, I must recognise the fears of my constituents. Until they actually see that work recommencing, they will not believe that that will happen. I repeat that I am not casting any slur on my right hon. Friend and I recognise the considerable steps that he has taken.
Mr. Eggar : For the avoidance of doubt by my hon. Friend and his constituents, may I repeat that development work will continue at Bevercotes. If he or his constituents come to me with clear evidence or statements
Column 506to show that development work is not continuing, I will personally instruct the chairman of British Coal that that development work should recommence.
Ms. Walley : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that all of us whose constituencies are home to the collieries in the 10 areas chosen for closure by the Government share the views of his constituents? If there is a case for development work to continue in the hon. Gentleman's colliery, surely exactly the same argument applies to each of the other nine collieries, including Trentham in the north Staffordshire coalfield. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving us the benefit of his views, but whatever assurances he has been given by the Minister, he should note that, last week, an all-party delegation from north Staffordshire, including the Bishop of Stafford, visited the Department of Trade and Industry and we were not given such assurances. I want the Minister to give me such an assurance tonight.
The review must start with the most recent report of the Select Committee on Energy which concluded that electricity consumers had nothing to gain from a hasty rundown of the coal industry. The review must then look at some of the industrial practices in our coal mines, all of which have a bearing on profitability.
I make no criticism of trade union practices, but ours seems to be the only country that works only a full 15 shifts out of an available 21 in any one week. The first shift on a Monday therefore spend a lot of time making their working conditions safe, whereas if 21 shifts were worked, including at the weekend, mines could be much more profitable.
Why is Britain the only country that throws away 50 per cent. of the material that is brought to the surface, in the form of dust and rubble that is put on spoil tips? Other countries are much more selective in the material that they extract. I repeat that only a wide-ranging, independent review will do.
Mr. Paddy Tipping (Sherwood) : Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that the review should include imports? Should not the Minister for Energy get on the phone to the Ministry of Defence, which in the next day or two is to announce the purchase of 300,000 tonnes of imported coal for Aldermaston, and 200,000 for Bicester? The British Government try to shroud themselves in the British flag while Russian coal is used to power the Aldermaston nuclear defence station. That is a pity and a shame.
Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. Although I appreciate the strength of feeling that exists, I remind right hon. and hon. Members that interventions must be kept short--particularly in a debate of this nature.
Mr. Alexander : I am glad that a recent announcement by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade indicated that if British Coal cannot continue to work a pit economically, the private sector could become involved. That should have been done long ago. If British Coal cannot support a particular colliery, that is no reason to say that it can no longer operate. At present, British
Column 507Coal would rather close a mine than allow anyone else to work it, and that must be wrong. I am glad that steps may be taken to make changes.
There are opportunities for private sector involvement in coal mining before it is run down and collieries are closed. There would be cost savings, greater competition, and an erosion in the level of imported coal. The private sector has a place in using its skill, technology and risk capital to revitalise the industry. Closures now would make it irrecoverable.
I ask for an independent review before our areas are devastated and the taxpayer has to foot a £1,000 million bill for social security and other payments. Nottinghamshire miners brought common sense, sanity and moderation to the ugly situation that arose in 1984, and I join other right hon. and hon. Members in paying tribute to Roy Lynk of the Union of Democratic Mineworkers for his role in that. Nottinghamshire miners did so often at great personal and family cost, and that is still continuing. Now they ask for common sense, sanity and moderation--and we owe them that.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : I must first declare my interest as secretary of the parliamentary miners group, and as someone who worked down the pits for 21 years and is sponsored by the National Union of Mineworkers. I have a badge to prove it, and unlike Roy Lynk I am not sending it back. I am proud of my NUM affiliations. I am concerned about this debate not for parochial reasons but because if the proposals are pursued, every pit in Derbyshire will be wiped out by the end of the current financial year. Shirebrook, Bolsover, Markham and High Moor will all go.
I took part in a magnificent rally today--and this time the march took a different route. Instead of going towards Trafalgar square, we marched around Chelsea and Kensington--and we captured Chelsea and Kensington for Labour today. I have never seen so many people hanging out of windows, including those at the Kensington Gardens hotel--and, by Christ ! is it posh. The people were cheering us on--"Good old Arthur." It was the return of the prodigal son, except that this time we will not kill the fatted calf because half of us are vegetarians. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) is anyway.
It was an exhilarating experience. Normally, the odd person makes a challenge or shouts an insult--but not today. As we passed the end of the road in which Princess Di lives in Kensington palace, I am certain that I saw her there with a bucket.
A catalyst has been at work in the past few days and has overwhelmed us all. We did not appreciate the extent to which the closures had got up the nose of many Tories and others of no political affiliation. We have all been swamped with letters from our constituents. The Government might have cobbled something together over the past 72 hours, but it will not work. The public will turn this Government over--and whether that happens this week, next month, or next year, you can bet your bottom dollar that that political sea change will make sure that this is the last run for home.
Column 508It may be that the President of the Board of Trade has been set up by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister. It is conceivable that something is afoot. It looks a lot like that. We all knew that the poll tax would produce a lot of support for the Labour movement, but we did not expect so much over this issue. It is not a case of people holding a romantic view of miners. They have always done that, and I am not agin it. But unlike 1984, many people--Tories as well-- now acknowledge that there is an economic argument to answer. There was in 1984, but we did not convince the public. This time, they have grasped it. The other day, I was on a bus from Chesterfield to Bolsover and heard some 11-year-old kids say, "Coal is 30 per cent. cheaper than gas, and 350 per cent. cheaper than nuclear." They knew. That is why I am convinced that the case is for real.
I will not troop through all the arguments, but it is common sense that if the price of industrial coal has not increased for six years, it must be getting close to being competitive. Let us also get rid of the nonsense about a £18,000 million subsidy. When such a claim comes from the mouths of the people who make it, it is bound to be a lie. There is no such thing as an £18,000 million subsidy. British Coal repaid £574 million to the taxpayer last year in interest on the money that it borrowed way back to pay for investment and redundancies. The nonsense about a £18,000 million subsidy has nothing to do with the real arithmetic.
Today, we are quids in. Everyone knows that after devaluation of between 12 per cent. and 15 per cent., British coal can compete with many imported coals. We thought that we might be able to do that some years ago, but now we know that is true. We should be having an export drive--selling coal to the Common Market. Where is the level playing field when German coal is coming into Britain at £110 a tonne? We should be selling them our coal, which after Black Wednesday is about £37 a tonne.
What is all this talk about money? Around £10 billion went down the drain on Black Wednesday. That would provide money for the miners. It would give every single miner currently employed by the industry money for 10 years--and there would be money for the pensioners and a bit for the health service as well.
A bit of a change has taken place. I think that we are on to something big, politically. It happens every so often. I have never believed in the idea that you are going to win every time you wake up in the morning, but sometimes things turn full circle. Nelson Mandela had to wait 27 years before that happened. The last time that we experienced such a change in the political and economic landscape was in the early 1970s ; as a result, the Tory Government of the day had to put the Industrial Relations Act on to the back burner, and they had to settle with the miners in 1972. It finished with their being kicked out of office in 1974. History will not exactly repeat itself in this instance, but I think that it will come very close to doing so.
Let us put something else on to the agenda. It is not just a question of the miners ; 3.5 million are without jobs. People will be living in poverty this winter, and there are pensioners who could do with some of the stocked coal to keep warm. The Government should use that coal instead of talking about the £100 million a month that it will cost to stock it.
Column 509What else is going to happen this winter? The Government are up to their neck in it economically, and, as a result, public expenditure cuts of about £14 billion are likely to be made. It looks as though there will be a pay freeze, or wage cuts, for millions of public-sector workers. We shall go into the autumn and the winter with more than just a small army from the NUM ; millions of other people will be involved, right across the trade union and labour movement.
Make no mistake : the Government had better watch out. Things are going to change. The 1980s were miserable ; the retreat has gone on for too long. I cannot wait to see the change. The 1990s have put socialism back on the agenda. They have helped us a little--and by Christ, we are going to see the results.
Mr. Paul Marland (Gloucestershire, West) : We have heard a traditionally enthusiastic, if somewhat unrealistic, speech from the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), and we have all thoroughly enjoyed it. What would have happened if this Government had closed down as many mines as the Government of which he was part when they were last in office? It was uncharacteristically modest of the hon. Gentleman to suggest that, when he walked past the Royal Garden hotel, he was less of an attraction than Arthur Scargill. Perhaps we shall see more of that modesty in the future : if so, it will be welcomed by the whole House.
On Monday, I had quite made up my mind to vote with the Opposition, against the Government. [Interruption.] Hear me out. I was appalled at the way in which the Government were proposing to treat whole communities. I come from the Royal Forest of Dean, which is a former coal-mining area, and I have seen at first hand how the transition can be made from a community that is dependent on a single industry to one that is much more broadly and securely based. It takes time, however.
Years ago, when the mines in the Forest of Dean began to be run down, Rank Xerox was in the process of development and gave alternative employment to those who no longer worked in the mines. Then, in the early 1980s, Rank Xerox wanted to reduce its workforce substantially, from over 5,000 to just over 1,000. That, however, was done piecemeal : Rank Xerox invested heavily in small workshops and other facilities, so that its ex-employees could either create work for themselves or find alternative jobs. The initiative was firmly backed by the Forest of Dean district council, led by the late Arthur Cooper, who--with others--set about developing small industrial estates in the district. With the council's help, I persuaded the Government to make the Forest of Dean an assisted area. The transformation has been a great success, but it has taken time : such action must be taken gradually.
It was the lack of time, and the indecent haste with which the pit closures were proposed, that turned me--along with many of my constituents--against the Government's initial proposals. The letters of protest from my constituency have had to be weighed rather than counted, because there are so many. It is not that the people of the Forest of Dean want to support inefficient pits or an outdated mechanism ; they were concerned about the way in which the Government proposed to treat whole communities.
I am very pleased that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade has now changed his
Column 510mind, and has agreed to a full and open review to keep all the interested parties abreast of what is going on. I am glad that he has also agreed to bring the results of his inquiry back to the House in January, in the form of a White Paper.
I believe that it takes a strong man to admit that he was wrong, and to do something to put matters right. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade has done just that, and, rather than cursing him, we should give credit where credit is due. He has seen the error of his ways, and has made an effort to remedy the position. I thank him for initiating a review.
The coal industry now has a chance to prove its case, and we, who do not know the details, have an opportunity to learn the full truth behind the allegations about cheap German coal, price rigging, the running out of our gas supplies and the role of nuclear power. Nothing is to be hidden ; nothing is to be done behind closed doors. This is the first-class outcome of what was a first-class blunder. I spoke earlier about the success of the industrial development of the Forest of Dean, and the way in which it has rebuilt hope. In the heat of today's debate, however, it is important to remember that developing businesses need cheap and reliable energy. We must not lose sight of that. I have observed it at first hand in another industry, in my capacity as parliamentary adviser to the British Scrap Federation. [Interruption.] Hon. Members may snigger, but the industry is very important to this country. It does a great deal to preserve the environment, and to save energy costs.
In the course of my duties this summer, I had occasion to visit a gigantic steel works in Rotherham. Opposition Members may know of Rotherham Engineering Steels, whose entire feed stock is scrap metal. The cost of electricity is one of the plant's major production costs. Its annual electricity bill currently runs at £42 million, and the cost per kilowatt hour is 3.4p. In Holland the cost would be 2.2p ; in France 2.3p ; in Germany, 2.9p. Most of those prices are one third lower than the United Kingdom price. That high energy cost adds about £14 million a year to the running costs of Rotherham Engineering Steels.
High energy costs disadvantage manufacturing industry in this country : we should not forget that. We cannot go on indemnifying home-mined coal when it cannot be burnt at home or sold abroad. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) made that point. The same applies to the farmers : they cannot go on producing cereals that cannot be eaten in this country or sold abroad, and they are gradually being run down. The agriculture industry is gradually changing its ways--but such things take time.
Let me emphaise that today's debate is about people and their future, and about options. That is why I welcome the proposed wide-ranging review and the Select Committee's inquiry into the coal industry, which will enable us all to understand the pros and cons and plan the way forward.
I wonder whether there is any point in asking for voluntary redundancies throughout the coal industry at this time, so that when the review is over those who wish to remain in the industry but who are currently attached to unprofitable pits can be moved to more profitable ones and have a successful career underground. The economic argument for cheap energy remains unassailable but today the need, above all, is for care and understanding and a new opportunity for those who are no longer required in the mining industry. That care and attention has been
Column 511applied before to the rundown of pits in south Wales. It will be done again. There is nobody better qualified than Lord Walker to ensure that the job is done properly. I am very pleased that he has taken the job.
In view of the changes that have taken place since Monday, I am happy today to give the benefit of the doubt to the Government and to vote in favour of their amendment so that everybody can take a fresh look at the facts, come back here in January and discuss the White Paper.
Mr. Roger Godsiff (Birmingham, Small Heath) : My constituency is not a coal mining area. It lies at the centre of Birmingham--what used to be the heart of manufacturing industry in this country. For 36 years the constituency was represented by Denis Howell, who has now, rightly, been elevated to another place.
I am speaking tonight because I wish to point out a few facts. Unemployment stands at 74,000 in Birmingham. Seventeen per cent. of the work force in the city are unemployed. Four out of 10 people in Birmingham have been jobless for more than 12 months. In my constituency, 26 per cent. of the working population are unemployed. I state those facts because I wish the House and, in particular, my colleagues who represent mining constituencies to know that my constituents know what it is like to experience long-term unemployment--an experience which, I fear, will be shared by many people in Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Yorkshire in the very near future.
I also mention these facts because the impact of the closure of these pits will be felt not just in the mining communities. More than 30,000 jobs will most certainly be lost in the mining communities, but three or four times that number of jobs will be lost in the many firms that supply the mining industry. Many of those firms come from Birmingham. Many of those jobs are in the west midlands.
I know of firms in Birmingham that supply cable belts and winding ropes to the mining industry. They are not small contracts ; they run into many hundreds of thousands of pounds. What is more, these firms export winding belts and cables. They need a secure base in this country. The closure of the 10 pits means that many of these firms will have to lay off workers and that a number of them will go out of business. The exports that those firms contribute to the balance of payments will be lost to this country.
The question that my constituents and the people of Birmingham ask is, what is the justification for the carnage that was announced by the Government last week? We are told a lot about the dash for gas and that it will result in lower electricity prices. I have heard nothing during the last seven days to convince me that that argument is proven--that there will be lower electricity prices which will benefit the consumer. What I can believe is that the electricity companies will make larger profits. Nobody has yet produced figures, however, that convince me that this country's consumers will benefit from the dash for gas.
Even if the economic argument for the dash for gas were proven, there are many other important factors that need to be taken into account. We all know that in this
Column 512country there are 200 years' worth of good- quality coal available for the use of this country. At best, we know that there might--and I repeat "might"--be a 50-year supply of natural gas. We all know, too, that the nuclear power industry is beset by problems. Nobody in his right mind would base a national energy policy on the use, solely and simply, of nuclear power. Furthermore, we know that this country has a limited amount of oil reserves, but, once again, nobody will base the basic energy needs of this country on oil. Are we, therefore, really acting sensibly by abandoning Britain's rich coal seams for ever? Once the coal mines are closed, those seams will never be used again, those mines will never be used again.
What will happen if the Government's projections for gas are proved wrong? Shall we end up with the country's basic energy needs having to be accounted for by imported gas and imported coal? Above all, what will future generations think of us here today if we make them, and their grandchildren, totally dependent on other countries for this country's basic energy needs? I am sure that I do not need to remind hon. Members of the many conflicts that have taken place in the world over energy resources. That is what the Gulf war was about. Nor do I need to remind hon. Members of what happened in the early 1970s when this country was held to ransom by an oil cartel, the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries. Do we really want to place ourselves in a position where we can be held to ransom in the future over this country's basic energy resources and energy needs? Even if there were a justifiable economic argument for the dash for gas, there surely has to be an even more important consideration--the community and social argument. Closure of these mines will destroy whole communities. There is no prospect whatsoever, whatever the Minister may say, that in the middle of a massive slump new industries will be brought into those communities. Thousands of redundant miners will not suddenly become thrusting, entrepreneurial business men, setting up their own businesses. It will not happen. What will happen is that those communities will wither and die. They will die as their coal resources die.
What will happen then? Hon. Members who have served as local councillors know what happens when communities die. Vast amounts of money will not go into council coffers and the Government will lose huge amounts in taxes and national insurance contributions. Tonight, the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) openly said that he asked the Minister for a cost-benefit analysis of the closures. The Minister's answer was that one had not been carried out. The Government cannot tell the British people how much the closures will cost. The unofficial figure is £1.4 billion. The question that I have to ask is, why? That is what my constituents are asking. What is it all about? It is about figures on a balance sheet. It is about accountants drawing up a profit and loss account and deciding that, as loss wins, communities must go by the board. A civilised society cannot be run on the basis of accountants' profit and loss accounts.
Why did the Government reach this decision? I believe that the answer is to be found in the way in which it was done : "Three days' notice, and then your jobs are gone. Do not say anything and do not complain or your redundancy pay might be cut." That was brutal, heartless, uncaring and illegal.
I am not alone in believing that the roots of the Government's decision go back not five or 10 years but to
Column 513what happened in 1974 right in the middle of my constituency at the Saltley gas works. During the miners' strike, an unknown NUM official from Yorkshire and a large number of Yorkshire miners picketed the works and prevented coal from being delivered, which resulted in the defeat of the Tory Government at the general election. I believe, as do many others, that what happened in 1974 figured very much in the minds of Ministers when they made their decision last week. The decision was not about economics or whether coal is better than gas but about revenge--the Tory party exacting revenge on the miners of this country for the Government's defeat in 1974. All hon. Members who want to see a future for the coal industry must support the Opposition motion.
Mrs. Elizabeth Peacock (Batley and Spen) : It is an honour to follow the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Godsiff). I congratulate him on choosing an important debate in which to make it. I appreciate that I have only a few minutes in which to speak, having sat here for almost seven hours waiting to do so.
When the announcement was made by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, I was shocked. In fact, I was ashamed that a Conservative Government had made it. Not only did it have an effect on me, but within 10 minutes almost all my constituency was clamouring to come into my office or was ringing. Since then, my telephone and fax machine have not stopped working and I have received hundreds of letters, not only from my constituents but from the great British people, who have risen up because of the decision.
As well as being a Member of this House, I am president of Yorkshire Conservative Trade Unionists. Having worked for so long in the area, I know that, as the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) said, they feel that we have let them down badly. I must acknowledge the great step forward that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade has taken in the past week, which I welcome. It is a serious step forward along the route that I asked him to take. I welcome the review and the fact that 21 pits are included, but, as my right hon. Friend knows very well, I do not welcome the fact that he was unable to include the other 10. The wider public outside are always concerned to ensure a sense of fair play.
I take the economic arguments. Representing a manufacturing area, and having fought for the textile industry for 10 years, I know about imports and that businesses must be competitive, but, having taken the decision to have the review, why did not my right hon. Friend include the other 10 pits? Had he done so, he would have had the backing of the House and of the country. We are talking not about 30, 000 jobs but about 100,000.
We have heard some hon. Members say that the argument is about revenge and about trade unions. It is not ; it is about people. Our industries and our communities are always made up of people. We cannot take the heart out of communities without causing misery, devastation and worry for many of those families. Of course, there is always rationalisation in industry, but does it all have to involve such huge numbers, in such a way that whole pit villages and mining communities disappear altogether?
Column 514I must say a few words about a lonely man sitting at the bottom of a pit shaft. He must really feel that he has let his members down--and they feel that he has let them down. But he must also feel that the Government have let him down. That man helped to keep the lights on in 1984 and 1985--perhaps against the advice of many people who talked to him. He took a band of men with him, and they kept this country afloat and alight. We owe him a much greater debt of gratitude, and I hope that we find a better way to reward that man for his eight years' work--I hope that he is listening.
I do not want to see our country held to ransom on energy policy in the future. I should like to think that in the years to come, when the history of this period is written, the Conservative Government will not be seen to have abandoned the miners and this country's energy policy. I would not wish to see myself depicted as having abandoned those miners and the whole coal industry, either. I regret to have to say to my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade that I cannot support him.
Mr. Martin O'Neill (Clackmannan) : I have been reminded by one of my hon. Friends that in the Betws drift mine there is a famous Peacock vein of anthracite coal. We hope that the Peacock vein will survive, just as we hope that the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock) will survive after she has joined us in the Lobby tonight. I hope, too, that she will not be alone in joining us there.
We have heard several fine speeches tonight. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Godsiff) on his maiden speech. We hope that in the years that lie ahead he will be able to participate in the pertinent and concise way that he has tonight. We have also heard other speeches from Opposition Members--