Previous Section Home Page

Mr. O'Neill : In a moment.

We have heard several speeches from those of my hon. Friends who, before coming to the House, spent their lives in the mining industry. They spoke movingly about the collieries in which they have served. From their experience both at work and in the service of their constituencies they know of the problems facing the condemned 10 pits. Indeed, my hon. Friends the Members for Barnsley, East (Mr. Patchett), for Easington (Mr. Cummings), for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood), for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) and for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) all spoke with great authority on the unjustified choice made between the condemned 10 pits and the other 21.

My hon. Friends drew attention to the fact that the debate has become the political fault line of the new Session of Parliament. Almost prematurely-- certainly far earlier than we expected--the debate has brought up the whole question of how this country should be run. That is not a new question ; its genesis lies in the previous Parliament. It all goes back to the nature of the privatisations of gas and electricity, and especially to the regional electricity companies' ability both to distribute power and to own shares in the gas-fired production. We can pick over the bones to try to establish whether that was the intention of the original legislation, but the consequence has certainly been that the RECs can both

Column 515

generate and distribute electricity. The relationship is not only dubious but questionable in that those companies have sizeable shares in the new power stations. If they have to pay an increased charge for gas-fired electricity, that can be passed on to their monopoly customers. They have no choice. What the gas-fired generators charge can be passed on to individuals and can be reflected beneficially in the balance sheets of the companies to which I have referred. More importantly, the Government's protector of the public interest--the regulator--seems to be supine and paralysed. He is hiding behind the inaccessibility of evidence saying that he does not have the evidence upon which to act or make recommendations. If he does not act quickly, the exercise will be academic because the collieries will not exist and the future of our mining industry will be thrown into doubt.

We have been along this road before. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have referred to past oil prices and the sensitivity of this country to oil price rises. Reference has been made to the effects of political instability and in recent days we saw once again the impact of the variance in the rate of exchange.

We saw what happened when oil prices changed in the 1970s and 1980s. Let us not forget that gas prices are linked inextricably to oil prices and the two phenomena that occurred in the past could well be repeated. Some hon. Members have tried to lecture the Opposition about the comparative records of Governments in respect of redundancies. We have heard about the willingness of the Labour Government to introduce redundancies and pit closures. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) explained the manner in which he conducted many of the closures when he had responsibility for them.

Over the past few days, we have also heard about the record of the 1960s. It is worth placing on the record the fact that between 1960 and 1970 there were 300,000 voluntary redundancies. Between 1960 and 1964 under Conservative rule, there were 114,000 redundancies. Between 1964 and 1970 there were 186,000 redundancies. That works out at 28,500 a year under the Conservatives and 31,000 under Labour. There is little to choose between the two. Certainly, there is little to choose between the two when we take account of the unemployment levels prevalent in the 1960s when the people who lost their jobs had an opportunity to go to other employment. They were given the chance of new work. During that period, both Labour and Conservative Governments were prepared to participate in and pursue energetic regional policies.

It is significant that it was the Macmillan Government who facilitated the construction of the Ravenscraig plant in Lanarkshire to create work for the miners who lost their jobs when the Lanarkshire coalfield closed. It is significant that the present Conservative Government have merely facilitated the closure of Ravenscraig and the decline of manufacturing industry in that part of Scotland.

We will no doubt receive promises and Government initiatives, task forces and visits from Prime Ministers. Some jobs will be created. Nevertheless, there is a feeling throughout the country that too little is taking place far too late. Certainly, the experience that I have instanced in

Column 516

respect of Ravenscraig is mirrored throughout the country. There is a profound feeling that the tidal wave of redundancies and closures must stop.

When the first rumours of pit closures emerged, the Government assumed that they would be received by the people in the way in which other lay-offs have been received. Somehow people would think, "Bad luck, but thank God it's not me." Only when the scale of the redundancies and their impact on whole swathes of the country became apparent did our people realise that enough was enough.

Conservative Members have referred to their mailbags, interruptions and demonstrations that they have had at their surgeries. They realise that people in Conservative constituences know that what is happening in mining areas will be happening in their areas before too long unless something is done about it.

When one industry--the mining industry--represents the sole source of employment for an area, it becomes all too clear how fallacious and criminally wrong was the Thatcherite view that there is no such thing as a community, only individuals and families. It is exactly because miners and their families make up what we know to be coalfield communities that public indignation rose to such levels. People became aware that not only the 30,000 British Coal employees but the 3,000 to 4,000 coal workers who are employed by the private contractors who drive the roads under the mines to facilitate the winning of coal will lose their jobs. About 72,000 people are employed by members of the associated British mining equipment companies. It is suggested that, pro rata, for every 1,000 jobs lost in coal mining another 600 will be lost elsewhere. The hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) suggested that 100,000 people will be affected, costing the Exchequer £1.25 billion per annum in lost tax, in social security and in unemployment benefits. On top of that there will be nearly £1.2 billion in redundancy payments.

The impact on areas where mining is the sole source of employment will be almost incalculable. What the Government--

Madam Deputy Speaker : I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but there is now a buzz of conversation, which is discourteous to the hon. Gentleman who has the floor. I ask the House to be very much quieter.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : It is that little Whip.

Madam Deputy Speaker : The noise is not confined to one side, I have to say. Mr. O'Neill, please continue.

Mr. O'Neill : The Government have not realised that there is tremendous public respect and admiration for miners and for mining communities. In 1972 the public recognised that the miners had a case, and in 1974 the British public threw out the Tory Government who sought to make the miners dispute a pretext for the general election. In 1984, almost perversely, the British public backed the miners in two ways. One section supported the NUM in its valiant struggle to defend jobs and communities from the threat which tragically became the reality of closure and contraction, while the other section of the public fought miners who refused to strike and carried on working. But none of those who wanted to see the mining industry destroyed and none of those who supported the miners wanted the social and economic devastation which last week's statement unveiled. Faced

Column 517

with an outburst of public feeling on such a scale, it takes a monumentally inept Government to embark on such a course of action. It is perhaps unfair to blame the whole Government. After all, it was only the magnificent seven who made the decision, but the magnificent seven, like their Japanese forebears, the seven samurai, were supposed to defend villages against tyrannical oppression. The Tory Government make the job of the magnificent seven to act as plundering vandals laying waste to villages, in much the same way as the United States general justified laying to waste a Vietnamese village on the basis that that was the only way in which the village could be saved.

By closing 27 mines British Coal would be left with 21 pits, four of which would be put on a care and maintenance basis, and there would be 17 pits producing coal. The output from the 17 pits will be 31.5 million tonnes in 1993-94 and 29 million tonnes in 1994-95. Output will not be 40 million tonnes because 11 million tonnes will be accounted for by coal which is already in the coal stocks. The Secretary of State for Wales might care to tell the House how, in 1994-95, we will achieve 2.5 million fewer tonnes of production. Will that come from an additional round of pit closures? If so, which other collieries will be closed? I say that not in a frivolous way ; I speak as the hon. Member who has the Longannet mine in his constituency. It was announced last week that another report had suggested that--

Mr. Gallie : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Is it not the case- - [Interruption.] I apologise, Madam Speaker. It was an intervention, not a point of order.

Mr. O'Neill : Something will have to be done about spurious points of order. I hope that the Chair-- [Interruption.] Make no mistake about it : both sides of the House are using spurious points of order as a means of interrupting debate and spoiling the flow of discussion. That is something that must be considered. The inept interruption of the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) suggests that something must be done quickly.

There is a distinct possibility that in 1994-95 the size of the coal industry will be reduced further to accommodate the fall in production of 2.5 million tonnes that is anticipated between now and that time. There has been a drop in morale and production at the mine in my constituency, which was mentioned earlier as one of the possible candidates for closure. When people recognise that closures are taking place, they immediately feel vulnerable to a possible further round of closures. I urge the Secretary of State to clarify the position this evening.

We are not here tonight solely to talk about which mines should or should not be closed ; we are talking about whether it is necessary for coal production in Britain to fall from 65 million tonnes to 31 million tonnes. Why have certain collieries been designated as running at a loss when we know that in recent years about 35 collieries have gone from loss to profit within 12 months? We also know that five of the 10 collieries that are on the hit list are in that category. It is suggested that six out of the 10 collieries are making a profit. There is no question of their being involved in making a loss.

It has been suggested by Lord Wakeham in the other place that an inquiry should be held to consider the future of the industry and the reduction in the size of the coal take. In the past few days we have seen the politics of the

Column 518

rolling statement. A little more has been disclosed in every discussion, every television programme, and every parliamentary speech. Yesterday, Lord Wakeham identified six points. He said that each colliery should be examined to see whether a case for closure could be sustained. We want to ensure that not just the 21 collieries but the other 10 are included in such an examination.

It has already been suggested today that Trentham is on one list and may go into the other. If that is good enough for Trentham, it is good enough for the other nine. We also want guarantees that, if the colliery review procedure is carried out in respect of the 10, they will not be disadvantaged by the failure to invest. We have had assurances for the 20, but we have not had assurances for the other 10. We need those assurances if the collieries are to have a future.

Mr. Heseltine : I confirm beyond any question of doubt that exactly the same comments I made about Trentham apply to the other nine. It is the responsibility of the Coal Board to conduct its statutory consultation. If, as a result of that consultation, it is decided that any one or all of the 10 should continue, the Coal Board must preserve those pits during the consultation so that they can continue to exist.

Mr. O'Neill : The President of the Board of Trade has not cleared up the matter to everyone's satisfaction. There is a simple way to do so. He could again intervene with British Coal, as he has done during the past two days, and require all 31 pits to be treated equally, so that throughout the British coalfield there will be a sense that justice is being done.

Mr. Heseltine : I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving way again in limited time. I have spoken to the chairman of British Coal--the hon. Gentleman may call that intervening--to establish that it is British Coal's responsibility to keep open the option that, if consultation provides such a conclusion, each or all of the 10 pits may continue in existence. I have also agreed with the chairman of British Coal that development will be kept going at the other 21 pits during the review so as not to prejudice their continued operation in any way.

Mr. O'Neill : I think that that tells us that there will be no development in the 10 pits, but that there may be in the other 21. During the debate we have heard instances of miners being sent home from collieries--the right hon. Gentleman would have heard them if he had been present. That is not the way to keep a level playing field for the condemned 10, and until he can give us an assurance that he will intervene in that matter we shall not be prepared to believe what he tells us.

Mr. Heseltine : That is obviously a critical issue. As regards the 10 pits, it is necessary for British Coal to take what measures are appropriate during the statutory consultations to maintain viably the option for them to continue. That does not mean that they will be operating at full production during the statutory period, but that British Coal must be able to ensure that the option to continue exists at the end of the 90 days.

Mr. O'Neill : We shall wait to find out whether that is the final and definitive word from the President.

Column 519

Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central) : Will my hon. Friend seek clarification of which 90-day review period is under discussion? As I understand it, the 90-day review period is the statutory consultation period for redundancy under the employment protection legislation. It has nothing to do with the future of the colliery or with the profitability, or lack of it, of the pits. The other review procedure is the independent voluntary review established after the 1985 strike--it is voluntary and it is up to both sides to agree to enter that procedure.

Mr. O'Neill : I am grateful to my hon. Friend, as that is a valid question. There is confusion. There are two 90-day procedures and we are not clear which of the two is being applied. It is fair enough if we are saying that there is a review procedure which is totally independent of the redundancy payment requirements, but that matter should be clarified during the right hon. Gentleman's winding-up speech--[ Hon. Members :-- "Now."].

Mr. Heseltine : It is the statutory period under the employment legislation--[ Hon. Members :-- "Oh!"]. But the matter of concern to the House is that the option to continue those pits in operation is preserved.

Mr. O'Neill : The situation is now clear. The President of the Board of Trade, probably inadvertently, misled the House this afternoon by confusing the statutory redundancy procedures with the review procedure, which was arrived at after 1985. Those of us who have been involved in collieries where the review procedure has been brought into play know from bitter experience that it is very difficult to win an argument with British Coal when it has decided to put a colliery into that procedure.

Yesterday, Lord Wakeham said that there would be discussions with the generators and the 12 regional electricity companies on the market prospects. I hope that the President ensures that the talks do not prejudice the prospect of coal share being maintained at 65 million tonnes by assuming that all the proposed gas-fired power stations will be allowed to proceed. We should like a response this evening to a question posed on a number of occasions : what is to happen to the future applications and those that are in the final stages of consideration? Will they be given the rubber stamp, as has happened in the past, or will there be an attempt to ringfence whatever figure is decided for the coal industry?

We have had an undertaking that there will be a belated examination of the dash for gas. I say "belated" and I am mindful that, yesterday, Lord Wakeham said :

"There is no question but that gas is cheaper."--[ Official Report, House of Lords, 20 December 1992 ; Vol. 539, c. 673.]

But the Government are supposed to be an open-minded Government who will take everything into consideration.

Lord Wakeham continued--this is the disturbing part--by saying that if the regional electricity companies chose gas in preference to cheaper energy sources and passed the cost on to the consumer in increased prices, they would be in breach of their licence conditions. That will be a fat lot of good to the mines if the closures have already taken place and it is impossible to reopen them. There is no threat to punish a breach of the licence provisions if the measure cannot be enacted quickly enough to restore to the collieries their right to supply coal to the power stations. Consideration has been promised on the mothballing of some of the pits that are due for closure. The Frances

Column 520

colliery in Kirkcaldy has been operating on a care and maintenance basis for some time. Last week it was announced that, instead of being sustained, it would either be closed or sold if a buyer could be obtained. That does not bode well for the possibility of mothballing in future.

The last undertaking given in the House of Lords yesterday was to look at the proposed level of imports to see whether it was appropriate.

Mr. Tipping : Will the Secretary of State and the President--the great interventionist--say whether he has now picked up the phone to stop Russian coal being burnt at Aldermaston? He gave us a lecture earlier about another local authority. Will he stop 300,000 tonnes of coal from Russia being burnt at Aldermaston?

Mr. O'Neill : I think that the Secretary of State can answer that question when he winds up the debate. We all want to know what the attitude will be towards a wide range of imported coals and what the Government propose to do about the importation of coal from Colombia, which has risen by a phenomenal amount to 2.5 billion tonnes. Leeds council has yet to sign a contract. Under the competitive tendering process, Leeds council exchanged letters of intent with the coal company. That undertaking has now been revoked. Until the competitive tendering legislation was introduced, there was an agreement whereby all coal burnt had to come from Yorkshire collieries. Therefore, we do not need any lecturing about Labour authorities being forced into taking on responsibilities. The level of imports does not merely involve numbers, but quality. We want to ensure that orimulsion plays no part in the future energy mix of this country. We want to ensure that a potential pollutant of that character has no part in our energy mix.

It is assumed that if there is a second look at the closure programme it will involve little more than tinkering at the margins. There is certainly a feeling that the people who advised the Secretary of State on the initial statement are those who are to act as judge and jury on the review. In our judgment they are not people to be trusted. We do not have confidence in them or in the way in which they have carried out their responsibilities so far. The Opposition believe that there is another way to carry out the review. We believe that our motion provides the means whereby the Government can enjoy the respect and confidence of the people of this country--if they carry out the review independently, if they afford the Select Committee proper access to all the materials, and if they require the companies to provide the information on which the Select Committee can make its judgment.

The coal industry does not ask for special pleading. It responded like no other industry in the 1980s to the challenges of new technology and of change, and miners have carried out their work in a way that has resulted in the country respecting them. Everyone--apart from Ministers--respects British Coal and the industry.

If the Government are to discharge their responsibilities in respect of energy policy they need to secure and enjoy public trust, the trust that springs from the belief that the Government are in full possession of the facts and are acting rationally. The events of the past week suggest neither. Our motion offers a way forward which will enjoy the support of those affected by colliery closures. It will

Column 521

enjoy the backing of the country and the agreement of the Labour party. I urge Conservative Members to join us in the Lobbies in support of the motion.

9.36 pm

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. David Hunt) : This has been a wide-ranging and comprehensive debate. We have heard 28 speeches and I, like some other Members, have not missed a word of them. I congratulate all who have contributed--especially the hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Godsiff) on his maiden speech. He spoke with great compassion and vigour. It was a good speech ; we will hear many more from him. I note that he is a supporter of Charlton Athletic, who are second in the first division and unbeaten this season. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will score many goals for the Opposition in future speeches.

We heard at length from the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), but we did not hear an alternative policy from the Labour party. Indeed, the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) said at the end of the debate that there was little to choose between Labour and Conservative Governments when it came to who had closed most pits. He is wrong. I have the figures. The Government who closed most pits and put most people on the dole were the Labour Government between 1964 and 1970. It is about time we had the facts in this debate. Between 1967 and 1968 there were 59 colliery closures. I have a list of every year since 1946, and there have never been as many closures as that in one year since the war. [ Hon. Members-- : "What about today?"] I am answering the point made by the hon. Member for Clackmannan. It is no use the Labour party thinking it can get away with cheap points without reply. In 1968-69, 46,146 people in the coal industry were put on the dole--so the Labour Government clearly hold the record. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark) asked a number of questions. He will know that I have always taken his points very seriously indeed. I have great respect for his expertise in this matter. He asked whether the Select Committee report, which has been quoted by several hon. Members, would be taken seriously. I assure him that it will, but I remind him that it said that no overseas experience is relevant to how the energy industry in England and Wales will develop. I have carefully read that important report which must be taken into account in the review.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, North (Sir T. Skeet), who has always been noted for knowing a great deal about the energy industry, raised some important facts. Opposition Members who were not present during my Friend's speech should read it in Hansard. In it they will see some facts of which they were unaware, if one takes their speeches at face value.

The hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) asked whether the review would be serious. The answer is yes. He also asked whether Liberal Democrat submissions would be accepted. Of course they will, if they are acceptable. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will do no other than to put to the Government all the facts that he and his colleagues wish to put.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey) rose

Column 522

Mr. Hunt : I shall not give way. I am replying to issues raised by the hon. Members who spoke in the debate.

The hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) has much experience of the National Union of Mineworkers and I respect his expertise on the coal industry. I respect also the expertise of the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) who for many years has represented NACODS. I ask both hon. Gentlemen to respect the expertise of my hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Bates) who said that we must consider not only coal communities but the jobs and communities which depend on power stations and gas exploration and the manufacturing industries in the United Kingdom that depend on cheap energy. Mr. Barron rose--

Mr. Hunt : I shall give way in a moment, but I should first like to respond to the important issues that have been raised. I shall respond in writing to those that I am not able to deal with now. I hope that people will pay attention to the speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison). It was an important statement by a Member who represents a large number of coal miners in one of the most productive collieries in the world. He said that we should look to the future. I have gone underground at the Selby pits which are now reaping the product of a £1,300 million investment by producing 12 million tonnes at a rate of 30 tonnes per man shift. That is quite remarkable. I refer the hon. Members for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood) and for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby. They may well look back with some pride to the past-- all hon. Members have a right to look back with pride at the coal mining industry--but we must not become rooted in the past. We must look to the future. We cannot shore up any pit, however uneconomic. On 29 January 1985 the right hon. Member for Chesterfield said :

"There is not a single pit in Britain which is uneconomic." He probably still holds that view. The greatest threat to the coal industry would be any attempt to average up the cost of economic low-cost pits to subsidise pits that can only be a burden on the economy in general and the coal industry in particular. Those were the words of a right hon. Member who was a Minister for power under a Labour Government.

Mr. Barron : The Secretary of State for Wales was in the Chamber when I spoke earlier. I said that I had no disagreement with the right hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) about the long-term future of British coal. The Secretary of State heard me say that there is a colliery in my constituency that has recently completed a £183 million investment programme. As a single pit, it has reserves that are better than any of the Selby pits. Last week, the 1,300 who work there--many of them sat in the same classroom as myself as children--were told that they were sacked because it had been decided that the mine would be mothballed. How is that looking after the nation's future?

Mr. Hunt : I shall reply directly to the hon. Gentleman [ Hon. Members :-- "Answer."] I shall answer. I still rely on my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby, who talked about looking to the future. I say to the hon. Gentleman that in the 1960s there were many pits that had large economic reserves of coal. Machinery was in those

Column 523

pits. They were closed so quickly by the then Labour Government that the machinery was lost. I say directly to the hon. Gentleman-- Mrs. Peacock rose --

Mr. Hunt : I shall give way to my hon. Friend in a moment. I shall reply to the hon. Member for Rother Valley and then I shall give way.

The hon. Member for Rother Valley knows that there have always been different views. I am sure that he has been present during review procedures. There are always differences of view about what is an economic pit.

Mrs. Peacock : Does my right hon. Friend agree that what the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) has just said--much information has been brought to some of us this week--is a good reason for including the 10 pits in the review? If my right hon. Friend can give the House the assurance that they will be included, he will persuade me not to vote against the Government this evening.

Mr. Hunt : I note that the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) is in his place. Taff Merthyr is one of the 10. I understand from the Taff Merthyr work force that the pit has serious problems. I know that the hon. Gentleman will disagree, but the closures of Taff Merthyr and Betws were announced on20 August and not last week. They are part of the 10, but, as I have said, the closures were announced not last week but on 20 August. The men met and, as I understand it-- regrettably for them--they had to accept that the pit did not have an economic future.

Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) : I intervene because the Secretary of State for Wales has referred specifically to Taff Merthyr. There is a sense of resignation because a good and reasonable plan was put forward but rejected--it was not listened to--by British Coal. We are asking only that that plan should be submitted to a new review procedure and not to the same people who turned it down. The plan should be reconsidered during the 90 days. In the Taff Merthyr area nearly 25 per cent. of the men are out of work. There has been a loss of 4,000 jobs in manufacturing. Thorn has been closed. There is now the prospect of another 380 job losses, and three other pits are being closed. Is the right hon. Gentleman offering us more of the same?

Mr. Hunt : No, not at all.

I know that the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney will disagree with the miner whose words I am about to quote, but when asked about whether he would fight for the future of the pit on BBC Wales he replied :

"Why should we fight when we run out of reserves next year?" I tell my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock) that British Coal has told my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade that the 10 pits are currently loss making and that there is no prospect of viability in the foreseeable future.

Dr. Michael Clark : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the men employed in the 10 pits subject to the review procedure will be laid off work on full pay for three months whereas in the 21 pits that are subject to the

Column 524

moratorium the miners will be mining coal for three months and earning bonuses? The difference is that both sets of men will be paid while one set is mining no coal and the other set continue to mine. What sort of economic sense is that?

Mr. Hunt : Let me make matters absolutely clear about the 10 pits. British Coal is under a statutory duty to consult on those closures. Several Hon. Members rose--

Mr. Hunt : Just one moment.

It must be a genuine consultation. British Coal has given the criteria to show that those pits are currently loss making and have no prospect of viability in the foreseeable future. If there is any serious doubt about whether those criteria apply, British Coal will have to demonstrate that that doubt is removed and that the criteria have been met, because, under the legislation, it not only has to give reasons for closure, but it must prove that the consultation is a genuine one. That is absolutely clear.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham) : On the review, can my right hon. Friend say whether the best possible estimates can be given for all costs, whether direct or indirect, which would be incurred by all Government Departments for each option under review?

Mr. Hunt : I know how deeply my hon. Friend feels about this matter and I know that he has discussed it with my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. I want to be as helpful to him as possible because he has raised an important point. These are complex matters, as he knows, and I will arrange for my right hon. Friends and myself to explore his concerns with him and, if possible, to satisfy him that we have considered the issues properly.

Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East) : The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that I have two large power stations in my constituency. He will be aware that we in Northern Ireland are dependent upon external fuel resources--we have to import all our needs. He will also be aware that we still await an interconnector to Scotland, a gas pipeline to the mainland and opportunity to develop our own lignite reserves. What assurances can he give me and my colleagues that, in any future strategy review, the particular needs of Northern Ireland will be given consideration?

Mr. Hunt : Without any qualification, I give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. The House must settle down.

Mr. Hunt : There are still a number of points to which I wish to refer. My hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Mr. Oppenheim) quite rightly raised the whole issue of Euro-comparisons. During the debate we have heard a great deal about German coal. I have a copy of the German coal plan 2005 and I want to put the record straight. It states :

"Kohlekonzept 2005 lays the foundations for an efficient and viable German hard coal mining industry in the long term though on a lower level than today."

I cite from page 18 headed "Conclusion".

Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley) : What about British coal?

Column 525

Mr. Hunt : German coal was also debated tonight. That report states :

"Kohlekonzept 2005 has serious and far-reaching consequences for the mining companies and their employees. The number of mines will now decline from 26 to 17. Hard coal production must be reduced further. In the hard coal mining industry alone, as many as 40,000 workers will have now to be made redundant mainly in the areas with serious structural problems."

My hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley was therefore right. My right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) spoke about the overall economic situation, and he will have been heartened by the words of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister last night. My right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) emphasised the dangers of a one- industry town, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Marland).

My hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) also contributed-- and let no one say that there is no compassion on this side of the House. All my right hon. and hon. Friends care deeply about the coal industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) spoke at great length, and I take account of all his points. My hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen knows that I share her deep concern for mining communities.

Mr. Churchill : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the review will address aggressively the unlevel playing field against coal, and specifically the reduction from 65 million tonnes to 40 million tonnes?

Mr. Hunt : Without qualification.

Mr. Cash : My right hon. Friend and I worked together closely during the miners' strike and he knows what I am getting at. As there is some confusion, can he make one point clear? On the basis of his remarks today, is there any reasonable expectation--is it Government policy--that the 10 pits will be included in the review procedure set up by the Government? A clear answer please--yes or no.

Mr. Hunt : The 10 pits will of course be considered under the statutory consultation procedure, and British Coal must prove its case.

Mr. Illsley : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I apologise for raising one at this stage, but the House is in danger of inadvertently being misled. There is no 90-day statutory review procedure. The statutory procedure relates to redundancies, not closures.

Madam Speaker : Order. That is not a point of order but a debating point.

Mr. Hunt : I am talking about the 90-day statutory consultation procedure. I have been very open about that. It must be a genuine procedure, genuine consultation--that is, about the 10 pits. Wales has seen a dramatic decline in the coal industry but we have looked to the future, not to the past. We have provided many new jobs in former coal-mining constituencies. When Labour closed pits, it left slag heaps. There was no enterprise company, people were thrown out of work, and valley communities were dispirited. Since this Government came to power, we have pursued a massive land clearance programme and brought new jobs and opportunities to Wales. I give one other example. In one day we lost 8,000 jobs at Shotton steelworks. This Government created the

Column 526

Deeside industrial park, which now provides 10,000 jobs. The valleys of south Wales have new jobs and opportunities, and an environment that has been painstakingly restored to its former glory.

Next Section

  Home Page