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The industry, as Opposition Members have said, has made considerable strides in improving productivity over recent years. It is only by building on those gains that the industry will compete effectively in future. Privatisation will best ensure that prospect. Time and again, privatisation has demonstrated the ability of industries which had previously lagged behind their international competitors to catch up and, increasingly to set the pace. That is true whether one looks at the docks, at steel, or at a whole range of public utilities. There is every reason to expect that the coal industry will do the same.

Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton) : Will the President give way?

Mr. Heseltine : If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I think that I have given way enough.

Our intention is to offer British Coal's assets for sale in five regional businesses. Those will be based on Scotland, Wales, the north-east, and two parts of the central coalfield. Potential purchasers will be able to bid for one or more packages, and all bids will be considered on their merits. Our proposals will attreact new outside management, and they will give the industry's existing managers and employees the chance to make proposals to take over their own industry.

The Government have made it clear that we are prepared to offer financial support to help potential management and employee buy-out teams to carry their proposals forward.

Mr. William O'Brien : Will the President of the Board of Trade give way?

Mr. Heseltine : No.

On receiving Royal Assent, the Bill will end immediately the existing statutory restrictions that limit the scale of operations of private sector mines that can be licensed by British Coal. It will provide for a new Coal Authority to carry out those functions of British Coal which would not be appropriate for the private sector. The new Coal Authority will be based in Nottinghamshire. Its main functions will be licensing of coal mining, owning and granting access to our coal reserves, carrying out British Coal's responsibilities for the physical legacy of past mining to the extent that they are not taken over by the private sector, and making available mining records and geological information.

The Coal Authority must be fully impartial in carrying out its licensing duties, so it will not, therefore, be allowed itself to participate in commercial mining. British Coal will become a licensee of the Coal Authority prior to privatisation. The Bill contins scheme-making powers, similar to those in previous privatisations, for the transfer of property, rights and liabilities of British Coal to other parties as necessary for the privatisation of the business. The Bill provides for the dissolution of British Coal in due course. I turn now to the critical issue of safety. The coal industry in the United Kingdom has one of the best safety records in the world. I made it clear as soon as I arrived at the DTI that I would do nothing to prejudice that record. I repeat that pledge today. In 1992, we sought--

Mr. Ronnie Campbell : Will the President give way?

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Mr. Heseltine : The hon. Member has had a go.

In 1992, we sought the advice of the Health and Safety Commission on the safety implications of privatisation. The commission's full and considered advice was received in October. The Government published that advice, and accepted it in full.

The essence of the commission's advice is that it should continue to be the health and safety regulatory body for the coal industry, that the Health and Safety Executive should be the enforcement authority, and that the framework of legislation must be sufficiently robust to command the continued confidence of the industry and to ensure that health and safety standards are maintained or improved.

Mr. Ronnie Campbell : On that point--

Mr. Heseltine : The commission's advice is that there is already a comprehensive framework of law governing the mining industry, with a rigorous inspection and enforcement regime. The commission believes that the work that it has been doing since 1983 to modernise that framework will make an important contribution to ensuring that it is adequate to the demands of a privatised industry.

The commission has also taken steps to ensure that the best practice in British Coal's existing owners' instructions continues to be applied throughout the industry. The work to achieve that is now largely completed. Draft regulations were laid by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment on 1 October last year to give legal status to a number of the most important requirements of British Coal's safety instructions.

The commission has also recommended that there should continue to be a national rescue service. The commission will consult widely about the way forward. The Bill reflects the advice that we have received from the commission.

Another issue of fundamental concern to employees and former employees of British Coal is pension provision. I am determined that the pension entitlements of those who have given their working lives to the industry, and their dependants, should be fully respected and safeguarded in the process of privatisation. A consultation paper on proposals for British Coal pensions after privatisation was published in September last year. Comments were received from the trustees of the British Coal schemes, from the corporation, from industry unions and from more than 1,000 individuals.

After careful consideration of all the responses to the consultation paper, on 2 December we announced our decisions. All pensioners and deferred pensioners of the mineworkers' pension scheme and the staff superannuation scheme and all currently contributing members will be able to leave their past service entitlements in the schemes, which, on privatisation, will be closed to new members. New industry-wide pension schemes will be created for employees of British Coal and its subsidiaries who are transferred to employment in successor companies.

The Bill provides for the closed schemes to be given a Government solvency guarantee that will ensure that pensions and deferred pensions are increased annually after privatisation, in line with the retail price index by reference to their level at privatisation. In addition, beneficiaries will be able to benefit from any fund surpluses through pension payment increases over and above RPI levels. The new industry-wide schemes will provide the same package of

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benefits as the corresponding main scheme. Employees transferred to the new schemes will be given protected person status under the Bill.

The Government believe that those proposals meet in full our commitment to protect pensions under the two existing schemes. The proposals will provide security for pension entitlements earned from service with British Coal and will provide protection for pension entitlements from future service with successor companies. The Bill provides the necessary statutory underpinning for all the safeguards proposed.

Next, I refer to concessionary fuel entitlements. I am again determined that they should be properly safeguarded. A consultation paper on this subject was published in October. My hon. Friend the Minister for Energy yesterday announced our conclusions. Responsibility for meeting the entitlements of former employees and their dependants will be transferred to the Government. Successor companies will be responsible for the entitlements of British Coal employees who transfer to them.

I believe that our policies for the treatment of pensions and concessionary fuel fully meet the Government's commitment to safeguard entitlements, and are fair to beneficiaries and to taxpayers. They will provide welcome and essential reassurance to many mining families that their hard-earned entitlements will not be jeopardised.

Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central) : Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) : Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Heseltine : No. I have given many times.

The Bill addresses the issues of subsidence. There must be proper protection for the rights of householders and others who may be affected by coal-mining subsidence. A large part of the Bill is devoted to establishing a strong regulatory regime for that purpose. The Coal Authority will take over all British Coal's existing responsibilities for subsidence, except in clearly defined areas where licensees will be responsible. Householders will therefore be in no doubt against whom to claim. It is an enabling power. We have yet to take final decisions as to the extent of the areas for which licensees will be responsible. Obviously, that will need careful consideration, bearing in mind the interests of the industry, the taxpayer, and, of course, the claimants.

The Coal Authority is given a strong duty to ensure that licensees make proper financial provisions for meeting claims, and the power to require that security, possibly in the form of a trust, is provided.

Mr. Foulkes : Can the President give an assurance that the beneficiaries of concessionary coal will continue to receive coal if that is what they wish, and will not be forced to take cash in lieu?

Mr. Heseltine : The answer is yes. But as happens now, there will be arrangements for a financial exchange of those rights if it is agreed with the individuals concerned. The hon. Gentleman's point is well made.

After nearly 50 years in the public sector, the coal industry has acquired exactly the same myths as those that used to haunt other nationalised industries. It is commonly suggested that they can never match the efficiency of their competitors ; that their future lies only in an endless continuation of taxpayers' subsidies of one sort or another ;

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that somehow or other they cannot attract significantly worthy management for the task in their control ; and that, in the end, only politicians are fit to take the strategic decisions affecting their future. Time and time again, all those myths have been exposed and exploded. In case after case, they are myths.

This Bill will give the coal industry the opportunity to demonstrate that it can compete, it can stand on its own feet, it can attract managers who are the best in the world, and it is fit and able to take control of its destiny. I do not have the slightest doubt that the industry will make good use of that opportunity. I look forward to the day when private sector coal companies will join other privatised companies as free-standing, competitive enterprises, carrying a new entrepreneurial spirit into the marketplaces of the world. To enable that to happen, we will privatise the coal industry. We will set the industry free to meet the challenges of the marketplace, to innovate, to compete and to win its rightful share in the diversified energy market in the years ahead. That is the Government's policy, and I commend the Bill to the House.

4.21 pm

Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston) : The President has presented the Bill to the House in a speech which began with a light essay in history in which he was willing--indeed, enthusiastic--to take interventions, followed by a presentation of the detail of the Bill in which, perhaps wisely, he appeared to be extremely reluctant to take interventions.

My hon. Friends who listened carefully to the speech noticed that there was a gap. We heard about the details of the device by which the Government will privatise the coal industry. We heard about the arrangements for the claims of subsidence. We heard how the Government propose to resolve the bill that will be left for the pensioners of the two coal industry pension funds. It was proper that the President went on at such length about the pension arrangements, as there are now 20 times as many people with a claim on the pension fund as there are left among the dwindling few people working in the pits.

There was a gap in the speech. Although the House heard all the details about how the Government propose to privatise the pits, we did not hear how many pits will be left in the coal industry when it is privatised. The President told us about the arrangements for concessionary coal, but he could not tell us how many pits will be there to dig the coal in the first place. He knows perfectly well how many pits will still be there at privatisation. If he does not know, he should take the Bill away and come back when he is able to answer that question.

On Friday, the Chief Secretary provided us with a timely warning of the threat of this great institution of Parliament being undermined by cynicism. I whole-heartedly agree that there is a danger of the House being undermined by cynicism. What undermines the House is the cynicism of Ministers who will not tell us what is common knowledge within their Departments. It is worse cynicism than that : it is the cynicism of Ministers who think that it is all right to brief the press privately on what they are not prepared to share with the House.

I give the example of The Times last Thursday. Someone told The Times how many pits will survive privatisation. The Times is quite confident that it knows

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how many pits will be closed in the future ; the article has the confidence of being accompanied by a photograph of the President of the Board of Trade. It tells us that six pits will close next February. Whoever told The Times did a thorough job, because the article names seven pits out of which the six will be chosen. The same story also appeared in The Independent, and the same seven pits are named. If all those pits go, there will be only two left of the famous 12 pits which we were told would be reprieved by the White Paper last March. That White Paper is now so discredited that it makes the Government's tax proposals at the election appear to be models of probity and candour.

A remarkable feature of the list is that most of the pits that are to be closed next month were not even on the President's list of the original 31 pits for closure. They are pits that received a clean bill of health for their financial viability, and where there is no pretence of coal reserves being exhausted. If those seven pits close, they will take with them the 114 years' working life of their coal reserves. That is the scale of the coal reserves which we will lose as a result of the vandalism of pit closures.

The Times obligingly tells us how the closures will be presented to us next month. Those pits, we are told, will be not closed but merged. The pits will be shut down, miners will be sacked and the shafts will be plugged. However, the pits will not be closed. They will become merger-seeking pits.

I would not want Ministers to be embarrassed as they sit on the Front Bench by appearing to be less well-informed than The Times. I therefore give them the chance to prove that they know as much as The Times. Will they tell the House whether it is true that six pits will shut next February? [ Hon. Members :-- "Give way."] If it is not true, I will give way also. Can Ministers deny it? Can they tell us how many pits will survive until privatisation? I will give way to anyone on the Government Front Bench who feels that he knows as much as appeared in The Times.

I must warn the President of the Board of Trade : if we are to be lectured on cynicism by Government Members, I believe that nothing would demonstrate greater cynicism than to invite Parliament in January to debate and give a Second Reading to a Bill to privatise 22 pits, to proceed to Committee to consider the Bill line by line and then to announce in February, "We are sorry, there are now only 15 pits." That is all that will be left.

If the number is not 15, I will give way. I will give way to anyone on the Government Benches who finds his tongue and who can tell us how many pits will be there, because they know. I would not wish them to think that we believe that they are ignorant or that, like the Prime Minister, they did not read the briefing note or, if they did read it, they did not take it in. We know that they know. There were 50 pits in operation at the time of the general election. In the next month or two, there may be only 15. There were 44,000 miners employed at the time of the general election. After the next round of closures, there may be 10,300 miners left in the whole of Britain, from Longannet to Point of Ayr. In two years, the Government have closed two thirds of the remaining pits and destroyed three quarters of the remaining jobs.

After that smashing of the industry, how dare the Government pretend to us that privatisation is intended to

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strengthen the industry? It was to privatise the industry that the Government ran it down to a tiny profitable core. Privatisation brings a new threat of more closures. There is only one real asset which they have to privatise in the Bill, and that is the contracts of British Coal with the generators. The Bill may be selling the jobs of 10,000 miners and the local economy of whole communities. The one thing that the bidder will want to buy is the contract to supply the generators.

The contracts expire in March 1998. By the time privatisation is well down the road, there will be only three years left of those contracts. There is no guarantee that they will be renewed. If they are, there will certainly be another cut in the volume of coal unless the Government act to tackle the rigged market in which those contracts are given.

That is why the President of the Board of Trade has been unable to come to the House today with any expressions of interest from the big private corporations in mining. That is why Rio Tinto Zinc and Hanson are not named in the press reports of what will happen after privatisation. The President was unwise enough to say at a press conference on the day the Bill was published :

"the short duration of contracts with the electricity industry would not deter buyers."

He even mentioned Hanson as a possible buyer. Unfortunately for him, on the same day, the chief executive of Hanson ruled out making a bid on the pithy ground that

"short-term contracts are not our idea of fun."

The President looks like being stuck with bids from second-rank mining companies.

The danger is obvious to those of my hon. Friends with knowledge of the mining industry. It is that companies that must borrow to buy out British Coal will then run the pits with a single objective--to get their money back within the three years left in the contracts. My hon. Friends who have been down mines know that, once it has been decided to run down a pit, a lot of money can be made for a couple of years. One has simply to halt the development work that costs the money and rip out the coal that can be reached easily. The mining equivalent of looting leaves pits robbed of a long-term future. If Ministers want to assure us that that will not be the outcome of privatisation, they can do so simply by plugging the most obvious hole in the Bill. The Bill provides the scheme by which the new coal authority will privatise the industry by granting licences to operate the present pits.

The clauses contain provisions for all sorts of tests to be made on operators' financial standing and credit rating, just to ensure that the Government get their money out of the measure. Clause 26 makes it perfectly clear what comes first when the coal authority judges an application for a licence--the financial terms on which a mere bid is made for that licence. Nowhere in the Bill is there a requirement on the applicant for a licence to submit a mining plan for a long-term future for the pits.

The test that we shall lay down as to whether privatisation will provide a long-term future for the coal industry will be contained in amendments in which we shall require those who apply for licences to submit a mining plan that will keep a deep-mine coal industry alive into the next century. If Ministers really believe the promises that they have made today that privatisation will provide a long-term future for the coal industry, they will welcome our amendments. They may even offer us drafting assistance to ensure that we get them right. But if

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they resist the amendments, they will confirm what everyone in the industry knows--privatisation is pathetically irrelevant to the real pressures on the coal industry.

Dr. Michael Clark (Rochford) : Does the hon. Gentleman really believe that, if he could have his way tonight and defeat the Bill, there would be a better and longer future for the coal industry in its present form, rather than if it were privatised so that it could compete and get a larger market?

Mr. Cook : The hon. Gentleman's intervention conveniently takes me on to what we must do if we are to give coal a long-term, healthier future than at present. The answer to his question is that, if the Government genuinely wanted a long-term future for the coal industry, they would tackle the rigged market that arises from their privatisation of the electricity industry.

Dr. Clark : The hon. Gentleman is ducking the question.

Mr. Cook : I am not ducking the question. The Government seek to duck the mistakes that they created when they privatised the electricity industry--mistakes that have given rise to the present pressures on the coal industry.

The problem for the coal industry is that it has been squeezed out of a fair share of electricity generation. The President talked of the long-term decline in electricity generation from coal. As recently as 1988--even under this Government--the Central Electricity Generating Board was planning to expand, not contract, coal generation. It applied for consent to build two new coal-fired stations and had prepared plans for a third.

The coal for those three power stations is equal to the output of the half dozen pits that the Government intend to close next month. Those plans were knocked on the head by the privatisation of electricity, a privatisation that opened the door to the dash for gas.

Last week we gained a new ally in our attempts to expose the fact that the privatised electricity market is rigged. The director of business planning at National Power, the biggest privatised electricity company of all, revealed its breakdown of generation costs. That shows that electricity from new gas-fired power stations is one third more expensive than electricity from the coal-fired stations that are being shut to make room for them. That does not even take account of the bogus subsidy offered in the White Paper. I do not take account of it, because the generators have not taken a penny of it.

I put to the President the question which I have asked in every debate on coal in the past year and to which I have received no answer. How can the Government pretend that there is not a rigged market when its effect is to reduce the market for coal even though it produces the cheapest electricity for the consumer? They should present a Bill not to privatise coal or to waste our time on another piece of their dogma but to end that rigged market. That is the way to provide a real future for coal.

The White Paper promised to take some measures to tackle that rigged market --not many, but one or two. One of the factors squeezing coal out of the market is that one of its biggest rivals, the nuclear industry, gets £1 billion subsidy a year. Subsidy is being poured into the most expensive source of electricity. Last month, the chief

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executive of Scottish Power explained that electricity from nuclear power was now 50 per cent. more expensive than that from coal. However, so daft is the current market that nuclear power is being expanded and coal generation is being cut to make room for it.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth) : In addition to my hon. Friend's comparison, will he comment on the fact that last week British Nuclear Fuels issued figures showing that the cost of decommissioning new nuclear power stations is less than h of 1p per kWh? In that context, the justification for the levy against coal-fired generation is completely non- existent.

Mr. Cook : My hon. Friend will be aware that the Select Committee recommended that the nuclear power levy should be ring-fenced so that it was used specifically for decommissioning and not to subsidise current operations. The Committee also recommended that the nuclear review be brought forward to 1993. The Government accepted that, and the White Paper said that that review would be brought forward to 1993. In October, the Minister of State said that the nuclear review would be announced before the end of the year.

I may not carry the Minister of State with me on many issues, but I think that he will agree that we are past the end of 1993 and into 1994. The end of 1993 saw the end of another Government commitment, leaving the question as to how they can find the time, the energy and the priority to produce this thick Bill to privatise coal but cannot get down to the review of one of its main rivals and the biggest subsidised element in the energy industry.

Why cannot the Government do something about French imports, for which we are paying more than 3p per kWh--50 per cent. more than it costs to produce electricity from our own coal?

Mr. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) : We all know the answer to that.

Mr. Cook : Yes, we do. That is possible only because the Government extended the nuclear subsidy to French imports. Why are not they doing something to tackle that distortion of the rigged market instead of privatising coal? How can the privatisation of coal help in view of those blatant market distortions? Why should a privatised coal industry be any more successful than British Coal in selling coal in that rigged market? For that matter, why should a privatised coal industry be any more successful than British Coal in improving productivity? For the first time, the President acknowledged the remarkable productivity improvements under British Coal.

In the past 10 years, there has been a threefold increase in productivity and in the past year productivity has increased by more than one third. In nine of the past 10 months up to December, output per man shift broke all previous records. That is the achievement of the men down the pits who will be rewarded with closure next month--an achievement which outstrips that of any private industry. It is a public success story. Why can we not keep that success story in the public sector that made it possible in the first place?

One of the features that gives British Coal in the public sector an edge over private companies is that its gain in productivity did not go into private pockets or was not taken out in increased profits ; it was passed on in reduced coal prices. In the 10 years to 1992, the price of coal came

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down in real terms by 36 per cent. Since then, the new contract with the new price has reduced the price of coal by 27 per cent. in cash terms. The Government tell us that containing inflation is their top priority. How many private sector industries could claim to achieve the reduction in price that British Coal has achieved over the past five years?

The figures from National Power to which I referred earlier show that electricity can be generated from coal at a cost of 2.1p per kWh. It is currently sold at 2.8p per kWh. That is a mark-up of 33 per cent.--a rip- off produced by the last privatisation that Energy Ministers presented to the House. It is a rip-off at the expense of the consumer and the coal industry.

The President had the nerve to tell the House that nationalisation had created monopoly power. Privatisation will create monopoly power and the abuse of monopoly power. If the President is serious about monopoly power, why is he coming to the House today, not to privatise the coal industry, which has no power, but to address the mistakes made in the last privatisation by tackling the monopoly power of the two giant generators and sending them before the Monopolies and Mergers Commission to explain why they are keeping up their prices when the price of the main fuel has fallen so markedly?

The coal industry does not need privatisation to show it how to increase productivity or cut prices. Miners do not need privatisation and they do not want privatisation. How can privatisation improve the safety of the men who work 2,000 ft below the surface of the earth? When those men drop down in cages to work in that dangerous environment, they do not want to think that the people in charge up above are thinking first about the profits of the company. They come from coal communities and they remember when profit was the first priority of the pit owners.

The greatest achievement of the public coal industry was to make Britain's pits the safest in the world--an achievement that is most prized by the men who work in it. Australia has the next safest mining industry in the world and its fatal accident rate is double that of Britain. That is not due to the regulations that the President lays down. British Coal has achieved that safety record because throughout British Coal there is--and it is a story of achievement--a safety culture that permeates every coal-face. The danger is that, by destroying the structure that created that culture, the Government will destroy the safety to which it gave rise. Why do they propose to tamper with that success story and put it at risk by destroying the structure of the industry that made it possible?

Privatisation will not improve the pensions of the men who have already been pensioned off. The trustees of the pension fund have registered 17 areas of concern about the Government proposals on pensions. They relate to the same issue.

Schedule 5, which deals with pensions, contains no fewer than 20 references to the powers of the Secretary of State. There has been an oversight here. It is about time that the President drew it to the attention of the parliamentary draftsmen that he is no longer Secretary of State but wishes legislation to refer to the powers of the President. Whatever name he chooses, for the first time a Secretary of State has

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sweeping powers over the miners' pension funds--powers to sack the trustees and powers to require them to use the national interest to override the interests of the miners.

The issue is not whether the pensions will be index-linked to inflation but how any increase in the value of funds will be divided between the Secretary of State and the miners who have created that fund by paying into it. The last person that the members of those pension fund schemes will accept as capable of giving them a fair division of the fund is the person who has taken away their jobs. I come to the final reason why the privatisation of coal does not make sense. To Conservative Members this may be the clinching reason. The final reason why privatisation does not make sense is that the Treasury will not benefit.

We always knew that, when we opposed the privatisation of electricity, we were wasting our breath. There was a great deal of money to be made from it and the Treasury would steamroller it through whatever the arguments. When the Government discovered that they would not make money out of privatising the nuclear industry, they left it in the private sector.

There is never much money in a fast sell and the Government will not get much money from selling off the rump of the much-reduced coal industry. They will be lucky to get back one third of the money they have poured out in redundancy payments in the past year alone. Not only will the Treasury not get much money, but it will be left with the liabilities for subsidence, for example. The Treasury will get the worst possible deal. It will be left with historic liabilities from the old coalfields without any of the revenue from the current operating pits to help pay for it.

Privatisation is not needed to get the gains in productivity that the coal industry has achieved for itself. It will not resolve the real problems of the coal industry which arise from the privatisation of the electric industry. It will not even make the Government money, so why are they pressing ahead with the privatisation of coal? It has nothing to do with what is good for the coal industry. That came out strongly in the ideological preamble to the President's speech. The privatisation of the coal industry has everything to do with what is bad about the Government's dogma.

Lord Parkinson first told us that coal would be privatised in a speech to the 1988 Conservative party conference. He described it as the ultimate privatisation. It was also Lord Parkinson who in October 1992 told us the real reason for the closure of 31 pits with when he told "The World at One" that we should never forget that the miners brought down a Conservative Government. The Government never forgot it and as they sink lower in the polls, caught in a web of their own deceits and buried in the rubble of the industries they have destroyed and the public services they have run down, they are determined to take the miners with them.

The Bill is rich in symbolism. I began by reminding the House that the Chief Secretary had given us a sermon on cynicism. The deepest hypocrisy of the Chief Secretary lecturing us on the cynicism undermining national institutions is the fact that he has devoted his entire political career to undermining the national institutions of the post-war settlement-- institutions that for 30 years fostered political consensus in a stable society.

A prominent part of the post-war settlement was the nationalisation of the coal industry. For 30 years until the 1970s we had full employment, an excellent national

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health service and an education service of which we could be proud. Part of that settlement was the nationalisation of the mining industry. It offered an alternative way of running an industry based on respect for the rights of men who worked underground at the coal face. It was an alternative way of running the industry motivated by the need of the nation for energy, not the desire of owners for profit. The Government cannot comprehend those values. That is why they want to destroy the coal industry. That is why they have found time for this pathetic, irrelevant little Bill.

Of course the Government will win the vote tonight. But the Conservative party is so terrorised by the packs snapping at every straggler that they will all be found huddled together for safety in the same Lobby. I must tell the President that, long after today's speeches are forgotten and he and I are remembered only by our children and their children, the public ownership of coal will be remembered as a brave attempt to provide decency and dignity at work in the foulest conditions, to give expression to the common purpose of the nation by asserting the right of the nation to own the sources of its energy. The Government's betrayal of that great industry and the final insult of this mean little Bill will be remembered as a display of dogma and vindictiveness. We will reject their betrayal of the coal industry tonight, and history will reject that betrayal throughout the century.

4.50 pm

Mr. Michael Alison (Selby) : Whatever else one might say about the speech that we have just heard from the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), it cannot be construed by any stretch of the imagination as a welcome for the Coal Industry Bill. I am glad that, just before the Christmas recess last year, British Coal and its chairman, Neil Clarke, took a rather different line from that of the hon. Gentleman. Neil Clarke welcomed the introduction of legislation to return coal mining to the private sector. I echo his welcome unequivocally as one who represents the modern Selby complex of five integrated and interconnected mines employing some 3,500 people.

Neil Clarke observed realistically enough :

"The market realities will remain, whatever structure emerges from the privatisation process"

But he went on to say :

"Privatisation will help free the industry from some outdated restrictions. It will also allow the interests of coal mining in Britain and the people who work in it to be pursued separately from the interests of Government."

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