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Column 232as events will prove, was not in Britain's national interest. However, we have made those arguments and we are not here to rehearse them tonight. I do not think that anyone will disagree with my belief that the closure of those coal mines was devastating to the miners' interests.
Parkside colliery, in my constituency, closed in October 1992. The average age of miners in that colliery was 37 and the average pay at Parkside colliery was £249 a week. More than 800 miners were employed in the colliery and probably about 500 related jobs disappeared when the colliery stopped production. The loss of earnings of those miners and the impact on them and their families--most were young men with young families--has been devastating.
The Coalfield Communities Campaign has just conducted a survey into what has happened to those miners in the 17 or 18 months since Parkside colliery closed. One might have assumed that the Government would be interested in what happened to those men and would have conducted such a survey. However, in the absence of interest from the Government, the CCC has conducted it. The saddest and most important feature of its report is that some 45 per cent. of the miners who were sacked at Parkside colliery are still unemployed and their chance of finding work in the St. Helens area has virtually disappeared.
In the past few months, more than 700 people have lost their jobs in the continuing rundown of Pilkington, the largest private employer in St. Helens. A fortnight ago, Beechams announced that 580 jobs would be lost with the closure of its factory, which had stood in the centre of St. Helens for 100 years. So the unemployed miners have little chance of finding a job in the future.
Even more devastating is the study of what has happened to the 44 per cent. of miners who have found jobs. Only one has found a job in the mining industry. He is now a contract worker in a pit in another area. When one examines the earnings of those who have found employment since they left Parkside colliery, one realises precisely what has happened to those men. The vast majority now earn between £100 and £200 a week, with an average drop in earnings of £72 a week. They were not very highly paid in the past, but they are now very low paid. There is now little demand in this country for men with mining skills. No doubt the electricians, fitters and colliery craftsmen have a better chance of getting a job because they have excellent skills, but unless miners find work in another colliery--a remote chance indeed--they have little chance of finding other than low- paid work, which some have managed to pick up.
That is a criminal waste of the skills and talent of the men who worked at Parkside colliery. It shows that impoverishment and long-term unemployment are worsening the lot of the people of St. Helens. They feel threatened by what is happening in their society. Last Saturday, well over 500 people marched through the centre of St. Helens to protest about the Beechams closure. They were joined by Pilkington workers and ex-miners from Parkside colliery.
We desperately need a properly funded programme of investment in the skills and the people of St. Helens and the north-west. We need great emphasis on retraining the men who lost their jobs at Parkside, which is why we need a British Coal Enterprise as outlined in the new clause. The
Column 233people of areas such as St. Helens are entitled to something of that nature. They are proud people and they are not begging, but they want employment.
If Tory Members vote down the new clause, it will show once again their utter cynicism and contempt for the men who worked for so long to produce the coal which Britain needed in the past and which it will need again in the future.
Mr. Joseph Ashton (Bassetlaw) : I hope that when the Minister replies, he will not use the dreaded words "job opportunities", which we have heard trotted out by British Coal Enterprise on so many occasions. Ministers glibly say, "We have created 1,000 job opportunities in the past four years." I shall tell the Minister what job opportunities mean. If he goes along to a British Coal Enterprise exhibition and looks down the lists of jobs hung up on boards everywhere, he will see those wonderful job opportunities for doubling glazing salesmen working on a commission-only basis in a town 40 miles away.
A redundant miner is expected to sell his house, if he can, in Worksop or Mansfield. Then he ups sticks and goes for job opportunities elsewhere. If ever there was a misnomer it is "job opportunities". British Coal Enterprise ought to be ashamed of itself for using the words continually.
In my constituency, thousands of miners have been thrown on the dole. I have met many of them. They do not have an entrepreneurial background such as might be found in London and some other areas. Some become taxi drivers, and some work in Skegness holiday camps or bingo stalls during the summer. Generally speaking, the training that they need is not provided within the culture that they know. They have worked collectively throughout their lives. They are highly skilled, but are used to being told what to do-- starting work at six o'clock in the morning and finished at two in the afternoon, day after day. The assistance that they now need is not available. They may receive advice about loans to set up in business and may borrow at 1 per cent. above the going rate. The statistics and the public relations are very good.
I have met quite a few people who have tried that, including one I encountered the other week, who had lost £7,000 in starting up as a milkman. A big firm provided him with a round. But people no longer have milk delivered ; they buy it in the supermarket. Before he knows where is, a person paying for such a franchise realises that he cannot make the project pay and that his redundancy money has gone down the drain.
People put redundancy money into all sorts of insurance schemes. Door-to- door salesmen invade areas, and the advice that is given is either being ignored or failing to work.
There has been mention of rural areas of Nottinghamshire. In this connection, I think of Worksop, which is in my constituency. In 1970, when the Labour Government were in power, we had what were called grey areas. It was one of the first grey areas in the country. There were 30 per cent. grants for buildings and 40 per cent. grants for new machinery. What is now available with assisted area status ? There is merely some tax relief--and
Column 234the bureaucracy is such that people who might be encouraged to take over old buildings are actually discouraged.
I do not want to be too parochial, but I can tell the Minister that Warsop vale, which is in my constituency, looks like Bosnia or Beirut. Many of the houses look as if they have been machine-gunned or bombed. Following the pit closure, half the houses look like the back-to-back terrace dwellings depicted in D. H. Lawrence's "Lady Chatterley's Lover".
Houses that have been improved many times are rented out by private enterprise, often to people who cannot get accommodation anywhere else. Occupants do a moonlight flit, leaving rent unpaid. The following day, kids come along and throw bricks through the windows. The day after that, organised gangs move in and strip everything worth taking--sinks, radiators, gas fire, and so on. Out of 200 houses in Warsop vale, 25 are now in such a condition. Nobody can afford to renew them.
As soon as a house becomes empty, the Mansfield council has to erect steel grids over windows and doors. Each of these grids costs £55 a week to rent. The other Saturday night, someone came along with an oxy-acetylene device, burned right through the steel on a door and stole the contents of the house.
That is what is happening in mining areas. What occurred in West Virginia when the mines closed is beginning to happen in rural mining areas of this country. What we hear about assisted areas and about British Coal Enterprise is nothing but talk. What is the point in talking about helping someone to set up in business as a window cleaner by providing him with a ladder or a wheel barrow or to open a shop with no future ?
More than that is needed. The Department of Trade and Industry must, for example, fund the Robin Hood railway line, phase three, which runs from Mansfield to Worksop. That has been promised by the Department of Transport many times. The cost would be £4 million, and the money is available for the regeneration of coalfield areas. That is the sort of investment that is needed. Mansfield, with a population of 70,000, has no railway station. In the end, the local council had to build it and then extend it to Worksop.
These are rural areas, well away from the cities. The mines have been the framework for the whole culture and life style of the people--the colliery institute, the social welfare organisation, the sports field, the brass band. When the industry collapses, the area dies because it is off the beaten track and no one wants to know about it. Some of these places hardly feature on the map. As far as the Government are concerned, these places can be left to fester and rot. Kids grow up with no hope of anything better than a part-time job if a supermarket opens. It is just not good enough. British Coal Enterprise, for all its boasting of the past three years, has achieved virtually nothing. When it was set up, we likened it, to paraphrase the words of a famous politician of the past, to the silver plate on a coffin. BCE has created the odd job here and there, but neither it, nor assisted area status, has done anything for the coalfield areas.
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) : British Coal Enterprise operates in my constituency, and I endorse in part what the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) said about the limitations on what it can do. It can do but
Column 235little, but we cannot afford to turn it away. We need it, we need assisted area status, and we need everything else we can get. I wonder whether the Government really appreciate the scale of the problem. When Ellington was closed, more than 1,000 miners and their families were plunged into insecurity, having expected to have jobs for a reasonable number of years. My experience of this and other pit closures over the years has been that the redundancy payments cushion people temporarily, so that the impact of losing work appears more slowly than it does in some other industries. When the impact comes, though, it is desperate.
Neither BCE nor any other agency has found a way of producing the number of jobs necessary for family bread winners, men or women, to sustain their families as they could when the coal industry employed them. British Coal Enterprise has operated in my area following the closures of Shilbottle and Whittle and closures in the Ashington and Blyth areas. The work that it does, which is not much compared with the work done by other local agencies and the Rural Development Commission, is only a small part of what is required. Nothing, short of the development of major new industries, can provide anything like the numbers of new jobs that are needed.
All that is not an argument against BCE investing in small companies and enterprises. Indeed, I have found that it is involved in care homes and in tourist and leisure-based projects. I must confess, however, that I cannot see BCE even beginning to solve the scale of the problems that we face. In other parts of the north-east such as Easington, Westow and Wearmouth, where male unemployment runs at between 25 and 30 per cent., even the attraction of major new industries--such as Nissan to Sunderland--has not solved the fundamental problems.
We are running as fast as we can just to stand still. A better image might be that of trying to go back the wrong way along one of those moving walkways at Heathrow. I have seen people trying to do that to retrieve forgotten briefcases. That is what trying to cope with the effects of major colliery closures feels like.
I agree with other hon. Members who have spoken of giving as much support as we can to British Coal Enterprise. I support the new clause and should like to see it incorporated in the Bill. The Minister must realise, however, that BCE represents only a tiny part of what needs to be done, both to ensure that some pits reopen and that new industries can be brought to these areas. It is my view--and, I hope, the Minister's--that Ellington must reopen.
However, a succesful reopening at Ellington will not put 1,000 or 1,100 men back to work, because it will not open on that scale. A failure to reopen Ellington will threaten not just the jobs that have already gone, but those in the linked industry of the aluminium smelter in the port of Blyth as well. There is a tremendous amount at stake--far more than British Coal Enterprise can solve or offset. I support whatever efforts can be made to use the British Coal Enterprise as a means of encouraging at least some new jobs in our areas.
Mr. Kevin Hughes : I hope that the Minister will recall that on Second Reading on 18 January I talked about the work of British Coal Enterprise. I said then, and it is still true today, that the Bill is silent on the future of BCE. The new clause will, we hope, put that to rights.
Column 236It is a great pity, because the work of BCE is not finished by a long chalk. It is arguable that its help for the coalfield districts is needed even more now than in the past, with the mass pit closure programme on which the Government have embarked. In the past, there has been some wariness of BCE--we heard about that in a couple of the contributions to the debate. Those hon. Members' experience of BCE has been negative ; mine has not always been as negative. I have questioned the figures that have been put out on job creation, but I believe that they have had more to do with the Government's ego than anything else. The sad fact is that there have been mass pit closures and there is urgent need for regeneration--BCE has a role to play in that.
BCE has an area base in my constituency located on the site of the ex- Carcroft workshops. I know from personal contact and involvement that Bob Iceton and his team have played, and continue to play, an invaluable role in assisting to place redundant miners in employment and provide help for others on training courses. Contrary to some of the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton), training courses have been useful to many people.
BCE has helped with the provision of work space for new small businesses and of small loans at favourable interest rates. It insists on a strict business plan before it allows its funding--public funding--to be used. It is hoped that that will prevent new small businesses from collapsing in a short time. Those wanting to set up new businesses must have a strict business plan to obtain the loans. I know that some people do not find that policy helpful at the time, but it is the right policy in the long term. I hope that such work can continue long after privatisation.
BCE plays a part in a much wider field by being involved with the local training and enterprise council, the local authority in my region and the Rural Development Commission and others in attracting new development and regeneration into my region. It is imperative that its activities are not wound up or reduced. Privatisation should not provide an excuse to discontinue an extra source of funding for the coalfield districts. The Minister should give a firm and long-term commitment to BCE, not pull the helpful rug from under the feet of devastated coalfield regions. The Government could and should support new clause 5.
Mr. Rowlands : Like those of other hon. Members who have spoken, the communities in my constituency depend on at least one of the lifelines for coal communities. They are suffering and trying to pick up the pieces after pit closures. In the case of the Merthyr and Taff valleys, in the past five years, all four remaining pits have been closed.
I thought that I would be the Member of Parliament who represented the last four working pits in south Wales. I had Merthyr Vale, one of the best steam coal pits in south Wales, and deep navigation Treharris, Trelewis and Taff Merthyr were breaking production records. It became a sick joke. Miners knew that, if they broke production records, the pit would be threatened with closure soon afterwards.
Four pits have closed in five years, and, contrary to the myths perpetrated by two successive Secretaries of State for Wales, Messrs Walker and Hunt, the valleys initiative did not respond to the challenge of those pit closures. That
Column 237is clearly demonstrated by the statistics and figures emerging from the 1991 census and the census of employment.
In a proud industrial borough with the great heritage that the name Merthyr Tydfil represents, there are only 8,000 men in full-time work--only 8,000 men in a community of the size and character of Merthyr Tydfil. In 1981, 13,000 men were in employment, and in the 1950s and 1960s there were 21,000 men employed. Today's figures are of 1930s proportions ; that is the nature and character of the consequences of the pit closures and the collapse of the alternative post-war manufacturing base as those companies have also contracted and closed.
We are now a community in desperate need at all levels, in all possible ways. In addition to the fact that a mere 8,000 men are in work in a borough of our size, 40 per cent. of men of working age--those aged between 16 and 64--are economically inactive. Those, too, are figures and percentages of 1930s proportions.
Of course, society is different. The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon- Tweed (Mr. Beith) mentioned the redundancy money and occupational pension schemes that have built up as a result of regular employment since the war. The only period in the history of our community when there was full-time work has cushioned the worst effects of the collapse of the coal industry and jobs for men in my area.
The second reason why we need such a clause and a refinanced and reinvigorated British Coal enterprise is the other context in which Government policies are working--the supposed lifelines for coalfield communities suffering from closures.
First, we had RECHAR--our great hope from Europe. If it were not so serious and sad, the story of RECHAR 1 would be a farce of Whitehall proportions. The scheme was launched in 1991 by the Commission. Then Ministers spent two years wrangling with commissioners while communities such as Merthyr Vale, Aberfan, Treharris and deep navigation Treharris waited in hope for development.
In December 1993, two years later, a £25,000 grant was made into our community 15 days before the RECHAR 1 programme closed. That was one of the alternative lifelines--it is no wonder we seek to place a statutory duty to incorporate a refinanced and reinvigorated British Coal Enterprise into the Bill.
I now turn to the coal aid package. I do not know how things have worked out in England.
In Wales, we are having great difficulty identifying coal aid package money. I understand, although I am sure my hon. Friends will disabuse me, that in England at least the package was separately put aside and was part and parcel of a specific initiative, so that at least one could ensure that the money was delivered into the coalfield communities. In our case, it is rolled up into general Welsh Office expenditure, and it has been almost impossible to identify what is new money, what is additional money and what is extra support.
Like RECHAR 1, the coal aid package of 1992 did not give one additional penny to British Coal Enterprise activities in my constituency. The Minister has given a long list of expenditures supposedly included in the coal
Column 238aid package. Even if we accept that, however, the fact remains that the Welsh Office has cut the mainstream urban development and regeneration programmes in my area. There has been a 25 per cent. cut in Cynon Valley, next to my constituency, which was affected by the pit closures ; a 12 per cent. cut in the Merthyr borough programme ; a 7 per cent. cut in Rhymney ; and an average cut of 17 per cent. in the mainstream urban programmes. It is no wonder that communities like mine, which have been affected by pit closures, feel cynical, disappointed and let down by the so-called lifelines.
For a variety of reasons, a pit in Merthyr Vale and Aberfan that was closed in 1989 is now a cleared rubble site in the heart of the village. There is an identical site at Treharris--enormous, in proportion to the size of the village--as a result of the closure of the deep navigation pit ; nothing is happening there. Last year, a pit closed at Taff Merthyr, and the buildings still stand on the site. We do not want it to be cleared : we hope that a revitalised and regenerated British Coal Enterprise will refurbish the control room at Trelewis drift, which--with all its equipment and potential --might offer new workshop and skill-training opportunities. Our communities need immediate help. I do not deny that money has been spent in Merthyr borough, and a great deal of land reclamation work is going on : we have one of the largest schemes. I am not saying that it is all doom and gloom, but I am saying that the instruments and techniques used in handling the immediate, large-scale and significant problems caused by the closure of four pits in five years have fallen far short of need, demand and expectation.
I strongly support the idea of a rejuvenated, revitalised, refinanced British Coal Enterprise. I, too, feel disappointed ; my expectations of BCE have been somewhat dashed. Nevertheless, it has performed an invaluable task in providing job counselling and training schemes. We want it to have a higher profile in the communities of Merthyr Vale, Aberfan, Treharris and, now, Bedlinog--throughout my constituency. A statutory commitment of the kind we seek in the new clause would help to regenerate and give hope to the communities that I represent.
Friends of mine say that British Coal Enterprise has not done as much as it could have, and I think that it could have done more to rejuvenate areas such as mine.
I will tell the Minister something in the context of the many pit closures. When I was at primary school, we heard about the north Staffordshire coalfield in geography lessons. Wherever I went outside school--shopping, for instance--I could see the coalfield, where my relatives worked : it was there, and it was functioning. Many slag heaps resulted from its operations, and there has been a great deal of land reclamation in our area.
The derelict land grant provided money to help with the reclamation of former coal-mining sites. Following the latest spate of pit closures, a huge number of people have been put on the dole. I believe that we should deal with that situation in the same way. It is crucial that the men who worked in the pits in north Staffordshire now have the opportunity to retrain, acquire new skills and set up new businesses. If British Coal Enterprise does not succeed and does not have a part to play, and if it is not properly funded by Government, we shall be dealing with far more waste and dereliction than
Column 239we have done previously. It is crucial that BCE should have a future. My hon. Friends have said exactly the same thing. We need to have a vision of the jobs that must be created in line with sustainable development. BCE, along with everyone else, has a part to play in that, and I hope that the Minister will take on board the many points that have been raised, especially those relating to north Staffordshire and the former north Staffordshire coalfield.
Mr. Skinner : I hope that the Minister is not going to say that he expects British Coal Enterprise to introduce another package of measures, because you can bet your bottom dollar that when Ministers start talking about introducing a package of measures it means that they are short of words. In the past two years, every Minister has told us about packages of measures, level playing fields and God knows what else.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) and I met a representative of BCE about seven or eight years ago. We were worried about the fact that the previous Prime Minister, Mrs. Thatcher, had told us at Question Time that BCE had created 18,000 job opportunities. We got a fellow from BCE down to talk to a group of east midlands Members of Parliament and asked him where the actual jobs were, never mind the job opportunities. We asked whether they were in my hon. Friend's constituency because none had been found there, and there were none in Bolsover.
Having listened to seven or eight Labour Members, the man said that as a matter of fact most of the jobs had been created in Yorkshire. Up piped Allen McKay, whom I had dragged in as a bit of an outsider, and said that he was from Yorkshire. The man said that he had thought that he was talking to east midlands Labour Members, but we had brought in Allen McKay just in case, so the man declared that no jobs had been created in Yorkshire either. We were then told that most of them had been created in Scotland, but we had not been smart enough to have someone from Scotland with us. That is the background. It was about seven or eight years ago, and my hon. Friend can verify exactly what happened.
At any given pit, 700 or 800 people are working in a hole in the ground. To find new work for that number of people means finding 20 or more acres of industrial land because the warehouses on industrial development estates need a great deal of land.
BCE has been a charade. It was set up after the strike to give the impression that the Government were concerned about all the new jobs that would be necessary as a result of the coal review. It has been a confidence trick from beginning to end. The people whom we met had posh designer suits. They were using money from BCE. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw remembers this, but I recall him remarking that they wore Italian shoes and worked in offices where the carpets were thicker than those in the House of Commons. That is where a lot of the money went--let us talk straight. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Etherington) wants a word.
Mr. Etherington : Is my hon. Friend aware that research carried out by Frank Ennis at Durham university revealed that it was not uncommon for six different agencies to claim that they had created the same job ? In other words, if the statistics said that five or six jobs had been created, the true figure was one.
Mr. Skinner : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We asked the fellow from BCE whether he was aware that the development agencies were also claiming credit for the jobs that BCE claimed to have created. Local councils were also claiming them, but the net result was that the people at BCE had done nothing but look after themselves. BCE had very good figures-- there are many such jobs knocking around.
We all know that the mining areas are facing a calamity. My hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) referred to the significant figure of just 8,000 people in his constituency who work, although it is an average-sized constituency and a large borough in Wales. My hon. Friend referred to some of the villages in his area where the pits have been shut one after another--five or six in some 12 to 18 months. The same is true in Yorkshire and in Derbyshire, where there are no pits left open apart from one which is now combined with a Yorkshire pit.
There are large areas in every coalfield community where more than 50 per cent. of males are unemployed. Not too many women work either. They have to work in some of the textile factories in Mansfield and parts of Nottinghamshire. That is the picture, and British Coal Enterprise Ltd. cannot resolve it. A massive public works programme is needed if we are to save the social fabric of communities in which crime on the scale in the cities was unknown. We never experienced it. Only a few years ago, people still used to leave their doors open at night. Countless people on every street used to walk into one another's houses, but now the social fabric is breaking down in those rural areas and it is alarming every one of us. In our surgeries and at other times, we hear of crimes that we would never have associated with pit villages. The Government are totally uncaring and have decided to put the boot in. It is all about revenge. The net result is that the social fabric is breaking down.
The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) referred to Ellington and 1,100 people who are affected there. That pit may be saved under some sort of arrangement, but I doubt it. Without jobs for 1,100 people in that small community, most of whom live in a radius of about 10 miles, the place is ready to explode. Every one of us talks about it, but some of us even bite our tongues because we do not want to say everything about all the implications. That is how dangerous it is. Action had to be taken in the 1930s in America and we are yearning for the same sort of plan. That is one of the reasons why the Tory Government cannot survive. They have gone too far down this road and can only come up with tin-pot privatisation. What does that mean set against a background of social decay ? Countless young men and women are without jobs. Many young men who used to go on the Coal Board training schemes--thousands at a time in Yorkshire, Derbyshire and south Wales--now go straight on to the dole. If they do not take places on other training schemes, their money is stopped and they begin to drift to London and elsewhere. That is the picture of the modern pit village, which 10 years ago none of us would have believed could have happened.
Admittedly, there were pit closures before, but most of us were transferred to other pits. Even if some people were made redundant, it did not have the same impact in every pit village. I was speaking to some people in Langwith in
Column 241my constituency, where people know everybody who lives in the village, and I asked them what they reckoned was the rate of unemployment. In some of the areas, more than 60 per cent. of the people are without a job and have no hope of finding a job. How can BCE resolve that problem ? It is only tinkering.
Instead of talking about BCE, the Government ought to be telling every local authority that there is to be a massive house-building programme. Work will begin to be created, but even that will not resolve the whole problem. A new infrastructure must be built throughout the country, especially in areas where there is massive unemployment. The country is yearning for that. Unemployment in the coalfields has occurred on a scale that none of us could have visualised.
The amendment may suit the purpose of raising the general issues, and my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) was right to introduce it based on that realism, but we all know that the problem goes beyond British Coal Enterprise Ltd. and beyond all those little agencies that have been set up. We are now facing the need for a total transformation, to create work, and to establish shorter working hours and shorter working years for everybody so that the kids who are leaving school will have jobs.
Whatever can the teachers try to do ? How can they deal with young kids with brothers and sisters who have never had a job over four or five years ? Do they say, "If you pass your exams you can better yourselves ?" How can teachers provide the motivation ? That is the background to what is happening in the pit villages, and it can be mirrored in other towns and cities where the industrial base has been smashed by this lousy, rotten Government. That is the problem that we face, and the chances are that it will be a Labour Government who will have to start cleaning up the mess.
Mr. Hardy : My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) will recall that in the 1960s he and I were part of a structure of local government and we campaigned because we were worried about the economic situation in our areas. We were worried even then, and now the picture is one of deindustrialisation and social devastation, with all the dangers that my hon. Friend has, quite properly, identified.
Unlike what has happened in my hon. Friend's constituency, in my area a few jobs have been created by British Coal Enterprise. They are welcome, but they are only small in number, and we need more. As my hon. Friends have already said, BCE alone cannot solve the problem.
When I became a Member of the House in 1970, I had 12 collieries in my constituency, and the National Coal Board was short of skilled workers. There were then 16,000 more steel workers in my constituency and in the constituency of Rotherham than there are now. We have broken world records regularly since then, yet that industry, too, is in peril.
I recently examined the detailed figures from a good school in my constituency that I know well, and only four of its young people had obtained jobs. That fact was not regarded as sufficiently dramatic to command even a word or two of attention in most of the local media. I met a group of 15-year-olds from that area just before Christmas--the Minister should meet ordinary 15 and 16-year-olds who will not get many GCSEs, will not get a job, and see no
Column 242prospect of work. British Coal Enterprise is helpful ; every job that we can get is needed because it might help to stem the social problems that we have identified.
Allow me to make one partisan point. Last week the Conservative candidate for the Rotherham by-election was selected, and his message to enliven local political debate was that Rotherham should stop feeling sorry for itself and vote Conservative for employment. [ Laughter. ] We have seen how much employment has resulted from 15 years of Conservative rule. We have seen the death of hope, the removal of light from young people's eyes and the devastation of decent communities where people valued work and family values mattered. If the Government were really concerned about basic values, they would do something to restore some prospect of economic fortune to areas such as mine.
The leader of British Coal Enterprise is Philip Andrew. I know him fairly well, and I respect him. If someone has to lead that organisation, he is as good as anyone. I am not too happy about some members of his board, but I shall leave that subject for another debate. I hope that Mr. Andrew will be given the resources to enable BCE to make the contribution that we need. If we do not get such contributions from it and from the other agencies and organisations that may help, the prospects for our important parts of England--and of Scotland and Wales, too--are bleak indeed.
Mr. Redmond : I shall explain how Government policies need to be altered to make any difference to the unemployment figures in my area. There is ample evidence that what I shall say is true for other areas, too.
Some years ago Independent Television used to give out a list of job gains and losses. It was always manufacturing jobs that disappeared, and the gains were always in the retail trade--jobs in shops, and so on. That is valid in the sense that we are trying to create small industries where there used to be one large industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, North (Mr. Hughes) mentioned Carcroft. That was an old stamping ground of mine for a number of years. There were about 500 employees on that site, but there is nowhere near that number now. I pay credit to Philip Andrew, who is one of the few shining lights on the coal board, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy). There is a right set of dumplings on the coal board. I must ask who appointed them. When we look at who has been appointed, we find one dumpling after another.
It is a tragedy that jobs need to be created, yet Rossington pit, which employed about 1,000 men in the good old days, has reduced to 500 men, and Budge, which is to take out a licence, talks about 200 or 250 jobs in the future. That is not the case now ; there are about only 80 members on the site. It is all well and good to talk about tomorrow, but what needs to take place today will create an affluent tomorrow.
Obviously, we desperately need investment. British Coal Enterprise will not have the cash to make that investment unless the Government go into it in a big way. Regrettably, the Treasury will stop the Government from doing that. I ask the Minister to say a little about RECHAR because it is connected to British Coal Enterprise. Unless the Treasury gives some sign that RECHAR money is additional money and not Treasury money, obviously we will not create manufacturing jobs.
Column 243I hope that the Minister will accept our modest amendment so that we can start to create the jobs that will remain in being for a long time. One of the problems is that the Minister will not do that unless he acts positively towards manufacturing. Regrettably, since 1979, Governments have not acted positively towards the country's manufacturing base.
Mr. Mike O'Brien (Warwickshire, North) : The coalfield communities need an agency, perhaps one like British Coal Enterprise but certainly one that is properly and adequately funded and which recognises the scale of the problems that the coalfield communities face.
New clause 5 seeks to address the problem, albeit in a limited way ; the problem is enormous for any hon. Member who represents a coalfield constituency. All too recently, I was selected to fight the Warwickshire, North seat. At that time, there were four pits in the constituency, including Birch Coppice pit, which has closed, Baddesley pit, which has closed, and Keresley pit, which closed in 1991 with the loss of 1,300 jobs. Although there is a proposal from the private sector to reopen the pit, the expectation is that the reopened private pit may create only 130 jobs, instead of 1,300. Daw Mill pit in my constituency is still open, although it recently lost half its work force in redundancies. The impact of that on the pit villages throughout north Warwickshire has been enormous. I can remember going into Keresley village in November 1991 after the pit closed. The feeling in the village, particularly among young people, was one of utter hopelessness. What were they to do without jobs ? Pit villages have not just been victims of the Government's policies which have resulted in pit closures ; in many ways, they have been victims of a series of other policies that have been made worse by the failure, through British Coal Enterprise or otherwise, to provide employment.
The villages have also suffered from the fact that they have private absentee landlords, who have often bought up large numbers of former British Coal houses. They charge large rents and do not do repairs. Many people who lost their jobs in Keresley were subsequently subjected to rent increases and could not get their repairs done.
In other villages, such as the former site of the Birch Coppice pit, there are now applications for opencast. We shall come to that subject tomorrow, and I will hope to catch your eye then, Madam Deputy Speaker. In coalfield areas, opencast is seen as a great job destroyer. Many miners feel that they lost their jobs because opencast development was allowed on too large a scale, and was often allowed in areas where pits had closed.
As has been stated, there was the false hope that RECHAR money would come. There was appalling prevarication by Treasury Ministers who were negotiating a deal with the European Community that would have allowed the money to flow in in good time to enable us to cope with some of the problems in the coalfield communities.
The new clause is needed at least to give some semblance of hope to the many miners who lost their jobs when the pits closed, many of whom are still unemployed. In Keresley, 25 per cent. of the work force lost their jobs on one day and many are still unemployed. Recently, I spoke to a company director from Leeds who thought that British Coal Enterprise could get access
Column 244to grants that would enable him to set up a company in Atherstone in my constituency. He had enormous difficulties in securing resources, co-operation and help from various Government agencies. I must exclude from that the Department of Trade and Industry, which provided him with a certain amount of help and encouragement. British Coal Enterprise provided difficulties in terms of bureaucracy and getting the grants and assistance that were available to create jobs.
The new clause is perhaps a small start--a small hope that can be given back to many of the villages that have for too long been devastated by the closure of pits. It is a plea in a sense to help make British Coal Enterprise work, and perhaps to give some of my constituents the opportunity to work, which they very much want.
Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South) : I had not intended to speak in the debate. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will take into account what has been said by Opposition Members. I especially remember a number of speeches that have been made in the House ; one that struck a note with me was made by John Nott when he was moving the Loyal Address many years ago. He said that the real poor of the 20th century were those without hope and those words were true.
There are an awful lot of people without hope in our coalfields. In my constituency, my hon. Friend the Minister knows that the Littleton colliery closed without much warning last year. That devastated a local community, and many people there are now bereft of hope. It is all very well talking about British Coal Enterprise--and obviously one wishes it well--but providing a little training or the opportunity for a temporary job or trying to solve the problem on the spur of the moment is not the proper answer. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) made a powerful and eloquent speech and I agreed with much of what he said. My hon. Friend the Minister has to accept that British Coal Enterprise--well-motivated as it is and although it is run by a man whose credentials are beyond reproach-- must be given the tools to do the job properly. If we are to provide hope in the coalfields and give real jobs to those who have been deprived of them, commitment and investment are needed. I took an all-party deputation to see my hon. Friend the Minister about Littleton colliery a few weeks ago and my hon. Friend responded in a constructive manner last week. I am grateful for much of what he said, but it was not enough. I hope that when he responds to this brief debate, he will tell us that there is a true appreciation of the devastation that has been caused in many communities and families by the closures that have taken place over the past couple of years. Those closures came about at a speed that no one anticipated ; many of them, though not all, might have been inevitable in the long term--a period of 10 or 15 years. I hope that when my hon. Friend responds to the debate he will tell us that the Government appreciate what has been done to communities and individuals in the coalfields of Great Britain in the past few years.
Mr. Eggar : I am acutely conscious of the difficulties that many in the coalfield communities face as a result not only of the closure of the coal mines but of the general restructuring of the whole basis of business and industry in those areas. Most Opposition Members recognise that coal has been only part of the general employment structure. [Interruption.] Indeed, the hon. Member for St. Helens,