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Column 387wonderful idea but because of the failure of private enterprise to run an important industry in the interests of the nation. I have sat here over the past seven years and listened to Euro- sceptics talk about our giving away the sovereignty of Parliament while the Government give away our natural energy and destroy the coal industry, as they are doing tonight. It is even worse than that. Only a couple of years ago we criticised Bob Maxwell--and rightly so--for stealing £500 million of Mirror pension funds. We have a Government who are putting their hands into miners' pension funds with this Bill and saying nothing about it. The Government are stealing from the miners 10 times what Maxwell stole from the Mirror pensioners. It is an outrage and it will come back to haunt the Government.
The hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Luff) can laugh and sneer. He is a young whippersnapper and does not know what it is like to work eight hours in any day to earn his living. The Government have destroyed the lives of thousands of miners, their families and their communities. It is a shame on him and on the House that we should be considering such a Bill here tonight.
Mr. Barnes : This is a sad Bill, because it comes on top of the Government's destruction of the coal mining industry. They have destroyed communities and a resource that we in this country should be able to use. Coming on top of that destruction, the Bill is inopportune. After the wounds that have been inflicted on the coal industry, it should have a period of stability in which it can mobilise and organise the bits that are left. Instead, we have a radical piece of legislation that is affecting a whole host of areas, including pensions, concessionary coal, opencast mining and people's futures.
The Government should not be pushing this measure on people who have suffered under the previous measures, because it is inappropriate and inopportune. There should be time to recover from the burdens that the Government have placed on our communities. 10.51 pm
Mr. Bell : Following on from what was said by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), my hon. Friends the Members for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill), for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron), for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy), for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood) and for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes), if ever there was an industry that should never have been privatised, it is the coal industry. The ramifications go far beyond the question simply of money and production. The consequences for the environment and for families in mining areas throughout the country have been too enormous for the Bill to address.
It was George Orwell who called the miners the caryatids of the earth. That was at a time when miners had dignity, their families had respect and they lived in that dignity and respect. We are seeing tonight a Bill that brings to an end a nationalised industry that was one of the greatest industries in our country and whose work force was one of the greatest in our country. My hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan touched on this gently. It was General MacArthur who once said, "I shall return." We shall return again to the coal industry. We shall return again to miners and their families. We shall return again to
Column 388an industry that will be strong. We shall return again to a Government who have an energy policy. We shall return again to a coal mining industry that belongs to the people.
Mr. Eggar : The transfer of the coal industry to the private sector is a momentous step. It has widespread ramifications in the crucial areas of safety, pensions, subsidence, licensing and the environment. The Government have spelt out policies that pay due regard to the importance of the issues concerned and have made available to the House the fullest possible information.
The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), like all other Liberals, has opposed this privatisation Bill just as he has opposed every other privatisation Bill that has been introduced by the Government. But he does so, as ever, in a highly irresponsible way. I refer him to the Liberal Democrats' manifesto of April 1992. What does it say with regard to the coal industry ? It states : "We will liberalise the coal industry by transferring ownership of coal reserves to the Crown . . . and issuing licences to operate pits to other groups, as well as British Coal".
What will the Government do under the terms of the Bill ? What have the Government done as a result of the decision to lease and license pits ? Exactly that. It is typical of the Liberal party that it fails to recognise the fact, and to give credit where credit is due. As ever, the Liberal party says one thing in the House but another in its manifesto and yet another out in the country.
When the Government first announced our policy of privatising the coal industry, it was rightly described as the ultimate privatisation. It could more accurately be described as an idea whose time has come. What has given rise to that change in attitude ? More than anything, it has been the debate on the Bill.
Before we started dealing with the Bill I should have been hard pressed to say what the arguments were in favour of a state-run coal industry. But I imagined that Opposition Members would find and put forward those arguments. In fact, we did not hear one reasoned argument from them in favour of state ownership. Instead, at the 59th minute of the 11th hour of the debate the chief Opposition spokesman gave us an uncosted pledge to renationalise the industry in future. I hope that he has checked his figures with the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown), because he thereby entered into a major spending commitment, which we shall cost and draw attention to in future.
The fact is that there has been no sensible argument in favour of
Mr. Eggar : No compensation ? Now we are getting down to the real arguments at the core of the Labour party. Two Labour Members have said that they would not pay compensation. I am prepared to give way to the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill). Will he now confirm that his pledge to renationalise the coal industry means that he will do so without compensation ?
Mr. O'Neill : The Labour party has always paid compensation when it has taken anything into public ownership. Those who seek to do anything else are in no way representative of the Labour party's record or of its likely future policies.
Mr. Eggar : So the hon. Gentleman has now made a spending pledge and taken on other Labour Members head on. I am most willing to give way to the hon. Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood) if he would like to contribute to the debate.
Mr. Hood : I am delighted to answer the Minister, and I shall give him my view frankly. In answer to his challenge, I say that if the Government are silly enough to give our industry away we should be brave enough to take it back without compensation.
Let us face the fact that the most deep-rooted and pervasive problem besetting the British coal industry has been and remains state ownership. Privatisation is the solution to the problem that state ownership has caused. We believe that the industry must be returned to the private sector as soon as possible, because that is the way for the future.
I urge my hon. Friends to give the Bill a Third Reading. Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time : The House divided : Ayes 312, Noes 271.
Division No. 179] [10.58 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)
Allason, Rupert (Torbay)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North)
Banks, Matthew (Southport)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)
Beresford, Sir Paul
Biffen, Rt Hon John
Body, Sir Richard
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)
Browning, Mrs. Angela
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ruclif)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)
Davies, Quentin (Stamford)
Davis, David (Boothferry)
Deva, Nirj Joseph
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Durant, Sir Anthony
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Evans, Roger (Monmouth)