Previous Section Home Page

Column 1221

Amendment No. 194, line 5, leave out from powers' to second and' in line 5 and insert to secure the implementation of such plans'.

Mr. Baldry : The amendments grouped with new clause 2 cover five main areas. New clause 2 deals with the commencement of the Act. New clause 3 and amendments Nos. 92, 93, 94 and 43 would require authorities to have regard to guidance on cost-effectiveness provided by the Secretary of State. Amendments Nos. 181 and 182 would change the estimated energy savings that local authorities should consider in their plans to 5 per cent. or such other percentages as the Secretary of State may, by order made by statutory instrument, substitute. Amendments Nos. 153, 147, 151, 146, 148 and 149 extend the local authority duty to send modifications as well as plans to the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of State's duty to take action on modifications as well as plans. The remainder of amendments in the group deal with the clause headed

"Duties of the Secretary of State".

So there are five clear strands to the group of amendments. It may be sensible to discuss, first, our views on the duties that the Bill would impose on the Secretary of State ; secondly, the new powers of the Secretary of State, that have been suggested by hon. Members ; thirdly, the new clause on commencement that the Government have suggested ; and finally, the amendments that would extend the local authority duty to send modifications as well as plans to the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of State's duty to take action on modification as well as plans.

We have proposed an amendment that would delete the duty on the Secretary of State in clauses 2(7) and 3. If authorities are not to be required to produce plans, it is illogical to compel those who do produce plans to send them to the Secretary of State. It is just as illogical to require the Secretary of State to publish a timetable for the implementation of such plans, include specified material in that timetable or make regulations to secure the implementation of the plans.

Regardless of the merits of imposing a duty on authorities to draw up energy conservation plans, what would be the benefit of requiring local authorities to send such plans to the Secretary of State or of imposing other duties on the Secretary of State ? After all, we are talking about local authority plans that set out the steps that the authorities wish to take in the local area. Local authorities, not central Government, would be responsible for drawing up and implementing the plans.

Mr. Beith : If that is the Minister's view, why does he require local authorities to submit waste management plans ? The provisions are closely modelled on the system that he operates to require local authorities to submit waste management plans so that the overall national strategy can be understood.

Mr. Baldry : The fact that the right hon. Gentleman suggests that the plans are analogous with waste management plans shows the amount of work that he is expecting local authorities to undertake in the energy plans. Waste management plans are fairly substantial documents but they do not involve a local authority having to conduct an audit of every house or a sample of houses

Column 1222

in its district. No useful purpose will be served by the Secretary of State's having perhaps more than 600 such plans landing on his desk.

I see no point in requiring the Secretary of State to prepare timetables. It cannot be sensible to require the Secretary of State to publish a timetable for the implementation of what are, after all, local authority plans. The authority will have prepared the plan, and considered its content and priorities in the light of available resources. But once all the detailed work has been done by the local authority--no doubt careful arrangements will have been made to ensure that the necessary funds are available at the right time--subsections (2) and (3) of clause 2 and clause 3 propose that the Secretary of State, not local authorities, should draw up the timetable for implementation.

The Secretary of State cannot be expected to know the time that the work will take, the resources that the local authority is prepared to provide or the date at which those resources will become available. I find it curious, given that local authorities are constantly suggesting that there is too much interference by Government Departments, that it is seriously suggested that the Secretary of State should have all those responsibilities. In view of the huge amount of information in the plans and the fact that the Secretary of State would have so many to consider, it would be unrealistic to ask the Secretary of State to set a timetable. The obvious people to draw up a timetable are the local authorities.

Mr. Simon Hughes : The Minister cannot have it both ways. The Minister and the Government keep saying that they want us to comply with our international obligations and ensure that, nationally, we use and conserve energy much more efficiently. They cannot then say that they are unwilling to do something that will provide the information to enable us to judge how well we as a nation do, could do, and should do to meet our targets. The Government cannot say that that requires too much exercise and effort. It may be better to leave it to local authorities to carry out the exercise if they are happy to do it, rather than to leave it to the Government. A recent example in which the Government, through an agency, conducted the assessment of council tax valuations was hardly a mega- success.

Mr. Baldry : The hon. Gentleman has been in and out of the Chamber today like a yo-yo and was not present for some of the relevant comments. The thrust of what I said earlier--I shall repeat it as it is equally relevant now--was that we naturally expect local authorities and local housing authorities to have regard to the energy efficiency of their housing stock. We already expect local authorities, as part of their housing investment programme submissions, to have regard to the energy efficiency of their housing stock, but we object to the Bill because it simply imposes a further statutory regulatory burden on local authorities that will not add much to the total sum of human knowledge. It will simply impose a burden on local authorities and an extra cost on taxpayers. It will not enhance the cause of energy efficiency.

We believe--Conservative Members have repeatedly made this clear today-- that local authorities have an important role to play in energy efficiency. It is important that local authorities should take energy efficiency

Column 1223

seriously, but a power for the Secretary of State to control in detail the timetable of what those local authorities do is unrealistic and unduly bureaucratic.

We work closely with local authorities on energy efficiency. Many hon. Members will know that energy efficiency and energy conservation formed a central theme of the Government's green house demonstration programme. Not only has that programme been instrumental in significantly raising energy efficiency awareness among local authorities--it has been the seedcorn for the large amount of work that local authorities are now undertaking to improve energy efficiency in their housing stock.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis)--he is not in the Chamber now but he has been an assiduous attender today--prayed in aid a pamphlet supporting the Bill which gives a number of examples of what local authorities are already doing, without the need for legislation, to improve the energy efficiency of their housing stock.

The green house demonstration programme, launched in 1990 as an important element of our policies to combat global warming by means of increased energy efficiency, had as its aim the establishment of a national network of reputable demonstration schemes for council housing, to show how energy efficiency could be improved. In the three years of the programme, which concluded at the end of the 1993-94 financial year, no fewer than 186 schemes across 130 local authorities had been completed or were still in being, and funding over the life of the programme totalled about £60 million--a substantial achievement in a short time.

Part of the success of the programme lies in the approach adopted to assessing schemes. To encourage radical thinking about energy efficiency and a logical and thorough approach to it, local authorities were encouraged to submit schemes in the context of good stock condition information, together with a developed and approved energy policy for themselves. The schemes were assessed in two categories : strategic schemes which demonstrated well-proven measures, combined in integrated packages that were known to be effective ; and innovative schemes that demonstrated known technology.

Mr. O'Neill : I realise that this Bill does not cover Scotland, although we had hoped to amend it to ensure that it did.

I represent a constituency comprising wards from several local authorities. It is very frustrating to have to explain to one group of constituents and voters why they are not getting the benefits of some of the schemes that the Minister has mentioned--which have been replicated in Scotland by the Scottish Office--while the residents in other authorities' areas are. It is those differences between local authorities that the Bill is intended to attack.

We want the best standards provided for all our constituents. Without the sort of legislative underpinning that the Bill offers, that consistency of approach right across the country will not be achieved. It should not be left to the whim of local authorities to decide to implement energy saving schemes of the kind we all know to be desirable. Consistency is surely in everyone's interest. Two local authorities are part of my constituency : Clackmannan, a small Labour authority, and Stirling, a district council. These two adjacent authorities under

Column 1224

different political control have different political priorities, but the needs of their citizens in respect of energy efficiency are exactly the same.

Mr. Baldry : I shall have to crave your indulgence, Madam Deputy Speaker, as I am in danger of being repetitious--if only because there has been a moveable cast on the Opposition Benches for today's debate ; hon. Members have been coming and going all the time, so I am not sure whether they heard the points that I made earlier.

The whole point about the green house demonstration programme is that it was a demonstration programme. As I said, it was spread across 130 local authorities in England. As with any such scheme, one envisaged that local authorities that were not part of it would go and see what was being done by those that were, to see what lessons could be learnt. There is certainly no reason why local authorities should not learn from the best practice of those that took part in the scheme.

Newark and Sherwood have frequently been mentioned in these debates in the context of the work that they have done on their own housing stock. That scheme was part of the green house demonstration programme and under existing legislation there is nothing to prevent other local authorities from undertaking exactly the same sort of work as that carried out by Newark and Sherwood.

The Newark and Sherwood schemes, which have been prayed in aid, demonstrated that substantial savings could be made on housing stock. It was not a question of Newark and Sherwood asking for extra resources. As I have repeatedly said, we expect all local authorities, irrespective of political complexion and location, to have regard to the energy efficiency of their housing stock.

Every housing authority in England is obliged each year, when bidding for resources for the housing programme for the forthcoming year, to make a submission to the Department of the Environment under the housing investment programme. As I have said several times, we have made it clear that those local authorities are expected to outline the steps that they are taking to promote energy efficiency in their housing stock.

Mr. Battle : The Minister cannot shelter behind the notion that he is protecting local authorities from extra legislation. Many local authorities have signed up to support the Bill : the Association of County Councils, the Association of District Councils and the Association of Metropolitan Authorities all want the Bill. Why does the Minister purport to know better than them and say that he is protecting them ? Surely they know what they can carry out, what they are required to do and how they can deliver. The Minister is playing parliamentary games so that the Bill is talked out because he does not have the guts to come clean and say that the Government are opposed to it in principle.

Mr. Baldry : I am amazed to find that the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle) has not been listening to what I have said in the debate, at Question Time on Wednesday, and on the "Today" programme this morning, which is that we oppose the Bill because we think that it will place an unreasonable regulatory burden on local authorities and an unnecessary cost on taxpayers. In so far as some local authorities say that they favour the Bill's principles, they do so because, if the Bill were passed, they would automatically be able to say to Parliament, "You have

Column 1225

placed this statutory burden and obligation upon us. Therefore, we expect central Government--the taxpayers--to fund this new burden." As the hon. Member for Leeds, West knows, that is the way in which local authorities negotiate every year with central Government when they think that new burdens have been placed upon them. As we have heard, the lowest estimate for meeting the Bill's requirements is about £23 million, but that is the most optimistic estimate of what it would cost to carry out the audits. There are better ways to spend such money on promoting energy efficiency. It could be used to extend the home energy efficiency scheme to another 125,000 homes. If the hon. Member for Leeds, West has not understood the Government's concerns about the Bill, he must not have been listening on Wednesday, today or at any time.

I spoke about the green house demonstration programme and said that all schemes had to meet strict criteria. They included the ability to achieve a minimum CO reduction of 15 per cent ; a minimum reduction in total energy use of 25 per cent ; affordable warmth for tenants ; and a minimum financial contribution from the local authority of 25 per cent. In addition, schemes had to meet an excellence rating which was characterised by a high strategic rating, a high CO reduction and a low payback period for the proposed work. Scheme bids from local authorities were assessed by my Department's regional offices and ranked first by region and then nationally in the context of available resources.

The range of projects representing proven technologies demonstrates the benefits of integrated packages of heating, insulation, controlled ventilation and advice to tenants. However, the programme has supported some more innovative schemes, including heat-recovery ventilation, energy management systems and low-energy lighting. With the Government's help, an enormous amount has been going on in local authorities in recent years to promote energy efficiency. Through the building research energy conservation support unit, the Department of the Environment continues to monitor output from the programme. The key findings are already evident, however. Targets for energy savings and carbon dioxide reductions are likely to be achieved in the majority of schemes and are surpassed in some. It would have been wrong for the Government simply to sit back and say that the green house demonstration programme was a success and that they did not have to do any more--and we have not taken that view. Although the programme was successful in showing the way to achieve improved energy efficiency, we know that local authorities need to be guided and encouraged further to maximise the take-up of energy efficiency schemes. That is why, drawing on the experiences gained from the green house demonstration programme, we required local authorities to include energy efficiency as an integral part of their housing strategies and investment programmes from last year on. In that way, local authorities consider energy efficiency as a matter of course, rather than as an optional extra.

Performance on energy efficiency is one factor that my Department considers when assessing housing investment programme allocations. We backed up the requirement by

Column 1226

issuing guidance--"Energy Efficiency in Council Housing". Since its launch last year, the guidance has been well received. Some hon. Members present will be familiar with the content and the approach that it advocates.

The hon. Member for Leeds, West has been scurrying around his hon. Friends. If he had been in his place he would have known that his hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) expressed concern about the fact that insufficient advice was being given to local authorities. Our key aim is to set out the steps that local authorities must take to develop a sound energy efficiency policy. Those steps are not novel. Any organisation might sensibly consider them, when devising and carrying through an energy efficiency policy. As a consequence of our work and guidance many local authorities are doing so as a matter of course. They are identifying the range of interests that potentially need to be involved in developing successful energy efficiency policy ; establishing the base position, including assessing the energy efficiency performance of stock and the resources being spent on energy-related improvements ; devising and setting policy, including the establishment of aims, objectives and targets ; putting policy into practice, including how to integrate energy efficiency into wider works and maintenance programmes, as part of the housing investment process ; and finally, monitoring and evaluating, including assessing the need to review progress periodically and to revisit objectives and targets. I hope that hon. Members--certainly those who attended our previous debates and the debate today--will recognise that many of those steps touch on ground that is dealt with in the Bill. They are related to the local authority's stock and provide further evidence of the need to step back and reflect on what local authorities are already doing about energy efficiency--a lot is being done--without placing the burden of additional duties on them and on central Government. Additional statutory duties carry significant costs.

We have no intention of letting slip the momentum fuelled by the green house demonstration programme. The Department will shortly publish an updated and consolidated version of the guidance and we shall keep the energy efficiency component that is incorporated in the housing investment programme under review.

Some hon. Members tabled amendments that would require authorities to have regard to any guidance on cost-effectiveness provided by the Secretary of State. That is probably a good idea, because the Bill contains no reference to cost-effectiveness. That may be for reasons that we shall never understand. Energy conservation authorities are asked to decide what energy conservation measures are desirable and practicable, but it is also essential that those measures are cost-effective. That criterion must be applied to the assessment of any recommendations arising from an energy audit exercise. There is little point in pursuing a recommendation to insulate all lofts in an area this year if half the roofs will need extensive refurbishment next year--it is better to combine the jobs and reduce costs. Appropriate regard to combining jobs is an important factor. That is something that certain local authorities do, and all local authorities should take into account.

Scheduling of blocks of work will also have an impact on the cost- effectiveness of the energy efficiency refurbishment programme. The prices that it is possible to

Column 1227

negotiate with contractors vary hugely according to many significant factors, and the number of installations is a key factor. Many local authorities know that already. The scope to negotiate a keen price increases markedly if nearby jobs can be grouped together.

Having due regard to the quality of work is also an important aspect of the cost-effectiveness of investment in energy efficiency. Of course it can be incorporated into plans in many ways. They include adherence to good practice in selecting and applying energy efficiency measures--for example, the EEO's best practice programme and the Department's green house programme provide impartial information on the effectiveness of a wide range of energy efficiency measures ; ensuring that contractors follow the required standards of good practice as set by, for example, the British Standards Institution, or are accredited by, for example, the British Board of Agre ment ; ensuring that the measures have been properly applied--for example, by infra-red thermographic assessment of the application of insulation ; and providing adequate guidance to occupiers, which is often overlooked in energy efficiency investment programmes. It is important that occupiers fully understand the measures taken. It is essential that the people who will, or will not, be making energy savings are told about the measures, how they can save energy and how they should be operated.

There is no point to preparing a plan that includes measures that will cost a great deal and save little energy. There is no point in taking cheaper measures when they will have little effect on energy efficiency. If plans had to be prepared and implemented, money would have to be found--and it would have to come from taxpayers--and well spent.

There are already many sources of the cost-effectiveness of energy- efficiency measures. Basic guidance is included in leaflets produced in my Department's "helping the Earth begins at home" campaign. More detailed information is available from the Building Research Establishment. There are tried and tested methods of working out whether an approach will provide value for money--such as that known as net present value. The guidance might take a form similar to that proposed by one of my hon. Friends.

The details were set out in an amendment that was tabled but not selected for debate--which I regret. However, on balance, it would be preferable for the Secretary of State to have a power to give guidance rather than to present detailed guidance in primary legislation.

Mr. Beith : Is the Minister determined to continue reading his brief, so that he can personally talk out this widely supported measure and make sure that everybody knows that the Government blocked the Bill ? Or will the Minister sit down at 2.29 pm, so that one of his hon. Friends can do his dirty work for him ?

Mr. Baldry : I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman still has not understood the situation. I will clearly spell it out for him. He had every opportunity to negotiate with the Government amendments that would have made the Bill one that could have passed speedily through the House. The right hon. Gentleman chose not to do that. We have consistently and persistently made it clear why we believe that the Bill in its present form would not be of benefit, in that it would place extra statutory burdens on

Column 1228

local authorities and extra costs on taxpayers. We do not believe that would be to anyone's advantage. The money that the Bill, if unamended, would cost would be far better spent on other energy efficiency measures.

The Bill certainly cannot be seen as a touchstone of the Government's firm commitment to energy efficiency matters. This year, we doubled the EEO's budget and more than doubled the home energy efficiency scheme budget. Half a million homes will be insulated this year. That is why the United Kingdom has been one of the first--if not the first--countries to make it clear how we will achieve the targets set in international conventions on meeting and reducing carbon dioxide emissions so that they are stabilised at 1990 levels by 2000.

If right hon. and hon. Members have not understood where the Government stand on the Bill, they have not listened to anything that was said during the debate. We have made it very clear that we are determined to meet our international commitments. We believe that local authorities have a part to play in that. Everything that has been said during the debate makes it perfectly clear that

It being half-past Two o'clock, further consideration of the Bill stood adjourned.

Bill to be further considered on Friday 13 May.

Mr. Simon Hughes : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Only because my right hon. Friend alluded to it, I think it right to ask whether you think it is an unprecedented--I ask this seriously--breach of the procedures of the House that a Minister, who starts a debate at 9.30 am, is the person responsible for blocking the progress of a private Member's Bill through Parliament simply by the use of the delaying mechanism of time ? My right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick upon Tweed (Mr. Beith) can find ways of bringing the Bill back. It is important that the House and the country know whether, if we manage to find two, three or four more days in the Session, Ministers--not Back Benchers--can block

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman has made a point, but how those arrangements are made is not a matter for the Chair.

Remaining Private Members' Bills


Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Second Reading [ 25 February ].

Hon. Members : Object.

Madam Deputy Speaker : Debate to be resumed what day ?

Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting) : With the permission of the hon. Member concerned, Friday 10 June.

Debate to be resumed on Friday 10 June .


Order for Second Reading read .

Hon. Members : Object.

Second Reading deferred till Friday 6 May .

Column 1229


Order for Second Reading read .

Hon. Members : Object.

Second Reading deferred till Friday 6 May .


Order for Second Reading read .

Madam Deputy Speaker : Not moved.

Mr. Cox : On the Hedgerows Bill, with the permission of the hon. Member concerned, Friday 10 June.

Madam Deputy Speaker : The Hedgerows Bill has already been dealt with. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to act on behalf of another hon. Member, I am afraid that he must be quicker.

NURSERY EDUCATION (ASSESSMENT OF NEED) BILL -- Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Second Reading [ 18 February ].

Hon. Members : Object.

Madam Deputy Speaker : Debate to be resumed what day ?

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton) : On behalf of the hon. Member whose Bill it is, Friday 6 May.

Debate to be resumed on Friday 6 May .


Order for Second Reading read .

Hon. Members : Object.

Second Reading deferred till Friday 13 May .

Mr. Simon Hughes : On an entirely separate point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In relation to the Hedgerows Bill, which you have just been asked about, I heard an attempt from behind me--I did not look round--to say something on that when it was read out by the Clerk. I am concerned that it might inadvertently have been allowed to be dealt with without being moved. I accept that it was objected to, but there is a fundamental difference between not moving a Bill and an objection, even though the measure can come back. I wonder whether you could put the Bill again, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Madam Deputy Speaker : I did not hear any hon. Member say "Now", which is the trigger for further activity. If hon. Members could clarify for themselves exactly what the procedure is, there might not be these difficulties and misunderstandings. But, of course, it does not prevent the Bill from being brought back at a later stage.

Column 1230

Tower Colliery, Cynon Valley

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Arbuthnot.]

2.33 pm

Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) : I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me this debate, although I must admit that a week ago I did not think that the circumstances in which I would speak would be as they are today.

I wonder how many hon. Members in the House have seen grown men weep, women cry and frightened children clutch their parents' arms apprehensively, knowing that something very wrong has happened but not quite understanding why or what. That was the dreadful scene in and around Tower colliery earlier this week. In the end, the miners accepted that their heroic battle to save the pit was over as it became obvious to them that they could no longer put any trust in the promises and pledges made to them by the management of British Coal. I had to tell members of the National Union of Mineworkers lodge that, in my considered opinion, Neil Clarke, the chairman of British Coal, could no longer tell the difference between right and wrong and that in the conversation that I had with him he lied, lied and lied again.

I can remember the days when people in public life, even those with whom one disagreed, upheld standards of decency and integrity. They were driven by notions of fair play. Plain dealing, plain speaking and an honest approach to others were important to them. I very much regret that, in falling short of those ideals, Neil Clarke, the chairman of British Coal, has debased, demeaned and diminished public life. As a public servant, there is only one last thing that in honour he should do. He should resign from public life and promise never to return.

Put bluntly, Neil Clarke played politics with miners, their families and the local community. The sheer brutality of what he did was summed up to me yesterday when Tyrone O'Sullivan, the lodge secretary, overcome with emotion, said to me :

"Yesterday, when I went down to Newport, when we were called at short notice, to sign the final death writ on Tower Colliery, I couldn't talk, I couldn't look at them."

He was referring to the management. He continued :

"They said we must sign the pit over now, officially, that it was to close.

We stated that nobody on behalf of the National Union of Mineworkers of Tower Lodge would sign any document that agreed to the closure of Tower Colliery, and that was endorsed by the General Meeting unanimously, that Tower Lodge officials, because of the work they had done for the pit, should never, ever have to sign that final document as we felt that it would be degrading to us, as a lodge, as we had only fought for the future.

But worse of all, when I returned to the car, I could not face anybody and half way home I stopped the car and I could not stop crying.

I last felt like this when my father got killed in the pit and on the last afternoon, when they were taking the coffin, out of the front room to go to the hearse, and I had not cried throughout the whole period, as I was the oldest son at home and I had to look after my youngest brother and sister, but at that moment my whole world fell apart.

At that moment, yesterday, when I was driving back from Newport, it was exactly the same feeling, I felt as though I had lost my father again. The emotion I went through at that stage was quite incredible, even talking about it, I feel exactly the same." He stopped at that point. He could not go on.

Column 1231

The Coal Board attempted to force on the miners of Tower colliery the final humiliation--to sign away one by one as members of the lodge the future of that pit. The fight to save the last pit in south Wales has been going on since 1992. We have had countless debates, rallies, delegations and petitions. You mention it, we have done it, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Just before Easter the lodge officials were called to a meeting with British Coal. They were told that the pit was to close. Press leaks the day before from British Coal mentioned geological problems as the reason. The miners knew otherwise. The next day British Coal was forced to admit that the loss of markets was the reason for closure. As we all know, those markets had already been rigged against coal.

Two days later, Tower NUM held a ballot on closure. A majority voted to fight on, but within hours British Coal's dirty tricks outfit started to try to undermine the result, telephoning men at home to try to break their resolve and briefing the press. A week last Wednesday, 13 April, Neil Clarke, chairman of British Coal, agreed to meet my hon. Friends the Members for Livingston (Mr. Cook) and for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) and me the following week to discuss Tower. He did not say that by then it would be shut. Last Friday, 15 April, when I came up from the pit, I read a press release from British Coal that stated categorically that the pay of miners would not be cut and that conditions of work would not be altered for the worse. Miners voted again, by a much bigger majority, to fight the closure. Just one hour later, the lodge was being given a totally different story by British Coal and that promise was broken.

This Monday, 18 April, I spoke again to Neil Clarke, who assured me that the pay and conditions of miners at Tower would not be changed and that a so-called time limit of 6 pm that day, by which miners had to decide whether to accept enhanced redundancy and the other sweeteners, simply did not exist. Yet, at the same time, the lodge was told by local management, on instructions from British Coal, that it would have to accept the wage cut and that there was a 6 pm deadline. Dishonesty on this scale is almost impossible to comprehend, so one is bound to ask on whose behalf Neil Clarke was acting. That brings me to the role of Ministers and the Government. The President of the Board of Trade and his Minister for Energy have practised a massive deception. The fact that nobody from that Department is here today speaks for itself. They have practised a deception on miners, who were asked to improve their productivity and who broke all the records, only to find that it did not make a scrap of difference, deception on the people of Britain, who were persuaded that their massive protest against pit closures in 1992 had worked, only to find that the only change was the time scale in which the pits were to be closed and deception on Conservative Back Benchers who voted for the White Paper, only to find that the 12 pits that they thought were to be saved were to be closed anyway.

Many of us remember the report that N. M. Rothschild, the merchant bankers, originally prepared for the Government--a secret report by Tory bankers predicting that thousands of miners would be thrown on the dole and that Britain could have as few as a dozen working collieries. The then Secretary of State for Energy, Lord Wakeham, blamed Labour for scare stories, which he dismissed as coming from cloud cuckoo land.

Column 1232

As for the present Secretary of State for Wales, let us not forget that he was investment manager and director of N.M. Rothschild between 1977 and 1987 and was a specialist on privatisation. Small wonder that he was uncontactable, as his office told me on two or three occasions, during the crucial week when the House was on holiday and the closure of Tower colliery announced. He had gone to ground, yet some months ago he was warmly congratulating miners in his office on their productivity and profitability.

The tragedy for Tower colliery and many others is that if Labour had won the last election we would have taken steps to end the rigging of the market so that British coal would have had a fair chance to compete.

I know many men who have lost their jobs in coal in my valley, and many of my hon. Friends here can say the same. Those miners have families and mortgages, and some are still trying to make up for the money that they lost during the strike of 1984. Of those made redundant in the past 10 years, less than half have found other jobs. Redundancy money goes very quickly when one has a family to support and the years slip by. As they get older, they are even less likely to get a job in the kind of world created by this Government. Recently, men coming to my advice surgery tell me that although they have applied for 50 jobs or more, they have not got even an acknowledgment, let alone an interview. One ex-miner came to see me with tears in his eyes. He asked, "What do they expect me to do ? Walk into the river ?"

Miners have consistently been treated appallingly by Tory Governments. Yet another example of that was the chronic bronchitis and emphysema regulations, introduced in September 1993, which were drawn up in a way that makes it almost impossible for a miner to succeed with an application. The original regulations are in great need of amendment, and I support the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) which would reduce the qualification period from 20 to 10 years, reduce the disability threshold from 20 to 10 years, replace the FEV--forced expiratory volume--test with a sensitive medical examination and make soft expensive X-rays universal for diagnosing dust retention.

I remember walking down a street in the village of Penrhiw-ceihr during my by-election and being introduced to miners there. In almost every house in that street there was a miner taking oxygen. I walked down that street two years later and people said, "He is dead," and, "He is in hospital." Many of us can repeat similar stories. Therefore, I urge the Government to support my hon. Friend's Bill.

The economic consequences of the closure of Tower colliery on Cynon Valley are all too obvious. The independent consultants Coopers and Lybrand Deloitte recently carried out an impact study which showed those consequences. They found that it would have the single biggest impact on the economy of the valley of any industry in the area. More than £10 million each year will be lost to the local economy and male unemployment could, in their estimate, rise to one in four. Before the industrial revolution, in the part of Wales that I represent, squirrels were able to jump from tree to tree from Hirwaun all the way to Cardiff, a distance of about 25 miles. Of course, that is no longer possible because Cynon Valley and its population are built on coal. At its peak, the industry employed more than 30,000 miners in more than 40 mines. At the time of

Next Section

  Home Page