HC Deb 26 July 1982 vol 28 cc732-3
6. Mr. Edwin Wainwright

asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether there are circumstances in which his consent is required to proposals for the closure or disposal of National Coal Board facilities.

The Secretary of State for Energy (Mr. Nigel Lawson)

Apart from overseas activities, the board does not require the consent of the Secretary of State for the closure or disposal of facilities.

Mr. Wainwright

Does the Secretary of State realise that many people in the mining industry will look askance at his statement? Does he not think that it is ridiculous and ludicrous that there should be a difference between the National Union of Mineworkers and the National Coal Board on what will happen to the mining industry, for example, with regard to pit closures? Will he bear in mind that if he does not want to create disharmony in that nationalised industry he should avoid doing what the Government have been doing too often and too regularly—selling the plums of nationalised industries to their friends and leaving the rest to be looked after by the nation?

Mr. Lawson

I am sure that, having got that off his chest, the hon. Gentleman feels much better. There is not the difference between the NCB and the NUM—where it matters—that the hon. Gentleman professes to discern. The fact is that pit closures are dealt with through the board's review procedures with the unions, which are at local level, with a right of appeal at national level. The NUM, its geologists and others are constantly in discussion with the NCB at area level on all those matters. Those procedures were instituted in the early 1970s. They continue to this day.

Mr. Adley

Will my right hon. Friend explain who benefits when men are made to stay at work in old pits, which are extremely unhealthy, when resources are available to open new pits, where plenty of jobs should be available?

Mr. Lawson

My hon. Friend has a good point. There are many areas in which miners can see the case clearly for the closure of pits and are happy to accept redundancy money. It is interesting to note that when Mr. Scargill was president of the Yorkshire area of the NUM, 11 pits were closed, all with his agreement.

Mr. Eadie

Does the Secretary of State agree that the Government's contribution to the difficulties that have arisen is based on the fact that there has been a delay in replacing capacity? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it would help if the Government considered giving assistance for the replacement? I refer to the disgraceful episode of the Vale of Belvoir.

Mr. Lawson

I do not see where the disgrace is about the Vale of Belvoir, because I understand that the NCB has made a fresh application, which will be considered soon by the planning authority responsible, which is the Leicestershire county council. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that replacement capacity is important. He may be interested to know that since 1974, when the "Plan for Coal" came into operation, 8 million tonnes of capacity have been lost through closures and 16 million tonnes—twice that amount—of new capacity have been created.