HC Deb 17 December 1984 vol 70 cc14-6
20. Mr. Eggar

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if the current miners' strike has led to delays and cost overruns in the development of the Selby coalfield.

Mr. David Hunt

The total investment programme of the National Coal Board had been planned at £800 million for this year. The current strike has, however, halted work on many of the NCB's projects, including Selby, to the detriment of the industry's future.

Mr. Eggar

Was not the Selby development a signal to the entire coal mining industry that the Government were committed to the future of coal mining? Was it not a severe blow when the National Union of Mineworkers decided to go ahead with picketing to stop development of this extremely important coalfield? Is there nothing that my hon. Friend can do to try to assist in getting more miners back to work so that development can continue at Selby despite the NUM's actions?

Mr. Hunt

I agree with my hon. Friend that everything possible must be done. Since 1979 the Government have invested £3.9 billion in the coal industry. That investment is nearly 50 per cent. higher in real terms than investment in the previous five years by the Labour Government.

Mr. Heffer

As the amount of coal which the Government projected would be mined will not be reached because of the dispute, is it not time that the Government stopped intervening on the side of the Coal Board and took a step in intervening to achieve a settlement of the dispute, as has been asked for by Opposition Members? Given the Secretary of State's statement that there should be no negotiations, is not Mr. Scargill right in saying that the only way forward is industrial action by the rest of the working-class movement?

Mr. Hunt

It was noticeable that when the hon. Gentleman said that Mr. Scargill was right there was not one note of agreement throughout the Chamber.

Mr. Nellist

Yes, there was.

Mr. Hunt

The hon. Gentleman was asleep. It is a fact that before the industrial action started our great coal industry had tremendous potential, but that is being lost every day that the dispute continues.

Mr. Rowe

Is there not a real danger that the longer the strike continues the more Mr. Scargill's gloomier predictions will become self-fulfulling? What steps is my hon. Friend taking to ensure that when the strike comes to an end the damage that has been inflicted on the coal industry is laid at the door of those responsible?

Mr. Hunt

I agree with my hon. Friend. All Ministers at the Department of Energy are anxious to start on the rebuilding process. Since the beginning of the dispute, not only have 23 production faces had to be abandoned, but 13 salvage faces as well. In addition, 19 faces are giving cause for serious concern, and a further 65 faces are causing concern. It is a tradegy that the NUM is putting at risk those pits which its leaders claim they are fighting to save.

Mr. Foster

The Under-Secretary of State continues to plead how tragic it is for the industry that this dispute is continuing, and the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Eggar) is alarmed about the implications for Selby. If Tory Members are so worried about damage caused to the industry, why do they not lift a finger and get the people involved around the table to solve the dispute? Is the Secretary of State aware that he is profoundly mistaken if he believes that there is any political profit to be had in humiliating the miners and destroying mining communities?

Mr. Hunt

The solution to this dispute lay with a ballot held at the start of the dispute, in accordance with the long-established, democratic tradition of the NUM. If a ballot had been held, there would have been no need for these mass pickets, intimidation and violence. Not one miner would have gone to work. The sad fact is that the only way to end this dispute is for miners to vote with their feet and return to work.

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