§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Gentleman knows what has happened, but if he insists, I shall have to call him.
§ Mr. Nellist
I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 10, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,the escalating effect of the coal strike on electricity generation.
The matter is specific, because this morning I was advised of the existence of documents recently considered by top CEGB management—internal documents for a board meeting—which challenge and completely refute the accuracy of statements made by Ministers at the Dispatch Box.
Despite repeated requests, the Government have responded to only two private notice questions and have made one statement in the past 10 weeks while hundreds and thousands of people—miners and their families—have braved the privation and poverty imposed on them by this necessary strike against Mr. MacGregor's "Plan for Dole". On the two occasions that we have heard from the Secretary of State for Energy and his Ministers, they said that the strike was not having any effect on power generation and that there were many months of stocks. That is a fallacy that is perpetuated either through ignorance or malice. An attempt is being made to con the miners into thinking that their dispute cannot be won.
Four facts underline the urgent need for a debate. First, the reports received this morning, which were prepared for the CEGB, envisage the dispute lasting a minimum of a further six months. The reports examine the ability of the power stations to endure the length of such a dispute. The documents state:System instability was encountered over Easter due to large power flows from the Midlands area. The system was never designed to cope with these conditions since the south Midlands has inevitably invariably been a net importer of power.
Secondly, oil-fired plant is being subjected to the risk of long-term damage due to it operating far beyond the manufacturer's specifications. Thirdly, the board sees a real risk—and I stress that—of the possibility of rota diisconnections. For those who have not worked in the industry, that means power cuts. Those rota dsconnections may occur this weekend due in part to the bank holiday and also to the current bad weather.
The board has consequently initiated extensive studies to examine the feasibility of running the system with zero coal-fired plants.
The fact that the issue is important is highlighted by a further admission that is revealed in the reports. Of the 57 coal-fired power stations in England and Wales, only two, at High Marnham and West Burton—both in the east midlands — are operating at more than 50 per cent. capacity. The other 55 power stations are operating at under 50 per cent. Various plants are mentioned in the reports. For example, Kingsnorth at Rochester is 850 mentioned, which is the biggest coal-fired station in Kent. According to the information given to the CEGB in those reports, the station has only three weeks' coal supply left.
The Government's attempt to dismember the NUM is costing far more than it would cost to guarantee jobs and decent wages for workers in the industry. The CEGB admits to spending £150 million on oil in the Rotterdam spot market in an attempt to beat the strike. Those costs, together with the cost of lost production and the tens of millions spent on the largest police operation this century, will be passed on to the coal board, which will then undoubtedly threaten the loss of more jobs, or increase the charges for coal and electricity.
You have the opportunity and authority, Mr. Speaker, to allow a debate to examine the reality of the effect of the miners' strike action and the success which it is demonstrably having. The House can then expose the Government's cover-up of the true nature of power supplies, coal stocks and the ability of power generation equipment to meet the requirements of our working people during the next few days. I hope that you can take that decision, Mr. Speaker, and that you will allow a debate to take place.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely,the escalating effect of the coal strike on electricity generation.I listened with care to what the hon. Gentleman said, but I regret that I do not consider the matter that he has raised appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 10 and, therefore, I cannot submit his application to the House.
§ Mr. Bob Clay (Sunderland, North)
I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 10, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,the announcement by the National Coal Board that supplies of domestic coal for the north-east area will be exhausted by the end of this week, leaving 58,000 social service priority cases and 23,800 retired miners and widows without coal.The social service cases are those that have been agreed as priorities between local authority social service departments in the north-east and the NCB. They involve the elderly, sick, disabled and those with young families.
This is not a matter of rumour, speculation, claim or counterclaim from either side of the dispute, but an announcement by the NCB that as from Friday no further coal will be available to those people. The vast majority of them are dependent on coal for domestic heating and hot water, and a considerable number, who have Aga stoves, are also dependent on coal for cooking.
I suspect that if the NCB had announced that the power stations would be out of coal by Friday, the House would already be debating it, despite the Government's reluctance. For the many thousands of people I have described, who face the reality of coal supplies being exhausted by Friday, the matter is as serious as if the power stations had run out of supplies.
By this time next week, or even before, many thousands of people will be utterly desperate, but the House will be in recess. This is a specific matter because 851 it affects many thousands of identifiable citizens in a particular area. It is of public importance because in addition to the distress that will be caused in the north-east of England, the announcements completely undermine the credibility of the continual claims by the Government and the National Coal Board that there are adequate coal stocks. It is urgent because the crisis will arise from Friday this week, after which the House will have no opportunity for some days to debate the matter.
For the reasons that I have given, in addition to all the other dimensions of the crisis—including the continued and worsening erosion of civil liberties, the directions by Ministers to obstruct social security payments and the massive costs of the strike—surely there should be a debate before the recess.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Clay) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely,the announcement by the National Coal Board that supplies of domestic coal for the north-east area will be exhausted by the end of this week, leaving 58,000 social service priority cases and 23,800 retired miners and widows without coal.
I have listened with great care to what the hon. Member has said, but I regret that I do not consider that the matter that he has raised is appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 10 and, therefore, I cannot submit his application to the House.