HC Deb 25 November 1985 vol 87 cc598-601
7. Mr. Hannam

asked the Secretary of State for Energy how much of the £20 million invested in National Coal Board (Enterprise) Ltd., has now been taken up by former miners.

14. Mrs. Clwyd

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on the progress of National Coal Board (Enterprise) Ltd. in providing alternative jobs in coalmining areas.

Mr. David Hunt

In little over a year of operation, NCB (Enterprises) Ltd. has committed direct financial assistance to 188 projects, 35 per cent. of which have been established by former NCB employees. These projects involve fundings to date of £4 million, and have so far helped to create some 2,700 potential job opportunities throughout the coalfields.

Mr. Hannam

I thank my hon. Friend for that very encouraging reply. Does it not confirm that this Government are doing more in the creation of jobs and enterprises in mining areas than was done by the previous Labour Government? Will he continue to give maximum support to the diversity of enterprise in the mining communities?

Mr. Hunt

My hon. Friend is right to point out that when 330 pits were closed by the Labour party there was no enterprise company. The Government strongly support this excellent initiative by the NCB to breathe new life into declining mining areas. I am happy to report that National Coal Board (Enterprise) Ltd. is supporting projects that are creating jobs at the rate of 500 a month.

Mrs. Clwyd

Is the Minister aware that, since 1979, we have lost 11,000 jobs in the mining industry in Wales and that only 700 alternative jobs have been promised? Where are the other jobs coming from?

Mr. Hunt

The hon. Lady should be aware of the excellent initiative in her constituency, where, thanks to the enterprise company, the Merthyr enterprise agency is now to extend its operations into the Cynon Valley. On Friday the NCB handed a substantial cheque to the Merthyr-Aberdare Development of Enterprise. That sum of £20,000 is the first of three annual instalments in support of the newly extended agency. I hope that she will give her full support to this important work.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels

Is my hon. Friend aware that in Leicestershire everything possible is being done to help miners who have chosen to leave the industry, and that those miners are grateful for that assistance? Bearing in mind that this is the party of small businesses, will my hon. Friend do everything possible to promote this type of scheme so that other miners throughout the country who are willing to take voluntary redundancy will have the opportunity of taking advantage of what is an excellent scheme?

Mr. Hunt

I strongly support my hon. Friend's remarks. I hope that everybody with practical ideas will accept that—in the way that my hon. Friend has propounded his view—they should have no worries about approaching National Coal Board (Enterprise) Ltd., because, with financial help and sound advice from that company, those ideas can be turned into real jobs.

. Barron

Will the Minister accept that the number [...]being created as a result of the activities of National Coal Board (Enterprise) Ltd. is small in relation to the number of jobs that have been lost since the end of the strike, especially in south Yorkshire, apart from the 90,000 or more people who have been unemployed for a long time in that area? Is he aware that it would be preferable if the NCB did not go headlong into colliery closures, thereby making hundreds more people unemployed? Instead, the NCB should keep pits open a little longer and create real jobs, not simply paper statistics which do nothing for the unemployed in my constituency, in which the people of some pit villages are suffering unemployment at the rate of twice the national average?

Mr. Hunt

The hon. Gentleman ignores the fact that for coal to survive in this competitive world it must be competitive. All necessary steps must be taken to ensure that there is not only confidence in coal in the future but that it is a competitive product.

Mr. Ray Powell

Is the Minister aware that St. John's colliery in my constituency has been closed, although it was producing the best coking coal in the world? Is he further aware that it has been announced today that the Government are allowing the National Smokeless Fuel Company to import 20,000 tonnes of coking coal in December into Wales? Would not the £20,000 to which the Minister referred as having been handed out by National Coal Board (Enterprise) Ltd. be better used in developing a new mine at Margam to provide work for the 830 men who have been made redundant at one colliery in my constituency?

Mr. Hunt

The House will be aware that these are early days for the enterprise company. Even so, it has already committed over £1.5 million in aid to new industry and enterprise agencies in south Wales. That achievement should be applauded by hon. Members.

Mr. Ryman

The Minister will be aware of the threatened closure of Bates' colliery, Blyth, making 1,400 men redundant. He will also be aware that the only ray of hope is the independent colliery review procedure, although nobody, least of all the Secretary of State, knows how it works, and therefore no immediate application can be made. Does the Minister appreciate that the resources allocated by the Government to this new organisation do not compensate in any way for 1,400 men being made redundant in my constituency?

Mr. Hunt

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Government have said all along that we shall monitor closely the funds available to National Coal Board (Enterprise) Ltd. They are sufficient for its present needs, but they will be kept under careful review.

Mr. Foot

We certainly welcome any jobs that have been created under this scheme, even though the number is small compared with the number of jobs lost. Will the hon. Gentleman give, on behalf of the Government, an absolute assurance that this scheme will not be abandoned after a year or so, and that it will be greatly expanded? Does he recall that this scheme is modelled on the scheme that was introduced in the steel industry? One of the first things that Mr. MacGregor did on going to the steel industry was to say that he would run down the scheme because the job should be done by the Government. We are all glad that Mr. MacGregor might be learning at last. Will the hon. Gentleman guarantee that the scheme will be extended during the next 10 years?

Mr. Hunt

The chairman of the NCB introduced the scheme called NCB (Enterprise) Ltd. It is a very wise investment. The £4 million I cited in my answer to the original question has been invested in projects totalling £25 million. Ministers are constantly giving assurances from the Dispatch Box about the company's future. It has made an excellent start, and it is about time the Opposition realised that.