HC Deb 05 July 1993 vol 228 cc146-57 11.59 pm
The Minister for Energy (Mr. Tim Eggar)

I beg to move, That the draft Coal Industry (Restructuring Grants) Order 1993, which was laid before this House on 24th June, be approved. The order has two purposes. First, it specifies the types of restructuring expenditure for which grant may be paid in the present financial year. These include costs of redundancy and early retirement, transfer allowances and retraining. They also include costs incurred by British Coal Enterprise Ltd., the subsidiary of British Coal which promotes new job opportunities in areas affected by pit closures. Secondly, the order sets at 90 per cent., as last year, the maximum percentage of restructuring costs which can be met by grant in the current financial year.

Restructuring grant has proved to be an essential part of the Government's assistance to British Coal. The grant helps the industry to adapt to changing circumstances. The payments support generous redundancy terms for miners and staff losing jobs as a result of closures and efficiency improvements. They have also helped British Coal Enterprise Ltd. to create nearly 90,000 job opportunities and resettle and retrain some 32,000 people since 1984.

I commend the order to the House.

12 midnight

Mr. William Cash (Stafford)

The Minister sought in his previous speech to make light of the fact that there are those who are profoundly concerned about the way in which this matter has been handled since last October. He made some trite and rather irrelevant comments about whether I might or might not be the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner).

If the Minister really wants to be the butt end of the coal industry, he should make irrelevant remarks of that kind. They were trivial, pathetic and irrelevant. The Minister should understand the extent to which people in the coal industry and in my constituency are deeply concerned about what is happening.

I hope that the Minister will take this on board because his trivial and pathetic comments do not merit the kind of absurd—

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton)

—language that my hon. Friend is using.

Mr. Cash

I am glad that the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) butts in to say that that is irrelevant. We have a serious problem in relation to the extent and range of problems facing the coal industry.

We have a massive problem in terms of Government public expenditure. My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury recognises that. I am not sure whether the Minister for Energy, or whatever he is called at the moment, really understands the nature of the problem, given that we are offering minimal support to people in my constituency, in contrast to the cost to central Government of £85 million in the first year of the closure of the Trentham pit and prospectively the closure of the Silverdale pit. That is offset by the Government's minimal response to the amount of money that those pits require to remain open.

I recall very well the Minister's response at a private meeting that we had last October, when he was incapable of answering the questions that we put to him, and the extremely insipid response that we have had since—[Interruption.] The Minister's Parliamentary Private Secretary, the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), has used language that must be completely and utterly out of order in the House.

The coal industry faces a serious problem and that has been completely overlooked in the response of the Minister and the Secretary of State today. We are facing a critical problem in relation to the energy policy of this country. [Interruption.] I am not interested in the rather trivial comments made by a Parliamentary Private Secretary, the hon. Member for Chelmsford, in this context. The reality is that we are faced with a serious problem in respect of the communities in the coalfields. They are people who have worked hard in those pits over a long period. We are offering them a minimal response against the background of the Coal Board itself offering them redundancy payments under duress. We are offering them a minimal response when there is no justification either for the closure of the Trentham pit or for the prospective closure of the Silverdale pit.

I am very interested that the Minister should think that this matter is so funny, judging by the expression on his face. I cannot understand why we are so pathetic in our response to the arguments that have been put forward not by the Opposition but by reference to our own principles. Why is it that we do not give people access to the core contract? Why is it that we perpetuate a monopoly in the United Kingdom in respect of domestic coal policy?

Why is it that, in respect of European Community interstate trade, we are prepared to allow the Germans to get £9 billion of subsidy for their coal industry when we are given, even excluding the nuclear subsidy, a mere £180 million, bearing in mind the effect that that has on our coal industry and the people who work in it, not to mention the knock-on effect? I am glad that we are giving some money, but my concern is simply that we are giving a minimal amount; we are not enabling those people to get off the ground again following the closure of the pits.

Those of us who believe in Conservative policies are anti-monopoly, and we want a level playing field in the European Community. We do not want our coal miners to suffer and our pits to be closed down when the Trentham pit has 300 million tonnes of British coal. Will the Minister explain why we are closing down those pits and the Silverdale pit, if that is what will happen, when we have hundreds of years' worth of assets in hand? Why is that happening?

I am interested that the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton should be so concerned to support the Government on this issue, when he knows that there is a serious problem in his area as well as in mine. I am very much in favour of the Government's policy with regard to a fair and reasonable energy policy in the European Community. What I am concerned about is that we have rolled over—we have accepted that the pits are to close, when elsewhere, in Germany and in France, pits are kept open.

I see the Parliamentary Private Secretary shaking his head again. He knows perfectly well that that is going on. The statistics exist. There is no way of getting away from that.

I do not understand, and I should be grateful if the Minister would explain, why our pits are closing when there is a £9 billion subsidy paid and authorised by the European Commission to the German coal industry, so that our energy users are at a disadvantage compared with those elsewhere in the European Community. This is Conservative policy—this is Government policy—to make sure that we have a fair and level playing field in the European Community. Shutting our coal pits and ensuring that we do not have a reasonable opportunity to compete on a level playing field is a travesty of our policies. Will the Minister please reply to me tonight?

12.8 am

Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central)

I want to speak about the redundancies that have taken place since October. I draw the attention of the Minister to the way in which workers at the collieries have been blackmailed into accepting redundancies, usually at short notice. It is not that they want to accept the specific amounts of money, but they have no option. They are faced with the loss of thousands of pounds and have no option but to accept the terms of the redundancies.

Since 1983, every redundancy scheme introduced by British Coal was time limited. As we approached the end of that time limit, British Coal threatened workers at collieries due to close with the loss of top-up payments or redundancy payments if they did not agree to the closure. There was always the promise of an extra premium payment.

A slightly different tactic has been used since October. Under the present scheme, British Coal offers all the workers at a specific colliery the same weekly wage on which their redundancy payment is based. In other words, all the workers are offered the same maximum £300, regardless of their weekly wage while they were working at the colliery. In that way, the redundancy payment is enhanced and is offered to the miners, who have no option but to accept it as the colliery has no future.

The men who worked at the collieries that have closed are frightened and concerned about their future employment. In October, the decision to close the 31 pits was followed by the White Paper. The pits that were supposedly given a reprieve have been closed. There is so much uncertainty about the collieries that will be left open by British Coal that miners do not have any view of their future employment.

There is no certainty about which collieries will remain open. We heard warnings tonight that we could be heading for the Rothschild report scenario, which means that only 14 collieries will be left open in a few years. Some 18 months ago, the British Association of Colliery Management forecast that the industry could be supported by only four collieries. That is a much worse scenario than the Rothschild report.

Many of the miners who have been placed on the scrap heap as a result of the redundancies in the coal industry are in their early 30s. We are not talking about men who have worked in the industry most of their lives and who are now approaching an age at which they can make good use of redundancy payments in early retirement—we are talking about young men aged 30, 31 and 32. I met one recently who was only 26 years old. Those men now face a future of no further employment. Many of them will never work again, because the work is simply not there.

In my area, where the Grimethorpe and Houghton Main collieries have closed, the unemployment rate is 17 per cent. overall. There are certain wards with an unemployment rate of more than 20 per cent. and in some cases it is approaching 30 per cent. Male unemployment is especially bad. There are no job prospects in these areas. There is no prospect of quick inward investment to replace the jobs that are being lost, so we face all manner of problems in these areas as a result of the pit closures.

Earlier, the Minister talked about British Coal Enterprise. Part of the order deals with grants to that organisation. He also talked about 85,000 job opportunities. That is all they were—job opportunities. They were not real jobs. In no way has British Coal Enterprise provided 85,000 miners with jobs. Job opportunities and actual jobs are two different things. We have repeatedly asked British Coal Enterprise, the Government and British Coal to tell us how many jobs have been created by British Coal Enterprise. The figure has never been made available to us. All the comments about British Coal Enterprise are a load of rubbish. No jobs—or very few, if any—have been created.

When workshops were being closed, British Coal Enterprise paid the workers to form their own company. British Coal contracted out the work that they were doing as British Coal employees to a private company set up by the lads who accepted redundancy. That meant that employees at other British Coal workshops were competing with their former colleagues who had been encouraged to set up their own company and contract to British Coal. Obviously, because the contract was cheaper, since British Coal did not have to pay national insurance contributions and so on, the new company got all the work.

The redundancies that have been made at collieries in the past year have been compulsory. There was no voluntary element. Transfer to other collieries is no longer an option because the distance between them is too great. In any case, other collieries have no jobs to offer redundant miners. Those men are offered no choice, no transfer, no future, no alternative.

British Coal workshops have also been subject to closure, in particular Ashington and Shafton. The employees at the other workshops, Bestwoocl and Tursdale, are mainly members of the Union of Democratic Mineworkers and—surprise, surprise—they have been provided with work at the expense of the employees at the other workshops. The work force at those UDM workshops were recently cock-a-hoop about contracts that they were set to win through a company called Vista UDM. Some of the collieries in Nottinghamshire are to be turned into recycling plants and those workshops are to have the contracts for their refurbishment and maintenance. Again, that will be done at the expense of the other workshops at Shafton and Ashington.

Since November, the work done at Shafton, and presumably at Ashington, has been run down. Men have gone to work every day to find none available. Those workshops are starved of work and are obviously making a loss, so it was easy for the management to decide last week that they should be shut. The work force were given just a couple of days to decide whether they should accept redundancy and closure, or fight the decision.

Those workers were not offered the same redundancy payments on a maximum of £300 a week as those offered to the employees at the collieries. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will know as well as anyone that surface workers earn less than face workers. At the collieries, however, surface workers were given redundancy payments based on a weekly maximum wage of £300—the same as that available to face workers. The work force of the workshops, however, who are on an equivalent grade to that of surface workers, have been denied equal redundancy payments. They have had to settle for lower payments.

The employees at the workshops are being made compulsorily redundant. The only transfer made was that of a team from the Shafton workshop, working on electrical equipment, who went to Bestwood. They set up their own company and were allowed to contract to British Coal, which is now buying from a private company the same work that it bought a few days earlier from its own work force at Shafton. Problems have arisen because the lads now see their former colleagues being kept in work at other workshops and encouraged to form private companies.

The men are offered no choice of transferring because of the distances involved between Shafton, Bestwood and Ashington and because no jobs are available at those workshops.

Shafton also has a problem because its apprentices—there are about nine of them—either have to maintain their apprenticeships by travelling 50 miles to work in Nottinghamshire, or give up their indentures and pack in. That is a difficult choice. Why can they not be found work at other collieries instead of being forced to transfer to another workshop to continue their training?

The Government's decision to close the industry is dictated by pure recklessness and arrogance. I agree with the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash). The abuse to which he was subjected from fellow Conservative Back Benchers, when he was only making honest comments and sticking up for his constituents, was disgraceful. The Government pay no regard to miners, their families or their communities. They are to be destroyed by an arrogant Government in revenge for what happened in 1974. Everything can be traced back to the Heath Government, which the National Union of Mineworkers was blamed for bringing down in 1974.

I should like to refer briefly to the mineworkers' pension scheme. There is much anger at the way in which British Coal has taken pension holidays. It is feared that the Government, as in the case of other pension schemes, will take this one over and seize its assets, which are worth about £14 billion, for the purpose of helping to deal with the public sector borrowing requirement, and will then pay pensions as they fall due. There is also a great deal of anger with regard to the managers' superannuation scheme. About £400 million is earmarked to pay for redundancies. People in management grades have come to my surgeries to say how incensed they are, not only at being made redundant but at the fact that their pension fund is to be used to provide the funds. Those people are worried about pension provision. The Government ought to reconsider their position. Pension schemes should be untouched, and redundancies paid for by other means.

12.21 am
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

In the case of Markham pit, which has just been closed, some workers were told that they could have jobs in the north-east of England, provided that they were prepared to go without transfer arrangements or any financial provision, and either find accommodation or travel daily from Derbyshire. That was an impossible situation, yet the redundancy was interpreted as being voluntary rather than compulsory.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) revealed that he had worked in the Parkhouse pit at Clay Cross, which was closed in 1962. Since that time, there has not been an operational pit in the immediate vicinity of Clay Cross, but many local people work in surrounding pits, which have become known as cosmopolitan pits. People travel to Bolsover, Shirebrook and Markham. Now that those collieries have been hit, there is a problem.

I should like to quote from a report issued by social services officers in Derbyshire. Referring to the situation in Danesmoor—an area of Clay Cross not far from the home of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover—the report quotes a shopkeeper and comments: 'We sell disposable nappies in ones, as we do eggs. We also sell coal in bags. It is an expensive way of shopping but people cannot afford to buy in bulk.' This reveals the nonsense of unsold coal stocks whose sale could be subsidised to meet people's needs. The shopkeeper goes on to say: 'the only fresh meat we sell is sausages. Children often shop for their parents when they come home from school. Their meals appear to consist of potatoes, baked beans and eggs.' Concluding, he said: 'I like the people around here. They are friendly, honest and straight. Most of them are struggling against poverty.'". What we are talking about is the removal of jobs and opportunities and the consequent increase in deprivation. There is such deprivation throughout my constituency and the constituency of Bolsover, and nothing is being done to deal with it. Certainly British Coal Enterprise, which talks about job opportunities but not about jobs, is doing nothing. We cannot find out what jobs are supposed to be being provided in Derbyshire, North-East, in Chesterfield, in Bolsover or in any other constituency affected by the current closure programme.

12.24 am
Mr. Martin O'Neill (Clackmannan)

In some respects, this debate is more specific than the previous one, as it deals with various expenditure covered by the order and covers redundancy and early retirement. Several hon. Members have already spoken of the problems of poverty and uncertainty, which are the hallmark of this post-industrial society.

Many people receive money that they think that they can use for specific purposes like paying off their mortgage, but they find that the social security regulations prevent them from doing so. Others find that, before they even reach that position, they must choose to end their employment if they are to get a reasonable sum in the form of a redundancy payment.

The first point that I wish to make relates not to the social security regulations, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) referred in the previous debate, but to the redundancy payment scheme. It would appear that a number of collieries may run into difficulties of some kind. Whenever there is a problem in a coalfield, we come across what has become known as the "moveable fault syndrome". A fault appears out of nowhere and is of such complexity that the colliery manager cannot guarantee that the workers will be able to go through that fault quickly. He therefore suggests that, for geological reasons, the colliery must close. No sooner does it close than a similar fault emerges in a neighbouring colliery and similar problems then arise.

I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, know from your experience in the coal industry that it creates considerable cynicism within the work force in the area when, conveniently, another geological problem appears just when British Coal no longer requires the services of a particular coalfield or colliery, for whatever reason.

If we are to remove the gun of redundancy payments from miners' heads, and if they are to be allowed an opportunity to work through the geological faults that can arise, it would seem reasonable that the 31 December deadline for the expiry of the enhanced redundancy scheme be extended well into next year. If we are serious about the future of the 12 collieries, it is only reasonable that the men who work in them be granted an extension of the redundancy payment scheme.

My hon. Friend the Member for Deryshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) has already discussed the problem of changes of work and place of employment. We have all heard stories about miners' difficulties with payment of money that would enable them to move from one colliery to another. If the Minister cannot answer this point tonight, it would be helpful if he could write to us. We realise that he is concerned with a number of matters, but when we discuss such matters of detail it is distressing that he often seems to be unaware of issues that are significant to those most directly affected by the Government's policies.

Assistance for removal expenses was one of the hallmarks of redundancies in the 1960s and 1970s. The fact that money was available for such purposes at that time is one of the reasons why the transfer of labour in the coal industry was achieved comparatively painlessly. It is not available now and, in some respects, the need is even more desperate than it was then.

Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde)

In my constituency, staff of the Royal Ordnance factory who took redundancy have now waited more than six months to receive unemployment benefit. Some of the miners were forced into taking redundancy payment. It is often months before some of the folk receive the unemployment benefit to which they are entitled.

Mr. O'Neill

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. The only difficulty is that the Minister will immediately try to side step the issue on the ground that it is not his Department's concern. However, his Department is responsible for the fact that if, when people go for unemployment benefit or income support, the officials at the local office refuse to grant it, considerable time elapses before the appeals procedures are set in motion. In that time, considerable suffering and difficulty arise.

One issue which has already been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley) merits closer consideration, and this is the appropriate debate in which to discuss it—I refer to early retirement and the handling of British Coal's staff superannuation scheme. The subject is causing considerable disquiet to people who work in the coal industry and to beneficiaries of the scheme.

At present, there is a dispute involving £481 million, a debt owed to the scheme which is regarded in the scheme's books as an asset. At least 90 per cent. of the money should have been repaid by the government through social cost grants such as we are discussing. If the grant had been paid, the staff's superannuation fund would have been that much higher.

As I understand it, under Government pressure, British Coal is seeking to offset the £481 million against its share of the £1 billion surplus provided under the scheme's rules. British Coal is currently enjoying a normal contributions holiday to its staff fund until April 1997. It no longer pays normal contributions to the scheme. Despite that, British Coal has the ultimate power to decide the rules on how the scheme's surpluses are to be distributed. That raises the question of who should control the pension fund assets and who should have the power to decide how the surpluses are used.

Following the scheme's draft actuarial valuation, the trustees proposed that British Coal should run down its share of the surplus by extending its normal contributions holiday after 1997. However, British Coal would prefer to use its share of the surplus by withholding its stage payments to the scheme for early pensions—effectively enjoying a holiday from additional contributions. Not content with an extended holiday from normal contributions, British Coal is seeking a quicker method of benefiting from the surplus.

The trustees argue that British Coal's proposals would be in breach of the scheme's rules. While they do not question British Coal's right to a share of the surplus, they dispute the way in which British Coal may use its share of the surplus. They claim that while British Coal is allowed to realise its share of the surplus through a holiday, from either normal or deficiency contributions, it is not allowed to take it in the form of a holiday from additional contributions, which should be regarded as a debt owed to the scheme and, therefore, scheme assets. The trustees and British Coal have sought joint clarification in the High Court on the legality of British Coal's proposals. The trustees are unanimous in their opposition to British Coal's proposals to cancel their debt to the fund and in their support for legal action.

I made that point in detail because it is important—two factors have emerged. Almost uniquely, British Coal is successfully uniting all the pension fund trustees in opposing its move to use the funds in a way that the trustees consider inappropriate. The trustees believe that the practical effect would be to disadvantage scheme members by realising British Coal's share of the pension fund surplus sooner rather than later. British Coal's proposal would be detrimental to the staff fund in cash flow terms. The Government are in effect trying to pay for past redundancies at the expense of British Coal pensioners. Pension fund assets should not be used to meet a social cost.

In addition, it might be more prudent of British Coal to wait before realising its share of the surplus. If the value of investment falls, pension fund surpluses can quickly turn into deficits. Moreover, British Coal's pension scheme is characterised by a shrinking work force and an increasing number of beneficiaries. It is important for that point to be on the record. There has been a lot of talk and many questions on the subject, but this is the first opportunity to raise it properly. The fact that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have not interrupted me suggests that it is also in order to discuss that matter.

Many hon. Members have elderly constituents who are extremely worried about their pension arrangements and their poll tax and council tax bills. The active and alert elderly in particular seek clarification. They are extremely annoyed at what they see as a Government-inspired attempt to take prematurely from the pension fund something to which the Government are not entitled at this stage.

In discussions about retraining and re-employment, reference has been made to British Coal Enterprises, which has made a number of extravagant claims that do not bear close scrutiny. A report published jointly by the Coalfield Communities Campaign and Wakefield and Barnsley councils of miners examined a BCE claim that, in the year ended 31 March 1992, 67,347 opportunities were created; business funding was provided for 3,300 projects, with the expectation that they would create 39,000 jobs; 11,200 jobs were created through managed work spaces; and the employment advisory service created opportunities for 25,000 people.

Much of that work was not the sole responsibility of British Coal Enterprises. In a number of instances, money was made available and BCE merely provided top-up funding. Some businesses relocated in areas in which British Coal Enterprises was operating, and in effect moved in jobs from elsewhere. One characteristic of small businesses is that they have a higher failure rate than larger businesses and the employment that they offer can be regarded as non-permanent. Some 90 per cent. of the jobs available are in that category.

As to placements, in a study of 284 people, 52 were in continuous employment for 18 months, whereas 232 were out of work for an average of 18 months. Ten per cent. of those who got work had a fall in take-home pay of between £70 and £100 a week. Only those who returned to the coal industry to be employed by contractors carrying out additional work received higher pay than previously.

I am trying to qualify the praise for British Coal Enterprise. Some of us have in our constituencies projects that have benefited from the largesse and support of British Coal Enterprise. However, we are not blind to the fact that some of the funded schemes have considerable limitations. Not all the jobs go to people who have worked in the coal industry, because some of those who are employed are in business in coal mining areas. The Opposition are prepared to give a fair wind to the grants, but we have some reservations about the way in which money has been spent.

In a contracting industry that is under considerable strain, we must look at one other issue—the position of the social welfare organisation that will also be funded under these arrangements. The Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation has a budget of more than £2 million and consists of a plethora of organisations. There is much nervousness throughout CISWO about the prospect of coal privatisation. It is feared that the trusts could be severely threatened by some kind of catch-all legislation.

This may be the last coal debate before the presentation of privatisation measures. Whether they will be passed is open to question, but there is no questioning the fact that there is considerable anxiety within CISWO about the Government's intentions towards the organisation's unique place in the industry. I say unique, because CISWO continues to enjoy the unalloyed support of British Coal management, and probably no other part of the industry enjoys such strong backing. A clearer indication of the Government's support for that important organisation would be helpful. I appreciate that the hour is late and that the Minister may not have the necessary information to hand. If he cannot reply to that in the debate, perhaps he will write to me.

The Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation is not a peripheral body. We have heard much in the debate, not least from the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash), about the importance of retaining and sustaining coalfield communities. There are in those communities many elderly people and others who suffer from serious illness as a consequence of service to the coal industry. Those people depend in a variety of ways on the activities of CISWO, and I shall give a few examples. Some 1,280 seriously disabled mineworkers are assisted with holidays, 218 seriously disabled people are provided with specific household items to improve the quality of life, and 2,333 seriously disabled people are provided with assistance for days out and the like.

Facilities are made available to such people under grants through measures such as those that we are considering. It is important to hear about the Government's intentions for that organisation. I hope that at some stage the Government will tell us about the other issues that have been raised in the debate, such as redundancy and early retirement, changes of work and places of employment, retraining and new employment. If we receive assurances on those matters, we will not object to the order.

12.44 am
Mr. Eggar

With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has left us, because I had intended to draw attention—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mr. Graham) can pretend that he is the hon. Member for Bolsover, although he does not look exactly the same. The trousers of the hon. Member for Bolsover stay up rather more easily than his. I had intended to draw the attention of the House to a rather curious fact.

The hon. Member for Bolsover is well known as an opponent of the European Community, so I was surprised to receive in my post the other day a letter from him that covered a letter from Mr. Arthur Scargill of the National Union of Mineworkers. The House may be interested to know that the hon. Member for Bolsover has apparently thrown aside all his views on the EC. He asked me, on behalf of the Government, to ensure that the NUM got funding from the European Community as part of the attempt to introduce redundancy payments because of the contraction of the NUM. It seems that that was a classic clash of the hon. Gentleman's principles. On the one hand, there is his allegiance to the union, about which we all know, and, on the other, there is his concern about the EC.

If I had got to that point, I might have been able to prevent the slight lapse of humour of my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash). If my hon. Friend re-reads his speech tomorrow morning, or the day after, he may reflect on whether using the tone and language that he chose to use this evening was really the best way in which to persuade his colleagues in the Government to see his point of view.

Perhaps I was too generous to my hon. Friend in accepting the praise heaped on him by the hon. Member for Bolsover, who claimed that my hon. Friend had a grasp of detail. I do not think that my hon. Friend's contribution tonight could entirely be said to portray accurately his grasp of detail. Indeed, some might say that the speech was somewhat incoherent, somewhat contradictory and somewhat ill-informed. Some might even say that his speech betrayed ignorance of what had been going on at the Trentham pit, whose interests he claims to have furthered in recent weeks.

My hon. Friend appears to be unaware of the fact that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Industry met other hon. Members who have interests in the Trentham pit and that, subsequent to that meeting, they accepted that my right hon. Friend had made a number of important announcements that benefited the area, such as the announcement of £7 million for English Estates, £7 million via Staffordshire training and enterprise council for a package of employment-related measures and £800,000 from the coalfield area fund. Hon. Members representing Stoke-on-Trent and elsewhere accepted that the Government had responded. I am sorry that my hon. Friend did not feel able to be as generous as other hon. Members.

Mr. Cash

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Eggar

If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I shall get on. With regard to the points made by the hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley) and, indeed, supported—

Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Eggar

With great respect to my hon. Friend, I do not think that he was in the House during the debate. Let me deal with the points that have been raised during the debate.

Sir Teddy Taylor

My hon. Friend has said that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) wrote and asked him whether he could have EC funding to help the administration of the NUM. If my hon. Friend raises such questions, he should tell us what he said. Did he say yes or no? That is a simple question.

Mr. Eggar

I have already said in answer to a similar letter from Mr. Arthur Scargill that the Government cannot respond positively to the request from the NUM. I am not sure that I have replied to the hon. Member for Bolsover yet, but I have certainly replied in terms to other hon. Members.

Sir Teddy Taylor

Tell us, then.

Mr. Eggar

Of course. I am delighted that my hon. Friend has been able to draw that information out of me. I had not realised that he was so interested in the answer.

The hon. Member for Barnsley, Central raised the question of British Coal Enterprise. If I may say so, I think that the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) raised it in a rather more balanced way. I must say to the hon. Member for Barnsley, Central that, if British Coal Enterprise did not exist, he and others would be clamouring for the existence of such an organisation. BCE has made an important contribution to the coalfielcl areas.

The hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) made a number of points. I will, as suggested, study the record and ensure that my hon. Friends study what has been said and respond to him. I will also pick up other points in writing.

The hon. Member for Clackmannan spoke about the Coal Industry Socal Welfare Organisation, which is being considered in the context of the privatisation Bill. The hon. Gentleman also raised matters relating to the staff superannuation scheme—typically, in a rather more balanced way than the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) did at Easter, when he caused a great deal of unnecessary concern among pensioners.

The application of British Coal's share of the surplus in the staff superannuation scheme is a matter for the corporation. British Coal is right to consider the position of the taxpayer, who is making large contributions to a fund that is heavily in surplus. The corporation will not, of course, proceed further before it has the decision of the High Court. I again repeat that there is no question of the Government taking money from the staff scheme—or, indeed, from any other British Coal pension fund. Staff scheme pensions are not at risk; on the contrary, the beneficiaries' share of the surplus will be used to fund improvements to members' benefits. I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will be particularly interested in that assurance.

This useful debate has enabled us to air a number of concerns. I repeat that I shall respond in due course to any points that I have missed.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Coal Industry (Restructuring Grants) Order 1993, which was laid before this House on 24th June, be approved.