HC Deb 05 July 1993 vol 228 cc35-122

[Relevant document: The First Report of the Trade and Industry Committee of Session 1992–93 on British Energy Policy and the Market for Coal (HC 237), together with Memoranda of Evidence (HC 703).]

Madam Speaker

I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister. I shall limit speeches to 10 minutes between the hours of 7 pm and 9 pm.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. The motion that we are to debate ends with a reference to measures that would ensure a fair opportunity for coal to compete for a wider market. No. 36 in the Remaining Orders of the Day and Notices of Motions—last, but not least—is the Energy (Fair Competition) Bill, which would introduce measures such as those referred to in the motion. In those circumstances, is it not right that we should be given an opportunity to consider that measure following today's debate? The Bill could do what the Secretary of State has not done to save the coal industry in this country.

Madam Speaker

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that that is not a point of order for me. He is a good publicist, though: I note that it was his own Private Member's Bill to which he referred.

4.29 pm
Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston)

I beg to move, That this House recalls that Her Majesty's Government encouraged the belief that the proposals in the White Paper, `The Prospects for Coal' would reprieve 12 pits and widen the market for their coal by providing a subsidy for their output; notes that within three months of its publication two of those pits have already closed and no extra contracts have been secured for the coal of the other ten pits, which therefore remain at risk; records its concern at the damage from the continuing closure of Britain's coal mines to the coalfield communities, the mining equipment industry, and the long-term security of energy reserves; and demands that Her Majesty's Government now acts to secure the future of the remaining pits and adopts the recommendations of the Trade and Industry Select Committee in its Report, 'British Energy Policy', which would ensure a fair opportunity for coal to compete for a wider market. Three months ago, the House debated the White Paper on coal. The press reports on that White Paper were all quite clear about its bottom line—that 12 pits had been saved. Most of them put that bottom line in their headlines. The Daily Telegraph announced: 12 pits reprieved by Heseltine". The Financial Times carried the headline: Government to save 12 pits". The Independent—marginally more optimistic than the rest —said: 13 pits have hope of survival". In Today, we read: £500 million bill for taxpayers to reprieve a dozen pits". The Daily Express—the official organ of the state, which saves us from speculating what Conservative central office is saying by faithfully reprinting every word—announced: 12 pits and 7,000 jobs are saved". Those half-dozen newspapers did not all reach the same conclusion by accident. They were all heavily briefed, lobbied and guided to the same conclusion—that 12 pits would be saved. But the educational effort that was mounted to get the message across to the press was as nothing compared with the one-to-one tutorials set up to convince Conservative Back Benchers—and many of them believed what they were told.

I see that the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) has temporarily absented himself from the Chamber. He was quoted by the Press Association a fortnight ago as saying that Had he known then what he knew now he would have voted against the White Paper rather than merely abstaining. I hope that the Patronage Secretary's representative will convey to the missing Member our hope that we are tonight giving him a second chance to redeem himself. We can assure the hon. Gentleman that there will be more rejoicing tonight in our Division Lobby over the one prodigal who returns to it than over the 295 who got it right last March.

At least the hon. Member for Davyhulme abstained. The hon. Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark), who I am pleased to see is with us, voted with the Government. During the March debate, the hon. Gentleman said: While we hoped that we might have been able to save more pits than the 12 … which we will save, at least we have 12".—[Official Report, 29 March 1993; Vol. 222, c. 58.] I am sorry to say to the hon. Gentleman that we are now 10. Only three months later, we have lost two of those pits. At Rufford, the decision has been taken to close the pit, which will cease production when the current face is exhausted—probably in a couple of months' time.

The hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, who was then Minister responsible for coal, visited Rufford in February last year. This is what he said to the local paper: Rufford is a fine example of how a loss-making pit can turn round to become a remarkable success. Barely a month before a general election, in a marginal Tory constituency, Rufford was a remarkable success. Now, barely a year into this discredited Tory Government's term of office, Rufford is an expendable failure.

At Markham, production has already ceased. As it happens, I have been down to Markham. Only six months ago, when I visited Markham, there was machinery still in service. It was new machinery—machinery that they were still stripping down to install underground. It was modern machinery—machinery that had helped to make that pit highly efficient and to double its productivity in eight years. It was expensive machinery—machinery that is now among the millions of pounds' worth of machinery that is being left underground in Britain to buckle under pressure and be buried under roof faults.

I hope that, in his reply, the Minister will spare the miners at that pit and at Rufford the humbug that it is they who choose to close the pit by accepting redundancy. In those cases, they had no choice. Those at both pits were told that they could stay open until next year, when the coal contract drops by 10 million tonnes, or they could vote to close this year. The difference was that, if they voted to close this year, they would each get an extra £10,000 on top of their redundancy. We have all contested elections; that is how we got here. I doubt whether any of us would care to contest an election in which the voters for our opponent qualified for a £10,000 bonus.

I fully understand why those miners voted for extra redundancy money. The only thing about which they were being consulted was whether their pit would close this year or next. It is a grotesque travesty of the language to say that any of them have taken voluntary redundancy. Let us at least give them the dignity of recognising 'what the Government forced on them—compulsory redundancy in all but name.

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)

Will the hon. Gentleman make it clear how he intends to pay to keep pits open? Does he intend to keep all 31 pits open? Does he recollect that previous Labour Governments closed 277 pits without any of the generous redundancy payments that this Government have offered?

Mr. Cook

That Labour Government did not make one miner compulsorily redundant. That Labour Government saw an increase in the amount of coal going into electricity generation. I do not take any particular kudos for that Labour Government, as it was like every Government since the war except this one. This is the first Government to see a reduction in the amount of coal for electricity generation. That is why we have a crisis in our coal industry. The hon. Gentleman helpfully brings me on to the reason for the closure of those pits, and the reason why the other 10 are still at risk. It has nothing to do with miners wanting to go.

Neither the White Paper nor the three months since it was published have produced a contract for one extra bag of coal from those pits. That is why they are closing. It will not do for Ministers to say that it is nothing to do with them, that it is not their fault, it is the fault of British Coal for not selling the coal, or the fault of the generators for not buying the coal, or, as the Minister appeared to suggest this morning, the fault of Michael Fish because it has been too warm for the past three months to sell the coal.

It will not do, because it was their idea. It was they who came up with the lifeline of a subsidy to find a bigger market. It was they who let the press believe that that would save 12 pits. Now that it is not working, it is they who, for just once in their ministerial careers, must accept responsibility for it not working. We warned them that it would not work. It would not work because the problem for coal is not its price. One cannot sell coal at any price in a market that has been specially rigged to keep it out.

The Minister for Energy (Mr. Tim Eggar)

indicated dissent.

Mr. Cook

The Minister may shake his head, but I address my point to him. If there is one thing for which I am grateful to him and his colleagues in the Cabinet, it is that in the past three months they have proved our case about the rigged market. They set out to test the market. The result of that test is already in: two pits have failed it. The result of that test confirms that we are dealing with a rigged market. Let us review the evidence.

Since March, British Coal has relied on the subsidy to offer extra coal for sale to generators at a sharply reduced price. The price is supposed to be a commercial secret, but since no one is buying it, let us give it some more advertising space. The price at which it is offering coal is 93p per gigajoule. That is 40 per cent. below the base price in the contract. At that price, generators could produce electricity at a penny-ha'penny per kilowatt hour. That is cheaper than they can produce electricity from the new gas-fired stations, at tuppence per kilowatt hour.

It is cheaper than they can buy electricity from France at threepence ha'penny per kilowatt hour. It is cheaper than they can buy electricity from nuclear power stations, at almost 4p per kWh hour. If ever more proof were needed that we are dealing with a market rigged against coal, what better proof could there be than that the generators will not buy it even when it would give them cheaper electricity?

The largest consumer of electricity in Britain is ICI. It is not a dangerous, leftist front, even if it makes donations to the Tory party. Its power services manager has prepared a comparison which shows how ICI has been disadvantaged by the generators' refusal to buy that cheap, subsidised coal. I shall read it in full, as it is worth sharing with the House: Utilising internationally priced coal … Fiddler's Ferry power-station, 5 miles from ICI in Runcorn, is capable of generating electricity in the range of £10–15/vcMWh. For a high proportion of the time, this power station"— a coal-fired power station— and others like it are underloaded, yet new gas-fired power-stations which require an income of £25–30/MWh are being built and prosper within the market. Generation costs are therefore higher than necessary. He ends by saying: We invite a rationalisation of this economic behaviour. The question that the Secretary of State must answer is this: how can he rationalise that perverse outcome? While he is at it, can he explain why the Government are still approving more gas power stations? Last month, his colleagues at the Department of Trade and Industry approved a new gas power station at King's Lynn. It is an interesting case, because the King's Lynn power station will be wholly owned by the local electricity company. All profits from its sales will go to Eastern Electricity.

I invite the House to speculate on what will happen once that power station, approved by this Government, is up and running. Will Eastern Electricity play the market? Will it whoop with delight when it discovers that a coal-fired power station could give its consumers cheaper electricity than the one that it has just built? If Ministers are so wet behind the ears as to believe that that will happen, they should have taken not the money from Octav Botnar but lessons in how markets work in the real world.

Eastern Electricity will fix its purchasing so that it will take all the output that can be produced by that station, and to ensure that that is what will happen it will do what every other electricity company has done : it will give the new power station a 15-year contract, which guarantees that it will take all the electricity that the power station can produce.

Mr. George Stevenson (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

It is called competition.

Mr. Cook

My hon. Friend takes my punchline. I have marked him down and will bear it in mind against him.

The Government tell us that this is widening competition. It is not widening competition but closing down competition. Nobody else can compete, whatever their price, for the share of the market that those contracts guarantee the new gas-powered stations. In the next three years, one third of the entire electricity market will be sewn up in these sweetheart deals.

Mr. Rod Richards (Clwyd, North-West)

In view of what the hon. Gentleman said about Fiddler's Ferry power station, will he tell the House whether he and his party are for or against the construction of the Connah's Quay power station?

Mr. Cook

I remind the hon. Gentleman it is fresh in my mind because I re-read my speech last night—that he made the same request in my last speech. I have to give him the same answer, and it is straightforward: Labour sees no objection whatsoever to the Connah's Quay project, because it is proposed to use sour gas, which cannot be used to heat homes direct and cannot be used in ovens. Our objection is to sweet gas—a premium fuel—being turned into baseload electricity with the loss of half its calorific value. That is not only bad for coal mines but is a daft energy strategy. I hope that the hon. Member for Clwyd North, West (Mr. Richards) is capable of remembering that for the time when we debate coal again in the autumn.

That is why the Select Committee recommended that we should stop handing out licences to every new gas station and that we look at downrating electricity stations to meet peak demand, not running them flat out to meet baseload. The Government totally ignored those recommendations.

There is one other aspect of the rigged market on which I want to bring the House up to date—the interconnector with France. In the White Paper, Ministers welcome changes in the contract with France, which from April will ensure that exports will occur"— that is to say, exports of electricity from Britain to France. It is paragraph 7.106 if the Minister wants to look it up.

I checked last week with the National Grid Company on what exports have occurred since that statement that the changes will ensure that exports will occur. In April, Britain exported to France zero electricity. In May, Britain exported to France zero electricity. In June, Britain exported to France zero electricity. There was a change —I would not wish to deny to the House that since the White Paper there has been some change in our relationship with the French interconnector. The change was that, in each of those months, imports of French electricity were up on the same month one year ago.

I remind the House that we are paying more for the electricity from the French interconnector than we would for electricity from coal—from the pits that we are shutting down. I will happily give way to any Conservative Member who is capable of believing for one minute that France would dream of importing electricity from a foreign source at a higher price and at a cost of shutting 31 French pits. I am not surprised that there are no takers, because we all know that there is not the remotest prospect of the French paying over the odds for an import that will damage their domestic industry, which is precisely what we are doing.

Dr. Keith Hampson (Leeds, North-West)

As in so many areas, the hon. Gentleman does not seem to have understood the Select Committee report, if he has read it. The report clearly states that most of our electricity companies purchase French electricity because it is cheaper for the company. Although the distortions of the nuclear levy might ultimately make it more expensive, for the companies it is cheaper.

Is he saying that companies should deliberately buy more expensive electricity rather than take what is cheap and on offer? Does he accept that some electricity companies, such as Yorkshire, are buying less energy from the interconnected? Indeed, Yorkshire is not buying any French electricity this year, compared with last.

Mr. Cook

The net effect is an increase. In one sense, I welcome the hon. Gentleman's intervention, because it takes me on to my next point. He is absolutely right. The reason why the electricity companies find it profitable to pay more to import French electricity is because—

Dr. Hampson

They pay less but the nonsense of the levy makes it ultimately more costly.

Mr. Cook

They claim it back. We are daft enough to pay them the nuclear subsidy on all electricity from France. Since March, the Government have not paid a penny in the subsidy that they promised to British coal mines, but they have paid millions of pounds to subsidise electricity imports from France. I remind the hon. Gentleman, who seems to have forgotten it, that recommendation (7) of his own Select Committee was: Electricity supplied from France should cease to be non-leviable. EdF's ability to negotiate contracts to supply-baseload … should be made conditional on UK generators having non-discriminatory access through the French network. Again, those recommendations were ignored by Ministers.

Dr. Hampson

indicated dissent.

Mr. Cook

That is what the hon. Member recommended to his Government.

There is a contradiction here. Ministers have consistently rejected all the recommendations of the Select Committee to challenge the rigged market. Ministers tell us that they accepted the recommendation of the Select Committee. What they mean—I have listened carefully to what they say—is that they accepted the recommendation of a subsidy. But I again have to say that that was not what the Select Committee recommended.

Before the Secretary of State tries to pull that one on the House, let us be quite clear what the Select Committee recommended. Yes, it recommended a subsidy of 16 million tonnes for electricity generation, but it did so with the parallel recommendation that there should be a requirement on the generators in return to contract for 21 million tonnes of additional coal. What the Government did was to offer generators the subsidy without making them give a commitment to buy any extra coal.

Instead of buying that extra coal, the generators are running down coal stocks at power stations. I have two observations to make about those coal stocks. First, I would have more sympathy with the generators' claim that they have more coal in stock than they need if they had not been so busy importing coal for the past five years. According to their own calculations and their own logic, those imports must now be a mistake. If they do not need all those coal stocks at the power stations, they did not need all the imports that have added to our balance of trade deficit, thus increasing pressure on manufacturing industry to achieve more exports to pay for the coal that they did not need.

My second observation is addressed more to the Government than to the generators. In the three months since we last debated the issue, Lord Ridley has passed on, but I debated against him often enough to know that he would not want his role to go without recognition just because he is not here to listen. It was Lord Ridley, after all, who–15 years ago—wrote the strategy that the Government have followed so faithfully. He composed a paper before the Government came to power, explaining how a Conservative Government could run down the coal industry and weaken its power. I looked at it again this morning, and noted that its first recommendation was for the Conservative Government to build up maximum coal stocks, particularly at the power stations". That is why, throughout the Government's term of office, we have had large coal stocks. The aim was to prevent miners from stopping work; now there is a danger that those same stocks will be used to put them out of work for good. That is why the Select Committee recommended that the generators should be required to hold not less than 20 million tonnes of coal—double the level at which they are apparently aiming.

The White Paper, for once, did not ignore that recommendation. In paragraph 13.23, Ministers committed themselves to having talks with the generators, about stocks "as a matter of urgency". May I ask the Secretary of State what happened to those stocks? What is his definition of urgency? Why are the generators behaving as though the White Paper had said nothing about the level of stocks? When the generators have run down the stocks, there will be no point in turning around and asking Britain's coal mines to increase output; by that time the mines will be closed. They will have been filled in and flooded—and not just the 12 that the White Paper claimed to have saved.

The House must now face up to the gravity of the crisis in the coal industry. Between them, the pits not included among the 12 are already producing more than 30 million tonnes. That is all that the generators will buy from next year onwards. On present markets, not only will all those 12 pits go by March; so will some of the others that have yet to figure on any closure list. That will be a tragedy for the surrounding communities—communities that were built because a pit was there; communities that will have no work when the pit is gone. It will also be a tragedy for the nation, because with those pits will go our access to our coal reserves.

Silverdale has figured in the press as one of the pits that may be next for closure. The shaft and tunnels at Silverdale give access to 30 years' supply of coal. No one else in the world would be filling in shafts that give access to such an immense national resource.

The other week, the Chancellor of the Exchequer shared with us his insight into the economics of the coal industry, observing: Coal is a rather old-fashioned way of generatiing electricity. I concede that it is rather old-fashioned in the Chancellor's constituency, where his Government have just closed the last pit; but if it is so old-fashioned, why have the last two dozen power stations ordered in the United States been coal-fired? Why does the United States expect coal consumption to rise by one fifth in the next decade? It should not be difficult for Conservative Members to obtain the United States coal figures: they need only ask that notable donor to the Tory party, Lord Hanson, who owns most of the pits. He may not take kindly to the news that the party into which he has poured so much money is describing his operations in America as old-fashioned.

Not only have we the largest coal reserves in Europe; as Conservative Members want to talk about the cost of production, let me tell them that we have the most efficient coal mines in Europe. We are busy closing them down, while other Governments are working hard to keep open the least efficient pits in Europe. The case for saving Britain's pits is not based on nostalgia for the past; the case for saving our coal industry is based on their success in the present.

Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley)

What percentage of the coal that will be burnt in the new coal-fired power stations in America has come from opencast mines?

Mr. Cook

A number of mines in America are not as deep as ours, but they are not opencast mines by any stretch of the imagination. [Interruption.] Pearson and Hanson, which owns them, runs deep mines, but they are not as deep as ours. Pearson is a wholly owned subsidiary of Hanson. [Interruption.] I hear an hon. Member ask where else in Europe Governments are seeking to keep pits open. Germany is now providing its coal industry with three times the amount that our Government have contributed to the British industry.

America has opencast and deep mines, as has Britain. It is for that very reason that the majority have been closed. If the hon. Member for Colne Valley wishes to make a case on behalf of opencast, he must consider the point that I have been making throughout my speech about the market for coal. If the current position continues, opencast as well as deep mining in Britain will be in trouble.

Mr. William Cash (Stafford)

The hon. Gentleman referred to Germany. Does he concede that, according to the most recent figures available to us, in 1991 the German coal industry received £9 billion—pounds, not ecu—of authorised state aid through the European Commission? Does he accept that we should investigate the imbalance vis-a-vis the British coal industry?

Mr. Cook

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on getting in a pro-coal and an anti-European point simultaneously. I agree with the thrust of his remarks, which is essentially correct. If we take the European perspective—although I suspect that the hon. Gentleman may not wish to do so—it is insane that in Europe we are closing down the most efficient pits, which produce the cheapest coal, while other Governments are providing substantial subsidies. The German Government, supported by the Common Market, are doing so to keep open pits that produce coal at three times the price at which it is produced in Britain.

Dr. Hampson

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Cook

I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman once.

As I have said, the case for Britain's pits is not based on a nostalgic affection for the past; the case for saving our coal industry is based on their present success. Ironically, only last week British Coal issued a press release showing that productivity had risen by a quarter in the past year, and that, in the past eight years output per man had arisen by 300 per cent.

If any other industry had shown such spectacular advances, Ministers would have showered it with Queen's awards; they would be queuing for photo-opportunities with the success story. The Prime Minister would be memorising statistics in front of a mirror, in order to reel them off at Question Time. Instead, because it is the coal industry, this industry is treated with vindictive vandalism by Ministers who are determined to prove that they were right all along when they told us that 31 pits would have to close.

The White Paper was not about how to keep miners' jobs; it was about how to keep their own jobs while ending the miners' jobs. The White Paper was always a fraud and, since the two closures, it can be seen to be a fraud. It must be seen to be a fraud even by the Conservative Back Benchers who were taken in by it last March. I forgive them for being taken in at the time; I am prepared to accept that they voted in good faith, thinking that they would save 12 pits, but they now know that they did not. We shall not forgive them—and the miners will not forgive them—if they let themselves be taken in again.

I give Conservative Members this warning: if the Government get away with it tonight, more of the 12 pits will close before the House returns from the summer recess. If Conservative Members want to save those pits, they must do it tonight. They will not get a £10,000 bonus if they vote with us tonight—that is a cynical ploy used by the Government—but they will stop more pit closures, halt the destruction of more coalfield communities and prevent the loss of more coal reserves. That is what we shall vote for tonight; it is what the nation wants the House to vote for tonight, and it is what Conservative Members should join us in voting for.

5 pm

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. David Hunt)

I beg to move, to leave out from 'House' to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: 'welcomes the Government's acceptance of the principal recommendations of the Report by the Trade and Industry Committee "British Energy Policy and the Market for Coal" (HC 237), and in particular the offer of a transitional subsidy for additional sales of United Kingdom underground coal for electricity generation, the wide ranging package of measures to assist the regeneration of coal field areas, the commitment by British Coal that they will offer to the private sector pits which they do not themselves wish to keep in production, and the Government's intention to bring forward as rapidly as possible the legislation necessary to privatise British Coal.'. The amendment stands in the name of several of my right hon. Friends, including the President of the Board of Trade. I am sure that I speak for all hon. Members when I say how pleased we are that he has been able to return home and that we wish him a speedy recovery to full health.

I have participated in many coal debates in the past 10 years, for several years as the Minister with responsibility for coal, then as Secretary of State for Wales and now as Secretary of State for Employment. I hope that the many hon. Members who have participated in the various debates will accept that there is no monopoly of concern for the coal industry from one party rather than another.

If Labour Members reflect for a moment and read the reports of the many debates in Hansard, they will find that concern for the coal industry and its employees could be found in all parties.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) scored a magnificent try against the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) when he pointed out that, under a period of Labour Government, 277 pits had closed. The hon. Gentleman immediately leapt to a conclusion; Hansard will show that he used statistics relating to the last period of the Labour Government, but he made a fatal error. My hon. Friend was, of course, referring to the period of Labour government between 1964 and 1970. During that period, 277 pits closed. In 1967, just about 60 pits closed.

Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley)


Mr. Hunt

The hon.Gentleman may not like the facts, but I am going to give them to the House.

Under that period of Labour government, in one year, 60 pits closed and, in the following year, just under 60 pits closed, so just over 120 pits closed within two years. If my right hon. and hon. Friends refer to Hansard of that time, they will read the barrage of criticism from all parties against the then Labour Government because 185,000 coal industry employees lost their jobs in their local collieries.

Mr. Campbell


Mr. Hunt

I shall give way in a moment.

As I said, 185,000 jobs were lost in the collieries, and there were no generous redundancy schemes then. The amount of money received by someone leaving the coal industry at that time was pretty mean, and Labour Members said so at the time. There was no enterprise company charged with bringing new life to coalfield communities,and there was no opportunity for employees leaving the coal industry to find another job or another chance. When the hon. Member for Livingston seeks to put on one side that period of Labour Government, he does himself and his party an injustice. The concern expressed at that time was expressed by all parties. The hon. Member for Livingston is right to recall that there were substantial further pit closures in the 1970s under a Labour Government. I think that by 1979 the number had grown to 353. We have to ask why that happened.

Mr. Joseph Ashton (Bassetlaw)

Because they were all worn out.

Mr. Hunt

No, not because they were all worn out. Of course, that was true in some cases, but—

Mr. Ronnie Campbell/


Mr. Hunt

I shall not let a rather silly comment pass —I am going to deal with it. I ask you to note, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell) is trying to change the subject quickly, but I shall not let the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) get away with it. I shall give way, but I am going to deal with the point raised. [Interruption.] Labour Front-Bench Members should not get excited.

Mr. Ashton


Mr. Hunt

I shall deal with the sedentary comment made by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw who can then respond. The pits were not closed because they were all worn out. He has only to read the statements made at the time by Labour Ministers: the pits were closed because there was no market for their coal. He has to ask himself why. It was because the domestic market contracted dramatically; people stopped burning coal in their homes and started burning what the hon. Member for Livingston referred to as the sweet premium fuel called gas. He forgot to mention, however, that its calorific value is much higher than that of coal.

If the hon. Member for Bassetlaw reads Hansard, he will find statements made by Labour Ministers in which they said that, sadly, there was no market for the coal and it would therefore be wrong to keep the pits open, even though there were still a number of substantial recoverable reserves.

Mr. Ashton

I came to the House a year or two before the Minister. I arrived in 1968 in a by-election, during a pit closure in my constituency. Unemployment was running at 1 per cent. and miners who wanted to move to another pit were found jobs—they were not forced into redundancy. One of the reasons for the closure, which the Secretary of State has not mentioned, was the price of oil. It was at rock bottom until the war between the Arabs and the Israelis in 1973, which caused it to rocket. The price trebled around the world and, incidentally, it also caused inflation to treble, a problem for which he has always blamed the Labour Government. Every miner who wanted a job at another pit was moved. Thousands moved to my constituency where there are still three profitable pits. The Secretary of State offers only half-truths, like all solicitors and cheapjack lawyers who do not have a brief.

Mr. Hunt

The hon. Gentleman offers a lot of bluster but very few facts, as befits an occasional columnist for a newspaper—I shall not embarrass him by saying which newspaper. He should reflect on what he said. I will not embarrass Opposition Members by asking how many of them burn coal in their own homes—[Interruption.] I suppose that the record will not show that there was a small smattering of individuals.

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Hunt

I will give way in a moment.

The point that I was making stands. There was a savage contraction in the domestic market for coal.

Mr. Ronnie Campbell

I am not surprised that the Government want to close the 12 pits. A few years ago, the Secretary of State was the Minister responsible for coal and at that time I worked in Bates colliery. We went through the colliery review procedure, which was fairly new at the time, and Bates colliery won. The right hon. Gentleman was the Minister responsible for coal and that pit still shut. I was a miner at that pit and I know all about it. There were still 29 million tonnes of coal in that pit and it could still be working today.

Mr. Hunt

The hon. Gentleman will recall that British Coal spent some time considering the report of the independent—

Mr. Ronnie Campbell


Mr. Hunt

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that British Coal spent some time considering the report and, in the end, it did not accept the view that the hon. Gentleman has just put forward.

The hon. Member for Blyth Valley has just made a point that I made earlier. Pits closed when they still contained a substantial amount of coal because the market changed. I examined the case for Bates colliery very carefully at the time. I was convinced that British Coal had made the right decision. However, it was a matter for British Coal to determine.

Mr. Riddick

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Hunt

Yes, in just a moment.

The issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East should not be shrugged aside easily. From time to time, coal must face substantial changes in the energy market.

Mr. Riddick

A few moments ago, my right hon. Friend challenged Opposition Members to say how many of them burnt coal in their own homes. Is he aware that my local Labour-controlled council—Kirklees council—has, over the past year, forced hundreds, if not thousands, of my constituents to stop burning coal by imposing unnecessary smokeless zones on the rural parts of my constituency, despite the fact that emission figures of smoke and sulphur dioxide in those areas fall within the guidelines set by the Department of the Environment and the European Community? Is that not plain Labour hypocrisy?

Mr. Hunt


Mr. Martin Redmond (Don Valley)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you draw the attention of Conservative Members to Government legislation regarding smoke control zones?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)

That is not a point of order for the Chair.

Mr. Hunt

My hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) has raised a very important point. I wonder how many Opposition Members have been councillors in local authorities that have decided not to install coal-fired units in local accommodation. I could quote many examples of that. However, I simply raise that matter to refute the point made by the hon. Member for Livingston.

I want now to consider what happens today.

Mr. John Evans (St. Helens, North)


Mr. Barron


Mr. Hunt

I should give way to the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron).

Mr. Barron

I should like to take the Secretary of State back to the point about pit closures. Will he name any Conservative or Labour Government who have ever closed coal mines in this country for foreign coal imports?

Mr. Hunt

There has always been a level of imports from other countries and that has been the case under all Governments—[Interruption.] I am answering the point raised by the hon. Member for Rother Valley. I have always seen a level of coal imports—

Mr. Barron

What about power stations?

Mr. Hunt

I have been present in many coal debates when Opposition Members have urged the Government to put a cap on the level of imports as if protectionism was the answer for the coal industry. I reject that argument. The coal industry now faces a substantial change in the energy market and that must be faced with reality instead of trying to introduce open-ended subsidies, which the Select Committee on Trade and Industry did not suggest but which was implicit in the comments of the hon. Member for Livingston.

Mr. John Evans

The Secretary of State has referred to the difficult period in the 1960s and 1970s when quite a number of collieries closed. The Secretary of State represents a north-west constituency and he will acknowledge that a substantial number of small collieries in St. Helens and Wigan closed for two major reasons. The first was because they were reaching the point of exhaustion and the second was that many of their reserves could be exploited from a brand new big colliery called Parkside.

Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that the vast difference between that period and the closure of Parkside is that Parkside has about 30 million tonnes of coal reserves which will now be lost to the nation and will remain in the ground for ever?

Mr. Hunt

I will deal with that point by referring back to the point made by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw, who said that the pits closed because they were worn out. The answer is not as simple as that. Some pits were exhausted while some were economically exhausted. Some could be accessed from other shafts in other mines. I am aware of all that. Equally, some pits had a substantial amount of coal which could still have been mined. However, the market, in the phrase used by a Labour Minister at the time, had collapsed.

I am trying to explain how I believe coal has a future. However, it will not have such a future if we go down the route advocated by some Opposition Members of trying to introduce an open-ended subsidy and of trying to keep alive uneconomic pits.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hunt

I will give way in a moment, but I want to make this point because it is very important.

The hon. Member for Livingston said that output per man shift in the past few years has increased substantially. That is true. Since 1979, this Government have invested a substantial amount of money in support of the coal industry. The figure now totals £18,000 million. In the last financial year, that support has enabled British Coal to have a fixed capital programme of more than £180 million. There will be a similar figure in this financial year. It is good that the industry has responded by improving its output per man shift.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Hunt

I will indicate when I am ready to accept interventions, which will be in just a moment after I have made my next point.

The hon. Member for Livingston should consider what happened during the period of the Labour Government between 1974 and 1979 to which he thought my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East was referring. Listening to the Labour party, one would think that Labour has a monopoly of concern for improving output per man shift. However, I will remind the House of the figures.

In 1974, when the Labour Government took office, output per man shift was 2.94 tonnes. What was the output per man shift by 1979? Having listened to the hon. Member for Livingston, one would have thought that output per man shift had increased substantially by 1979. In fact, it had declined from 2.94 tonnes to 2.89 tonnes.

In the period that I have referred to, there was half a decade of inaction in respect of the support being given to coal and in respect of the response of those who worked in the industry. Opposition Members should reflect on that for a moment before they quote the nonsensical figures that they have put forward from time to time—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Livingston cannot dispute the figures for output per man shift. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bassetlaw keeps shouting, "Nonsense". He thinks that he has made a point. He has not made a point at all, because output per man shift has been calculated on the same basis over the period that I am talking about, and, of course, it relates production to the number of people in the industry.

Let me deliver the figures again. In 1974, it was 2.94 tonnes per man shift, and in 1979, it was 2.89 tonnes.

Mr. Ashton

What was the total tonnage?

Mr. Hunt

I am responding to the points raised by the hon. Member for Livingston. That is what debating is all about, even if the hon. Member for Bassetlaw does not understand it. Output per man shift was announced by British Coal just a short time ago as having reached 8–5 tonnes per man shift.

Mr. Ashton

What is the total tonnage?

Mr. Hunt

That is a creditable achievement.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I keep hearing a sedentary intervention from the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton), "What is the total tonnage?" If the hon. Gentleman wishes to intervene, he should rise in his place and see whether the Secretary of State will give way; otherwise he should stay quiet.

Mr. Hunt

I am going to answer the hon. Gentleman. Do not let me miss an opportunity to put the hon. Gentleman right.

I now quote from the National Coal Board, as it then was, summary of statistics. I can now confirm that all undergound output per man shift in 1974 was 2.94 tonnes and in 1979 it was 2.89 tonnes. What about the output? National Coal Board mines output in 1974 was 116.9 million tonnes, and in 1979 it was 109 million tonnes.

Mr. Ashton


Mr. Hunt

The hon. Gentleman should heed your words, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is about time he stopped his nonsensical sedentary interventions. I have been seeking for the past few minutes to deal with the points that were raised by the hon. Member for Livingston. The speech of the hon. Member for Livingston read rather like the curriculum vitae for George Orwell's Minister of Truth. I have never heard such a rewrite of history.

Mr. Ashton

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You rose to your feet and criticised me—probably quite rightly—for making interventions from a sedentary position. The Minister will not give way, although he keeps challenging me. What is the total tonnage for this year and what is the forecast for next year?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman is not being fair to anybody—either myself or the Minister. I heard him ask from a sedentary position, "What was the total tonnage output?" I heard an answer given. Whether or not the hon. Gentleman likes the answer is another matter, but the Secretary of State gave way.

Mr. Hunt

We go from bad to worse with the hon. Gentleman. We are, of course, dealing with tonnages which are well known to the House, and up-to-date figures are set out not only in the energy review but in the Select Committee's report.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Hunt

Just one moment. I was dealing properly with the hon. Gentleman's sedentary intervention. I do not want to occupy the House any more with his sedentary interventions, but I was giving the output per man shift figures for 1974 and 1979, and his sedentary intervention was, "What was the total output?" I have now given the total output figures for 1974 and 1979, and he is still not satisfied, but, of course, those figures do not prove his point.

The point that I was making is that we should concern ourselves in this debate–1 hope that hon. Members will address the real issues, and the real issue which the hon. Member for Livingston did not address—[Interruption.] I would be obliged if Opposition Members did not criticise their hon. Friend so much by saying that he has not dealt with the issues. I am dealing with issues to refute the hon. Gentleman's point.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Hunt

Just one moment. As we look forward to the future, let us consider the consequences of the second substantial shift in the marketplace for coal that is now used for electricity generation, just as we considered the first substantial shift in the marketplace away from coal being used in the—

Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton)

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Hardy

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Hunt

I shall give way again in a moment.

The point that I am making is that we have to address the substantial shift in the market for domestic coal, just as we did between 1964 and 1970; now, we look at the shift in the market for coal for electricity generation.

The Government carefully read the report of the Trade and Industry Select Committee and accepted its main thrust. Specifically, if Opposition Members will recall, we accepted the main recommendation and offered a temporary and declining subsidy for additional sales of British deep-mined coal. We have asked the industry to provide us with firm evidence of the additional sales that it believes that it can secure and the amount of subsidy that it will require.

If hon. Members look at the Order Paper, they will see that, immediately following this debate, there is a motion on financial assistance to industry, which authorises the Secretary of State to pay, or undertake to pay, by way of financial assistance … sums exceeding £10 million in total but not exceeding 120 millon in total to support sales of coal produced from underground mines in the United Kingdom.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Hunt

I shall give way later.

That motion, of course, releases the necessary funds to keep the commitment that was made by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. I shall put the record straight again and report exactly what my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade said in his statement on the coal industry on 25 March. He said: I cannot guarantee that supplementary sales will be achieved by British Coal. Later, he said: Finally, let me remind the House of what I said earlier. There can be no guarantees. The market for coal is complex and unpredictable. Even among the experts, opinions differ. I have done all that I reasonably could, consistent with economic realities and legal constraints, to increase the opportunities for British Coal. It is now for British Coal to make the most of these opportunities. The outcome will be settled, as it should be, in the marketplace. Our policies will give the industry every chance of strengthening its position and achieving future success. It is now up to the people who work in the industry to build on this."—[Official Report, 25 March 1993; Vol. 221, c. 1230–31.] I had to quote that statement because the hon. Member for Livingston did not quote Hansard. He confined himself to quoting newspapers. When we quote newspapers, we deny the existence of debates and statements in the House. Nothing could have been clearer than my right hon. Friend's point, and I have quoted it in order to put the record straight.

Mr. Hardy

Is it not incredible that, a few moments ago, the Secretary of State boasted about the vast amount of public money that the Government invested in the coal industry and yet the same Government have been party to rigging the market to prevent the coal industry from taking advantage of the most astonishing increases in productivity to which the right hon. Gentleman might refer?

Is the Secretary of State aware that, a few weeks ago, before the President of the Board of Trade was taken ill —one hopes that he will be quickly back to the House to maintain the debate—his hon. Friend the Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark) and I were present at a meeting at which the President of the Board of Trade said, "Isn't it a pity that the enormous increase in productivity in the mining industry did not take place earlier?"

The previous chairman of the board had to get to his feet to contradict the President of the Board's point, because that increase in productivity has been taking place almost consistently for the past four or five years. Having achieved record productivity, unmatched in the rest of British industry, is it wise for the Government to write off their investment in mining communities as they are doing?

Mr. Hunt

I very much welcome the hon. Gentleman's comments about my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. I am grateful to him for ensuring that they were made by the Opposition. So far as the allegedly rigged market for energy is concerned—[Interruption.] All right— so far as the rigged market for energy is concerned, it is rigged in favour of coal because—

Mr. Stevenson


Mr. Hunt

Let me answer the point.

As the President of the Board of Trade pointed out, there is a subsidy of about £1 billion a year, which goes directly to ensuring that the market is weighted in favour of coal. We are now dealing with a market that is becoming freer, and decisions are being made by energy generators in the context of that freer market.

If Labour Members re-examine the report of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry, they will see that several recommendations have been broadly accepted by the Government. The Government have accepted the first recommendation relating to the reform of working practices. They have accepted the broad thrust of recommendations Nos. 14, 15, 16 and 17 relating to the subsidy for additional sales of coal and recommendations Nos. 27, 28 and 29 relating to the establishment of an independent licensing authority. The White Paper in paragraphs 30 and 31 proposes extra funding for the support of clean coal technology. In the White Paper, the Government have broadly accepted paragraph 32 relating to the annual report of the energy commission and the energy advisory panel.

As I said previously, the future of the coal industry has been debated in a way in which such matters should be debated—with informed reports from Select Committees. However, the Government are not bound to accept all of the recommendations. For example, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson) pointed out earlier, it would be illegal to accept recommendation No. 7.

Recommendation No. 11 relates to the reduction in output from opencast mining. I simply ask those Labour Members who are sponsored by the Transport and General Workers Union and who have made it clear that they do not want to see any reduction in jobs in the opencast coal industry and the nuclear industry to reflect for a moment. Trade unions throughout the country have made it clear that they do not want to see any reduction in jobs in the oil and gas industry.

Dr. Hampson

My right hon. Friend will appreciate that the Select Committee tried to strike what we called a "balanced energy policy". In a way, that "balanced energy policy" could be interchanged with what the Leader of the Opposition called an "integrated energy policy" in a debate in December 1975. I remind my right hon. Friend that the Leader of the Opposition said that the Labour Government had an effective policy for the development of oil and gas resources but a policy for our coal industry and also for our nuclear industry. His balance was interesting—he did not put the coal industry first. He said: This is a policy of which we should be proud". —[Official Report, 8 December 1975; Vol. 902, c. 164.] That sort of balance and integration was at the heart of the Select Committee's proposals.

Mr. Hunt

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for putting the record straight.

Mr. Terry Lewis (Worsley)

First, I declare that I am sponsored by the Transport and General Workers Union. I also have a local interest in opencast mining. Many of us are fearful of, and opposed to, the extension of opencast mining on green belt land and land that is contaminated by previous workings. Some of us want to see a more strenuous approach taken by the Secretary of State and his colleagues, especially with regard to mineral planning guidelines, so that local authorities and local communities can make their own decisions—and not be pressed by Whitehall into accepting the national needs as perceived by Ministers—and safeguard the environment at a time when British opencast miners submit their hideous opencast applications.

Mr. Hunt

The hon. Gentleman criticised me previously for the length of my speech. I simply point out to Labour Members that I am prepared to give way, but they must accept that my speech will be much longer as a result—[Interruption.] I will deal with the point, although the shadow Secretary of State for Employment criticised me for making too long a speech in a previous debate after I had given way to 25 interventions. I believe that Ministers and Opposition spokesmen should give way and I now respond. However, in giving way, I hope that Labour Members will recognise that my speech will be longer as a result.

Mr. Robin Cook


Mr. David Hunt

Let me deal with that point. I understand that the hon. Gentleman has already given considerable advocacy to the views of his constituents on environmental issues not only to the Minister for Energy but to the Secretary of State for the Environment. He will know that there are checks and balances in the system to ensure that environmental considerations are taken properly into account.

Mr. Cook

I think that my hon. Friends are concerned not about the length of the right hon. Gentleman's speech but about the fact that, in the 35 minutes that he has been speaking, he has not once addressed the crisis in the coal industry. If he maintains that the crisis is caused by a free and open market, which I think he referred to earlier, will he now address himself to the central point of our case, which is that British Coal cannot sell coal to the generators at a price that would produce electricity to the consumer at a cheaper price than from any other source?

Mr. Hunt

I have already said that we must deal with a dramatic contraction in the market for coal for electricity generation. To deal with the hon. Gentleman's specific point, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade made it clear to the House that he accepted the broad thrust of the Select Committee's recommendation that a subsidy should be provided to ensure that genuinely additional sales of coal for electricity generation could be provided by ensuring that the difference between world energy prices and the cost price was covered by such a subsidy.

Mr. Stevenson


Mr. Hunt

I shall deal with the point raised by the hon. Member for Livingston and then I shall give way.

The subsidy is there and available not only to British Coal but to the private sector to ensure that the private sector can take advantage of genuinely additional sales of coal to the electricity generators.

Mr. Robin Cook

The House is aware that the subsidy has been in place since March. The question I put to the Secretary of State is this: now that the subsidy is in place and the price of coal could provide cheaper electricity than any other source, and if it is a fair market, why will the generators not buy it? If the Secretary of State will not answer my question, will he answer the question from ICI? Why is ICI being asked to pay twice the price for electricity that it would pay if the generators bought that coal?

Mr. Hunt

I remember another recommendation made by the Select Committee [Interruption.] This directly answers the point made by the hon. Gentleman. The Select Committee recommended that electricity generators should keep a minimum of 20 million tonnes at the power stations. At present, the figure is 30 million tonnes. That 30 million tonnes at the power stations obviously has an effect on the market. I have made it clear that the subsidy is there. Provided the House approves the subsequent motion on the Order Paper, the subsidy will be in place and the money will be available. It will then be for British Coal to ensure that it secures those additional contracts.

Mr. Cook

I am delighted that the Secretary of State referred to the same commitment that I referred to earlier—that is, that the generators should maintain stocks of not less than 20 million tonnes. Currently, the two generators propose to reduce their stocks to 10 million tonnes. May I take it from what he said that the Government will order the generators to maintain a level of 20 million tonnes, which will release additional markets?

Mr. Hunt

As far as the tonnages kept at the power stations are concerned, I understand from my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark) that we are discussing with the electricity generators what the level should be. What I said is true: although the recommendation was 20 million tonnes, the amount at the generators today is 30 million tonnes.

Dr. Michael Clark (Rochford)

My right hon. Friend has referred to what the Government have offered to do to help British Coal to bring its price down in order to enter markets that would otherwise not be open to it. He has also mentioned that it is up to British Coal to find those markets and, in many ways, I agree with him. Does he accept, however, that it is very difficult for British Coal to find all the markets that it might want for generation if the generators are insistent on building new gas-fired power stations and will not offer coal-fired power stations for sale at a reasonable price?

Would not it help enormously to overcome the problem of finding markets for British Coal if the generators were reminded of their duopoly position and of the obligations they have? They should be encouraged to sell surplus coal-fired power stations at a realistic asset price rather than try to sell them at a price equivalent to the cost of building new high-technology power stations that those sold-off power stations would then have to compete against?

Mr. Hunt

My hon. Friend has made an important point that I will bring to the attention of the generators. I will also bring it to the attention of the Director General of Electricity Supply, because, although he is aware of the problem, my hon. Friend's point carries an important message for the industry.

British Coal has opportunities open to it. In the long term, its success will lie in its productivity being continually improved and its overheads reduced. I strongly believe that privatisation is urgently necessary for that industry not only because it will remove the constraints of public ownership but because privatisation will do even more to secure a proper future for our coal industry.

If the jobs of miners were preserved artificially, that would be done at the expense, immediately, of employees in other energy industries whether nuclear, gas or opencast.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

At the expense of gas.

Mr. Hunt

As my hon. Friend has said, it is a fact that every new gas-fired station will result in increasing job opportunities in that industry.

It is most important to offer real hope for the future. That will not be done by seeking to persuade miners that they have long-term employment prospects in an industry faced with a contracting market. They know that themselves. When they go down the pits, they know that most of those pits have a strictly limited life. [HON. MEMBERS: "Come on!"] Oh yes, they do. I have been underground in nearly 30 coal mines and I have seen some wretched conditions caused by narrow seams. I have seen coal produced with high chlorine, sulphur or ash content. I have seen limited seams that offer a limited life.

Surely it is far better to keep faith with those we care about in the coal industry by ensuring, now, that we provide jobs for the future by putting the necessary investment into those coal communities to provide additional jobs. My experience as Secretary of State for Wales has led me to the conclusion that one does not keep jobs in the Rhondda valley, for example, where once there were 50 coal mines, but now there are none, by artificially prolonging the life of exhausted pits. One provides jobs for the future by bringing in new industries and providing new high-tech opportunities.

Mr. Winston Churchill (Davyhulme)

My right hon. Friend is speaking as though we had a free and open market in energy supplies, but he knows very well that that is not the case. He knows that the nuclear industry is guaranteed a market for every kilowatt hour that it produces and that the gas industry and Electricity de France have privileged access to energy markets, which are not available to coal.

Three months ago, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, to whose return to the House and full health we look forward at the earliest opportunity, gave an undertaking that he and the Government would work to widen the market for coal. That action, alone, can secure the future of the 12 so-called reprieved pits.

Can my right hon. Friend tell the House what specific steps the Government have taken in those intervening three months to underpin the market for coal? Have they reined in the French connector supplies and, given the prospect of the dash for gas, extended the market for our coal?

Mr. Hunt

A great deal of activity has taken place. It is the party of instant results that has ensured that we debate the subject today. I very much hope that we shall see an opportunity for not only British Coal but the private sector to secure genuine additional sales. We will, of course, continue to strive for that.

I hope that fair-minded Members will acknowledge that, when I was Minister with responsibility for coal, I did my best to secure additional markets for it. In the present market atmosphere, however, it is difficult to secure them, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) recognises that.

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)

The Secretary of State has referred to my constituency and I should tell him that it had, at one time, 63 coal mines, and not 50 as he said. He has suggested that he is closing coal mines on two grounds—first, because they have a finite life and, secondly, out of kindness, common humanity, because of their poor conditions. I presume that the right hon. Gentleman will extend that practice to the rest of the United Kingdom and give it the benefit of his humanity as well.

Will the right hon. Gentleman address the issue that is of vital concern to people in the industry, perhaps not those in south Wales, because most of the pits have closed, but certainly in the rest of the United Kingdom? It is no good talking about the finite life of a particular colliery or a particular coalfield when pits with hundreds of years of coal reserves left in them are being closed. If he is hell bent on closing those pits, will he provide some alternative work for the people in that industry, rather than simply deciding to close those pits because of the Government's dogma and their 10-year pursuit of the mining industry?

Mr. Hunt

I recall standing with the hon. Gentleman at Oakdale business park, where a great deal of money has been spent on restoring a derelict site—the old banana tip in Rhondda. I hope that that business park will result in many new jobs coming to the Rhondda valley.

The hon. Gentleman should remember, however, that we are dealing with the market for coal, and not any of the other matters that he sought to attribute to me. I hope that he will accept that Wales offers good examples of communities looking to the future. They are entitled to do so because of the substantial amounts of partnership money that is available through the private sector and the public sector working together. The announcement of £243 million for England and Wales represents such partnership money and is available to provide and secure job opportunities.

Mr. Don Dixon (Jarrow)

Get on with it.

Mr. Hunt

I am still answering the point raised by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers). I will come to a conclusion in a moment, but it is right to answer the points raised.

I should like to remind the hon. Member for Rhondda that I am proud of the fact that, together with Lord Walker and the then National Coal Board, I created an organisation called British Coal Enterprise Ltd. That organisation has just published its annual review of activities, the eighth such report, for 1992–93 and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will read it. It lists 87,500 job opportunities that have been created since 1984–85. I believe that that is a good result. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman should not allow his hon. Friends on the Opposition Benches to belittle the work of British Coal Enterprise Ltd., which has done an excellent job. It will continue to have the full support of the Government.

Mr. Cash

I, too, pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for the work that he did in his previous capacity. Indeed, he and I worked very closely together in relation to. the coal strike of 1984. I pay tribute to him also for his work in connection with British Coal Enterprise.

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of this country's main difficulties is the increasing level of public expenditure? Does he know that, in terms of central Government expenditure alone, the cost of closing the mine at Trentham, let alone the one at Silverdale, will be £85 million to £90 million in the first year and that that will be barely offset by the amount of money coming back?

Is my right hon. Friend aware of Conservatives' concern about monopolies? The lack of access, under a privatised regime, to the core contracts of mines is itself an offence against the principles that the party stands for. That is compounded by the lack of a level playing field in Europe. My right hon. Friend should understand that some of us who agree with him in respect of many issues take a very strong view about the way in which this whole matter has been dealt with, as it offends Conservative principles above all else.

Mr. Hunt

I want to see a level playing field in Europe. That is why I am very much in favour of the Maastricht treaty, which goes some way towards restoring that situation. My hon. Friend has done a very good job for his local colliery, but he will accept that it lost a considerable sum of money last year. Ultimately, it is for British Coal to determine the future of each colliery.

The future for coal depends on the market—in particular. the tonnages that can be sold to the generators. The Government cannot create an artificial market for coal without damaging many other jobs. Coal must compete with other energy sources. We cannot just pretend that nuclear energy, gas and oil do not exist.

What the Government can do is create the opportunity for additional sales. Following publication of the report of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry, that is exactly what my right hon. Friend did. The subsidy that the Government have made available to British Coal—this is reflected in a later motion on today's Order Paper—will help the company to match world prices for sales over and above their core contracts with the generators. With that subsidy, and with increased productivity, coal has a future. That future will be secured better in the private sector, and the Government will bring forward early legislation on privatisation.

Dr. Kim Howells (Pontypridd)

If that is the case, why is the Aberthaw contract of the Tower colliery, in which there has been considerable investment, and which is one of the last 20 supposed to be safe, being cut by 200,000 tonnes a year? Why has the right hon. Gentleman said nothing about the way in which management—Mr. Neil Clarke and the chairman of the coal board—have backed out of efforts to find new markets and have been absolutely silent on the question of the fight for greater markets for coal? Is there any collusion between the Government and the chairman of the coal board to facilitate a management buy-out?

Mr. Hunt

I gave way to the hon. Gentleman because I have had tremendouse respect for his background in the industry and, indeed, for his valiant fight for the true interests of miners, especially at a very difficult time for the industry. Obviously, decisions about individual collieries must be a matter for British Coal. The hon. Gentleman will remember that when he was involved, in a full-time capacity, with the National Union of Mineworkers, that was always the basis of decisions.

No Government—Labour or Conservative—have ever tried to second-guess British Coal or the former National Coal Board about decisions on individual collieries. That is why I have tried, in this speech, to put forward the view that jobs in coal, as in any other industry, must depend on the industry's success.

The reality is that the market has changed. Industrial change cannot be avoided. It would be totally wrong to destroy jobs by imposing high electricity prices on industry. This country cannot, in a very competitive world, afford to have an economy preserved in the past. Our industries have to be efficient if they are to compete in the future. [Interruption.] One of my hon. Friends has shouted, "The chemical industry."

That is a very good example. Our chemical industry is one of the most successful in the world. If we are to ensure that it remains a world leader and that the jobs depending on it are retained, we cannot shackle it with high electricity prices.

With regard to those who are leaving the industry, the Government have provided opportunities—not only with the £243 million regeneration package or with the support for British Coal Enterprise, but also with the whole regeneration strategy that we have endorsed since 1979. This has been done before. It has been done at Shot ton and Corby and in other communities affected by industrial change. Unemployment in Corby is now below the national average—something that not even the doubting Thomases of the Opposition would have forecast in 1979.

From this debate, there is a clear message to the coal communities. First, I strongly believe that coal has a future in a highly competitive energy market. The support that the Conservative Government are providing will secure that future. Privatisation will create a profitable industry able to survive on its own. Secondly, where pits close, new businesses and new jobs will be created to replace those that disappear. There is a future—a future for coal, and a future for coal communities. I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to throw out the motion and support the

5.56 pm
Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

I have heard many Energy Ministers speak, but I have never heard a more disgraceful speech than the one that has just been delivered by the right hon. Gentleman. Many thousands of people in the mining communities will have expected from the Secretary of State a serious account of the Government's energy policy. I contrast the right hon. Gentleman's speech with that of the Secretary of State for Defence, who, just after Question Time today, announced a defence review. The Secretary of State for Defence tried to measure our resources against our commitments.

Successive Energy Ministers, of whom I am proud to have been one, have been custodians of 300 years' worth of coal reserves—1,000 years, if the coal under the North sea is included—and of other energy sources, notably nuclear power, as well as gas. If the policy that the Secretary of State mentioned were applied to the farming industry, with its huge subsidies and set-aside grants, there would undoubtedly be an outcry from Conservative Members representing—

Mr. Eggar


Mr. Benn

I want to make my point. The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to comment in his winding-up speech. This ought not to be treated as a student debate. Those who are listening are entitled to hear the arguments so that they may compare—

Mr. Eggar


Mr. Benn

I do not intend to give way at the moment. People listening to the debate ought to be able to compare the arguments.

There has been reference to the period of the last Labour Government. I am very proud to have been the Minister who expanded the market by authorising the Drax B coal-fired power station; who agreed to and made possible the sinking of the Selby coalfield; who signed the agreement with France and said in the House that its purpose was to export British coal by wire to France—the argument that was put forward in the House when this was done; and who reached an agreement with the National Union of Mineworkers that, where pits were closed because of exhaustion, as sometimes happens, or where pits were closed because of dangerous working, as is sometimes necessary, or where pits were closed because there was access to the coal reserves of other shafts, the union would be offered a veto.

In truth, the NUM had a powerful argument—that very often there were reserves that the Coal Board did not want to explore. I offered the union an exploration grant of £500,000 for the purpose of establishing whether those reserves existed in every pit. I hope that the Minister will not try to cover up the brutality of his policy by making debating points about the previous Labour Government.

Mr. Eggar

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Benn

I shall give way, but I am making a serious speech and do not want this to become a mere knockabout.

Mr. Eggar

The right hon. Gentleman said that he was proud to have signed the interconnector agreement with France and that he signed it because he thought that he was exporting coal by wire. Why, therefore, did he agree with the French terms, which meant that the French could export nuclear electricity to this country without giving us the ability to break that agreement legally?

Mr. Benn

The Minister is totally wrong. The interconnector was a physical connector, and the contract with the French was signed subsequently. The Minister's assertion is like saying that if one orders a ship, one must have ordered it to import goods from Japan. Ships are capable of carrying goods both ways. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, no."] It is the truth.

The Government should also mention the fact that, when the new Labour Government took office in early 1974, we discovered that the previous Prime Minister had told the Central Electricity Generating Board to import Australian coal. By the time the coal was delivered, it was so expensive that the British generating board sold it at a loss to Electricity de France because British coal was cheaper. Also in 1974, the generating board wanted some 22 nuclear power stations, which had all been set in hand by the previous Government. That number was cut back to two.

So much for the past. It would be a tragedy if anyone from a mining area listening to this debate thought that it was just about what happened 20 years ago. The people listening to this debate want to know why pits are being closed and I submit to the House that it has nothing whatever to do with market forces.

Anyone who has been reading articles by Brian Crozier in The Times recently may know something about it. When the Government came to power in 1979, they were determined to break the National Union of Mineworkers and were prepared to sacrifice the British coal mining industry in order to do so. The Government precipitated the strike in 1984. I have forgotten which Minister said that, when there was some industrial action earlier, they were not ready for the strike.

Anyone who thinks that Arthur Scargill started the strike had better read what actually happened. Cortonwood had been given a long life; when the Government decided to close it, the local branch officials told the national officials, "We don't want you here." They wanted to decide it themselves and Arthur Scargill was told by the branch officials at Cortonwood that they had decided to resist that decision and appeal to the NUM for support.

The articles in The Times were not news to any of us. Brian Crozier, that paranoid nut who ran a private security service, managed to persuade the Prime Minister of the day that a miners' leader who wanted to keep the pit open was engaged in trying to bring about the Russian revolution in Britain. I do not know how that man could have been listened to by anyone. Hon. Members should read the book if they do not believe what he said. We know that David Hart was put in by the then Prime Minister to wreck the agreement between MacGregor and Scargill, which might conceivably have brought that strike to a more reasonable conclusion.

The then Prime Minister treated the miners as the enemy within. Like many other hon. Members, I spoke to many miners who had served in the second world war. They bitterly resented being described as "the enemy within" by a Prime Minister who had never even served in the armed forces in the second world war. From the beginning—from the "Ridley plan" through the strike—this has been a policy to destroy the National Union of Mineworkers. That is what it is about.

The Government should not try to tell us about their generous redundancy terms, because they bumped them up to get people to leave the industry. How much of the £18 billion support for the industry has been used to buy out men from the industry? How much of it has gone into redundancy arrangements? Some miners are told that if they do not accept redundancy pay, they will be put in low-paid jobs, and the redundancy pay that they receive six months later is then related to their low pay.

When they receive their redundancy pay, they want to use it to pay off their mortgages, but the Government will not let them do so. So much for a Government who believe in home ownership. Miners in my constituency who took up the offer to buy their own houses, believing that the industry was safe, thought that when they were made redundant they would at least have a roof over their heads. But when they went to the DSS, they were told that they could not spend their money. It is not real money but a coupon. It is a lump sum of unemployment pay and they will get nothing from the DSS until they have spent every penny of it. The Government are fraudulent in their presentation of the case.

When the pits are closed, what happens? The environment in the areas where the pits have been is stripped and opencast. Local authorities are not allowed to prevent the opencasting of areas because the Government have taken away local authorities' power to determine whether opencasting should take place.

I have the privilege to represent what was a mining area —the last pit in Chesterfield closed 10 days ago—and I know that what the Minister said was wholly untrue. Last October, when the Government were forced back by a great outcry of public opinion, they pretended that they would do something simply to buy the support of enough Conservative Members of Parliament to get the measures through. When what they saw as the hubbub had subsided, they decided to carry on with closing the pits.

It is a disgraceful story because this country is richly endowed with energy sources and needs a national energy policy. It is sensible for Governments to say, as they do in other policy areas, that they will conserve gas. The previous Labour Government said that we would not allow the oil companies in the North sea to flare the gas. My right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition and I provided for flaring controls to prevent gas being flared until the gas-gathering pipeline was available, so that gas would be available.

We did not even develop all the fields that we discovered. We had discovered a field in the Irish sea but held back its development. We could do so because it was in public ownership. We did not have to exploit everything that we discovered. We cut the nuclear component from the 22 power stations demanded by the CEGB to two. We developed the mining industry, with elaborate arrangements that involved consultation with all users of coal and electricity.

I will not say that this Government have betrayed the mining industry, because one must believe in something before being able to betray it. This is a search-and-destroy mission against the National Union of Mineworkers.

I shall finish with a political point. In 1984–85, the NUM warned people that if it went down, others would follow. Anyone looking back, 10 years later, will see that that is exactly what has happened to the health service and local government. The Government are determined to destroy not only the NUM but the trade union movement. because that is the main obstacle to what they are really about—enriching their friends and impoverishing those who create the nation's wealth. I saw figures the other day showing a 14 per cent. reduction in income among the poorest people and enormous profits made by those who have either acquired privatised assets or plan to do so.

Let us not forget that Mr. Hanson will be waiting to buy the pits that we are told are uneconomical. Such people pour money into the Tory party. Business Age, which is not a left-wing magazine, has produced a figure of £71 million as the amount donated to the Tory party. In return, donors have a chance to buy in those assets. Some Tory Ministers who were in the Cabinet that privatised particular industries sit on the boards of the companies for which they have legislated. This is a corrupt Government and people understand that they are about corruption. Ministers come along and make a lot of funny speeches without a note on the Dispatch Box. They advance a wicked argument, which does not carry any credibility.

The Government can close the pits, but they cannot abolish miners. Thousands and thousands of miners and miners' families in this country were proved right. Arthur Scargill was described as a scaremonger, but he was right. He was re-elected. He is more popular than the Prime Minister—everybody knows that. He is more popular because he told the truth; what he said in 1984–85 was true.

The Government, facing awful scandal—the profits made from the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, the Maxwell pensioners and Polly Peck—are trying to destroy the lives of highly skilled engineers who work underground with high technology arid who created the wealth on which the first industrial revolution was built. One day, we will need those people again to rebuild the country on the basis of its energy resources.

6.12 pm
Dr. Keith Hampson (Leeds, North-West)

In one sense, I agree with the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). Clearly, we face a serious state of affairs in our mining communities, and it is not confined to the pit areas. The mining equipment industry produces substantial exports of about, I believe, £400 million a year, so subsidiary industries are dependent on what happens in the coal industry.

We heard enormous passion in the speech of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield, but has he forgotten what has happened in the years since he was the Secretary of State for Energy? Do I have to go back to the White Paper that he produced? Do I have to remind him of the balanced energy sources for which he argued?

At the heart of the Opposition's case is the argument that, supposedly, the market for coal is rigged. The primary reason, it is said, involved the nuclear industry. Yet, when Secretary of State for Energy, the right hon. Gentleman said that one had to have a nuclear ingredient. Twice he said that Windscale had to be enlarged and that no energy Minister could recommend to the House"— [Official Report, 15 May 1978; Vol. 950, c. 174.] other than having the nuclear ingredient. He cited the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, because there were problems involving nuclear power. But we now have problems of air pollution and the burning of carbon fuels. The environmental lobby argues about how clean the nuclear industry is compared with the coal industry. Has the right hon. Gentleman forgotten not only history, but what he has said in the House?

Of course, the Leader of the Opposition was once an oil spokesman. Of course, he defended the oil industry and the jobs in that industry, and he was right to do so. It is a major industry. The Liberal party's spokesman on the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce), rightly defended that industry.

That is why the Select Committee called for a balanced energy strategy, just as the right hon. Member for Chesterfield had done all those years ago. No modern economy can be totally dependent on coal or have a coal-dominated energy strategy.

When Labour Members call for an energy strategy, they deceive the nation. They are calling for a strategy fixed for coal. For the past three years, the energy industry in this country has been fixed for coal. How could one say otherwise when, on privatisation of the industry, the electricity companies were required to buy huge tonnages —70 million and 65 million tonnes of coal?

That was way above the amounts that they would have bought in an ordinary energy market. In addition, they did so at a price which, at £1.85 a gigajoule, was substantially more than the world price of about £1.30—and below that if one is shipping into a coastal power station.

Once we removed the rigging of the market in favour of coal, any independent business man had to say that alternative cheaper sources were available. Opposition Members constantly argue on behalf of manufacturing industry. The Select Committee on Trade and Industry is now preparing a report on the competitiveness of British manufacturing industry. Is it, in principle, wrong to seek to give British manufacturing industry the cheapest possible power source?

Opposition Members are readily saying that we should continue to protect the old position and force the electricity companies to continue to buy British coal, when it is more expensive than foreign coal or when cleaner alternatives are available.

It is a tragedy for the coal industry that alternatives have become available, but that is due to the march of history. We have developed a new gas turbine technology which was not available when the White Paper of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield was published in the 1970s. That turbine technology is an increasingly more cost-effective and efficient system of burning gas. That has changed the value of gas as a premium fuel. In recent press releases, British Coal has acknowledged that fact.

In the press release it stated that the threat that it had anticipated had become even worse. It states that gas was reaching full capacity earlier and running at even higher efficiency levels. That is one of the industry's key problems. In addition, summer is with us, and the industry is presented with another problem: it has to persuade people to buy coal.

The huge existing coal stocks present a big problem, but there are other factors in the equation. The Select Committee thought that imports constituted one of the two most important factors—the second was existing surface stock levels. However, that first factor is currently not the real problem. There is a low demand for coal because it is the summer, and gas is coming on to the market quickly and at ever-increasing efficiency.

Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central)

The hon. Gentleman has said that manufacturing industry and industry in general will be subject to higher prices if we maintain the coal industry at its current market levels. Why has the Major Energy Users Council been complaining about the high cost of energy now and over the previous few years?

Dr. Hampson

I do not want to sound patronising, but hon. Members and people outside the House have not bothered to read the Select Committee report. It contains a section on why the heavy users have serious problems, which we have addressed. The report contains recommendations on that, and I have sympathy with those users and their problems. The heavy users such as ICI and the paper industry—not industry as a whole—have a case.

However, the general argument is different. The Select Committee report acknowledges that there is pressure on the coal market. People should not cite the Select Committee report as though it contains a series of absolutes. We were making generous assumptions, and hoping and praying that we could strike a better deal for the coal industry.

We were stretching the figures, in believing that the market could possibly reach 16 million extra tonnes. From all the evidence given at the outset, most of us knew that the market could only be about 12 million tonnes. Due to the conditions that I have just outlined, the market is less than that, and the industry is under even greater pressures.

The Select Committee added a potential 3 million tonnes to the non-electricity industry in our calculations. I do not want to bore the House with a description of how we reached that figure, but we were speculating and we must now return to reality. We must not cite the Select Committee's report as if it constituted an alternative strategy which is not now being pursued.

In many respects, the Government are seeking to do what the Select Committee recommended. British Coal has a future; a certain number of pits—we did not say how many—have a future if we can reduce the production costs of deep-mined coal to those of world prices, which are largely determined by the huge opencast pits opening all over the world. That requires the NUM and the mining unions to make great sacrifices. It is no good the unions, and the Opposition Members who represent them, digging in and saying no change.

The hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) said that great improvements in productivity have been made in the past four years. That is of course true, because, in the past four years, particularly since privatisation, new disciplines have been introduced into, and new competitive pressures have been exerted on, the industry to try to lower its costs and get to grips with inefficient practices. The industry has no future if we cannot reduce further its costs.

The first key factor of the Select Committee's report which the Government have acknowledged is that we must subsidise our prices in new contracts to match those of world prices. We said that we would try to squeeze the imports as much as possible, and try to squeeze French imports. The Government are desperately trying to do so, and companies such as Yorkshire Electricity are not accepting French imports. However, that alternative supply still exists for others. We have also squeezed orimulsion, but those are all small amounts in the equation.

Let us not deceive ourselves that there is a real choice. There is an efficient gas industry, and not one Labour or Conservative member of the Committee wanted to pull back from the position that it has reached. We could easily control it, in the way that the right hon. Member for Chesterfield did, because licences and consent must be granted.

The Government rightly said that, with huge gasfields such as Liverpool bay, with its sour gas, it is pointless not accepting that jobs are at stake, and that that natural resource should go into electrical supply. Unfortunately, if that is done, it squeezes the coal market—but the Select Committee said that that should be done.

Mr. Martin O'Neill (Clackmannan)

I wanted to intervene some moments ago, but the hon. Gentleman got carried away. I refer to his earlier point about productivity. The Secretary of State made great play of productivity, but I was not clear about his comparisons.

If the hon. Gentleman will cast his mind back to the 1970s, productivity included that involved in the drivages of roads, and so on—which at that time were undertaken by employees of British Coal, or the National Coal Board as it then was. Today, drivages are undertaken by private contractors, and do not appear in British Coal's figures. Therefore, the basis of the Government's statistical comparison is totally fallacious. They are comparing unlike with like, so those statistics are invalid and should not be quoted.

Dr. Hampson

I will not enter into that technical argument, which we dealt with to some extent in the Select Committee—and we have had the Boyd report. It is a technical issue, as to what sort of drivages are best in this country. Other countries use different technological techniques and operate different kinds of pits. The point is that, however they get the coal out of the ground, it is cheaper on the world market than the product that our deep mines can produce. That is the dilemma.

So, we have to free our operators, including British Coal—the hon. Gentleman knows from the evidence that it submitted to the Select Committee that it is totally in favour of this—from various legislation introduced since the 1940s, to allow more flexibility, so that they can make better use of working time to achieve higher productivity and get costs down.

I pay full tribute to the developments in productivity of the past few years, but coal is under pressure from the twofold competition of world coal prices and a highly efficient gas industry. A British Coal press release dated 30 June rightly boasts that output per man is 23 per cent. higher than one year ago, yet that is a terrible catch-22.

Nuclear is, because of past strategies, static at around 20 per cent., but gas is increasing, and in the next two years will reach 25 per cent. That squeezes coal down to about 50 per cent. Of that coal burn, there are cheaper and environmentally cleaner coal imports. At a time when demand for coal is diminishing, productivity is dramatically improving. Fewer pits and fewer men can produce sufficient coal, even in an increased market.

Opposition Members do not have a solution any different from that of the Government.

Several hon. Members


Dr. Hampson

No, I will not give way. I was accused by the Chair in the last coal debate of speaking too long. On that occasion, I allowed six interventions—and today I have allowed three, which is very generous. I must bring my remarks to an close.

High-technology pits allow a smaller work force to produce sufficient output, even if the market stabilises. The Committee's report has been distorted by misinformation. For example, we were told today that other Governments help their industries. The British Government have a huge record of giving help. The rest of the European Community countries are running down their coal industries to a much greater extent. There is virtually nothing left in Europe, apart from in Germany.

Mr. Barron


Dr. Hampson

The hon. Gentleman can make his point in his own speech. I would like him to read the Select Committee report, which gives in table 2 the figures for the rundown from the 1970s to the 1990s. We and the Germans are in almost exactly the same position. Our output fell from 108 million tonnes in 1973 to 75 million tonnes, and that of the Germans from 99 million tonnes to 71 million tonnes.

Germans are pouring proportionately the same amount of money into coal as we are into nuclear, but they are doing that to protect the rundown of coal. The Belgians, the French, the Spanish and the OECD in general are running down their coal industries at a faster rate than this country has done over the past 20 years.

Mr. Barron


Dr. Hampson

No, I will not give way.

The coal debate is riddled with myth. Even a distinguished presenter of the "Today" programme this week endorsed, or at least did not challenge, Arthur Scargill's claim about coal reserves. Arthur said yet again that there is "more than a thousand years of coal", and that it was a tragedy that such a great resource was available and untsed. All the various estimates are in the Select Committee's report, if only people will analyse them.

Mr. Benn

They are wrong.

Dr. Hampson

No, we are not wrong. The report says that there may be about 300 years of coal left in the United Kingdom, but questions how much of it will be practicable to extract from the 50 existing pits. Practicalities reduce the term to something between 25 and 40 years. The report says—all the Labour members of the Committee signed up to this—that it is closer to 25 than 40 years in respect of existing pits.

The Select Committee spells out the fact that the real dilemma for British Coal is the investment required for new pits, such as those in Nottinghamshire and Selby. It costs about £400 million to £500 million at present-day prices to sink a new deep mine, apart from obtaining planning permission in places such as East Anglia. Coal that may be available for 200 years is not in the vicinity of existing pits. It is time the existing mining communities woke up to that fact, and stopped being deluded by people such as Arthur Scargill.

Not one expert—left, right or center—in the world anticipates that, in the next 30 years, given the likely world price of coal, because of huge opencast pits opening in Australia, South Africa, South America and North America, any Government will spend £400 million to £500 million on a deep mine, because the unit cost of coal produced there could not conceivably compete with imports.

6.28 pm
Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon)

Although I was a member of the Select Committee, I do not intend to dwell on its report, as did the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson). The Committee had to deal with a situation that should never have been allowed to develop. As Select Committees are of habit all-party and must achieve a consensus, they cannot entertain radical proposals.

The Government probably hoped that they would get more time out of their announcement of three months ago. The public, understandably, are confused and concerned that, despite assurances and the rescue plan that was eventually forced on the Government, nothing appears to have changed.

The programme of privatising gas and electricity has meant that, whether wilfully or through lack of foresight, coal is being squeezed out of the marketplace. Unless the Government are prepared to acknowledge that and do something about it, the coal closure programme will accelerate.

Some hon. Members implied that those of us who make constructive comments against the accelerated closure programme have an old-fashioned idea about the role of coal. The coal industry has been declining, and all sides have recognised the change in the market.

Two questions must be addressed, the first of which is how to manage that decline sensibly and constructively and take account of the needs of communities. Secondly, what strategic calculation is required to ensure the retention of long-term flexibility and choice?

People are beginning to realise that the Government have created such a distortion that coal will be squeezed until it is closed off as a significant alternative in a short time. Any Government who allow that to happen will rightly be accused of total irresponsibility and vandalism in respect of a major energy resource. The Government are in danger of being accused of that unless they take some action now.

British Coal is not our only coal producer, but it is our major one, and it appears to have its mind set on the belief that the only way to get the industry into profit is to contract. But contraction is becoming a spiral towards near-oblivion. It is directed not at a target figure but at a figure that is reducing all the time. There does not seem to be any will to market coal or to enter into the spirit of competition.

Today's newspapers show that the industrial market for coal is disappearing at an alarming rate. There is a lack of confidence among British Coal customers about a commitment to provide a future source. Customers do not believe that there will be guaranteed security of supply, and any company that gets itself into such a situation is on dangerous ground.

The industry is contracting. The pertinent points made by the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) were extremely well put, but they were not even acknowledged, let alone answered, by the Secretary of State. As a Liberal Democrat, and to some extent a referee in the confrontation between the two major parties, I must say that the hon. Member for Livingston spoke for 29 cogent and effective minutes, while we had 55 minutes of waffle by an unprepared Secretary of State who did not answer any of the points raised.

One of the pertinent questions asked by the hon. Member for Livingston was, how is it that British Coal can provide a source for energy supply which is cheaper than gas or nuclear fuel, but cannot find a market? That question simply echoed in the air but produced no response whatever from the Government. Every electricity consumer and every major industrial user, not just ICI, wants an answer to that question, but it has not been addressed.

The hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Mr. Hampson) is a member of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry, as I am. He acknowledged that, as a Member representing a constituency in the north-east of Scotland, where tens of thousands of people are employed in the oil and gas industry, I would not vote for measures that will put them out of work. However, a Government with any foresight could have created a sensible and managed energy policy under which such a choice would not have to be made. That is the Government's failure.

British Gas started with a monopsony in North sea gas, because it was the only customer. When it was privatised, and the technology for gas-fired power stations was developed, it was inevitable that the oil and gas-producing industries would try to find a market. The gas-fired stations provided just such a market, and that got round British Gas.

It is interesting that British Gas frequently argues that gas is too good a fuel to be burnt in that way. That is a legitimate point, because, after having always taken an interest in energy matters, one of the most startling pieces of evidence that I heard on the Select Committee was that the life of North sea gas is longer than the life of British coal. The presentation of that piece of evidence was historic. That is an extraordinary transition, and part of the reason for it is that there has not been a strategic calculation about what the right level ought to be.

We cannot retain our flexibility and choice with 10, 12 or 15 pits, because such an industry will be small in world terms, and its ability to compete will be restricted. The question that arises is whether anybody has more management drive and more commitment to technology and marketing than British Coal.

The other question that the Government have not answered is whether they are determined simply to reduce British Coal to the smallest possible viable and profitable corporation and then sell it to the management or anybody else; or whether they will give the coal reserves to someone who might make more of them. Even Labour Members sponsored by either of the coal unions must recognise that someone other than British Coal running a pit is rather better than having it closed, even if they would not like to face that choice.

It is deeply depressing that the Government have argued that, as North sea oil and gas have created for themselves a market for electrical generation, they should be allowed to exploit it. However, in the month that they gave clearance for that, they introduced new taxes in the North sea that will discourage the finding of more oil and gas, which is in the national interest.

Mr. Illsley

I appreciate the difficulty of the argument about whether it is better to retain pits in public ownership or under a different type of management, if that means that they will stay open. We would not agree to just any form of management taking over collieries, because the terms and conditions of employment could be lowered to such an extent that it would not be worth while for union members to work in them. The competence of the management is another factor in a scenario in which the market is contracting. At Monktonhall, mineworkers pumped hard-earned redundancy money into a venture that could fail and lose their investment.

Mr. Bruce

The hon. Gentleman is correct. As he knows, I have supported the right of the Monktonhall miners to take over their colliery, and I hope that they will succeed. It is frustrating that they have more difficulty getting access to finance than some of their competitors, who would like to profit from their difficulties.

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but the wider issue is that, in the national interest, we must ensure the maximum viable coal industry. The Government's strategy ensures that we will not achieve that. There is a danger that the coal industry will be reduced to such a level that it will be too small to maintain viability and any standing as a world player, as it was in the past. That is worrying.

The environmental argument is a little spurious, because, while the Government use the contraction of the coal industry and the expansion of other sectors as environmental justification for their policy, they overrule local planning authorities to ensure the dramatic expansion of opencast mining. They do that against the wishes of local communities, in a way that is regarded as extremely damaging to the environment.

One colliery, Brynhenllys in Wales, was drawn to my attention yesterday. It is an anthracite opencast mine, that will effectively displace the deep-mined anthracite colliery in Betws. In spite of being repeatedly refused by the local planning authority, plans have been approved by the Secretary of State in the past month.

There are many other examples all over the country of the Secretary of State having given planning permission for the expansion of opencast mining to allow deep-mined collieries to be shut down. I am not convinced that that is an environmentally constructive approach.

Mr. Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

Does my hon. Friend recognise that the problem is even worse than that? Under the existing mineral planning guidance, local planning authorities, knowing that they will be overruled by the Secretary of State if they turn down an opencast application, find themselves reduced to placing extra limits, such as increasing the height of the banks, or weakening in some minor way the grounds for the application. Those planning authorities know that, even when they feel strongly that an application should be rejected, they will probably be overruled, so they feel that they might as well make the best of a bad job.

Mr. Bruce

I understand that, because, ultimately, it only involves more and more planning time. generally, the public do not want to see a dramatic expansion in opencast mining, and the Government appear to be prepared to overrule the balance of pits. That has produced the net effect that my right hon. Friend has described.

The Government continue to insist that, somehow, what is happening is simply the operation of a free market. What has happened in the past three months has proved that the free market is not working, because coal is cheaper than any other source of fuel, yet the market has not changed. It cannot possibly he a free market, in spite of the argument about stocks. It is all about market positioning —people making calculated strategic decisions to determine their place in the market.

The market is also distorted by the regime that the Government have created. They have created a privatised electricity industry, where the nuclear industry is guaranteed a market, regardless of the price for everything that they can produce. The Treasury appears to take the simple view that it simply wants the maximum revenue from the nuclear industry. The fact that one other aspect of the Treasury's books will cost millions—if not billions —of pounds, in redundancy, community development and so forth, does not appear to enter into the calculation.

There is also distortion because nuclear power is expanding its share of the market. It has a privileged position inside the public sector, with its debts being written off. That is not fair, free market competition, regardless of whether one is pro or anti-nuclear. My position is well known.

At the core of the debate about THORP in the past week was the question of who would underwrite the £13 billion-worth of contracts. The answer is simple: the consumer will underwrite them. That is not a free market, but a guarantee of being able to exploit one's position in the market, where one cannot lose. Coal does not have that opportunity or advantage, but is squeezed out as a direct result.

It is true that gas-powered stations must be licensed, but the Government deliberately allowed a scramble to take place, because they wanted that distortion to arise. I have made my position clear. I do not support measures to reverse that process, but I believe that the distortion should not have been allowed to happen in that way in the first place. That puts some obligation on the Government to have a rethink.

The Minister made his point about the French interconnector. I have seen the supposed arguments, and I am not convinced by them. The interconnector was supposed to be a two-way, not a one-way, process, and that suggests that at least half the difference ought to be recoverable. The Government have never satisfactorily explained why not.

Although I have no expectations, the Minister and the Government ought to acknowledge that they have made a mess, and that they have created distortion in the marketplace, partly driven by malice, partly driven by strategy and partly driven by ideology. The Government have not come clean, and they have not been open or honest. If they had said, "We have made a calculated decision that the coal industry should contract to a certain level because it is too dominant within the electricity supply market, and we are creating a playing field to achieve that," it would have been honest. It might riot have been acceptable, but it would have been honest.

The Government have acted totally under the counter, and we have had to guess and second-guess their motives. I am sure that, whatever their motives, they are not in the national interest. The Government should think again.

6.44 pm
Dr. Michael Clark (Rochford)

I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce). Like him, I shall do my best to make a constructive speech because I believe that we should attempt to find a solution rather than go back over the past and try to attribute blame. My estimate is that there is as much anguish and disappointment among Conservative Members as there is among Opposition Members about the fact that we are not finding the market for coal that we expected three months ago and about the fact that there is still much to be done if we are to save the majority of the pits that we set out to save in March and April.

At the time of the White Paper, we were promised that the generators would be encouraged to sign contracts, which they were some distance away from signing then. That has now been done and in notes to hon. Members both National Power and PowerGen have let it be known that they have signed or are on the verge of signing five-year contracts. We have moved forward in that respect.

We were promised that there would be a dramatic reduction in imports of coal. With one or two minor exceptions, coal imports are negligible at the moment. So be it; they should have been negligible a long time ago. If they had been, we should not have had the stocks that we are now discussing. We were told that steps would be taken, albeit modest steps, to cut the amount of electricity coming from France through the link. Like the hon. Member for Gordon and others who have spoken this afternoon, I am disappointed that we have not made further progress on that. However, we may hear a little more about that from my hon. Friend the Minister.

We were also told that in the longer term there would be closer scrutiny of planning consents for opencast coaling and for combined cycle gas turbine stations. That is still long term. One hopes that the matter is being worked on and that the steps that need to be taken now so that long-term action will occur are being taken now, and that thought is being given to tighter controls and less ready planning consents for opencast coal and for gas-fired power stations. We were also told that there would not be retrospective change to planning consents that had been given for gas-fired power stations and that there would not be retrospective action against nuclear power stations or nuclear plans. Many hon. Members on both sides agreed that that was wise and proper.

Yet the fact remains that we have not sold any coal over and above what we would have sold if the White Paper had not been produced. We have to wonder why. We know that Nuclear Electric is doing better than it has done in the past and that it is taking a few extra per cent. of the market available. We can, if we like, blame the warm weather, but I suspect that the position would have been the same if we had had the coldest spring for 100 years. I believe that the reason for our present difficulties is largely that we have a record level of coal stocks. As the generators are now in the private sector, and as they want to reduce the financial burden of those stocks, they are less inclined to buy the coal that we should like them to purchase. They have obligations to their shareholdres to run the stocks down for financial reasons.

I intend to evaluate three areas with a view to finding a remedy for the current situation: first, the Government's role; secondly, British Coal's role; thirdly, the role of the generators. We all know that the privatisation of coal is at the end of a long chain of privatisation. As a result, there is little doubt that the coal industry has suffered, as all fair-minded people would accept. It would have been far better for the coal industry to be privatised before the electricity generating industry was privatised. It might have been even better if, when the electricity generating industry was privatised, it had been privatised with the coal contracts already in place. That would at least have been a consolation prize for the coal industry if it was to be privatised at the very end of the chain. That has not happened and there is no point in wishing to change the past. We cannot do that.

The fact remains that the coal industry was constrained in a number of ways because it was in the public sector. It was constrained in its working practices and in its investment, and it is only through lifting the coal industry out of the public sector and into the private sector that we can largely get rid of those constraints. Therefore, I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to press ahead with the privatisation of the coal industry as quickly as possible, even if that is not entirely acceptable to Opposition Members, who perhaps would prefer the industry to be in the public sector. As the hon. Member for Gordon said, it is surely better that pits stay open and that the industry survives under different ownership than that the industry collapses and dies under public sector ownership, retained only as a matter of political principle and dogma. New ownership and new commitment will lead to new morale and new opportunities for the coal industry.

When my hon. Friend the Minister studies the privatisation package, he should consider the possibility of regional packages, with coal mines being sold off in regional groupings so that there is a commonality of interest within the area. That should also include selling off, with deep-mined coal, some of the opencast sites or some of the planning consents for opencast sites. That would make the package more attractive to a purchaser as it would give him the cheaper coal that comes from opencast mining in addition to some of the more expensive liabilities of deep-mined coal.

There are examples of the publicly owned British coal industry not taking the action that would almost certainly have been taken if the industry had been in the private sector. One example was when, a few weeks ago, British Coal announced that it had not been as cost conscious on the surface as it should have been. It decided to cut expenditure—and that, unfortunately, means job losses on the surface. There is considerable doubt as to whether British Coal has ever looked properly at manning levels on the surface. At the same time, it has looked always with a critical eye at manning levels and productivity underground.

The Government should point out to British Coal that, if it is to become the prime coal mining company of this country, it should not be importing 100,000 tonnes of coal from Poland to sell on the domestic market simply because British coal is not appropriate for the domestic market. Surely any private sector company would make sure that it was producing coal that was appropriate for the domestic market. Why is British Coal bringing 500,000 tonnes of Colombian coal into both the Thames and the Mersey? In total, that is the equivalent of probably one and a half pits' worth of coal. It is complacent of British Coal to continue to import coal for resale when it should be selling its own commodity.

If British Coal were in the private sector, it would take appropriate steps—as do many private sector companies —to ensure that there was a market for its commodity, even if that meant joint ventures with some of its customers. In the private sector, British Coal would have had joint ventures to ensure that clean coal technology was moved into a demonstration plant and that gasification was also available to make sure that more coal was sold. Those joint ventures would have been a useful way of doing that.

My second point concerns British Coal's dilemma. It does not know whether it represents British coal as a company or as a national industry. As a nationalised concern, there is no doubt that it takes the view that it is the guardian of both the company and the industry. But as an industry that is about to be privatised, British Coal is now beginning to look for the first time at its organisation. It is not as interested as it should be or as it used to be in the industry in general. That is why it has only belatedly agreed to offer pits for sale. That is why it has allowed faces that are difficult to mine to deteriorate and has occasionally lost machinery at those faces without making adequate efforts to pull that machinery out. I understand that several million pounds' worth of machinery has been lost at both Markham and Rossington.

British Coal is also removing face machinery, sometimes justifiably to put into other pits and into other faces where it is needed, but sometimes at a face that is working, for scrap. It would be far better if that machinery were left in place and offered for sale with the pit to some future operator. But British Coal is not absolutely certain that it wants those pits to continue, because they will compete against the hard core of pits that the company will be keeping for itself. Asking British Coal to sell off pits in good working order is not like asking turkeys to vote for Christmas—it is like asking them to organise Christmas, and British Coal certainly does not intend to do that.

My final point concerns generators. Ideally for the British coal industry, there would be private coal mines supplying generators that were not only private but plentiful, as that would do away with the duopoly that exists at present. There is an excess of generating capacity, and it is said that that excess is being offered for sale. But, as I said in an intervention in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Minister, the price that is being asked for the excess capacity in the generating industry is not the written down value of the generator or its true asset value but a price equivalent to the cost of building replacement modern capacity of the same type as Drax. In other words, the generators are prepared to sell off surplus generating capacity only if they can obtain a price equivalent to the price that they have to pay to replace it with modern engineering.

That is not a real world situation. The generators occupy a privileged position: they know that they now belong to the private sector, but they still enjoy the benefits of the duopoly that resulted from their transition from state ownership to the private sector. They are retaining assets built and transferred to them by the state—assets which should still be used for the general benefit of this country and not as some pawn in a game played by the generators.

It is true that the closure of power stations must be notified to the regulator and that the reasons for that closure must be stated so that they can be examined, but I believe that, in addition to that, the regulator should be considering carefully the generators' explanations as to why they are not offering the stations for sale at a reasonable price. Third parties seeking to purchase a power station from the generators should also have the opportunity to make representations to the regulator, and the regulator should be obliged to see whether the existing owner is trying to sell at an unreasonably high price.

I welcome the statement made by Professor Littlechild in March this year, in which he asked for more time between the announcement of the closure of a power station and the closure itself. It is gratifying to know that National Power is now acting on that recommendation by giving adequate notice of closure so that buyers may be able to come on the scene. I hope that others will follow the example set by National Power and take note of Professor Littlechild's request.

I am not seeking artificial markets or permanent subsidies for coal. I am not advocating the preferential purchasing of coal. Nor am I seeking Government-inspired or Government-enforced contracts. I am seeking equal opportunity for coal as a fuel; a free market for coal and, in the absence of that, more intervention by the regulator until the free market can be truly established; diversity rather than a duopoly of customers; proper acceptance of the importance of coal in this country; full recognition of the contribution that coal miners make to our economy; and an acknowledgement that the coal industry still has an important role to play long into the future.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)

Order. I remind the House that between 7 pm and 9 pm there is a 10-minute limit on speeches.

6.59 pm
Mr. Martin Redmond (Don Valley)

As it is not 7 pm, I think that I shall be in order if take a bit longer.

If logic and reason were to prevail, the Labour party would have won the argument many years ago. Regrettably, the irrational arguments and the luddite approach of Tory Members have led to the demise of the industry.

The problems have been with the chairman of British Coal, its industrial relations officer, Mr. Kevin Hunt, the President of the Board of Trade, and the Minister for Energy. I have to say that they must be as thick as two short planks not to accept our reasoned arguments.

Following the debate on the White Paper, we wrote to the President of the Board of Trade, listing eight points. Rossington pit which is in my constituency, was one of those to be mothballed. We asked him to give an assurance on those eight points. He passed it on to the Minister for Energy, who passed it to the chairman of British Coal, because he said that it was an operational matter.

Correspondence has passed between the chairman of British Coal and myself, but none of the eight points were answered. If the Minister were to listen instead of prattling on to his Parliamentary Private Secretary it might do the industry some good: he has done nothing so far. The eight points are vital to a mothballed pit. The coal Minister has had them once but I will send them again tomorrow.

I do not want to take up too much time, but it is vital for Rossington. British Coal is taking steps to remove essential machinery that will make Rossington pit inoperative. The Minister should get off his backside, go to British Coal and do the job for which he is paid, instead of sitting back like Pontius Pilate.

The national interest is crucial, but one would not think so from the policy decisions made by the Government. The balance of payments will be affected, but that will not be the concern of the Government as they will not be in power after the next election. We cannot have a long-term energy policy if we allow market forces to prevail. We are allowing market forces to prevail and then complaining about this policy or that policy.

The report of the Trade and Industry Select Committee was a waste of time. The Government had no intention of taking any notice whatever of any of its recommendations. They intended to hold back the tide and groundswell of public opinion until it had abated. They are a bit like King Canute. Unless we can jiggle or marshal market forces, there is no way that we shall have a suitable energy policy.

I received a letter from National Power, in which it talks about the amount of coal that it is taking, but that is declining. I take what the generators say with a pinch of salt. They are in it for profit, not the national interest and in days gone by the Queen would have sent her troops to behead people for committing such treasonable acts against the country.

Opposition is coming not only from the National Union of Mineworkers, the Labour party or the general public but from the Association of British Mining Equipment Companies, which cannot be described as a supporter of the Labour party or the NUM. It says: Should the 12 pits earmarked for rescue in the White Paper not now be saved, we will be back where we started after the initial announcement last October, and the Government's review will have been a waste of time and effort. Of course, all the consultation that the Government go through is nothing but a sham—a public exercise to take the sting out of the matter and to pretend that they will take note of the consultation. The Government's arrogance is such that they will take notice of nothing—nothing but their own irrational ideas. That is a tragedy.

I regret that the Government did not get their troops in this evening because we would have heard the usual loudmouthing, shouting and bawling about an industry that they know nowt about. They have big gobs but no ears. If they opened their ears, they would certainly hear a logical, sound and responsible argument from Labour Members. I do not want anybody to say that Tory Members are interested.

The so-called rebels have been mentioned. One or two of them joined us in the Lobby last time, and one or two talked about it but jibbed at the last moment. I am very concerned about the rebels because I am sure that they will survive any argument like a snowflake in hell. I listened to the hon. Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark) put his logical argument. When he was Chairman of the Committee that considered the Associated British Ports (No.2) Bill, he vetoed every amendment tabled by members of the Committee. Why? Because of his vested interest with one of the subsidiaries.

Dr. Michael Clark

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Not only is that dishonourable, but it is absolutely untrue. I had no interest with any subsidiary that made representations before that Committee. If I had, I would have declared it in the Register of Members' Interests and would have declined to sit as Chairman.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. Redmond) will have heard that assurance.

Mr. Redmond

I understand and I will withdraw the remark if it is untrue, but the hon. Gentleman vetoed every amendment so as to stop the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill from being debated on the Floor of the House. I ask myself why. He has declared his interest in British Gas. That may be understandable because British Gas was involved in the arguments at about that time. We need to ensure that hon. Members speak honourably and have the interests not only of the coal industry but of the country at heart. I do not mind people trying to kid people, but at least they should be honest and tell people exactly where they stand.

I do not think that there will be many Tory rebels this evening. Will it be another case of catch as catch can? I do not think that sufficient Conservative Members will support the Labour motion, but if they are concerned about the national interest and the welfare of this country in the 21st century and do not want us to be held to ransom by the coal barons of the world they will certainly support our motion this evening.

7.9 pm

Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark)

On behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark), I totally disagree with the suggestion of the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. Redmond) that he was dishonest or dishonourable in any of his conduct in relation to the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill. It was a disgraceful comment, which I feel that the hon. Gentleman should have withdrawn more fully.

I am one of the Government's most loyal supporters. It gives me no great pleasure to criticise their policies on the coal industry, and to underline the disastrous consequences of what has been done over the past 12 months for north Nottinghamshire in general, and my constituency in particular.

At the end of January, the Select Committee recommended ways in which to obtain a greater market for coal. The White Paper, unfortunately, rejected many of the Select Committee's recommendations, but the Government reprieved 12 of the 31 pits on the original hit list. Some of my hon. Friends believed that that did not ensure a long-term future for the coal industry, but our advice on what should be done was not accepted.

Since the White Paper, two pits have closed, another is likely to close and there is a strong likelihood that others will follow. In my county, four pits have closed since March, and Rufford will close before the end of the year. That represents a loss of 4,000 jobs; it is a desperately serious blow for Nottinghamshire—particularly north Nottinghamshire—and the associated businesses and communities that depend on the coal industry.

The debate is timely. I respect my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, but I had hoped for a more positive indication about the future than he was able to give us. The Government must not just wring their hands and say that there is no market for coal. The coal industry operates in a market that is rigged against it, and only the Government can unlock the inbuilt disadvantages under which the industry currently operates.

During the last debate, we aired the issues of the French connection, the levies and the ease with which the gas industry can start up its gas turbine power stations. I will not go into all that again. Meanwhile, however, our indigenous industry, which has reserves for hundreds of years, is slowly bleeding to death. It must be folly to stand by and see the pits that contain those reserves close one by one, despite past investment of hundreds of millions of pounds, the new technology and the pride that miners take today in the achievements of their pits. We have highly skilled and professional mine workers who take a pride in their jobs.

Even as the debate proceeds, thousands of miners are being put on the dole, with thousands more of their dependants living with little hope for years to come. Miners have worked hard to bring their costs down. Their productivity has never been higher. All they ask now is an opportunity to compete on equal terms with alternative sources of energy, and they are not getting that at the moment. The miners are seeking not higher subsidies or larger redundancy packages, but a signal from the Government that they have an equal place in the energy market with competitor fuels.

The closures are happening not because coal is uneconomic, but because it does not have that equal opportunity. As the Coalfield Communities Campaign urges all hon. Members in its most recent briefing for this debate, the Government must reappraise the situation in the energy market in the light of what has happened since last March, and I urge that course on the Government.

Last month, the Department of Trade and Industry set up a Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire coalfield regeneration partnership, whose object is to use European funds to attract inward investment into the coalfield areas. I was astonished to learn that the only local authority to be represented on that body will be the county council. Mansfield district council and Newark and Sherwood district council, which represent the communities most affected by the closures, will have no voice on it. The county council will spend the money, but those at the sharp end are excluded from membership.

That has created astonishment and resentment in the communities of north Nottinghamshire. The fact that the districts most affected by the closures are not represented on that body is another own goal by the Department of Trade and Industry. It does nothing to assuage the feeling of resentment and uncertainty caused by the pit closures in those communities.

I ask the Government to look at what has happened at the pits which have closed or are about to be closed—or those which, like Bevercotes in my constituency, are laughingly described as being "mothballed". In October, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade gave a specific pledge that the pits that British Coal did not want would be made genuinely available to the private sector. I accept the honesty and integrity with which he made that statement, but since then—as hon. Members have said—equipment has been dismantled and removed. Moreover, two months after the White Paper, British Coal had still not advertised the pits for licence to the private sector. Only within the last couple of weeks has it done so.

British Coal must know, as every hon. Member in the debate knows, that, once coaling ceases, pits deteriorate and become less attractive. Equipment that has been expensively installed in such pits must not be taken out. When I took this matter up with the chairman of British Coal, he informed me: it is not our intention to offer collieries as going concerns. There we have it. If British Coal is not going to mine the coal, no one else is going to mine it as a going concern, and pits will be run down to an unacceptable level. Surely that is not what the President of the Board of Trade had in mind when he said that those pits would be genuinely made available to the private sector.

I fully understand British Coal's wanting to recover and retain its assets, but it must be remembered that these are also public assets, and the Government and Treasury ought to want those assets transferred to the best advantage of the taxpayer. The taxpayer has a right to make sure that otherwise good working pits should not be vandalised to the point of uselessness to any purchaser.

Private operators have a part to play in the future. They should be encouraged to do so, and the Government and British Coal should be much more closely involved in ensuring that it is done. I seriously urge the Government to do that, in the interests of the much more prosperous coal industry that we all seek for the future.

7.18 pm
Mr. Richard Caborn (Sheffield, Central)

This afternoon the House has witnessed one of the most complacent speeches from a Minister that I have heard in the past 10 years. The way in which he dealt with an issue that is extremely important for the nation was an abuse of the Dispatch Box. In March, the Government produced a White Paper of 150 pages, which we debated four days later. Equally, it is an abuse of the House that today's debate has to be held on an Opposition day—we have had to use an Opposition day to bring a Select Committee report and recommendations before the House for them to be voted on. The Government requested the report but could not find the time—indeed, denied the House the time —to debate it.

The Secretary of State's speech was a reflection of the Government's bankrupt policies on the mining and energy industries. When the industrialists who have been watching—let alone the mining communities and the miners themselves—see how we treat an extremely important industry, they will know that they have a great deal to worry about, not just with regard to the mining industry.

Despite what the Government would like us to believe, we are not deciding the fate of individual pits; we are deciding whether we will have a mining industry at all and what are the long-term implications for the nation's energy supply. As the hon. Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark) said, unless the House accepts a package of treasures similar to that proposed by the Select Committee on Trade and Industry, of the pits that are on the reprieved list, one pit a month will close. In addition, the figures do not stack up—we shall have only 15 pits operating in two or three years' time. The Secretary of State, however, could only put up his hands and say, "We surrender; it is the market, and there is no alternative." He has clearly swallowed the White Paper's argument hook, line and sinker.

The White Paper states that the need for generating stations, capacity, choice of fuel, type of plant, and so on are commercial matters for the market to decide. I challenge the Government: has not the nation got an interest, a view or a say? We are considering the future of one of the nation's strategic industries, an industry on which all other economic activity is built, but we are allowing the nation little say.

Energy is an industry that consumes the nation's natural resources and pollutes our environment. That is reason enough for the issue to be a matter for all of us. In the final analysis, it is the taxpayer who picks up the bill for every lost job. How can the Government argue that the industry should have carte blanche when it comes to writing out bills that the nation must pay? How can any Secretary of State, especially any Secretary of State for Employment worthy of the name, defend a decision that will cost the nation 100,000 jobs?

The Secretary of State told us that the President of the Board of Trade was right to state on 13 October 1992 that 31 pits should close. He said that the Government were right to plough on regardless in March and to substitute —which is all that they have done—the prolonged pain of phased closures for the big bang of one mass redundancy. Twenty-one pits have now closed.

Setting aside the fact that it cannot be right to abandon 300 years' worth of valuable coal reserves and that it cannot be right to close pits that produce the cheapest deep-mined coal in Europe and spend millions of pounds making people redundant, is it not lunacy to import coal while paying our miners the dole? Is it not lunacy to allow the French to use the interconnector to export their power, as has been amply proved this afternoon? Is it not lunacy to close established deep-mined pits, to open new, environmentally damaging opencast mines and to abandon cheap coal-fired electricity in favour of more expensive gas generation?

I wonder which report I signed, because the distortions that I have heard this afternoon about the cheapness of gas-fired electricity as opposed to coal-fired electricity are not justified by the report to which I added my signature. The cheapest electricity is produced by coal—that is plainly stated in the report. The second cheapest is gas generated, the third is nuclear-generated, and the fourth comes from the French interconnector.

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton)


Mr. Caborn

I shall not give way, as I have only 10 minutes in which to speak. The cheapness of coal has been well documented, but more important is the way in which the Government are now allowing 25 to 30 per cent. of the industry to be disrupted in a five-year period; over five years they are allowing us to move from no electricity being gas generated to between 25 and 35 per cent. being gas generated. The energy industry is a long-term industry and such a move is very disruptive. That is at the centre of the Select Committee's argument.

Central to the Select Committee's inquiry was the very question that the Secretary of State asked: is there a larger market for coal? We considered the issue from a sound economic and commercial perspective and came up with the answer that yes, there is a larger market for coal.

Mr. Duncan


Mr. Caborn

A larger market for coal could be found if the Select Committee's 39 recommendations were followed. The inquiry was conducted in the open, not behind closed doors. All the evidence was made public, on television and on radio. The difference between the Select Committee and the Government was that the Select Committee approached its task with an open mind. We did not try to defend the decision made on 13 October 1992 —which, unfortunately, is what the Government have done. They have tried to defend the indefensible.

The President of the Board of Trade said, in his opening remarks to the Select Committee, that he was prepared to introduce legislation to widen the market for coal. Instead of doing so, when it came to the final decision, he ducked it. There is only one actor on the energy stage who can take the necessary action; it is not British Coal, PowerGen, National Power or the nuclear industry but the Government. Only they can rectify the discrepancies in the model of privatisation for the electricity industry. That is the only way in which we shall have a sustainable coal and mining industry.

Mr. Richards

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Caborn

No. It is unfortunate that the White Paper did not deal with the core issue of the 39 recommendations, which was to widen the market for coal.

Mr. Duncan


Mr. Caborn

If the hon. Gentleman is so illiterate that he cannot read the Select Committee's report, he should not be here. It is all very well for the Minister for Energy to poke fun—we have seen a disgraceful amount of that today from Conservative Members. In March, the Government denied the Select Committee a reasonable answer to the 39 recommendations, and they have done so again, but the judgment will be made not in the House but outside. That judgment is coming.

Unless there is a response to the key issue in the 39 recommendation's, which is to open the market for coal —which only the Government can do—I predict that, in the coming two to three years, the number of pits will be reduced to 14. That will be a reduction from the 130 pits and 150,000 miners in 1985 to 14 or 15 pits and about 15,000 miners. The Government will have sold out the nation. It is probably not the Government but generations to come who will pay the price.

7.28 pm
Mrs. Elizabeth Peacock (Batley and Spen)

The statement that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade made last October was totally rejected by a huge number of people who had no contact with mining or manufacturing and very little contact with coal itself. They totally rejected what he had to say. However, I am very sad that my right hon. Friend the President is not with us today and I hope that the strong pressure which many of us put on him over the past few months did not contribute to his recent illness. We all wish him well.

Many people did not accept what the Government said last October. I do not want to return to those arguments, because we have been over them time after time. However, I still do not believe that the Government took adequate steps to ensure a long-term strategy and future for British Coal at that time. We should have taken steps to control the French interconnector. We should have ensured that we could sell British electricity through France to southern Europe where there are purchasers. We could have slowed down the dash for gas. I was not looking for anyone else to be put out of work, but I cannot see why all the jobs must be lost in one industry and connecting industries.

I am sure that all hon. Members have received letters from the Association of British Mining Equipment Companies. A constituent of mine who is involved in that association wrote to tell me: The implications for our industry will be the loss of the major part of our domestic market". We are all aware that any manufacturing industry requires a strong home market on which to export. Members of the association to which I have referred will suffer.

We did not do those things back in October and we now have a reducing British market for our coal. We have generators with large stocks because we are using more power from gas. Obviously, those generators must decide what to do with those stockpiles. We have overproduction. As we have already heard, mines are more efficient than they have ever been and they produce more coal, more cheaply than ever before. There is no argument about that. However, via British Coal, we are using taxpayers' money to make miners redundant and we are sealing underground millions of pounds' worth of equipment for which the taxpayers have paid.

We are now in an era of industrial vandalism, the likes of which we have not seen since there were Luddites in Yorkshire. It is true to say that those Luddites did nothing like British Coal is allowed to do now. That vandalism is being perpetrated by British Coal. When business men are willing to consider ways of using the assets for the benefit of United Kingdom plc and all those who want to work in the industry, why cannot the Government and the coal industry help them to go forward and make the best use of those assets to everyone's advantage?

Of course, there is a strong case for reshaping the coal industry. The sooner it is reshaped, the better. It has to be reshaped now so that it may survive and prosper in the future. If it does not, we will not have a strong mining industry. I am aware that my hon. Friend the Minister for Energy has often said that he sees a future for the coal industry.

I am not against privatisation, because I believe that privatisation holds the best solution for the future of the industry. However, we cannot and must not expect the present British Coal organisation to be the vehicle for privatisation. Those running the business are too entrenched, and they have undoubtedly already shown that they are afraid of real competition in the industry.

If the Government want to introduce legislation to privatise the coal industry, I will support my hon. Friend the Minister for Energy, but only on the basis that the present British Coal organisation is broken up into at least three clearly separate, competing coal mining and marketing companies and that other industrial investors are authorised to operate coal mining at other pits on an equitable commercial basis.

Only through that kind of action will the Government ever see a return on the £7.5 billion which has been invested since 1979 in the coal industry for new coal faces and equipment. There is no argument about that figure. However, two thirds of those mines are now closed or under threat. That is really taxpayers' money down the drain. The value of that investment at 1993 values is £10 billion. That is a huge amount of money. Many other industries would he thriving if they had received that level of investment over many years.

Some £500 million has been spent in the Yorkshire area of Barnsley in the past 10 years to reconstruct the industry totally. All that has now gone. All the mines are closed, including the £20 million washing plant at South Kirby and the larger washing plant at Woolley. The recent blowing up of the Woolley washing plant was a terrible act of vandalism.

I have some very pertinent questions for my hon. Friend the Minister for Energy. When he replies to them later, I will decide what action to take in respect of the debate. However, I must tell my hon. Friend that I could not possibly support the Government, and I am sure that he would not expect me to do so given the stance that I have taken over the past few months. It may be helpful if my hon. Friend were to answer my questions.

Will my hon. Friend tell the House and the country how much we are paying for electricity from the French interconnector? I recall that the Select Committee on Trade and Industry found that we were paying 3.38p per unit on base load. I understand that the regional electricity companies have recently negotiated a reduction from 2.8p to 2.6p on base load. How expensive is our French electricity?

Can my hon. Friend confirm that we have renegotiated a similar reduction for our French electricity? I trust that we are not paying a 30 per cent. premium to the French and closing our mines, paying redundancy and scrapping machinery which has cost the taxpayers of this country many millions of pounds.

Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will say a word about coal imports. We are now importing 100,000 tonnes of house coal—not cheap power station coal. House coal can be, and was, mined in Yorkshire. It should have continued to be mined there. The 0.5 million tonnes arriving via the Thames could be supplied by British mines. As we already know, 300,000 tonnes are to be imported by British Coal for a processor on Merseyside via PowerGen's Fiddler's Ferry terminal. That could be Yorkshire coal. Fiddler's Ferry was built by PowerGen for power station coal, not for high-grade processor coal at the expense of mines in this country. It is nonsense to allow that to happen.

What about the mines for licence? I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment was sincere about British Coal making such mines available to potential operators. However, I suggest that British Coal is afraid of competition. It wants to ensure that it has a continuing monopoly. Surely a Conservative Government would not want to see an on-going coal monopoly.

Is British Coal management simply looking forward to privatisation and the golden spectre of share options in a privatised monopoly? Anyone wanting to consider licensing one of the mines destined for closure would experience great difficulty. Every obstacle is put in the way of people wishing to license such a mine. There is no prospectus and no description and there are no figures. There is nothing but a map reference. I am sure that we would not all go on a treasure hunt with a map reference. Anyone seeking to dispose of assets or any business would provide proper information for those considering licensing or purchasing.

British Coal also demands that a letter is signed relieving the organisation of any liability if any information provided is inaccurate. I cannot see why British Coal does that because it does not provide any information. It is ensuring that nothing is inaccurate by providing no information. What a way to sell our assets, and particularly our national assets. That is rather like buying a second-hand car from Arthur Daley with the additional disadvantage of being blindfolded so that one really cannot see what one is purchasing. That is no way to progress.

We want to see a future for our coal mining industry. Many of us want to see a private coal mining industry as opposed to one that is closed down. However, we want it to have the safeguards that any mining industry should have because safety is very important.

I suggest that some, if not many, of the mines could have a future for the mining of specialist coals for niche markets—direct to processors and the house coal market. We all agree that that is much smaller that it was several years ago; nevertheless, it is still there.

The Government should ensure that closed mines are removed from British Coal control and placed in a separate organisation so that their potential can be fully and freely investigated by companies that wish to compete with British Coal and with each other. That urgent matter needs urgent attention.

7.38 pm
Mr. Eric Clarke (Midlothian)

I also regret that the President of the Board of Trade is not present. I wish him well. I should have preferred to make my criticisms to his face rather than from afar. I should like to know where his hon. Friends are. Are they at his bedside? Very few of them are present. Even the Minister is not listening to me. Is this not a serious business? Where are they?

Throughout my lifetime, headlines have always read "The coal industry is in crisis". If we continue with the Government's policies, there will soon be no coal industry in which to have a crisis. It is a very serious condemnation of the Government's policies that this is happening. I blame the Government for what is happening. I am just as disappointed as the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) in the Minister's antics. I want to treat the matter very seriously. I come from a mining background. The Secretary of State clowned around and used statistics and a host of other items that were totally irrelevant to the crisis that the people in the Public Gallery and elsewhere have to face. [Interruption.] Okay.

The Government's formula for the closure of economically viable collieries is pure propaganda. Their subsidy and help are to no avail. After the debate—I emphasise that—The People exposed how the miners' staff superannuation fund was dipped into to subsidise redundancies to the tune of more than £400 million. That was never mentioned on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Eggar

indicated dissent.

Mr. Clarke

The Minister may shake his head if he wishes.

There was a total lack of effort in encouraging generating companies to buy British and secure a market for coal. That is also a condemnation of the Government. The Pontius Pilate attitude has been mentioned in respect of the energy market, but a subsidy of £1.3 billion a year is built in for nuclear power. There is no relaxing of attitudes in respect of the argument for the extension of the life of Magnox power stations—another recommendation in the document that is being bandied around.

Will Magnox stations be closed? The $64,000 question is, what are the Government going to do with those stations? How much will it cost to phase them out? We would then see the real cost of nuclear power. Will the people of Britain again foot the bill for those stations, or will we recommission them again and subsidise them until another Government take them over in the near future? There are no market forces for nuclear power, but there are market forces for the coal industry.

I am sure that all hon. Members have received a letter from the Association of British Mining Equipment Companies. I make a plea on its behalf. It represents the finest mining engineering companies in the world, which sell their products to China, for example, and other countries. The association says that it needs an indigenous industry for research and development—we have used that argument before—and for customers and jobs. The Government do not seem to care a tuppeny hoot about the mining industry, but there is a knock-on effect on skilled labour, jobs and important export potential.

Ignoring the Select Committee's reasonable, sensible options was the road to closure. The Government's reply was aimed to con the public or to cool them down. They obviously conned their Back-Bench rebels. That was what really mattered to the Government; that was their motivation. That is the conclusion which any logical person will come to. Who will pay for that? It will be the miners and mining communities. The people of this country will pay the highest price for the closures and the "Heseltine folly".

Miners do not talk behind people's backs—we do not talk about people who are ill—but the President of the Board of Trade carries joint responsibility with his colleagues and everyone who voted to support this policy. They are guilty.

There is an opportunity. Conservative Members have said that they cannot change matters. They can change them. The formula that the Government put to the country as a panacea is not working. They can change matters because they can support us in voting to prove that the people of Britain will give their children a better inheritance, that miners will not be denied the right to work, and that common sense, decency and democracy will prevail. Will hon. Members please use their common sense, take off their blinkers and support the Opposition?

7.44 pm
Mr. Rod Richards (Clwyd, North-West)

The history of the industrial revolution is that the organisations and economies that embraced technological change and took advantage of it flourished and went from strength to strength. Those that resisted change and introduced subsidies to prop up obsolete products and practices have declined and, as in the case of eastern Europe, ruined their economies.

There is no escaping the fact that, over the past 20 years, we have witnessed a fundamental shift from heavy industry towards a manufacturing and technology-based society, partly because we developed the new technologies ourselves and party because of the emergence of developing industrialised countries in south America and the far east, with their low-wage labour inputs. In the light of that new competition, it would be extremely naive of us to think that we can sustain markets when our production costs are up to 10 times more than those of our competitors.

The steel industry, for example, was the victim of a grossly ambitious plan, encouraged by successive Governments, which resulted in overcapacity, overproduction, big losses and huge subsidies. Billions of pounds of taxpayers' money was spent to produce steel that nobody wanted. Even with the massive amount of money that was poured into our steel industry, we could not compete with world prices, yet, despite that, people still argued for the industry's retention.

Thankfully, under this Government, the waste of resources was ended. We now have a steel industry which is a leaner operation which has been allowed to build on its strengths. Fifteen years ago, it employed 200,000 people. Now, it has a dedicated work force of about 45,000 and it has reached new levels of productivity and excellence.

Nevertheless, it must be recognised that if an industry with improved practices still cannot compete, we must let it go. The Japanese shipbuilding industry used to be one of the greatest in the world, but now barely a ship is built in its waters. The Japanese recognised at an early stage that the costs of that labour-intensive industry were becoming unrealistic and unsustainable as its neighbours such as Korea started to develop their own docks. Japan did not fight that logical progression. Instead, it chose to diversify its industrial and manufacturing base into new and developing sectors where it could once again be a market leader.

The past few months have seen a debate about the future of the British coal industry rage at all levels. [Interruption.] It has not escaped my notice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) is trying to interfere with your judgment. However, I shall ignore that for the moment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that no one interferes with my judgment when I am in the Chair.

Mr. Richards

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It was certainly not meant to reflect on your integrity.

Newspaper headlines have bemoaned the demise of king coal and how it spells doom for the United Kingdom. They talk of the scaling down of the coal industry as a new and vicious phenomenon dreamt up on a whim. Of course, that could not be further from the truth. From a peak of employing 1.25 million miners in 3,300 mines at the end of the first world war, the coal industry has undergone 75 years of continued retraction.

The decline has occurred under both political parties. Between 1964 and 1970, the then Labour Government, recognising the over-production and over-capacity of the coal mining industry, closed down some 288 pits with a loss of 186,000 jobs. Furthermore, the United Kingdom has not been alone in scaling down its coal industry. The number of miners in Europe has dropped from 1.5 million in the 1950s to a present total of under 200,000. Belgium closed its last pit in 1992 and France envisages the loss of its remaining 20,000 mining jobs by the year 2005.

It is an inescapable truth that one cannot continue producing something that one cannot sell. The market for coal has been in decline for three generations and we have all had a hand in its demise, including Labour Members. Over the past 50 years, millions of individuals have made the crucial decision not to burn coal in their homes. Since 1947, domestic use in Britain has fallen from 37 million tonnes to just over 5 million tonnes. Of course, the environment is better for it. Having said that, I have no doubt that coal has a part to play in the future generation of electricity in the United Kingdom.

The Point of Ayr colliery near my constituency is a good example of a mine which is competitive, in which there has been new technology and new investment and, most importantly and crucially, which has a market for its coal. I grew up in the coal mining valleys of south Wales. I am only too aware that mining is a dirty, difficult and dangerous task. I cannot help but think that many of those people who are outraged by the recent and necessary closure of mines have perhaps an over-romantic vision of what coal mining entails.

I know many miners who have health problems—dust on their lungs, shortness of breath, eyesight permanently damaged by working in low light and hearing impaired by industrial noise. [Laughter.] I am fascinated that Labour Members find that amusing. I do not find it amusing, because I know miners who suffer from those problems. All the miners whom I know can recall a colleague who has either been killed or seriously injured underground.

What has happened to the 1.25 million miners who have left the coal face in the past 80 years? The answer is that the industrial revolution has provided them with new opportunities to make a living.

Mr. David Hanson (Delyn)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Richards

Labour Members voted against those opportunities and I shall give some examples. The Government intend to spend £160 million to build a barrage in Cardiff to develop that city. It is the greatest development in any city in Europe and will create tens of thousands of jobs. Labour Members, including the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) voted against that development.

The Labour party also voted against the White Paper on coal. That White Paper will lead to the development of Connah's Quay power station and will create some 3,000 jobs. The Labour party, including the hon. Members for Delyn (Mr. Hanson) and for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones), voted against that White Paper and, therefore, against those jobs. When I asked the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) whether he was for or against the development of the Connah's Quay power station, all he could say was that he had nothing against the burning of sour gas. He did not say firmly that he was for that power station.

The once dirty and smoke-filled mining valleys of south Wales, which relied almost entirely on coal mining to provide employment, are now the silicon valleys of the United Kingdom. The demise of the traditional industry did not spell the end of the communities in that region but marked a new beginning—a new chapter—in the industrial revolution. New investment has been flowing into Wales—

Mr. Deputy Speaker


7.55 pm
Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton)

I have listened to the debate from the beginning. It has been made plain today that the hon. Members for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards) and for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson), and the Secretary of State, know nothing about mining. The hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West talked about everything, including Japanese shipbuilding, the liquorice works and everything else, but not the mining industry. He demonstrated beyond a shadow of doubt that he knows nothing about mining. The Minister knows little about the mining industry.

We are in the present position because those who are dealing with the destiny and future of miners and mining communities, and the nation in general, know little about the mining industry. The hon. Member for Leeds, North-West talked about the necessity to import coal, but omitted to explain about the dumping of coal in the United Kingdom at the low prices at which it is produced in the producing countries. One of the problems that miners and mining communities face is that they are being used by this Government and Governments abroad for the dumping of coal in the United Kingdom.

Recently, the journal published by National Power reported that it had introduced the first load of coal at the Royal Portbury dock in Bristol: The first cargo of coal has arrived at the new bulk handling terminal which has been developed by National Power. The 43,000 tonnes cargo from the United States via Amsterdam arrived on board the MV Ascension. It took three days to unload. In addition to the problem of dumping coal in the United Kingdom, we are experiencing a higher deficit in the balance of payments than ever before. The Minister and the Secretary of State are allowing coal to be dumped in the United Kingdom, at the expense of miners and their families.

The Secretary of State quoted many figures for the output per man per shift. However, his figures related to output per man per shift for men underground: he was talking about face workers, not the total industry for the periods for which he was making comparisons. It was totally unfair of him to mislead the House and the country by quoting figures that are grossly incorrect. Many of the points made by the Secretary of State were totally inadequate, totally irrelevant and against the best interests of the mining industry in general.

The mining industry is my prime concern, because, like many other Labour Members, I worked in the pits until I came to Parliament. We spent most of our working lives in the pits, and looking after the interests of the miners and the families. We often depended on the mining industry for our living. Because of the attitude and policies of the Government, we are now seeing the demise of the mining industry. They have no regard to what is happening in the industry.

The Secretary of State spoke about British Coal Enterprise Ltd. Anyone who asks how many jobs that organisation has created in his constituency, however, cannot get a firm answer, because many of those jobs are just myths.

The remaining colliery in my constituency, Sharlston —in which I, too, worked—closed after the announcement by the President of the Board of Trade in February. In addition to that pit closing, another factory shut within the same period, and a further 1,300 jobs were lost. Within a few weeks, more than 2,000 jobs were lost from my constituency.

When we ask the Government what action they will take to help those areas to generate jobs, there is little response from anyone—from the Minister responsible for mining or from those in the Departments of Trade and Industry and of the Environment. They have given little support to my constituency and other similar regions in their attempts to generate job opportunities.

Miners have always played their part in sustaining our economy. Reference has been made to the industrial revolution, but we need not go back that far. When the country was at war, the miners played their part in the war effort by ensuring that energy was provided.

My hon. Friends on the Labour Benches may recall that, when the five-day week was brought in, the Government requested miners to produce more coal. Those miners gave up their Saturdays to produce that extra coal to meet that Government demand. No one can say that the miners have not produced coal or played their full part in sustaining our economy. The Government's rewards to the miners and their communities for their efforts are extremely poor.

The Secretary of State referred to a report on output figures of the past eight years. That report revealed that output per man shift for every person working in that industry had increased in eight years from 2.5 tonnes to more than 8 tonnes. I challenge the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West to name any other industry that can match the results achieved in the past few years by the effort and hard work of the miners.

Mr. Richards


Mr. O'Brien

Sit down. The hon. Gentleman would not give way to my colleague, so I will treat him in the same way.

It is obvious that the miners have given their all in their efforts to meet the requests of Governments. I am proud to belong to the mining fraternity and community. It is an industry worth fighting for, and that is why this debate appears on the Order Paper, at the initiative of the Labour party.

We should defend the mining industry, and the Government should answer for their actions towards it.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. O'Brien

I am sorry, but I have little time left, and there is a lot to be said.

I could say a great deal in support of the mining industry and miners' families, in addition to the points raised by my hon. Friends. Because time is short, and because so many other hon. Members want to speak, I shall dwell on my pit, Sharlston, which closed speedily after the President of the Board of Trade made his announcement in February.

I said then, and I repeat now, that the men of Sharlston and their families were treated shabbily by the Government and by British Coal. That pit had a proud record of producing coal: it broke its own productivity record year after year. The work force were second to none in terms of output.

8.4 pm

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton)

I wish to make a few observations, having watched the debate develop in the past months.

One of the advantages of the parliamentary system in which we play our part is that no one is immune to the letters received directly from his constituents. All of us recall the mountain of letters that we received when the first announcement about pit closures was made last year.

I hope that the House will accept that I am trying to address the issue honestly when I say that I was well aware at the time that a raw nerve had been struck by the initial announcement. The general feeling was that it had offended a basic sense of decency. That feeling was based on a number of suspicions.

It was felt that the decision was prompted by short-term considerations; that the price of gas, which appears competitive at the moment, might not be sustained in the long term, and that the decision had not been made in the context of an overall energy policy, as it deserved to be. Above all, it was felt that those working in the mining industry, who had dramatically increased their productivity rate, had been peremptorily treated.

The mountain of letters followed. Our duty as parliamentarians was surely enhanced when we were forced to consider the issue in detail. That is exactly what I and many of my colleagues have done.

As the House may be aware, I have experience of the oil industry, a parallel industry in the energy sector. I have seen oil traded across international markets for many years. That experience taught me that the energy sector is bound not just by domestic economics, but by international ones and by international costing. That applies equally to the coal industry.

Opposition Members may not realise that, although I represent a rural idyll, my constituency also has a deep mine, Asfordby, which has received tens of millions of pounds investment. It is set to be one of the most successful in the coal industry. I welcome its success, which I want to encourage.

In trying to wrestle with the problems that the original announcement caused, one must accept, as my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards) graphically explained—I am sorry that his explanation was not welcomed by Opposition Members—that the coal industry is an industry in decline. We must face the realities of that decline.

It is all too sad that, as the coal industry shrinks, we fail to sing the praises of the oil and gas industries, which have risen to take the place of coal as the major electricity generating sources. The oil and gas sectors have been a tremendous triumph, but we hear far too little about the success that private enterprise has brought them. We hear far too much from the Opposition about what has happened to coal, but they fail to appreciate what is happening elsewhere in the energy sector.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Duncan

I will do so, because I know that my hon. Friend holds strong views.

Mr. Winterton

Does my hon. Friend accept that using gas for energy generation is extremely wasteful, whereas its use for domestic appliances is extremely efficient? Does he also accept that we have finite reserves of gas, whereas we have almost unlimited coal stocks underground?

Mr. Duncan

My hon. Friend has beautifully encapsulated all the fallacies of his position. First, gas reserves, like oil reserves, are extensive, but both are finite. Secondly, it is not for Members of Parliament to make commercial judgments in a field in which professionals are better able to judge. The further we remove ourselves from those decisions, the better. It is not for us to judge whether gas or oil will run out. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is."] I think that it is not.

There has been mention of the French interconnector. The contracts for the purchase of electricity through the interconnector were undertaken by the last Labour Government. There would be severe penalties should we withdraw. Furthermore, withdrawal would be in breach of article 30 of the treaty of Rome.

I should like to address the charge that the industry is rigged. It is self-evident that National Power and PowerGen are a duopoly for the generation of electricity. More important, they are—to use strict economic language—a duopsony. They are the country's two buyers of coal and, indeed, of other sources of energy. However, although they have market power, they judge that they can generate electricity more cheaply by using gas.

Let us imagine what the situation would be if there were five, six, seven or even eight purchasers of gas or coal. It is probable that they would all make the same assessment. The actual structure of power generation does not in any way alter the basic fact that coal is too expensive and that the mines cannot find a market. The charge that the industry is rigged simply does not stand up to investigation. It is not right to suggest that developments are having a detrimental effect on what would otherwise be the fair play of the market.

In my view, the Government are right in trying to alleviate the difficulties created by the transition of an industry that is in decline by reason of other sources of energy generation. They are doing the right thing in trying to pave the way for privatisation of the mines that remain and can produce coal effectively and efficiently.

However, I seek an assurance that some money will be made available to assist the Union of Democratic Mineworkers in what I hope will be an effective management and employee buy-out, so that the work force, who have been so effective in improving productivity, may have a chance to show what they are capable of. I hope that, in this regard, my hon. Friend will be able to give me some comfort.

I look in vain for any specific Labour commitment to keeping mines open, to shelling out the enormous amount of money that would be involved. It has been argued today that so much money has been poured into the mines that they must all be kept open for fear of losing the benefits of the subsidies. That is an extraordinary argument. If it is proved that mines can survive only with continued enormous subsidies, it is better to close them now than to pour good money after bad and cause unemployment in the gas and oil industries.

I hope that, on reflection, people will realise that the Government's decision, though difficult, is the right one, and that no purpose will be served by efforts to hold on to an industry that is in decline and cannot be sustained without the investment of many billions of pounds that could be better spent elsewhere.

8.14 pm
Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)

I spent a few minutes pondering which part of the speech of the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) had been passed to him by the Minister's Parliamentary Private Secretary. At first, I thought that it was the reference to a coal industry in decline—something that was mentioned earlier in what resembled a GCSE economic history paper. Conservative Members ought to talk about the British coal industry in decline, for the industry throughout the world is not in decline. Indeed, there is expansion in Asia, Africa and elsewhere. The percentages are in double figures, and that situation has prevailed for many years.

Let me give the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton some information about the French interconnector. The contract was signed in 1981. I do not know how good the hon. Gentleman is at figures, but he should be able to work out that 1981 was two years after 1979, when the Concservative Government were elected. But there is a point that is often overlooked. The French interconnector contracts were renewed this year, following the debate about what was happening to to the British coal industry. At that time, the Government knew that the equivalent of 6.5 million tonnes of coal, in terms of electricity generation, was being imported. To my knowledge, only one regional electricity company decided not to participate. If there had been some Government action in respect of the French interconnector, the pit closures that have occurred since the end of March might not have been necessary.

I made a speech in the House last October, following the announcement that the two remaining mines in my constituency would be subjected to changes. Kiveton was to close altogether, and Maltby was to be mothballed. Since then, it has been announced that Maltby is to be put on a development status basis. The Minister, having replied to an Adjournment debate that I initiated on this subject, will know that in the past two months 700 men at Maltby have been made redundant, despite the fact that it is one of the most profitable mines in Britain.

The Government's amendment to the motion indicates that they will offer to the private sector pits that they do not themselves want to keep in production. The Minister knows that that is not true. The Maltby work force, together with people in the City and others in the private sector, have been trying to make a bid so that the mine might be kept in production, but have come up against a point-blank refusal. In fact, the Minister refuses even to meet the people concerned.

About 150 people are left, but they are not producing coal any more. The bonus scheme that was related to the level of production has ended. Information that I have received from British Coal contradicts that, but it is a fact that people now working at the mine do not have a chance to earn bonuses. Thus, they have suffered in terms of weekly income, despite assurances that they would be protected.

My interest in the Kiveton colliery is shared by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes), as two mines were amalgamated many years ago. Kiveton is one of the 12 market-tested pits. I have spoken to men and management a number of times since the term "market-tested" came into vogue. What has it meant for the workers? The machine shifts have been reduced in number from nine a day to six, as was announced two weeks ago. On that basis, 50 jobs have disappeared.

The mine's market amounts to only one third of its current production. It is selling into a market that is being supplied by one of the mines that the Government are offering to the private sector. Anyone interested can have a go at the coal mine, but not at the market that used to go with it. It is quite clear that, unless something happens with regard to future contracts with the electricity supply industry, Kiveton, together with the others on the list of 12 market-tested pits, will close.

What is the reason for this? Currently there is a contract for the supply of 40 million tonnes, including 8 million tonnes from open-cast mines. This time next year, the quantity will be 30 million tonnes, of which 7 million tonnes will be from open-cast mines. The implications for the deep-mine industry will be severe, as must be clear to anyone who takes the trouble to study the situation. Today, the Secretary of State for Employment repeated something that the Minister has said occasionally: that the answer is to contract more coal by the use of subsidy.

What is happening about introducing subsidies? At the last Department of Trade and Industry Question Time, on 23 June, in answer to a question about how many requests the Minister had received from British Coal for a portion of the subsidy for expanding the coal market, the Minister said: My right hon. Friend and I have not received any specific requests for subsidy from either British Coal or private sector producers."—[Official Report, 23 June 1993; Vol. 227, c. 295.] I received a letter five days later from the chairman of the British Coal Corporation, who said: We made a very competitively priced offer to the generators for additional sales. This has been rejected by National Power who say they will reassess the market for coal in the autumn. And, while we await a formal response from PowerGen, the public statements of both generators have offered little comfort, suggesting that they would be willing to buy more coal, but possibly not a great deal, probably not until some months have elapsed, and then only at very low prices. That is another of Mr. Clarke's more morale-raising speeches since he has been appointed chairman of the British Coal Corporation.

The Minister and the chairman of British Coal Corporation cannot both be right. The chairman cannot have made a competitive offer to the generators while no one has asked for a subsidy from the Minister—or can he? I want the Minister to tell us when he winds up the debate. My information is that the rules with which people must comply before receiving a subsidy mean that they do not know how much subsidy they will have before they make a formal approach to the generators and receive a formal contract in return. They must agree provisional terms before going back to the DTI and asking how much subsidy they can have. It is an absolute sham and the Minister knows it, because he is part of the conspiracy by saying that nobody has asked for a subsidy, while British Coal says that its offers have been rejected.

The Government have the power to do something about the current crisis in the deep-mined coal industry. They must know that, by this time next year, when nearly 25 per cent. of current contracts will come from opencast coal mining, there will be a massive reduction in deep-mined pits. They tell us that they are holding discussions with the generators about coal stocks. If they wish, they can act now to ensure that that does not happen.

However, I doubt whether they will do so because, since the introduction of the White Paper in March, their actions have been consistent with the view reported to them in 1991, when they appointed N and M Rothschild, a merchant banker in the City, to look into the privatisation of the British coal industry. That first report, which was leaked to the Opposition and denied by Ministers, said that in some 12 months' time we would be down to 14 deep mines. I predict that that will happen if something is not done to stop it.

I am fed up with seeing people stand up and wring their hands about the problem. Privatisation does not come into it. In 14 months' time there will be no industry to privatise because the deep-mine industry will have gone, and the Government will have been a major part of the conspiracy to get rid of it.

8 23 pm

Mr. Jim Lester (Broxtowe)

I agree with the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) about opencast mining. The prospect of new opencasting of green field sites has become unacceptable at any price, whether environmental or in terms of the need for deep-mined coal.

Although our coal industry has declined, many of us feel that it should not become extinct because it is in the national interest that we should retain a four-fuel potential well into the next century.

I have made speeches on the White Paper and shall not repeat all that I said then because it is all on the record, but the problem remains the same: how do we retain a short-term market in order to retain a deep-mine potential for the future?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State spoke about a freer market for coal. What he said is true but it should be a freer market in the sense of putting on the market those pits which British Coal does not need. However, if the market is the same in terms of where we sell the coal, I see no point in anyone wanting to buy a pit unless they have a contract to sell the coal. If the amount of coal about to be burnt is exactly the same, it is not a freer market but simply a different market for exactly the same amount.

We now realise that the generators, not the Government, control our energy policy. That concerns me considerably. In the near future, little more than the core contract will be required, and it will take at least 18 months before we can see what coal stocks are likely to be required. As and when coal is sought, it will be sought not on a contract basis but on the stock price that we want at the time. That is no way to get people to invest in the industry or to look to the future.

In the short term, the Government must concentrate on the question of stock. I welcome the fact that my hon. Friend the Minister is currently negotiating stocks and discussing import substitution.

My main concern, which I have discussed in previous debates, is about the relationship between coal-fired power stations and research and development. However much we discuss the short term, unless we have a policy on coal-fired power stations the coal industry has no future.

The over-capacity of generation, which has come about through the building of new gas-fired power stations and the successful operation of nuclear power stations, has caused that pressure on older coal-fired power stations. Of those, a capacity of 500 MW has already been closed and we hear of more closures to come. Another problem for coal-fired power stations is emission control, which must involve research and development if they are to have a future.

In the previous debate I spoke about the need to retain intermediate power stations. I have discussed with my hon. Friend the Minister the High Marnham and Cottam power stations in Nottingham. Those intermediate 2,000 MW power stations would he ideal for refitting and for using the new technology, which is not necessarily market oriented because it rarely is. We have offered to fund some new technology through extending research and development for the next three years, but it is not a sensible basis for investing in new technology, research and development, if at the end of that time there is no use for the product. We will be unable to fit the topping cycle—the latest technology—or anything on which Britain has worked for centuries. We have the best coal burn technology in the world.

I remember going to the United States before 1979, when I was interested in energy and the United States was consulting our technology to see how best it could burn its coal. That technology has now been developed in the United States and if we want it we must buy it back from them. The last thing we want is the same thing to happen to the topping cycle, which is the ultimate in terms of coal burn and using gas for clean emissions.

I desperately want my hon. Friend the Minister to say whose responsibility it is to declare an overall strategy and policy for coal-fired power stations up to the year 2,000, which is not far away, and beyond. Where do research and development fit into that overall picture? Unless we act, we are simply whistling in the wind when we discuss the coal industry, production, costs and so on, because there will be no market for them. I am convinced that we need to retain the potential for a deep-mine industry in this country. I have no mines in my constituency, but I speak because I have an interest in Nottinghamshire and coal, which has a role to play. We must ensure that it fulfils its role.

Unless the Government are able to concentrate on the short-term stock levels, the estimated coal burn over and above the core contract of the 16 million tonnes that we are prepared to subsidise, a strategy for coal-fired capacity and the need to refit and modernise before the year 2000, I see a bleak immediate future for miners. The future is bleak at a personal level—of which hon. Members can speak graphically—and, more importantly, in terms of the long-term balance of fuel supplies.

When my hon. Friend the Minister replies to the debate, I hope that he will respond to those salient points —the short-term prospects in the next 18 months and the energy burn and coal-fired strategy for which the generators are not responsible. The generators have a business to run and they are seeking to do so as best they can, but the four-fuel policy is the Government's policy and the Government must be able to provide an overall strategy for coal-fired generation.

The youngest station was completed in 1974, which is a long time ago. None of us can envisage a new coal-fired power station being built in our lifetime, but we can envisage utilising the capacity of existing power stations, and refitting and modernising them to take us into the next century and ensure a future for Britain's deep-mined coal industry.

8.32 pm
Mr. Paddy Tipping (Sherwood)

It is 102 days since the Government published the White Paper on coal, and 98 days since the House had the opportunity to discuss it. In the space of four days, the Government put together a quick fix to persuade people to vote with them. That political fix is rapidly becoming unglued.

The Government promised a subsidy that would keep 12 collieries open while they were market testing. The Government have been unclear about the length of time that that market testing should take. Since March, four pits have closed in Nottinghamshire. There are grave concerns at Rufford, Bilsthorpe and Calverton about the future of those mines as market-testing pits.

The House knows that the men at British Coal have decided to close Rufford colliery. Last week the Prime Minister said that that decision was taken for two reasons: first, there were geological problems and, secondly, the men had voted to close the colliery. He was wrong on both counts. If, 12 weeks ago, that pit was fit to be kept open, what has changed geologically since then? The answer is that there has been a recognition within British Coal that its marketplace is so limited that, although it is technically possible to keep the colliery open, there is not the financial strength to do so.

There are 600 men at Rufford colliery, but only 226 of them voted for the closure. Rufford is closing because of British Coal's vindictive tactics. The men at the colliery were told that, if the pit was not closed before December, they would lose £10,000. I am not criticising people for taking tough decisions. The Minister for Energy should give a clear response tonight and help the industry. His colleague, the Secretary of State, talked about compassion being shown not just on one side. If the Minister has compassion, he should state tonight that, following consultation with the chairman of British Coal, he will extend the period beyond December. That would give people confidence.

The men of Rufford were also told that, if they did not take the money now and the pit was not closed before the autumn, they would not have the chance of another job. They were told that, if the pit was closed now, they would be transferred. That was held out as their hope for the future.

That is how miners in Nottinghamshire and across the country have been treated. The miners have done everything asked of them and more. Let us consider the record. They have increased productivity by 150 per cent. over the past five years. They are producing coal at half the cost of Germany. In the past six years, the price in real terms of coal from the pithead has not increased. Is it any wonder that all across Europe people think that we are crazy for closing our collieries?

The hon. Members for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards) and for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson) talked about their collieries such as Point of Ayr and Selby. They said that those collieries had a secure future. I beg them not to be taken in by guile because the logic of the marketplace speaks for itself. The contract with the generators is for 30 million tonnes next year. If we take off opencast mining—possibly 10 million tonnes—we will be left with a good period of closure over the next six to 18 months. I believe that that closure period will reduce the number of collieries to, at best, 15, and perhaps even to 12—there will be consequences for privatisation.

We would be left with a rump of collieries. Conservative Members who argue for splitting that group are talking about slitting the throat of the rump of the industry because the energy market is a tough market. We need groups of pits of three, four or 12 to ensure that the industry survives. The call for privatisation sounds the death knell of the industry.

It may well be right to talk about the strengths of the Selby coalfield, but I make a prediction. Given the rate of extraction at Selby, the fact that there is a danger of flooding in the Vale of York, the pressures in the ground at York, and the fact that the overheads at Selby are split between a group of collieries, it is possible that, instead of being the pit of the 21st century, Selby will be closed by the year 2000 or 2005.

There has been talk about additional new contracts with the generators, but such events will not happen for a long time. The facts speak for themselves. National Power holds 19 million tonnes of coal and PowerGen holds 14 million tonnes. What is at issue is not the price of coal being offered for the new contracts, but the volume of the contracts.

People have talked about the recent hot weather. If I had a fridge full of lager cans and someone knocked at my door saying that I could buy cut-price lager, but I had no place to store and cool the lager, I would not buy it whatever the price. That is the position in which the generators currently find themselves. It is clear that no additional contracts will be forthcoming. At best, if the Government use their best endeavours, the additional contracts will be'small.

The future of the deep-mined coal industry in this country looks extremely bleak. If the Government care about the future and do not want to rat on the commitments that they have given the miners, they must do something about the problem. First, they could move quickly on the nuclear review. Earlier this year, the Minister for Energy promised a nuclear review and said that he would announce its terms before the recess. Will he repeat that statement tonight? Will he confirm that the nuclear review will be announced and will take place quickly? The coal industry will survive only if space is made within the energy market.

It is clear that gas has many advantages. It is fascinating that gas can be subject to a 15-year contract but coal has one of only five years. It was astonishing to hear Conservative Members argue the case tonight for opencasting, because decisions about that should be made locally. It is obscene to tear up fields, pull down hedgerows and knock down trees, when the need for coal can be supplied from the deep-mining industry.

What is the Minister doing about creating a European energy market, and discovering the element of subsidy in EDF—the French company? It is clear that we do not have open access to the European market. The Minister must act quickly to save what remains of the British coal industry.

The Minister probably knows the real hostility that is felt over the Government's backing of British Coal on the pension fund issue. British Coal employees think that it is obscene that, as they see it, they are paying from their pension fund the' cost of their own redundancies. That is not right or proper; it is immoral, and it will be challenged in the courts. I hope that the challenge will be successful.

We want more than anything else a coal industry that is successful, and in which people are rewarded for their efforts.

8.40 pm
Mr. Michael Alison (Selby)

Although there was a sombre hue to part of the speech of the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping), I am glad to follow him, because he sought to move some of the cloud of doom from Nottinghamshire to Selby, which I have the honour of representing.

In the light of the hon. Gentleman's remarks, I will place on record comments that I hope will restore the perspective. They were made by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade in the House on 19 October last year: After the contraction of the industry that we are contemplating, British Coal will still be the largest contributor to electricity generation in this country. I confirm that the Selby group is a core part of the future of the British coal industry. We have invested £1.3 billion in that group of pits, which has played its part in securing the improved productivity upon which the long-term viability and, therefore, the future of the industry depend."—[Official Report, 19 October 1992; Vol. 212, c. 214.] Perhaps I may, without embarrassing him, sound a note of agreement with the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron), while disagreeing with something said by my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan). I do not believe that coal is in decline; the hon. Member for Rother Valley is right when he says that it is a fuel with a future in the international dimension. I believe that it is a fuel with a future also in Britain, quite apart from having the lion's share of electricity generation that it has traditionally enjoyed.

Gigantic sums have been invested in pits such as the Selby group. When the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) made his challenging speech about the British coal industry's future—from the point of view of someone like yourself, Mr. Deputy Speaker, who spent a lifetime in the pits—he was at pains to itemise the enormous increase in productivity that British Coal has achieved over the past decade. He said that the figure had increased from 2.3 million tonnes per man shift 10 years ago to 8 million tonnes per man shift today. I believe that the exact figure is 7.86 million tonnes, which must be a record average.

When one places that against the figure of more than 30 million tonnes per man shift that is regularly achieved at Selby, one sees the dividend from the unprecedented scale of investment made there by this Government and since the end of the war. One sees also the dividend from manpower productivity that such investment secures.

One must agree with the hon. Member for Rother Valley that there is a future for the coal industry in Britain, based on pits such as Selby where there has been huge investment and staggering productivity is being achieved, which can challenge and beat any importer and even dumped coal, if we are allowed to have our way.

The hon. Member for Normanton, who is a near neighbour of mine in Yorkshire terms, made a plea for the coal industry in general and for his constituency pits in particular. That is the dilemma. Given the productivity achieved at Selby as a result of massive investment, it is self-evident that if the entire British coal industry is to have a future, investment and output must be concentrated on the pits where productivity is on the Selby scale. That means facing a continuing contraction of less productive, less effective pits in different parts of the country and concentrating on those such as Selby.

That is not simply a self-interested, constituency point, because a large proportion of those employed at the Selby group come not from my constituency but are miners who were redeployed from pits in south and west Yorkshire. The logic of concentrating coal mining on high-productivity pits such as Selby is that it offers a genuine prospect of continuing employment in coal mining for those who want it. Even within the Selby complex, a number of miners were attracted by voluntary redundancy terms. In recent years, we lost 3,000 workers voluntarily, which has helped to increase the group's productivity even more dramatically.

If one combines the scale of support for relocation, retraining and re-employment that the Government manage to provide through British Coal Enterprise Ltd. and by other means with the corresponding huge investment in modern pits such as Selby that has been seen since 1979 and even more dramatically since the 1984 strike, one gets the best of both worlds. One achieves a world-beating British coal industry with prospects for the future, redeployment of manpower, and the sustaining of the old coal mining communities.

The Government have pursued an acceptable and rational policy. They made effective use of the huge amounts of money that they poured into the industry, and have tempered the winds of redundancy for those who will be displaced from older pits. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to continue with that double-barrelled approach of rational, if costly, investment resulting in a high-productivity, low-cost industry, and of offering hope to miners of redeployment in other industries or of being drawn to areas such as Selby, where many miners have already been redeployed.

8.49 pm
Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central)

The right hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) spoke about the mining complex in his constituency. I remind him that it was the last Labour Government who provided the investment for that complex under their "Plan for Coal" between 1974 and 1979 when a market of 150 tonnes was planned. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but if he checks he will find that that is the case.

We are beginning to see the level of the deception perpetrated by the Government on the public and the mining industry since last October when the decision to close 31 pits was followed by a tremendous public outcry. That showed that people were sick to death of what the Government were doing to the industry. In October, dozens of Tory Members ran to the press saying that they would not vote for the measure unless more than 20 pits were saved. With one or two notable exceptions, all those hon. Members backed off and supported the Government's proposals.

The White Paper was published in March, but it was basically a worthless document, designed simply to placate Conservative Members and decieve the country into believing that some parts of the industry were to be saved and some collieries reprieved. It was a quick fix to get the Government out pf a hole. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping) said, only 12 weeks alter the proposals were published, collieries that were supposed to be reprieved are being closed. Production has already ceased at about 20 pits and the reprieved pits are again in line for closure. In addition to three that have closed already, another three in south Yorkshire seem to be under threat.

Not a penny of subsidy has been paid by the Government to support the industry. The extra tonnage due to be sold to the generators has not been sold to them. The aid to the industry suggested in the White Paper was a complete sham. Some of the collieries not even mentioned in October or referred to in the White Paper, the safe 19 collieries, are also under threat. Some of the 12 that have been reprieved or put out to market testing might be saved at the expense of some of the collieries which at that time were said to be economic. That shows that there is no economic case for the closure of any of those collieries.

Comparison of the performance of one colliery against another, profit comparison, is futile. The Government are trying to reduce the amount of coal being produced because there is no market for it. It was wrong for the President of the Board of Trade to speak on a number of occasions about uneconomic pits, because it is simply a case of taking out lumps of the market.

The arguments that my colleagues and I have advanced since October, especially in March when the issue was debated, have proved to be correct. There is no economic case for closure; the Government are simply removing tonnages and the White Paper failed to address the problem of the market for coal. We have said that time and again, but that market could be addressed if the Government had the political will to do that. They have not done anything to increase the market for coal.

The Government have not done much for the coal industry since 1974, the days when the Government of whom Baroness Thatcher was a member were forced out of office because of the coal strike. In October, Lord Parkinson reiterated the philosophy that the Government have attacked the industry since 1974 because they blame it and the National Union of Mineworkers for their loss of office at that time.

Most of the coal industry's problems arose from the privatisation of the electricity supply industry and the creation of a rigged market. The creation of the duopoly of National Power and PowerGen gave those companies the opportunity to buy coal from any source. That followed lobbying by Lord Marshall of Goring, the then chairman of the Central Electricity Generating Board, who made no secret of the fact that he wanted to buy coal from other than British Coal. He told a Select Committee on Energy that the CEGB took 85 per cent. of its coal from British Coal and that that would have to change. He did not advance any economic or diversity arguments for that but simply said that it had to change.

The privatisation of the electricity supply industry gave the go-ahead for the dash for gas. There was such a flurry of applications that British Gas had to increase its price by 35 per cent. in respect of stations not already contracted. Killingholme gas station opened on 19 April with a staff of 35. It is completely false for Conservative Members to say that jobs in oil and gas will be lost. Some 19 GW of gas-fired generation are likely to come on stream; that is equivalent to about 30 million tonnes of coal, which—surprise, surprise—is the contract for next year's coal market. Gas-fired generation from stations that have not yet even been built could totally eclipse the contract market for British Coal. No jobs have been lost as the stations have not yet been built and, in any case, 35 people are required to man one such power station.

For years the Government have refused to implement any sort of sensible energy policy. Their only policy is to leave it to the market. The Government have totally rebuffed all opportunities for coal. The Select Committee on Energy, which is now disbanded, took evidence on clean coal technology, about which some hon. Members have spoken.

There is no way in which the Government will back such technology. They closed the pressurised fluidised bed combustion plant at Grimethorpe and have no intention of looking at any advanced technology using clean coal. The operations of our competitors, especially Texaco in America, are far in advance of anything that has been done in this country. It is the old argument, which was also advanced in respect of the fast reactor, that we do not want it here and will not spend on it, but we will buy somebody else's technology when it is up and running and everybody else has bought it.

Hon. Members have spoken about how the market for British coal can be improved. Despite the damage to our balance of payments, we have the capacity to import millions of tonnes of coal which is dumped, sold at less than its cost of production, by other thriving coal industries.

My hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) spoke about the new coal terminals. On 23 June, the Financial Times carried a photograph of the Portbury dock at Bristol, which is one of the biggest terminals in the country, with the capacity to handle 7 million tonnes of imported coal a year. On the day that the photograph was taken, a 37,000-tonne ship was unloading coal for National Power. Gladstone dock on Merseyside will open later this year and will have a capacity to handle 5 million tonnes a year.

That is nothing new: we have been talking about it for years during debates on the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill. When the Select Committee on Energy looked at the coal industry, it warned of the effect, and the conclusions of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry are nothing new, although the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson) referred to them as if they were set in concrete. The Energy Select Committee issued those warnings years ago.

I have already mentioned the threat from gas and the 30 million tonnes that could eclipse the coal industry altogether, but gas-fired generation is not cheaper than the existing coal-fired generation. On the contrary, it is more expensive. The gas-fired generators are also bidding to the pricing pool at a negative price, so they are, in effect, submitting a contract to give their power away. Due to the workings of the pool price mechanism, those gas-fired generators take the marginal cost into the pool and take the highest cost capacity. Bidding with a negative bid and taking out the highest cost capacity, they say, "Thank you very much," and make a profit.

Last week, it was announced that the subsidy to nuclear power for the year was £1.35 billion. Nuclear power has a guaranteed market, but privatisation exposed the sham of the nuclear power industry—it is far more expensive. Other factors to be considered are that 93 per cent. of opencast sites are on green field sites and that power prices have increased by 32 per cent. in the past year, an increase into which Professor Littlechild requested an investigation. Blue Circle Cement complained that the price—

Mr. Deputy Speaker


9.2 pm

Mr. Winston Churchill (Davyhulme)

It is a matter for regret that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade cannot be with us for the debate. I know that I am not alone in wishing him a full and speedy recovery.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment made some powerful points about the 353 pits closed by Labour Governments, from 1964 to 1970 and from 1974 to 1979, with the attendant loss of 185,000 coal industry jobs. That is certainly a fair point to make, but tonight we must address the reality of the present situation and the prospects for tomorrow. That is what the men, in what remains of the mining industry, want to hear in the House.

Those prospects look decidedly bleak. The market for coal has effectively collapsed. The generators are clearly abusing their joint monopoly. Having challenged the Government on several points, the generators have won the day. They seem quite determined not to commit themselves to any new purchases before October or November; even then, they will not sign for long-term contracts, but propose to buy in parcels of 200,000 or 300,000 tonnes under tender. That will surely make the United Kingdom price collapse to below world market levels.

The generators know how that policy of buying short wrecked the United States coal industry in the 1960s and evidently they are seeking to emulate it over here. In May, British Coal offered the generators coal at 93p per gigajoule delivered to inland power stations. Even at that price, it was unable to find purchasers.

The generators want to close capacity at their older coal-fired stations. Some of those stations are 30 years old and have no gas cleaning. None the less, the owners are refusing to sell at a true market value; instead, they are demanding the replacement value for those antiquated assets because they do not wish for competition. Although there is a gross surplus of plant and of input fuels, the price of electricity does not go down. Where is the regulator? Where is the Monopolies and Mergers Commission? Where are the Government to hold the ring where patently there is no free market?

The British mining industry is in better condition today than it has been at any time this century. British coal can be produced at 80p per gigajoule, yet viable pits are being closed. Silverdale pit, into which £90 million was invested five years ago and which has a new drift, with 30 years of life, is to be closed. Both Rossington and Markham Main pits have seen £6 million to £7 million pounds worth of equipment buried. It is difficult to describe that as anything other than institutionalised vandalism.

Mrs. Llin Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

In Newcastle, we have no information that Silverdale is to be closed. We ask the question all the time. No one has told us that it is to be closed. I only wish that someone would tell us what is happening in Silverdale.

Mr. Eggar

It is not closing.

Mr. Churchill

I heard my hon. Friend say that it is not to be closed. I am delighted to know that and I hope that remains the position. To see such an investment put into jeopardy would be a serious matter.

Meanwhile, British Coal is importing about 100,000 tonnes of Polish coal, and the figure will rise as more pits close. In addition, about 500,000 tonnes of Colombian coal is being landed at Thames docks and a further one third of a million tonnes at Mersey docks. Meanwhile, the generators are planning a major uplift from their stocks, which stand at 34 million tonnes. If they are allowed to run down their stocks too fast, there will be virtually no market for any coal above the core contracts in the current year, no matter at what price it is offered.

In the current year, the British Coal core contracts are down by 25 million tonnes to 40 million tonnes. The nuclear industry is increasing its output by 2 million tonnes to 24 million tonnes coal equivalent. Gas is up by 7 million tonnes to 11 million tonnes coal equivalent. The others are stable at 18 million tonnes, making a total of 93 million tonnes in the current year. That leaves uncommitted from the estimated fuel burn this year only 16 million tonnes.

That is sufficient to provide life and justification for the 12 reprieved pits; but if, as seems likely, the genera tors are allowed to uplift 11 million tonnes of their 34 million tonnes of stock, that leaves only 5 million tonnes uncommitted in the current year, of which 2 million tonnes almost certainly will go to imports, leaving just 3 million tonnes available in the current year. On that basis, there is no way in which the 12 so-called "reprieved" pits can have a future.

The Government should make it clear to the generators that there must be no rapid rundown of stocks. It have said it before, and I make no apology to the House for saying it again: we do not have a free market in energy. We have a heavily rigged market—indeed, a subsidised market in certain quarters. Between last year and 1996–97, the nuclear input will increase by 6 million tonnes coal equivalent and the gas input by 30 million tonnes coal equivalent—each million tonnes, in round figures, displacing a pit.

Both those energy sources have privileged access to the market. Gas can pass on the capital costs to the consumer of its newly built power stations. They were set up by the regional electricity companies, so they have a cosy relationship with them. Nuclear energy has not only privileged but guaranteed access to the market for every kilowatt hour that it produces. On top of that, nuclear power gets a £1,200 million a year subsidy. So much for the free market—it just does not exist.

The Government's amendment claims that they have accepted the principal recommendations of the Select Committee report. They have indeed accepted the key recommendation of providing a subsidy to the generators to burn up to 16 million tonnes of coal over the above the 40 million tonnes core contract. That appears to amount to a subsidy of £400 million to £500 million. Despite undertakings given by the Government, and specifically by the President of the Board of Trade, that the Government would use their best endeavours to widen the market for coal, which alone can underpin and give a long life to the reprieved pits, there is no evidence that they have any will or determination to do so. Without a wider market, there will be no additional sales. Without additional sales, no subsidy will be payable; that subsidy will remain entirely theoretical and uncommitted.

I will put three questions to my hon. Friend the Minister. First, have the Government told the new Government of France, at the highest level, that it is unacceptable to the House and to the country that taxpayers' money should be used to import electricity from France—the most expensive electricity on the United Kingdom market, with a price identified by the Select Committee of 3.4p per kWh—with the effect of putting no fewer than six British pits out of business?

Secondly, have the Government taken steps, as recommended by the Select Committee, to explore the possibility of gas stations being used for mid-merit or peak generation, instead of for baseload capacity? If that were done, a market could be provided for 10 additional pits.

Thirdly, are the Government willing to order the generators to draw down their stocks at no greater a rate than 5 million tonnes a year? That might prove critical in saving some of the 12 reprieved pits.

I fear that not enough is being done by the Government to underpin the market for coal. It is not enough to tell the mining industry, "Here is a subsidy—go out and find yourself a market." The Government must live up to their responsibilities and play their part in finding that wider market because, as many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have said, it is a rigged market.

It is about time that the Government made it clear that they are prepared to re-rig the market in favour of coal instead of against it. That could be done by establishing a neutral flow through the interconnector with France, by reining back gas stations to 70 or 75 per cent. of operations—at which point they would still be profitable, although not as profitable as was originally planned—and by curbing the rundown of stocks. Without those three essential elements, or a combination thereof, the 12 reprieved pits have no future and those pits, and others perhaps on the list of 19, will inevitably close.

We are presiding over the closure of the most efficient deep-mined coal industry in Europe. We are abandoning Europe's greatest national resource and condemning Britain in the 21st century to becoming dependent on imported energy, with all the implications that that holds for our balance of payments and our security of supply. The Government's short-term attitude to our long-term energy resources and their refusal to exert themselves to give coal a fair opportunity to compete on equal terms with other fuels in the years ahead means that, with a heavy heart, I shall be casting my vote against the Government tonight. The miners of Britain and the coalfield communities that depend on them deserve better from the Government than they have so far been offered.

9.13 pm
Mr. Bill Etherington (Sunderland, North)

I am somewhat pressed for time, as I understand that I must finish at about 9.20 pm. I shall be as brief and succinct as possible, as most hon. Members have been tonight.

First, I declare an interest, as I am sponsored by the National Union of Mineworkers. My sponsorship does not perhaps reach the large amounts that we have read about in connection with Mr. Nadir—that is quite a name to have under the circumstances—but it is something of which I am proud. I was a miner for 21 years.

I have been waiting since I entered Parliament to put one or two things straight. First, I want to tell the Secretary of State that I do, indeed, burn a coal fire, and have done so for many years. I did not want to intervene from a sedentary position when the challenge was made earlier in our proceedings.

The second thing that I have wanted to say for a long time concerns the term, "the enemy within", which was applied to me and to many others by the Baroness Thatcher in 1984. Under those circumstances and according to those criteria, I am very proud to be classed as the enemy within.

I want to regale the House with a story. My grandfather was a member of the Durham Miners Association. In 1940, some miners were working two or three days a week and the Durham Miners Association was having to pay out large sums in unemployment benefit—none the less, it managed to provide two Spitfire fighter planes for the benefit of the nation. Shortly after that, the association was responsible for collecting many thousands of pounds, which was a tremendous amount of money in those days, to try to help the Russian people who were fighting against German oppression.

When I hear Baroness Thatcher talking about the enemy within and when I think about my perception of the miners, I wonder just how much money went from the Grantham grocers to help the Government out during those troubled times.

Unfortunately, I was not called in the debates last October or in March, but at least I shall have my six minutes today. It was fairly obvious from the public response to the debate that followed the announcement by the President of the Board of Trade that 31 pits were to close, that the public did not accept that the free market forces system had worked.

In effect, the public were telling hon. Members on both sides of the House—at the time, there was a response from many Conservative Back Benchers—that they wanted the Government to do what they had elected them to do, which was not to leave matters to market forces but to govern the country. That was what people voted for, even if many of them voted for the wrong party and now realise their mistake. The public wanted the Government to act —to do something about the situation.

I am as sorry as anyone about what has happened to the President of the Board of Trade in recent weeks; I hope that he is soon back here among us. I should have liked him to be here to hear what I have to say, because I do not like talking behind people's backs—which, in the circumstances, is almost inevitable, as I am sure all hon. Members will understand. I shall refer to the Government instead.

The Government played for time. It is a sad fact that, if one is cynical, one is often proved right. Last October, I took the view that the Government were shocked by the reaction that they received from the public, and played for time. When I introduced a ten-minute Bill in December, I said as much. I said that we were not being kidded, that we knew what the end result would be. Sadly, we have been proved right.

It is not correct for the Government to say that they have accepted the main points of the report of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry report. In fact, the reverse is the case. I must say in passing that my union —the NUM—did not think that a very good job had been done, and was highly critical of the Select Committee report. Nevertheless, had the Government accepted the letter and spirit of that report, we should not be in the position that we are in today.

It is interesting to examine the recommendations that were accepted. The President of the Board of Trade said quite honestly, throughout the investigation, that the problem was the market. My view is that the market has been distorted since the denationalisation of the generating industry. In many ways, the present Government are not to blame—Lords Wakeham and Parkinson were the ones responsible for the destabilisation of our generating industry.

The only proposals that have been put forward since then have involved a subsidy, which the Government know will never be taken up—just as the colleries will not be bought by a private owner—because there is no market: the coal cannot even be given away. The second suggestion was for longer hours.

Wearmouth colliery, which is in my constituency, is doing extremely well. It is working better reserves than it has had in its 150-year history: it is working in coal 7 ft 6 in thick, unlike that mentioned by the Secretary of State when he talked about the thin seams full of chlorine and sulphur. Only 25 per cent. of its coal is finding a market. Although £20 million was invested in Wearmouth colliery, unless the Government interfere, it is doomed, as are many others.

Many of my constituents, not only miners, think that the Government have been responsible for a sophisticated piece of political chicanery, and that is what it is. I hope that one or two Government Back Benchers, some of whom have an honourable record of voting against what they do not believe in, may come to our rescue tonight. If nothing else, it would let the public see what is going on. On that happy note, I will conclude.

9.20 pm
Mr. Martin O'Neill (Clackmannan)

In some respects, the debate has been encapsulated in the last two speeches. We have heard a miner speak with authority, considerable personal knowledge and experience and great affection for his industry. We also heard the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) announce his intention to vote with us this evening because of his dissatisfaction with the manner in which the future of the industry has been handled. It is clear that, in the past nine months, this country has, on a number of occasions, been transfixed by the future of the coal industry.

It is perhaps no accident that the Government managers decided that this Opposition debate should be held at the same time as the announcement on defence cuts. It is certainly true that other issues apart from the coal industry are being given media attention.

It must be said that if the defence of the country depends on strategic considerations, our supply of energy is of equal strategic significance. It requires equal long-term planning and equal support from the Government at every stage in that process.

Today's debate has lacked some of the colour that we would have associated with it had the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) been present. We all wish him well in his recovery. As the speech of the Secretary of State for Employment showed, the debate was Hamlet without the President, although, at one stage, we had the ghost from Leeds trying to make a contribution.

If there is a tragedy today, it is the way in which the Government have handled the coal industry. The work force in the past two decades did everything asked of them. Those who in the 1960s and 1970s were offered the opportunity to seek other employment did so in the knowledge that there were opportunities for work elsewhere. The closures that the Labour Governments of that time carried out, although on occasions in times of controversy, were carried out in the knowledge that those individuals would be able to obtain secure employment in the future.

It is also clear that, in the past two decades, the coal industry has been capable of increasing its productivity by quite massive amounts. Now that the Secretary of State is back in his place, I should like him to try for once to treat the debate seriously, as there was great play made of the apparent increase in productivity in the 1980s compared with the 1970s. However, he did not make clear his basis of comparison.

In the 1970s, the driving of roads into collieries to allow access to coal was carried out by British Coal employees. That meant that they were not producing coal but were going through stone, scrap and the like. That was not reflected in the productivity figures, and it was characteristic of the Secretary of State's disgraceful speech that he did not have the intellectual honesty to compare like with like on this fundamental question. He shakes his head. If he would care to dispute that point, I am happy to give him the opportunity to do so.

A number of hon. Members referred to the Select Committee's report, which said that no more consents should be granted for combined cycle gas turbines and that, since the publication of the White Paper consents for some 1,500 MW of CCGT power at Staythorpe, King's Lynn and others had been granted—the equivalent of some 10 million tonnes of coal, yet, at the same time coal-fired plants at West Thurrock, Palihan and Thorpe Marsh have been closed.

Thorpe Marsh, which is in Doncaster, is owned by National Power. In the May edition of Power News, the plant was praised for its thermal efficiency and excellent industrial relations. In March, the plant accepted 120 redundancies on the understanding that that would ensure its future. Since 1990, £40 million has been spent on the plant. The station consumed some 670,000 tonnes per annum—a third of the output of Bentley and Hatfield collieries.

Only 20 minutes up the road at Keasby a new 750 MW gas power station is being constructed. When the issue was raised on the Adjournment a couple of weeks ago by my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, North (Mr. Hughes) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, Central (Sir H. Walker), the Minister for Energy said: It would not be appropriate for the Government to intervene on an issue of this kind."—[Official Report, 16 June 1993; Vol. 226, c. 972.] I remind the Minister that the Government retain a 40 per cent. share in National Power and that £40 million of shareholders' money—in many respects, our money—has been spent on the station, to say nothing of the prospective redundancy costs. As the two collieries concerned were on the hit list, we can see that the consequences of the package of redundancies and closures will be considerable for that part of the country. I suppose that the cynic would say that it was merely an example of the wish being father to the thought.

We were told that gas-fired power stations are built on the assumption that coal-fired stations are dearer. The White Paper admits: At the prices in the prospective contract for British Coal suppliers from April 1993 onwards, the avoidable cost of generating electricity from large existing coal fired power stations (using 500 MW turbines) is generally less than the full costs of a new CCGT, assuming both run on baseload. On the radio this morning, the Minister for Energy said that if there was a difference between the two it could be attributed to combined heat and power. [Interruption.] Some of us heard the radio programme this morning. Perhaps the Minister did not understand what he was saying. He said that the difference between coal-fired and gas-fired power stations was the thermal efficiency represented by combined heat and power. Today, the director general of the Combined Heat and Power Association issued a press statement suggesting that that claim was rather difficult to support because only 1 per cent. of the new power stations have CHP.

The difference does not come from that at all. The only difference between the two arises from the arrangement of the baseload efficiency of CCGT. Coal-fired power stations will not be able to operate on baseload. There is the rub. It is not simply a matter of markets or a matter of demand; it is a matter of how the markets work. The way in which the markets work is at the core of the problems of the coal-fired power stations, because they are not being given the chance to operate on base load. That opportunity is being afforded to the gas-fired stations, which do not need to operate on base load but are best suited to operate on an on-off basis. Those power stations are being given an unfair advantage. That issue was addressed in the Select Committee report, but not in the White Paper.

We have heard not only that British coal is less expensive than the CCGT product, but that it has had large amounts of Government assistance. The Secretary of State said today that it had been given some £17.8 billion worth of subsidy since 1982, but, since 1979, operating grants have represented less than 1 per cent. of Government grants to the coal industry. The money has gone on deficit grants to British Coal, but there have been no deficit grants since 1989. The money has been spent on increased pension costs, social costs, concessionary coal and the like. The grants have cushioned the blow of redundancy, but have not enabled coal to compete with other fuels.

The Government claim to have provided British Coal with an indirect subsidy through price support and the three-year coal contracts agreed after privatisation of the electricity industry; yet, in a formal submission made to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Government said: these understandings— that is, the contracts and the money that was made available to those companies— are commercial arrangements between the companies concerned and … contain no element of state aid or price support. Moreover, the United Kingdom Government have a duty to inform the European Commission of any indirect state aid to the coal industry. According to the Commission, no such aid has been provided by the United Kingdom since 1986.

We find that the central points made by the Secretary of State—that coal is dearer than gas, that productivity is somehow higher when the Conservatives are in power, and that the Government have given substantial amounts of money to the coal industry—have been shown to be completely untrue.

As to the recommendations of the Select Committee report, the Government have said that they support a subsidy, yet not a penny has been given. No figure has been set on the total amount available. Even the so-called subsidy differs from that recommended by the Select Committee, and my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) made that point forcefully in his speech.

The Select Committee subsidy was to go to the generators to buy additional coal; the White Paper subsidy is to go to British Coal to enable it to sell coal to the generators. The White Paper subsidy is restricted to the energy market; the Select Committee subsidy was also to go to the industrial market. The figures that have emerged from the coal report today suggest that money is required to give support to industrial users, given their current exodus from the coal market.

To the extent that any figure can be placed on the subsidy, it will certainly not exceed the sum that British Coal, with the encouragement of the Government, is trying to filch from the staff superannuation scheme—a theft which is curently being dealt with by the courts—and we will see what success it has in robbing, Maxwell-style, that pension scheme.

At the heart of our case against the White Paper is not merely the duplicity surrounding the proposal to subsidise but the Government's failure to deal with the basic reasons for coal's inability to compete with gas in a fair market. The Select Committee made several recommendations. It recommended that Nuclear Electric should cease to receive income from the fossil fuel levy, that combined cycled gas turbines should be used as mid-merit or peak instead of baseload capacity, that French electricity imports should cease to be non-leviable, that the Government should provide a subsidy to the electricity generators which should then be required to purchase additional coal and that a subsidy for additional sales in the industrial market should also be provided.

The Committee also recommended that the Government should adopt specific measures to support flue gas desulphurisation and clean coal technologies and should require the generators to hold coal stocks of at least 20 million tonnes. That amount is being held at the moment, and we should like to think that it will be held for some time to come although we know that the generators intend to allow the stocks to fall to about 10 million tonnes.

Such issues are the fault lines of the debate. They are the difference between those who support the Government's position and those who support that of the Select Committee.

In recent months and years, some people have been quizzical about the Government's support for the industry. This evening, we have seen Government Whips running around with bits of paper, putting pressure on hon. Members to speak. One of the individuals who was going to make a most pertinent speech was almost squeezed out and managed to speak only at the very end. In the previous debate, four Conservative Members voted with the Opposition and another four denied the Government their support. There were many who were, I suppose, giving the Government the benefit of the doubt; but we were pretty certain that the Government would not deliver.

We believed that the promise of a subsidy would not be enough to encourage the generators to buy more coal. It was clear to us that the Government would not use their powers to require the generators to maintain the levels of stocks. In that respect, we are waiting to see what the summer brings and what they are prepared to utilise during that period. We were certainly under no illusion that the Government would do anything to frustrate the attempts of Electricite de France to sell us nuclear power, which has proved to be the case. We were vindicated because we suspected that the Government would do nothing to interfere with the electricity market.

We were now able to see clearly what the Government's intentions were. As someone said today, they intended to get a quick fix. They got it and survived but they now need the continued support of their Back Benchers. This is an opportunity for those who gave the Government their grudging support last time to say that what they have offered since is not good enough, that they have betrayed the trust placed in them and that they have betrayed the coal industry and those who work in it and depend on it. I ask those hon. Members to join my right hon. and hon. Friends and their own hon. Friends in the Lobby to defend our great industry, the coalfield communities and our great national asset, our coal reserves.

9.38 pm
The Minister for Energy (Mr. Tim Eggar)

In his opening comments, the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) referred to the statement that was made earlier this afternoon. For a moment, I thought that the hon. Gentleman thought that he was still shadow spokesman for defence. I am not surprised that I thought that. because one of the noticeable things about the past few months has been the way in which the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) has consistently hogged the airwaves on all energy matters. He really has been the invisible shadow energy spokesman. Looking at the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and the other Opposition Members sponsored by the National Union of Mineworkers, I can understand why the hon. Member for Clackmannan has been kept off the Opposition Front Bench on these matters.

When the hon. Member for Clackmannan said something positive, what was he urging? He urged intervention and Government decision taking and rejected any market solution. Having listened to the hon. Gentleman tonight, I can understand why the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) was on the Opposition Front Bench during the last coal debate.

We have had a good debate and 21 right hon. and hon. Members have spoken—

Mr. Robin Cook

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Eggar

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman shortly.

The central issue of the debate, to which the hon. Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn) referred and which my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock) mentioned, were the major measures announced by the Government following the report of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry. Following that review and during the period of consultation on the White Paper, many opinions were offered to the Government. However, the one consistent theme was that there was an additional market for coal if only the Government would make available a subsidy to British Coal or to other private sector producers.

We have made that subsidy available. We have not guaranteed an additional market for coal because that is not within our control or within the control of the Select Committee. Nor is it within the control of the private coal producers or British Coal. We have offered no guarantees. However, we have offered opportunities for additional coal sales and we have made available hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers' money to support that.

Mr. Churchill

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Robin Cook


Mr. Eggar

I will willingly give way to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Churchill

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Of course everyone understands that the Government were not able to guarantee a market. However, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade undertook, on behalf of the Government, to use his best endeavours to secure a wider market for coal. That does not simply need a subsidy—it requires a redressing of the imbalance against coal that is exemplified by the fact that the taxpayer is paying 1.2 billion a year in subsidy to Nuclear Electric, which has a guaranteed market for its output.

Mr. Eggar

I am well aware of my hon. Friend's point. However, the British coal industry receives considerable assistance. This Government have spent £18 billion on the industry since 1979. Every year for the past three years British consumers have paid £1 billion more to pay for electricity by buying British coal than they would have if they had bought electricity generated from imported coal. To say that the market is somehow rigged against coal is simply not accurate.

Mr. Robin Cook

I am most grateful to the Minister for observing the normal courtesies of the Front Bench. May I gently remind him that my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) spoke in the last coal debate because the Government put up the Secretary of State for Wales rather than the Minister for Energy to reply to the debate. As the Minister has just assured the House that there is no rigged market, will he answer the question that has remained unanswered since 4 pm? If it is not a rigged market, why is it that the generators will not buy coal at a price that will enable them to provide electricity cheaper than from gas, cheaper than from nuclear power, and cheaper than they can buy it from France? Why not?

Mr. Eggar

The hon. Gentleman has never understood how a market works. He knows perfectly well that the generators and the independent power producers could readily have built new coal-fired stations. They were free to do that. They were free to take advantage of the cheap coal to which the hon. Gentleman refers. The generators have not done that, nor have the independent power producers done it. They have chosen to invest in gas stations. They have done that because they know that, in the present market conditions, gas is a cheaper way of producing electricity than coal is. Many independent decisions have been reached and many people have decided to invest in extra power generation. They have all opted for gas and not for coal. That is the true test of whether coal is competitive.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander) referred to the redeployment of equipment at Bevercotes. I know of his concern and that of the UDM on this matter. I have been in regular close touch with British Coal on it. I have been assured by the chairman of British Coal that no assets employed at Bevercotes will be redeployed unnecessarily and that the corporation will take each decision to salvage major equipment from those pits on the basis of all the economic criteria. Of course, that includes the use of that equipment in other pits. [Interruption.]

It is all very well Opposition Members jeering, but this has been a useful debate, and I am trying to answer specific points that have been mentioned.

Mr. Barron

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Eggar

I will try to refer to some of the points that were made by the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) in due course.

My hon. Friends the Members for Clywd, North-West (Mr. Richards) and for Batley and Spen referred to the importance of safety considerations. We entirely agree with them. The hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) is also concerned about that matter. We are working very closely with the Health and Safety Commission. I am sure that British Coal will ensure that all proper measures are taken.

The hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Clarke) used some extravagant language about the British Coal pension fund. That was rather out of character for the hon. Gentleman. As I have said, there will be no rip-off of the pension funds, either the staff pension fund or the mineworkers' pension fund. The question at issue —

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)

Doing a Robert Maxwell?

Mr. Eggar

It is no good the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) shouting about Robert Maxwell. I know how close Robert Maxwell was to the Labour party, but on this issue there is no similarity whatsoever, because British Coal and the trustees have agreed that the matter in dispute between them will be considered by the High Court. I am sure that British Coal will adhere to the decision of the High Court on the issue.

The hon. Member for Midlothian and my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson) referred to help for the British mining equipment industry. I have met representatives of ABMEC, and we are working closely with them on a package of measures that are geared to try to assist their export market and smaller companies.

My hon. Friends the Members for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) and for Rochford (Dr. Clark) referred to the closure of power stations. They urged that we should take measures to try to ensure that, if they are closed, those power stations are made available to the private sector. I entirely agree with my hon. Friends' wish for greater competition to be developed in electricity generation. I agree that the sale of power stations could be one way of achieving that competition. In the first instance, of course, it is a commercial matter.

I heard what my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill), said about the price that is allegedly being asked by the generators. I am watching that matter carefully and I know that the Director General for Electricity Supply is considering the matter. I am sure that the generators will pay attention to the considerable interest that has been expressed in the House on this matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe is concerned about the modernisation of coal-fired stations, which will provide a number of opportunities.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) asked for financial support for management and employee buy-out teams—he especially mentioned the Union of Democratic Mineworkers. We have always made it clear that we want to ensure that any management and employee teams bidding for the industry will have a fair opportunity to bid against other buyers.

I have written to the President of the UDM informing Neil Greatrex that the Government will give support to management and employee buy-out teams that are bidding for the main privatisation. We are prepared to fund up to 50 per cent. of the eligible costs of employing consultants and advisers up to a maximum of £200,000 per team. I am sure that that will be welcomed by the House.

Mr. Duncan

What the Minister has said will give—

Mrs. Peacock


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)

Order. The hon. Member has been here long enough to know not to intervene when another hon. Member has the floor.

Mr. Duncan

What the Minister said will give enormous comfort to those who have the vision to make the most of the assets that they see and their hard work. On their behalf, I welcome what the Minister said.

Mr. Eggar

I thank my hon. Friend. The UDM and the people of Nottinghamshire will recognise the reaction of Labour Members. They are not interested in the miners of Nottinghamshire having a chance to buy or own those pits. The hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping) has kept quiet. I am sure that he is distressed by those Labour Members who are sponsored by the National Union of Mineworkers who do not want the UDM to show this sort of initiative.

Mrs. Peacock

I am listening carefully to what my hon. Friend is saying about help and support for management buy-outs. Can he tell the House what help he will give to private sector investors who want to take over the mines that British Coal wants to close? Those people are not given any help at all except a map reference. That is not good enough.

Mr. Eggar

Some 14 pits have been advertised for licensing to the private sector. I understand that British Coal has received serious expressions of interest for a considerable number of those pits. If my hon. Friend feels that the private sector is in some way being prevented from proceeding with the purchase or leasing of pits, she need only come to me and I will ensure that that matter is properly investigated. That is how it should be.

It is clear from the expression of Labour Members that they do not want miners to be offered the opportunity to work in private sector mines. The only sort of mining they want is in the public sector. They are not interested in jobs for miners or their constituents, or in giving opportunities to individuals. They are simply interested in control by the National Union of Mineworkers and the public sector. The Labour party does not change at all.

Mr. Hardy

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Eggar

Normally I would give way to the hon. Gentleman, but he was not here earlier, so I hope that he will forgive me for not giving way.

My hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme commented on the whole issue of coal stocks. I understand his concern about that and I understand the point made by the Select Committee.

We are in discussion with the generators on the appropriate level of stocking. Even the Select Committee's recommended level of 20 million tonnes is nowhere near what is held now. At the moment, 33 million tonnes are held at power stations and an additional 14 million tonnes at the pit heads. Whatever is finally decided about the appropriate stocking level will not have any significant impact on the likely draw down of those stocks, at least in the next few months. One must be realistic about that.

A number of hon. Members spoke about the electricity trade with France. It is no good the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) saying that he thought that he entered into that contract because it was a means of exporting coal by wire. Does he really mean that he committed Her Majesty's Government to massive public expenditure without understanding the terms on which the electricity was to flow?

The hon. Members for Livingston and for Clackmannan have consistently urged us to breach international undertakings and to go against the treaty of Rome. They want us to go against all the evidence that was produced for the Select Committee about the legal powers.

The hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) gave a typical sitting-on-the-fence Liberal speech, but he did not mention what was said about energy in the Liberal party manifesto. In that manifesto, the hon. Gentleman informed us and the electorate that 45 per cent. of our electricity could be generated by wind power.

Let me tell the House what that actually means. It means that we would need 100,000 windmills, which would take up 25,000 sq km of our country; 10 per cent. of the country would be peopled with windmills. Would the hon. Gentleman offer all Liberal constituencies as a site for a windmill? What would he do if the wind stopped blowing? Would he be able to guarantee that Liberal constituencies would not be denied electricity if that were to happen? Such is the energy policy of the Liberal party.

We know that it is the duty of the Opposition to oppose. We also know that the Labour party is the captive of its history. We know of the power that the NUM-sponsored Members still wield within the parliamentary Labour party. Today, however, the Opposition spokesmen, the hon. Members for Livingston and for Clackmannan owed it to the House to do more than repeat their normal brew of smears, innuendo, half-truths and misrepresentations.

The Labour motion urges that a guaranteed future should be given to the pits, but the Opposition spokesmen said nothing about how that future would be achieved. We heard no word as to which nuclear power stations they wanted to close. We heard nothing about which construction workers for North sea rigs or power stations would lose their jobs. Do the Opposition want Teesside workers or those in north Wales to lose their jobs? Not one jot was said about that.

The Labour party offered no explanation about how it would advocate breaching the terms of the treaty of Rome governing the French interconnector. The Opposition did not tell us which legally binding contracts they would break. If they want more coal produced, however, such contracts must be broken.

It is worse than that, because the Opposition have not sketched out their long-term vision of Britain's coal industry, except for the hon. Member for Livingston who said that he would oppose its privatisation. He and his hon. Friends have not said whether they would renationalise the industry. The hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell) is nodding in agreement—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker


Mr. Caborn

On a point of order. Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Mr. Caborn—and I hope that it is a genuine point of order.

Mr. Caborn

The views of the Select Committee are being neglected, and the House is being misled. In no way did the Select Committee ask for any contract to be broken.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is not a matter for the Chair.

Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland)

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put,put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 286, Noes 308.

Division No. 315] [10.00 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Adams, Mrs Irene Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Ainger, Nick Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Canavan, Dennis
Alexander, Richard Cann, Jamie
Allen, Graham Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry)
Alton, David Cash, William
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Chisholm, Malcolm
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale) Churchill, Mr
Armstrong, Hilary Clapham, Michael
Ashton, Joe Clark, Dr David (South Shields)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Barnes, Harry Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Barron, Kevin Clelland, David
Battle, John Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Bayley, Hugh Coffey, Ann
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret Cohen, Harry
Beith, Rt Hon A. J. Connarty, Michael
Bell, Stuart Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Bennett, Andrew F. Corbett, Robin
Benton, Joe Corbyn, Jeremy
Bermingham, Gerald Corston, Ms Jean
Berry, Dr. Roger Cousins, Jim
Betts, Clive Cox, Tom
Blair, Tony Cryer, Bob
Blunkett, David Cummings, John
Boateng, Paul Cunliffe, Lawrence
Boyce, Jimmy Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)
Boyes, Roland Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John
Bradley, Keith Dalyell, Tam
Bray, Dr Jeremy Darling, Alistair
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E) Davidson, Ian
Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Burden, Richard Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Byers, Stephen Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)
Caborn, Richard Denham, John
Callaghan, Jim Dewar, Donald
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Dixon, Don
Dobson, Frank Kilfoyle, Peter
Donohoe, Brian H. Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil (Islwyn)
Dowd, Jim Kirkwood, Archy
Dunnachie, Jimmy Leighton, Ron
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Eagle, Ms Angela Lewis, Terry
Eastham, Ken Litherland, Robert
Enright, Derek Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Etherington, Bill Llwyd, Elfyn
Evans, John (St Helens N) Loyden, Eddie
Ewing, Mrs Margaret Lynne, Ms Liz
Fatchett, Derek McAllion, John
Faulds, Andrew McAvoy, Thomas
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) McCartney, Ian
Fisher, Mark Macdonald, Calum
Flynn, Paul McFall, John
Foster, Rt Hon Derek McKelvey, William
Foster, Don (Bath) Mackinlay, Andrew
Foulkes, George McLeish, Henry
Fraser, John Maclennan, Robert
Fyfe, Maria McMaster, Gordon
Galbraith, Sam McNamara, Kevin
Galloway, George McWilliam, John
Gapes, Mike Madden, Max
Garrett, John Mahon, Alice
George, Bruce Mandelson, Peter
Gerrard, Neil Marek, Dr John
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Godman, Dr Norman A. Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)
Godsiff, Roger Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Golding, Mrs Llin Martlew, Eric
Gordon, Mildred Maxton, John
Gould, Bryan Meacher, Michael
Graham, Thomas Meale, Alan
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) Michael, Alun
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Milburn, Alan
Grocott, Bruce Miller, Andrew
Gunnell, John Mitchell, Austin (Gf Grimsby)
Hain, Peter Moonie, Dr Lewis
Hall, Mike Morgan, Rhodri
Hanson, David Morley, Elliot
Hardy, Peter Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wy'nshawe)
Harman, Ms Harriet Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Harvey, Nick Mowlam, Marjorie
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Mudie, George
Henderson, Doug Mullin, Chris
Heppell, John Murphy, Paul
Hill, Keith (Streatham) Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Hinchliffe, David O'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire)
Hoey, Kate O'Brien, William (Normanton)
Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld) O'Hara, Edward
Home Robertson, John Olner, William
Hood, Jimmy O'Neill, Martin
Hoon, Geoffrey Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Paisley, Rev Ian
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd) Patchett, Terry
Hoyle, Doug Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Pendry, Tom
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Pickthall, Colin
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Pike, Peter L.
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Pope, Greg
Hutton, John Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Ingram, Adam Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Jackson, Glenda (H'stead) Prescott, John
Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H) Primarolo, Dawn
Jamieson, David Purchase, Ken
Janner, Greville Quin, Ms Joyce
Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side) Radice, Giles
Jones, leuan Wyn (Ynys Môn) Randall, Stuart
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Raynsford, Nick
Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O) Redmond, Martin
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW) Reid, Dr John
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) Rendel, David
Jowell, Tessa Richardson, Jo
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Keen, Alan Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)
Kennedy, Charles (Ross,C&S) Roche, Mrs. Barbara
Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn) Rogers, Allan
Khabra, Piara S. Rooker, Jeff
Rooney, Terry Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Tipping. Paddy
Rowlands, Ted Turner, Dennis
Ruddock, Joan Tyler, Paul
Salmond, Alex Vaz, Keith
Sedgemore, Brian Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
Sheerman, Barry Wallace, James
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Walley, Joan
Shore, Rt Hon Peter Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Short, Clare Wareing, Robert N
Simpson, Alan Wicks, Malcolm
Skinner, Dennis Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Smith, Andrew (Oxford E) Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'sbury) Wilson, Brian
Smith, Rt Hon John (M'kl'ds E) Winnick, David
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent) Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Snape, Peter Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Soley, Clive Wise, Audrey
Spearing, Nigel Worthington, Tony
Spellar, John Wray, Jimmy
Steel, Rt Hon Sir David Young, David (Bolton SE)
Steinberg, Gerry
Stevenson, George Tellers for the Ayes:
Stott, Roger Mr. Jack Thompson and Mr. Eric Illsley.
Strang, Dr. Gavin
Straw, Jack
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Aitken, Jonathan Clappison, James
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Amess, David Coe, Sebastian
Ancram, Michael Colvin, Michael
Arbuthnot, James Congdon, David
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Conway, Derek
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)
Ashby, David Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Aspinwall, Jack Cope, Rt Hon Sir John
Atkins, Robert Couchman, James
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E) Cran, James
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North) Davies, Quentin (Stamford)
Baldry, Tony Davis, David (Boothferry)
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Deva, Nirj Joseph
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Devlin, Tim
Bates, Michael Dickens, Geoffrey
Batiste, Spencer Dicks, Terry
Bellingham, Henry Dorrell, Stephen
Bendall, Vivian Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Beresford, Sir Paul Dover, Den
Biffen, Rt Hon John Duncan, Alan
Blackburn, Dr John G. Duncan-Smith, Iain
Body, Sir Richard Dunn, Bob
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Durant, Sir Anthony
Booth, Hartley Dykes, Hugh
Boswell, Tim Eggar, Tim
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Elletson, Harold
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Bowden, Andrew Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Bowis, John Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Brandreth, Gyles Evennett, David
Brazier, Julian Faber, David
Bright, Graham Fabricant, Michael
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Fenner, Dame Peggy
Browning, Mrs. Angela Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Fishburn, Dudley
Budgen, Nicholas Forman, Nigel
Burns, Simon Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Burt, Alistair Forth, Eric
Butcher, John Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Butler, Peter Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Butterfill, John Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Carlisle, John (Luton North) Freeman, Rt Hon Roger
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) French, Douglas
Carrington, Matthew Fry, Peter
Carttiss, Michael Gale, Roger
Gallie, Phil Maclean, David
Gardiner, Sir George McLoughlin, Patrick
Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Garnier, Edward Madel, David
Gill, Christopher Maitland, Lady Olga
Gillan, Cheryl Malone, Gerald
Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair Mans, Keith
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Marland, Paul
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Marlow, Tony
Gorst, John Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Grant, Sir Anthony (Cambs SW) Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Mates, Michael
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N) Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Grylls, Sir Michael Mellor, Rt Hon David
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Merchant, Piers
Hague, William Milligan, Stephen
Hamilton, Rt Hon Archie (Epsom) Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW)
Hampson, Dr Keith Moate, Sir Roger
Hanley, Jeremy Monro, Sir Hector
Hannam, Sir John Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Hargreaves, Andrew Moss, Malcolm
Harris, David Nelson, Anthony
Haselhurst, Alan Neubert, Sir Michael
Hawkins, Nick Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Hawksley, Warren Nicholls, Patrick
Hayes, Jerry Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Heald, Oliver Norris, Steve
Heath, Rt Hon Sir Edward Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley
Heathcoat-Amory, David Oppenheim, Phillip
Hendry, Charles Ottaway, Richard
Hicks, Robert Page, Richard
Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence L. Paice, James
Hill, James (Southampton Test) Patnick, Irvine
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham) Patten, Rt Hon John
Horam, John Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter Pickles, Eric
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A) Porter, David (Waveney)
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford) Powell, William (Corby)
Howell, Sir Ralph (North Rathbone, Tim
Norfolk) Redwood, Rt Hon John
Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W) Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W) Richards, Rod
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne) Riddick, Graham
Hunter, Andrew Rifkind, Rt Hon. Malcolm
Jack, Michael Robathan, Andrew
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Jenkin, Bernard Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
Jessel, Toby Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr) Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Sackville, Tom
Key, Robert Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim
Kilfedder, Sir James Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas
King, Rt Hon Tom Shaw, David (Dover)
Kirkhope, Timothy Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Knapman, Roger Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash) Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Knight, Greg (Derby N) Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n) Shersby, Michael
Knox, Sir David Sims, Roger
Kynoch, George (Kincardine) Skeet, Sir Trevor
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Lang, Rt Hon Ian Soames, Nicholas
Lawrence, Sir Ivan Speed, Sir Keith
Legg, Barry Spencer, Sir Derek
Leigh, Edward Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Lennox-Boyd, Mark Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Lidington, David Spink, Dr Robert
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Spring, Richard
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Sproat, lain
Luff, Peter Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Steen, Anthony
MacKay, Andrew Stephen, Michael
Stern, Michael Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Stewart, Allan Walden, George
Streeter, Gary Waller, Gary
Sumberg, David Ward, John
Sweeney, Walter Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Sykes, John Waterson, Nigel
Tapsell, Sir Peter Watts, John
Taylor, Ian (Esher) Wells, Bowen
Taylor, John M. (Solihull) Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E) Whitney, Ray
Temple-Morris, Peter Whittingdale, John
Thomason, Roy Widdecombe, Ann
Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V) Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N) Wilkinson, John
Thornton, Sir Malcolm Willetts, David
Thurnham, Peter Wilshire, David
Townend, John (Bridlington) Wolfson, Mark
Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th) Wood, Timothy
Tracey, Richard Yeo, Tim
Tredinnick, David Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Trend, Michael
Trotter, Neville Tellers for the Noes:
Twinn, Dr Ian Mr. David Lightbown and Mr. Sydney Chapman.
Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Viggers, Peter

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to standing order No. 30 (Question on amendments):—

The House divided: Ayes 307, Noes 285.

Division No. 316] [10 16 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Butcher, John
Aitken, Jonathan Butler, Peter
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Butterfill, John
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Carlisle, John (Luton North)
Amess, David Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Ancram, Michael Carrington, Matthew
Arbuthnot, James Carttiss, Michael
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Clappison, James
Ashby, David Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Aspinwall, Jack Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Atkins, Robert Coe, Sebastian
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E) Colvin, Michael
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Congdon, David
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Conway, Derek
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North) Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)
Baldry, Tony Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Cope, Rt Hon Sir John
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Couchman, James
Bates, Michael Cran, James
Batiste, Spencer Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)
Bellingham, Henry Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)
Bendall, Vivian Davies, Quentin (Stamford)
Beresford, Sir Paul Davis, David (Boothferry)
Biffen, Rt Hon John Deva, Nirj Joseph
Blackburn, Dr John G. Devlin, Tim
Body, Sir Richard Dickens, Geoffrey
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Dicks, Terry
Booth, Hartley Dorrell, Stephen
Boswell, Tim Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Dover, Den
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia Duncan, Alan
Bowden, Andrew Duncan-Smith, lain
Bowis, John Dunn, Bob
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Durant, Sir Anthony
Brandreth, Gyles Dykes, Hugh
Brazier, Julian Eggar, Tim
Bright, Graham Elletson, Harold
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Browning, Mrs. Angela Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Budgen, Nicholas Evennett, David
Burns, Simon Faber, David
Burt, Alistair Fabricant, Michael
Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Fenner, Dame Peggy Lang, Rt Hon Ian
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Lawrence, Sir Ivan
Fishburn, Dudley Legg, Barry
Forman, Nigel Leigh, Edward
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Lennox-Boyd, Mark
Forth, Eric Lidington, David
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Lightbown, David
Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring) Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley) Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Freeman, Rt Hon Roger Luff, Peter
French, Douglas Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Fry, Peter MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Gale, Roger MacKay, Andrew
Gallie, Phil Maclean, David
Gardiner, Sir George McLoughlin, Patrick
Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Gamier, Edward Madel, David
Gill, Christopher Maitland, Lady Olga
Gillan, Cheryl Malone, Gerald
Goodlad. Rt Hon Alastair Mans, Keith
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Marland. Paul
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Marlow, Tony
Gorst, John Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Grant, Sir Anthony (Cambs SW) Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Green way, John (Ryedale) Mates, Michael
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N) Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Grylls, Sir Michael Mellor, Rt Hon David
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Merchant, Piers
Hague, William Milligan, Stephen
Hamilton, Rt Hon Archie (Epsom) Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW)
Hampson, Dr Keith Moate, Sir Roger
Hanley, Jeremy Monro, Sir Hector
Hannam, Sir John Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Hargreaves, Andrew Moss, Malcolm
Harris, David Nelson, Anthony
Haselhurst, Alan Neubert, Sir Michael
Hawkins. Nick Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Hawksley, Warren Nicholls, Patrick
Hayes, Jerry Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Heald, Oliver Norris, Steve
Heath, Rt Hon Sir Edward Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley
Heathcoat-Amory, David Oppenheim, Phillip
Hendry, Charles Ottaway, Richard
Hicks, Robert Page, Richard
Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence L. Paice, James
Hill, James (Southampton Test) Patnick, Irvine
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham) Patten, Rt Hon John
Horam, John Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter Pickles, Eric
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A) Porter, David (Waveney)
Howell, Rt Hon David (Gdford) Powell, William (Corby)
Howell, Sir Ralph (North Rathbone, Tim
Norfolk) Redwood, Rt Hon John
Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W) Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne) Richards, Rod
Hunter, Andrew Riddick, Graham
Jack, Michael Rifkind, Rt Hon. Malcolm
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Robathan, Andrew
Jenkin, Bernard Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Jessel, Toby Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr) Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Key, Robert Sackville, Tom
Kilfedder, Sir James Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim
King, Rt Hon Tom Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas
Kirkhope, Timothy Shaw, David (Dover)
Knapman, Roger Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash) Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian
Knight, Greg (Derby N) Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n) Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Knox, Sir David Shersby, Michael
Kynoch, George (Kincardine) Sims, Roger
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Skeet, Sir Trevor
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick) Tracey, Richard
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Tredinnick, David
Soames, Nicholas Trend, Michael
Speed, Sir Keith Trotter, Neville
Spencer, Sir Derek Twinn, Dr Ian
Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset) Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Viggers, Peter
Spink, Dr Robert Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Spring, Richard Walden, George
Sproat, Iain Waller, Gary
Squire, Robin (Hornchurch) Ward, John
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Steen, Anthony Waterson, Nigel
Stern, Michael Watts, John
Stewart, Allan Wells, Bowen
Streeter, Gary Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Sumberg, David Whitney, Ray
Sweeney, Walter Whittingdale, John
Sykes, John Widdecombe, Ann
Tapsell, Sir Peter Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Taylor, Ian (Esher) Wilkinson, John
Taylor, John M. (Solihull) Willetts, David
Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E) Wilshire, David
Temple-Morris, Peter Wolfson, Mark
Thomason, Roy Wood, Timothy
Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V) Yeo, Tim
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N) Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Thornton, Sir Malcolm
Thurnham, Peter Tellers for the Ayes:
Townend, John (Bridlington) Mr. Sydney Chapman and Mr. Robert G. Hughes.
Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)
Abbott, Ms Diane Chisholm, Malcolm
Adams, Mrs Irene Churchill, Mr
Ainger, Nick Clapham, Michael
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Clark, Dr David (South Shields)
Alexander, Richard Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Allen, Graham Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Alton, David Clelland, David
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale) Coffey, Ann
Armstrong, Hilary Cohen, Harry
Ashton, Joe Connarty, Michael
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Barnes, Harry Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Barron, Kevin Corbett, Robin
Battle, John Corbyn, Jeremy
Bayley, Hugh Corston, Ms Jean
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret Cousins, Jim
Beith, Rt Hon A. J. Cox, Tom
Bell, Stuart Cryer, Bob
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Cummings, John
Bennett, Andrew F. Cunliffe, Lawrence
Benton, Joe Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)
Bermingham, Gerald Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John
Berry, Dr. Roger Dalyell, Tam
Betts, Clive Darling, Alistair
Blair, Tony Davidson, Ian
Blunkett, David Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)
Boateng, Paul Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Boyce, Jimmy Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Boyes, Roland Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'I)
Bradley, Keith Denham, John
Bray, Dr Jeremy Dewar, Donald
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E) Dixon, Don
Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Dobson, Frank
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Donohoe, Brian H.
Burden, Richard Dowd, Jim
Byers, Stephen Dunnachie, Jimmy
Caborn, Richard Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Callaghan, Jim Eagle, Ms Angela
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Eastham, Ken
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Enright, Derek
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Etherington, Bill
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Evans, John (St Helens N)
Canavan, Dennis Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Cann, Jamie Fatchett, Derek
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry) Faulds, Andrew
Cash, William Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Fisher, Mark Macdonald, Calum
Flynn, Paul McFall, John
Foster, Rt Hon Derek McKelvey, William
Foster, Don (Bath) Mackinlay, Andrew
Foulkes, George McLeish, Henry
Fraser, John Maclennan, Robert
Fyfe, Maria McMaster, Gordon
Galbraith, Sam McNamara, Kevin
Galloway, George McWilliam, John
Gapes, Mike Madden, Max
Garrett, John Mahon, Alice
George, Bruce Mandelson, Peter
Gerrard, Neil Marek, Dr John
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Godman, Dr Norman A. Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)
Godsiff, Roger Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Golding, Mrs Llin Martlew, Eric
Gordon, Mildred Maxton, John
Gould, Bryan Meacher, Michael
Graham, Thomas Meale, Alan
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) Michael, Alun
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Milburn, Alan
Grocott, Bruce Miller, Andrew
Gunnell, John Mitchell, Austin (Gf Grimsby)
Hain, Peter Moonie, Dr Lewis
Hall, Mike Morgan, Rhodri
Hanson, David Morley, Elliot
Hardy, Peter Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wy'nshawe)
Harman, Ms Harriet Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Harvey, Nick Mowlam, Marjorie
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Mudie, George
Henderson, Doug Mullin, Chris
Heppell, John Murphy, Paul
Hill, Keith (Streatham) Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Hinchliffe, David O'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire)
Hoey, Kate O'Brien, William (Normanton)
Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld) O'Hara, Edward
Home Robertson, John Olner, William
Hood, Jimmy O'Neill, Martin
Hoon, Geoffrey Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Paisley, Rev Ian
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd) Patchett, Terry
Hoyle, Doug Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Pendry, Tom
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Pickthall. Colin
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Pike, Peter L.
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Pope, Greg
Hutton, John Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Ingram, Adam Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Jackson, Glenda (H'stead) Prescott, John
Jackson, Helen (Shef'Id, H) Primarolo, Dawn
Jamieson, David Purchase, Ken
Janner, Greville Quin, Ms Joyce
Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side) Radice, Giles
Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn) Randall, Stuart
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Raynsford, Nick
Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O) Redmond, Martin
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW) Reid, Dr John
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) Rendel, David
Jowell, Tessa Richardson, Jo
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Keen, Alan Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)
Kennedy, Charles (Ross.C&S) Roche, Mrs. Barbara
Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn) Rogers, Allan
Khabra, Piara S. Rooker, Jeff
Kilfoyle, Peter Rooney, Terry
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil (Islwyn) Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Kirkwood, Archy Rowlands, Ted
Leighton, Ron Ruddock, Joan
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Salmond, Alex
Lewis, Terry Sedgemore, Brian
Litherland, Robert Sheerman, Barry
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Llwyd, Elfyn Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Loyden, Eddie Short, Clare
Lynne, Ms Liz Simpson, Alan
McAllion, John Skinner, Dennis
McAvoy, Thomas Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
McCartney, Ian Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
Smith, Rt Hon John (M'kl'ds E) Wallace, James
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent) Walley, Joan
Snape, Peter Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Soley, Clive Wareing, Robert N
Spearing, Nigel Wicks, Malcolm
Spellar, John Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Steel, Rt Hon Sir David Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Steinberg, Gerry Wilson, Brian
Stevenson, George Winnick, David
Stott, Roger Wise, Audrey
Strang, Dr. Gavin Worthington, Tony
Straw, Jack Wray, Jimmy
Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury) Young, David (Bolton SE)
Tipping, Paddy
Turner, Dennis Tellers for the Noes:
Tyler, Paul Mr. Jack Thompson and Mr. Eric Illsley.
Vaz, Keith
Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold

Question accordingly agreed to.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved, That this House welcomes the Government's acceptance of the principal recommendations of the Report by the Trade and Industry Committee "British Energy Policy and the Market for Coal" (HC 237), and in particular the offer of a transitional subsidy for additional sales of United Kingdom underground coal for electricity generation, the wide ranging package of measures to assist the regeneration of coal field areas, the commitment by British Coal that they will offer to the private sector pits which they do not themselves wish to keep in production, and the Government's intention to bring forward as rapidly as possible the legislation necessary to privatise British Coal.