HC Deb 22 June 1994 vol 245 c230
15. Mr. Barron

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what assessment he has made of the procedure accepted by British Coal for offering individual coal mines for sale to the private sector; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Eggar

British Coal has offered pits for lease and licence, not for sale. The licensing of pits to the private sector is a matter for British Coal in the light of its statutory duties.

Mr. Barron

Is the Minister aware that British Coal announced the closure of Kiveton colliery in my constituency in April, saying that it would offer it to the private sector in September when the current work force finishes? In April, British Coal stopped the development of three roadways which would have gone into new coal seams so that there might have been something worth buying in September.

British Coal is scuttling the collieries before they are offered to British Coal's so-called friends. Will the Minister stop that? Will he tell British Coal to take on some of the miners who worked in the headings, and who were sacked by British Coal in April, so that they can develop those coal faces? If that were to happen, the colliery might be seen as an economic unit that someone might want to run, rather than as a colliery which British Coal wants to shut and stop from providing jobs in my constituency.

Mr. Eggar

The hon. Gentleman's wild allegations would carry rather more credibility if British Coal had not already leased and licensed seven pits. It is in advanced negotiation on two other pits and it is possible that we shall have 32 pits in operation early next year. That compares very favourably with any of the predictions made by Opposition Members.

Mr. Batiste

Does not my hon. Friend's comment about the prospect of 32 pits operating in the private sector in the near future vindicate the Government's decision that the future of coal lies in the private sector and that British industry is prepared to put its money where its mouth is to promote a profitable industry in the long term?

Mr. Eggar

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. With the private sector willing to invest in the future of British coal, it is important that we have a level of co-operation from the unions and the work force which guarantees success on a world-competitive basis.

Mr. Tipping

What steps does the Minister intend to take to ensure the fulfilment of his promises and those of his colleague the President of the Board of Trade that the work force and management will be in the pole position in any buy-out?

Mr. Eggar

We have made it absolutely clear that we welcome bids from employees and management. As the hon. Gentleman well knows, we are making finance available to assist in those bids. However, we have also made it clear that any bids received from those sources must be judged on their merits in comparison with other bids.