HC Deb 08 February 1995 vol 254 cc340-1
18. Mr. Skinner

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what assessment he has made of the reduced R. J. Budge bid prior to the privatisation contract from English pits; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Charles Wardle

Adjustments to RJB Mining's bid reflect developments since tenders were submitted in September 1994, or otherwise information which was not available to bidders at the time. The price paid by RJB Mining is still substantially higher than other tenders.

Mr. Skinner

How on earth can the Government justify the fact that a bidder for the English coal industry put in a bid of approximately £900 million, which was accepted as the highest bid, but the Department of Trade and Industry then reduced the bid to around £800 million? In other words, the Government have ripped off the taxpayer by £100 million.

If that practice occurred in local government, the councillors who accepted a bid and then reduced it by that kind of percentage would be surcharged and kicked out of office. The bid should be investigated and, what is more, there should be an investigation of the Department of Trade and Industry which has allowed this sordid episode to occur.

Mr. Wardle

If the taxpayer has been ripped off anywhere, I suspect it is in the form of the £20,000 million in taxpayers' money that has subsidised the industry since 1979.

The hon. Gentleman must know that it was always intended to adjust tender prices to reflect developments that took place after the tenders were submitted. It is not a static situation and there was a reduction in all the successful bids. In any case, the price paid for the English bids was considerably higher than the other tenders.

The hon. Gentleman should remember that 28 deep mines which were owned previously by British Coal are now owned in the private sector. The hon. Gentleman has contributed to that process by shouting for more subsidies, resisting change and resisting the realities of the competitive world in which we live.

Mr. David Evans

Does my hon. Friend agree that since we privatised the coal industry we have created jobs in that industry day in, day out? Does he further agree that when that lot opposite were in government during the 1960s and 1970s, they closed 325 pits at the cost of 250,000 miners' jobs? That is what that caring, sharing Labour party did.

Mr. Wardle

How could I possibly match my hon. Friend's eloquence and persuasive force? He is absolutely right. Those 28 deep mines are now in the private sector and they have the best chance they have had for years to prove how competitive they can be.

Mr. Clapham

Is the Minister aware that, out of the blue, the supervisory unions in the mining industry have been told that the industrial death and retirement scheme will be wound up? It is a scheme to which they have contributed and which has £2 million in funds. Can the Minister tell us why the scheme was not carried over under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981? What will happen to the £2 million in funds?

Mr. Wardle

Employment contracts for those whose jobs were transferred to the new enterprise are protected by TUPE, as the hon. Gentleman appreciates. The new industry-wide pension schemes are required to provide benefits no less advantageous than those provided by the mineworkers' scheme and by the staff superannuation scheme.