HC Deb 07 March 1995 vol 256 cc127-9
3. Mr. Illsley

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what steps he intends to take to improve employment prospects in former coal mining areas.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. James Paice)

As a result of the Government's sound economic policies and a flexible deregulated labour market, as well as the £200 million special measures package, unemployment is falling in Barnsley and most other former mining areas as it is in the rest of the country.

Mr. Illsley

Is the Minister aware that a recent survey carried out in former mining areas, as he refers to them, particularly in Barnsley, showed that 44 per cent. of miners who were made redundant in 1992 were still unemployed, that 9 per cent. were in training and that, overall, something like 89 per cent. of those miners were worse off, especially those who had taken jobs which paid around £65 a week less than they previously earned in the mining industry? That is a consequence of this Government's policy towards the coal mining industry and towards employment. Those 44 per cent. of people and 30 per cent. of males who are economically inactive in former coal mining areas are the positive outcomes of Government policy. Those are the positive outcomes of the Department of Employment. What will the Government do to restore employment in those areas?

Mr. Paice

Any change in the economic structure of any locality obviously creates disruption. As has happened in so many parts of the country over many centuries, it takes time for local communities to adapt to new circumstances. If the hon. Gentleman is referring to the survey and work done by Sheffield Hallam university on the subject—

Mr. Illsley

indicated dissent.

Mr. Paice

In that case, the answer to his question is no, I do not know anything about the study to which he has just referred. If he would draw it to my attention, I am sure that I would discover that it is based on just as much flawed information as the survey carried out at Sheffield Hallam university.

Mr. Devlin

Has my hon. Friend seen the answer to a parliamentary question that I tabled last week, which shows that in five years the previous Labour Government closed three times as many pits in the northern region as the Conservatives have closed since 1979? In the light of that, is it not a bit rich of Opposition Members to make a great fuss about this Government's record on the coal mines when the Labour party's record is far worse?

Mr. Paice

The House is no stranger to the hypocrisy that we often hear from the Opposition Benches. As my hon. Friend reminds us, we are well aware that previous Labour Governments closed 313 pits in total and lost 205,000 jobs—far more than have been lost in recent years. British Coal now has a new future in the private sector. Pits are being reopened and people can look forward to greater job security.

Mr. McCartney

Those of us who live in mining communities need no lessons from Conservative Members. Between September 1992 and December 1994, 34,000 miners lost their jobs as a result of the actions of this Government. That amounted to 83 per cent. of British Coal's work force. Labour local authorities have joined British Coal Enterprise Ltd. to try to regain the ground lost as a result of the huge job losses. However, even now the Government are trying to close British Coal Enterprise. What will the Minister do to protect the continuation of British Coal Enterprise and its activities in mining communities? The closure of British Coal Enterprise will see the loss of 400 more jobs while thousands of miners are still on the dole.

Mr. Paice

The hon. Gentleman forgot to mention the pits that have been reopened since they went into the private sector. He knows as well as I do that the funding of British Coal Enterprise is guaranteed until March 1996 and that its future beyond that is a matter for my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, who is obviously extremely concerned that the good works of British Coal Enterprise are not lost.