HC Deb 15 March 1995 vol 256 cc897-8
20. Mr. Dalyell

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment for what reasons he declined the invitation of Councillor Hedley Salt for any Minister in his Department to address a major conference of the Coalfield Communities Campaign in London at any hour of any date of his choosing in February.

Mr. Gummer

My hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment and Countryside met a delegation led by the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster) only this week. I am meeting a delegation from the group led by my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Sir K. Carlisle), and my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Urban Regeneration has met Mr. Salt on four occasions in the recent past, including a visit to his town to see the city challenge, which was partly attracted there because of the closure of mines.

Mr. Dalyell

Should it not be a high priority in the Department's strategy to face up to the appalling problem—now that so many mine pumps have gone silent—of water systems which are seriously injured?

Mr. Gummer

The list of occasions on which that and other matters have been discussed recently shows that it is a high priority. We are trying to solve the problem, but the hon. Gentleman will agree that to do so we need to balance a range of different matters. In my judgment, we are getting the balance about right.

Mr. Dobson

Although none of the Ministers at the Department could be bothered to turn up at a meeting that the Coalfield Communities Campaign was willing to organise on any date convenient to them, will the Secretary of State acknowledge that it is necessary for the Government to take immediate action to make sure that pumping continues in disused mines and is recommenced in a number of others? If not, rivers and streams in the coalfield communities—which were so badly betrayed by the pit closure programme two years ago—will be grossly polluted.

While the right hon. Gentleman is on his feet, will he also tell the House what progress is being made towards establishing the enterprise zones in the coalfield communities, which were so prominently promised two years ago and on which nothing has yet been done?

Mr. Gummer

On the hon. Gentleman's second point, we are going through the detailed procedure which is necessary under European legislation. On his first point, he shows yet again that he does not know his facts and that he has not done his homework. The truth is that there is a commitment from the Government—made without any pressure from the hon. Gentleman—to carry out what he has asked for. The hon. Gentleman really ought to check his facts before he gets to his feet.

Mr. Riddick

If my right hon. Friend did attend a conference organised by the Coalfield Communities Campaign, would it not provide him with an opportunity to point out the excellent work carried out by British Coal Enterprise in creating more than 100,000 new jobs in those areas which have been hit by pit closures?

Mr. Gummer

We have been able to do that on the large number of occasions on which we have met those concerned. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), who leads for the Opposition on this, is now descending to cheap jibes, and has ceased to understand the facts at all.