HC Deb 19 June 1996 vol 279 cc856-7
2. Mr. Skinner

To ask the President of the Board of Trade when he next expects to meet those in the mining industry responsible for (a) production and (b) health and safety. [32108]

The Minister for Industry and Energy (Mr. Tim Eggar)

My ministerial colleagues and I meet representatives of the coal mining industry as appropriate.

Mr. Skinner

When the Minister next meets Richard Budge, who since privatisation is the principal owner of most of the mines in Great Britain, will he tell him that it is pretty clear to most people in the mining industry that Mr. Budge is cutting corners on safety in order to make massive profits to the tune of £173 million in the first year of privatisation and to line his own pockets to the tune of £661,000? Is the Minister aware that accident rates have increased by more than 50 per cent. and falls of ground by more than 80 per cent.?

Will the Minister order Richard Budge to ensure that, as in the old days, the National Union of Mineworkers and other trade unions will have the right to meet at properly instituted safety committees? If Mr. Budge will not allow that to take place, independent inquiry should be set up into the escalating accident rates in underground mining.

Mr. Eggar

When I next meet Mr. Budge, I shall congratulate him on the fact that, in 1995, deep-mine production has increased by 10 per cent. on that of 1994. I shall congratulate him on the fact that, despite the best efforts of Mr. Scargill and his cronies, including the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), there were no strikes in the coal mining industry last year, for the first time since records began.

On safety, I shall not hesitate to point out to Mr. Budge that, sadly, the record in the last nine months of 1995 was as high as 8.18 accidents per 100,000 man shifts. I shall also point out to him, however, that that compares extremely favourably with the accident rate in 1979, which was almost 12 times higher, at 94.6 accidents per 100,000 man shifts. I might also ask him to suggest that the hon. Member for Bolsover apologises to the House and to the miners of this country for so misconstruing the position.

Mr. Luff

Does my right hon. Friend agree that what he has just said could be summed up as "Britain is producing more coal more safely"? Is that not a direct tribute to the wise policies of privatisation that he has personally pursued so energetically in the House? How would that compare with the continued policy of nationalisation so slavishly advocated by the doctrinaire and dogmatic members of so-called new Labour?

Mr. Eggar

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Back in 1994, the hon. Member for Bolsover said that he wanted renationalisation of the coal industry without compensation and the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), speaking from the Opposition Front Bench, said: I would be astonished if our plans to rescue the coal industry after the next election did not involve public ownership."—[Official Report, 23 March 1994; Vol. 240, c. 313.] I notice that the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) has been completely silent on that issue.