Orders of the Day — Fuel and Power

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 20th February 1961.

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Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury 12:00 am, 20th February 1961

Nevertheless, every few months a private industry reassesses its position in the light of what it is next intending to invest and what it is to sell. It is a dangerous suggestion to say that capital is expendable.

The hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Gunter) spoke of looking to our reserves of coal for the future. A strategic consideration, as it might be called, also comes into this argument about whether we are justified in using coal or oil in relation to future supplies of energy in the world.

It seems to me, if one is to use the hon. Gentleman's argument, the most sensible thing to do would be to shut down all the pits and turn exclusively to oil, because then, when difficulty came in the shape of a fuel crisis in the year 2,000 A.D. or of serious war, we should still have our coal reserves underground and could get at them when we needed them. His argument is a two-edged one.

The other point I wish to make concerns the drift of labour and the obvious decline which has taken place in the fortunes of the industry. Members opposite are right about this. The hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Milne) pointed out in the recent economic debate that other industries should be brought into areas from which there is a drift of labour and where the quality of the coal is not such as to justify keeping pits open. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street also represents an area with such problems.

I am certain that that is the right policy. We cannot expect to keep pits open in such areas just for the sake of keeping them open, but we must expect to try to provide alternative employment for those who will suffer. Many closures in the past have been due to exhaustion of supplies, but many also to general contraction of demand. If my proposition, that the forces of the market and the estimation of demand must force a change of policy, is accepted, then it is surely right to have a policy of closing pits.