Opencast Mining (North Warwickshire)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 25th April 1969.

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Photo of Mr Leslie Huckfield Mr Leslie Huckfield , Nuneaton 12:00 am, 25th April 1969

I, too, am grateful for the opportunity to raise this subject and I agree with everything said by the hon. Member for Meriden (Mr. Speed). I speak on behalf of the miners of Warwickshire, although my constituency is not directly affected. I was, however, to a large extent concerned with the Shuttington, Dondon and Poleworth areas in the interregnum before the hon. Gentleman came to the House.

We are talking about something decribed in the Sunday Press less than two years ago as the richest opencast find in Europe. So far, we have had no statement from the National Coal Board that it has abandoned or modified its long-term objective of making use of that find. It is also a situation in which many miners are coming to a crisis of confidence. They have seen collieries closed, natural gas coming into the area, the Lurgi plant closed at Kingsbury and the oil terminal at Kingsbury, together with the uncertain future of the coal-fired plant.

Many of my contituents are miners and I am sure that, to my constituents, opencast working in North Warwickshire would be the last straw. It is vital, therefore, that something should be done immediately to restore some kind of confidence to the miners of North Warwickshire. I do not want to deal with all the points which the hon. Gentleman raised about the effects on amenity in his constituency, except to say that I agree absolutely. The eastern side of Birmingham which he and I represent is fast becoming a growing commuter area. People have moved into the area because it is a desirable and cheaper place in which to live, and I hope that it will continue to be so. But this kind of thing could be threatened by opencast mining in North Warwickshire.

The hon. Gentleman quoted from the Government White Paper on Fuel Policy. A Parliamentary reply by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power in March used the same words as those which the hon. Gentleman quoted, except that there was something tagged on to the end. My right hon. Friend added: These are the fuel policy considerations which will guide the decision on new sites, though from time to time there may be factors outside fuel policy which favour opencast working and will need to be taken into account."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st March, 1968; Vol. 780, c. 217.] I realise that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary is in a rather difficult position about this application. The whole matter is sub judice and to ask him to give any kind of decision today is out of the question. But the hon. Gentleman and I are entitled to some indication of what modification may have taken place in the Government's thinking about opencast mining. I know from Questions which I have put to Ministers about opencast mining and the Government's attitude that the qualifications are becoming rather more definite every time. We have arrived at the stage at which there are factors other than fuel policy considerations, and I want to know what they are.

The hon. Gentleman and I realise that, in North Warwickshire, more water is needed. We need more industry there and that industry will need more water. Like the hon. Gentleman, I should be loth to see any more coal than is necessary to provide the reservoir extracted from the area, although my position, like his, would be to oppose opencast working completely on the ground that I am not convinced that, once the first site was worked, it would be easy for the National Coal Board's Opencast Executive to leave it at that. Having got all the equipment on the site, having begun the work, it would then have a very strong argument for going on and completing some of the other sites. I should, therefore, like to oppose the project completely, although I realise that there may be other factors, including the reservoir.

The procedure does not directly affect my constituency, but, as the hon. Gentleman rightly and accurately pointed out, there is a great deal of feeling in the area that the whole thing is cut and dried and sewn up. I make no personal accusations about my right hon. Friend the Minister or about my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. But the fact must be faced that the people of North Warwickshire must be given some confidence that they will get a proper hearing. At the moment, there are many doubts in their minds.

I realise that it will be difficult for me to press my hon. Friend any further, but I repeat that the miners of North Warwickshire and the residents in my constituency and that of the hon. Member need some confidence. In fact, we all need some reassurance about this project. I realise that my hon. Friend cannot be too specific, but one of the things which would be of reassurance is to hear that the public inquiry will be open and fair and that every factor which has been mentioned this afternoon will be considered.