New Right of Board to Withdraw Support to Enable Coal to Be Worked.

Part of Coal Industry Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 15th July 1975.

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Photo of Mr Robert Cant Mr Robert Cant , Stoke-on-Trent Central 12:00 am, 15th July 1975

I do not wish to detain the House for long. I say immediately, so as not to provoke the wrath of my hon. Friends below the Gangway, that I regard the National Coal Board as a dynamic nationalised industry, and one with tremendous social conscience. It is my favourite nationalised industry. When at home I look out of the front window of the room in which I think my profoundest thoughts I can see what is alleged and reputed to be the largest coal refuse tip in Western Europe—nearly 16 million tons of refuse which the NCB very generously is helping the city council of Stoke-on-Trent to transform into a magnificent land reclamation scheme. If I am slightly critical of the NCB I trust that my deeper motivations will be clearly understood.

I think that all the arguments on this amendment have been deployed, but I have a few comments to make about my own constituency. I do so, first, because after the war Stoke-on-Trent—I hope that I can have the agreement of my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. Roberts) on this matter—took the initiative as regards the negotiations that led to the 1957 Act. That was a step forward. That step was taken after 20 years' experience of the previous Act. Some of us are now hoping that the Coal Industry Act 1975 will take the matter a further step forward along the lines that have been indicated.

It is important to think not only in terms of the broad acres of agriculture or of such sophisticated modern cities as Coventry but of some of the older urban areas such as Stoke-on-Trent. Stoke represents an area of approximately 33 square miles and has a population of a quarter of a million. By statistical coincidence, not only is 85 per cent. of the city undermined but this relatively small area, a unique industrial concentration, produces some 80 per cent. of the total ceramic output of Great Britain. In the surrounding area it is the main employer of labour.

In those circumstances, subsidence is a serious problem, despite the guffaws of some of my hon. Friends below the Gangway. I know that in Stoke-on-Trent we are fortunate in terms of vertical movement because we have the soft cushion of etruria marl which, in conjuncture with coal, made the great pottery industry possible. It is a tremendous industry producing the exquisite wares of Wedgwood, Spode, Doulton—I must put them all on the record because if I do not my omissions will be noted.

It should be pointed out that 60 per cent. of the industry's products is exported to some of the richest countries in the world.

We are faced with a complete change in the techniques of manufacturing in the pottery industry. The old pottery companies which were, to some extent, a source of jokes and to a larger extent a source of pollution, are using the new types of kiln. Although the kilns do not work to the precision of thousandths of an inch, which is common in the motor industry, they require accuracy in terms of the great quantities of pottery that pass through them at a certain speed and at a constant temperature. That means that if anything goes wrong with the foundations there is not only a serious and immediate loss but a consequential loss of a high order. I think that the Minister should face that situation. It may be that we come along with far too many constituency points and problems, but we are talking about the employment of thousands of people and not only the profits of a number of firms If the Minister will say that he will concede this point of compensation along the lines that have been suggested, I think that we can leave the rest to the working party. I am not as cynical as many of my hon. Friends, and I believe that it is doing a grand job. It is doing it a little more slowly than some of us would wish because it wants to do it thoroughly.