Orders of the Day — Coal Industry Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:57 pm on 15th November 1983.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Alec Woodall Mr Alec Woodall , Hemsworth 8:57 pm, 15th November 1983

By necessity, not intention, my remarks will be brief so as to allow other hon. Members an opportunity to speak, and I will speak only about clause 4. That provision increases the payments to redundant mine workers from £300 million to £1,200 million, an increase of 300 per cent. That is designed for one purpose only—to speed up pit closures, so making more miners redundant.

Several of my hon. Friends, in particular the hon. Members for Easington (Mr. Dormand) and for Ogmore (Mr. Powell), spoke of the social consequences of closing collieries. Coal mines are not to be found in London, Birmingham, Glasgow or Liverpool. They are away from such areas and usually the coal mining communities are built near the collieries, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Mason) said. When a pit is closed, the whole life of the area can be cut off, and usually it is the type of area that already suffers from high unemployment. When a pit is closed in that sort of area, devastation is the result.

I want Conservative Members to know exactly what happens when a pit is closed. Not only have I seen it happen, I have lived through it, but they have not had it spelt out to them in detail. I worked at what was called a gathering colliery for pits that were being closed in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I regret that my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, Central is not in his place because he knows the areas about which I am speaking, such as Darton, New Lodge and Mapplewell.

The pits there were closed and the miners who lived in those areas were transferred to my colliery at south Kirkby. They were asked for their addresses, buses were then laid on—on contract because at that time the NCB did not own buses; it does now—and lists were given to the men showing the various picking up places where the buses would stop to take them to south Kirkby. On the day shift, the men from Mapplewell and New Lodge had to be on the corner of the street at 4.10 in the morning. That was the time at which they had to be picked up, enabling the buses to go round the estates of Barnsley so that the men could be down the pit at south Kirkby before 6 o'clock. That meant that by the time they got out of the pit they were away from home for at least 12 hours to work a shift. If, for any reason—accident, breakdown or whatever else—a miner did not get out of the pit on time, his mates were on the bus screaming, "Let's get off home," and he had another two or three hours added to his day away from home because he had to travel home by public transport.

It is all very well for the Secretary of State to say that young miners have no need to fear, and for the NCB to say that there will be safe jobs in future. We are concerned about the jobs of young miners, but we are also concerned about potential miners. What young miner today who has had his pit closed and has had to transfer to another and travel miles to work until he acquires his own transport or packs in altogether will want such a life for his son?

By clause 4 the Government are making miners redundant, and as a result they will be in short supply. I remember what happened in 1974. After the oil crisis, pits became more popular and we wanted more coal. There was a nation-wide appeal for ex-miners to come back into the industry. They were offered generous resettlement money and, they were told, a secure job. Now, 10 years later, the Government are telling these people that they do not want them any more. They are being given a carrot of golden shekels, and are told to get on their way because they are not wanted any more.

If the Government start to close pits on a massive scale, as they intend, they should remember what happened and try to imagine what will happen in a few years when the 58 million tonnes of coal now in stock have gone, the pits have gone and there are no new developments or collieries for the new young miners who are now at school. Some of those young men are just entering the industry and they will marry and have sons to do the same.

My hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) is right. It is all very well to dangle the carrot and offer the golden shekels to the miners to make them accept redundancy. They will accept them, and I can understand that. However, any man who has worked down a pit for 40 years should be given a generous pension and told, "Retire now, you've done your whack." They should not be tempted to leave the industry by a measure that is designed to run down the industry and will be to our detriment. As my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) said, it is vandalism of the industry, and it is doing the nation a great disservice.

The Government should be careful not to lose potential miners because, once they do, we shall never get them back. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) appealed to the Government Front Bench to take early decisions on the new developments in Leicestershire and Warwickshire. It is too late now to make the decision because the pits in Leicestershire and Warwickshire will be closed soon and once they are closed we shall never get the ex-miners back into the industry, no matter how much we try. I warn the Government not to sacrifice young miners and potential young miners for this expediency of closing the pits because they say that they are uneconomic.

Conservative Members may favour privatisation and want the sale of profitable subsidiaries. When a nationalised industry makes money, it invests it so that it can have money of its own instead of having to increase the borrowing requirements and the consequences that go with that. The Government had better think hard again about selling off the subsidiaries.