Protection of National Energy Resources (Coal)

– in the House of Commons at 3:32 pm on 19th February 1985.

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Photo of Kevin Barron Kevin Barron , Rother Valley 3:32 pm, 19th February 1985

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide that mines with workable reserves of coal are exploited until exhaustion. One of the reasons why I wish to introduce the Bill is an answer given to me by the Secretary of State for Energy on 22 October 1984. He said of the National Coal Board: The board has never moved from the basic suggestion that it is crazy to continue to invest money in something that is totally uneconomic when one can invest money in other collieries and coal faces, with good results for the industry." — [Official Report, 22 October 1984; Vol. 65, c. 452.] That statement does not take account of all the considerations that it should do. The long-term effects of different Governments closing coal mines has and will have a major effect on our energy for years to come. To close collieries with workable reserves means that we shall lose that coal for ever. What is uneconomic today may be economic in 20 years. With the country's present energy resources, the House fails to realise that coal is and will be for the foreseeable future the major element of energy not just in this country, but in the world energy market.

Coal production cannot be easily stopped and restarted. The coal industry is an extractive industry. It is working a non-renewable asset for which at present there is little substitute for most major coal users. It is undoubtedly the fuel of the future.

I should like to read a small passage from a book called "Small is Beautiful" — words are often used by Conservative right hon. and hon. Members. Small shopkeepers in my constituency, however, have believed over the past 11 months that Conservative Members who use the theme "small is beautiful" are rather hypocritical. Shopkeepers and others in my area feel that they have been let down over the past 11 months.

The book's author, E. F. Schumacher, was economic adviser to the National Coal Board for more than 20 years. He is a well-read man and he has been quoted on many occasions on different issues by hon. Members on both sides of the House. The book starts with a statement from the working party report on the control of pollution that was given to the Secretary of State for the Environment in February 1972, when the Conservative party was in office.

It states: There is a deep-seated unease revealed by the evidence sent to us about the future energy resources, both for this country and for the world as a whole. Assessments vary about the length of time that will elapse before fossil fuels are exhausted, but it is increasingly recognised that their life is limited and satisfactory alternatives must be found. The huge incipient needs of developing countries, the increases in population, the rate at which some sources of energy are being used up without much apparent thought of the consequences, the belief that future resources will be available only at ever-increasing cost and the hazards which nuclear power may bring in its train are all factors which contribute to the growing concern. That passage was included in the document given to the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Underneath, Schumacher wrote: It is a pity that the 'growing concern' did not show itself in the 1960s, during which nearly half the British coal industry was abandoned as 'uneconomic' — and, once abandoned, it is virtually lost for ever — and it is astonishing that, despite `growing concern', there is continuing pressure from highly influential quarters to go on with pit closures for 'economic' reasons. There is the same pressure for pit closures today. What we read in that chapter written in 1972 can be read in Britain in 1985. It was Schumacher's warning. It was wrong for Labour and Conservative Governments in the 1960s to run down the coal industry. The 1974 oil crisis showed everyone how wrong it was.

It is as wrong to run down the coal industry in the 1980s as it was in the 1960s. Great store is being laid by Conservative Members on the present prospects for coal development in fields such as Selby and Vale of Belvoir. Everyone knows that there is sufficient coal under Britain to last for about 300 years. Hon. Members do not accept, however, that the Vale of Belvoir and Selby are limited to about 50 years of mining. Those coalfields do not have the life of the collieries in which I worked whose shafts were sunk in 1908. The lifespan of the new coalfields is limited. We are not taking into account the likely demand for coal in this country and elsewhere in 50 years' time.

Conservative Members would like to see some of the new coalfields further developed. The hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) might like to see the Witham valley project developed so that he could have some miners in his constituency. The hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) might like to see some new coalfields developed in Oxfordshire because there is coal there. The Home Secretary might like to have some miners in his constituency of Richmond, Yorkshire, which has substantial coal reserves. I am sure that some miners would like to go to his surgery to discuss some aspects of his speeches during the past 11 months.

In a paper delivered to a study conference on Britain's coal in 1960 Schumacher said: I suggest that the only principle that is defensible on grounds of long-term expediency as well as morality would be the principle that (within reasonable limits) all existing collieries will be worked until the coal is gone. I am, however, bound to add at once that this principle, derived from considerations of national interest, cannot be implemented by the coal industry without national support. To put it differently: I suggest that what is needed is a clear recognition of the principle of conservation. This principle, however, is not always compatible with the most profitable operation in free competition; it therefore needs to be supported by national policy. Under my Bill, the coal industry would be examined rationally and we would seek reasonable limits for the contraction of the coal mining industry, taking account of all economic considerations — not just the short-term considerations of this Government or, for that matter, any other Government.

The House has not given serious thought to the potential for job losses in the coal mining industry. I intend in this Bill to do exactly that. This measure will protect the national interest, and rightly so. Subsidies are needed to protect the national interest. During the last year for which we have figures, £1·3 million of subsidies went into the coal industry. Not all that money was designed to keep open what are called "uneconomic" pits. The money went towards developing collieries that already existed and new coalfields that would be needed in the future. I believe that the same type of subsidy that applies to agriculture should be given to a major industry such as energy.

The Bill has major implications for the coal mining industry, but its prime aim is to make the Government more responsive to energy conservation and the sensible use of our national energy resources. I commend it to the House.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Does the hon. Gentleman wish to oppose the motion?

Photo of Mr Andrew Stewart Mr Andrew Stewart , Sherwood

Yes, Mr. Speaker.

I oppose the introduction of this Bill because, if I did not do so, it would be a dereliction of my duty to the people I represent. The Bill is a recipe for disaster for those who work in the coal industry and for the country generally. As a nation, providence has given us vast exploitable reserves of coal for 250 years at current extraction rates and men who have faced danger daily to dig that coal for others. We have not been given a union leader of vision and foresight to lead those men to prosperity by taking every available market opportunity. Only yesterday the greatly respected Lord Tonypandy said the same.

The Bill will finally convince those companies which were considering converting their oil and gas boilers to coal to do so knowing that for ever and a day the price of that coal would be charged at the level of inefficient production and market loss. Eighteen months ago, I and six hon. Friends met the chairman of the Central Electricity Generating Board and pleaded with him to convert oil-fired power stations to coal. The CEGB does not keep its lights burning with promises; it requires a guarantee that coal will be delivered without fail. Scargill's actions, and this Bill, would finally kill any chance to convert those oil-fired power stations to coal. That would be another lost market. We have examples of potential markets requiring 5 million tonnes of coal and providing jobs for 10,000 miners. Markets, not Socialist dogma, keep pits open.

This Bill has a Sheffield Marxist hallmark stamped all over it. It demands, for the first time in the history of coal, that uneconomic pits must remain open until the last ounce of coal is extracted. It would give credence to the nuclear power lobby's argument that the coal industry is going into the sunset. This lobby has predicted that the upward graph of energy produced from nuclear power will cross the downward graph of that produced from coal-fired power stations 20 years sooner than would otherwise have been the case.

Socialist France ditched its coal industry in favour of nuclear power and reduced the number of its miners to 25,000 and now relies on nuclear power for 70 per cent. of its requirements. Has the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) heard that France produces electricity at 30 per cent. below the cost of ours? Let him ask the pensioners suffering from the cold weather, or the business men closing their factories because of energy costs being unproductive, about it. I shall not stand idly by and watch my constituents' jobs being given to the nuclear industry on a plate.

Betrayal by others will never be forgotten or forgiven. The coal industry cannot fight back, let alone survive, while handcuffed to Scargill's demands. Why did he not have a ballot? The hon. Member for Rother Valley wants a compulsory ballot for everybody—that is what he said last week.

Given freedom to manage the industry with continued investment in viable pits, we can beat the opposition. The hon. Member for Rother Valley asked for our support to keep the loss-making pits in production at taxpayers' expense, because, he says, it would be cheaper than reopening mines at a later date. Is he so removed from the industry that he has not heard of underground gasification, which will soon remove those last deposits without men going underground?

If the Bill is passed into law, it will be known as the Scargill Act—the Scargill Act of Lunacy—which would mean the working of every pit to exhaustion, whatever the cost. This Scargill Act, which has already been rejected by men such as Jimmy Reid, Lord Wilson and Lord Chapple, would be the death penalty for the coal industry. No one who cares about this great industry could contemplate such an act of folly. I ask right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House to reject the Bill.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 15 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business):

The House divided: Ayes 140, Noes 259.

Division No. 112][3.50 pm
Anderson, DonaldFlannery, Martin
Archer, Rt Hon PeterFoot, Rt Hon Michael
Ashley, Rt Hon JackFoster, Derek
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)Fraser, J. (Norwood)
Bagier, Gordon A. T.Garrett, W. E.
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Golding, John
Barron, KevinGould, Bryan
Bell, StuartHamilton, James (M'well N)
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)
Bidwell, SydneyHardy, Peter
Blair, AnthonyHarrison, Rt Hon Walter
Boyes, RolandHattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Bray, Dr JeremyHaynes, Frank
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)Heffer, Eric S.
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)Home Robertson, John
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Buchan, NormanHughes, Roy (Newport East)
Caborn, RichardHughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Campbell-Savours, DaleHughes, Simon (Southwark)
Carter-Jones, LewisJohn, Brynmor
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Clarke, ThomasKaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Clay, RobertKinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Clwyd, Mrs AnnLambie, David
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)Lamond, James
Coleman, DonaldLeadbitter, Ted
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)Leighton, Ronald
Cowans, HarryLewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Craigen, J. M.Litherland, Robert
Crowther, StanLloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Cunningham, Dr JohnLofthouse, Geoffrey
Dalyell, TamLoyden, Edward
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)McCartney, Hugh
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Deakins, EricMcGuire, Michael
Dixon, DonaldMcKay, Allen (Penistone)
Dobson, FrankMcKelvey, William
Dormand, JackMadden, Max
Douglas, DickMarek, Dr John
Duffy, A. E. P.Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Eadie, AlexMaxton, John
Eastham, KenMaynard, Miss Joan
Edwards, Bob (W'h'mpt'n SE)Michie, William
Ellis, RaymondMikardo, Ian
Evans, John (St. Helens N)Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Ewing, HarryMiller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Fatchett, DerekMorris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Fisher, MarkNellist, David
O'Brien, WilliamSmith, (Isl'ton S & F'bury)
Orme, Rt Hon StanleySmith, Rt Hon J. (M'kl'ds E)
Park, GeorgeSnape, Peter
Parry, RobertSoley, Clive
Patchett, TerrySpearing, Nigel
Pavitt, LaurieStott, Roger
Pike, PeterStrang, Gavin
Prescott, JohnStraw, Jack
Radice, GilesThompson, J. (Wansbeck)
Randall, StuartThorne, Stan (Preston)
Redmond, M.Wainwright, R.
Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Richardson, Ms JoWareing, Robert
Roberts, Allan (Bootle)Welsh, Michael
Robertson, GeorgeWilson, Gordon
Rogers, AllanWinnick, David
Rowlands, TedWoodall, Alec
Sedgemore, Brian
Shore, Rt Hon PeterTellers for the Ayes:
Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)Mr. Terry Lewis and
Skinner, DennisMr. Ron Davies.
Alexander, RichardDunn, Robert
Alton, DavidDurant, Tony
Amery, Rt Hon JulianDykes, Hugh
Ancram, MichaelEdwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)
Ashdown, PaddyEggar, Tim
Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H.Evennett, David
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)Eyre, Sir Reginald
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y)Fairbairn, Nicholas
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)Fallon, Michael
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyFarr, Sir John
Beith, A. J.Favell, Anthony
Bellingham, HenryFletcher, Alexander
Best, KeithFookes, Miss Janet
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnForman, Nigel
Biggs-Davison, Sir JohnForsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Blackburn, JohnForth, Eric
Bonsor, Sir NicholasFowler, Rt Hon Norman
Boscawen, Hon RobertFox, Marcus
Bottomley, Mrs VirginiaFranks, Cecil
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)Freeman, Roger
Braine, Rt Hon Sir BernardGale, Roger
Brandon-Bravo, MartinGalley, Roy
Bright, GrahamGardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)Garel-Jones, Tristan
Browne, JohnGlyn, Dr Alan
Bruinvels, PeterGoodlad, Alastair
Bryan, Sir PaulGorst, John
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A.Gow, Ian
Budgen, NickGower, Sir Raymond
Bulmer, EsmondGrant, Sir Anthony
Burt, AlistairGreenway, Harry
Carlisle, John (N Luton)Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Grist, Ian
Carttiss, MichaelGround, Patrick
Cartwright, JohnGrylls, Michael
Cash, WilliamHamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)
Chalker, Mrs LyndaHampson, Dr Keith
Channon, Rt Hon PaulHanley, Jeremy
Chapman, SydneyHargreaves, Kenneth
Chope, ChristopherHaselhurst, Alan
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n)Hawkins, C. (High Peak)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)Hawksley, Warren
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)Hayes, J.
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)Hayhoe, Barney
Clegg, Sir WalterHeddle, John
Cockeram, EricHenderson, Barry
Colvin, MichaelHiggins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Conway, DerekHind, Kenneth
Cope, JohnHolt, Richard
Corrie, JohnHowarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)
Couchman, JamesHowell, Ralph (N Norfolk)
Cranborne, ViscountHowells, Geraint
Currie, Mrs EdwinaHubbard-Miles, Peter
Dickens, GeoffreyHunt, David (Wirral)
Dicks, TerryHunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Dorrell, StephenIrving, Charles
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.Jackson, Robert
Jenkin, Rt Hon PatrickPowell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down)
Jessel, TobyPowell, William (Corby)
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)Powley, John
Jones, Robert (W Herts)Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Jopling, Rt Hon MichaelProctor, K. Harvey
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir KeithPym, Rt Hon Francis
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs ElaineRaffan, Keith
Key, RobertRees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover)
King, Roger (B'ham N'field)Renton, Tim
King, Rt Hon TomRhodes James, Robert
Kirkwood, ArchyRidley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Knight, Gregory (Derby N)Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Knowles, MichaelRobinson, Mark (N'port W)
Knox, DavidRossi, Sir Hugh
Lamont, NormanRost, Peter
Lang, IanRowe, Andrew
Latham, MichaelRumbold, Mrs Angela
Lawler, GeoffreySainsbury, Hon Timothy
Lawson, Rt Hon NigelScott, Nicholas
Lee, John (Pendle)Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Lennox-Boyd, Hon MarkSilvester, Fred
Lightbown, DavidSkeet, T. H. H.
Lilley, PeterSmith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Lloyd, Ian (Havant)Smyth, Rev W. M. (Belfast S)
Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)Soames, Hon Nicholas
Lord, MichaelSpeed, Keith
Luce, RichardSpeller, Tony
Macfarlane, NeilSpicer, Michael (S Worcs)
MacGregor, JohnSquire, Robin
MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)Stanbrook, Ivor
MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)Stanley, John
Maclean, David JohnSteel, Rt Hon David
McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)Stern, Michael
McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Madel, DavidStewart, Ian (N Hertf'dshire)
Major, JohnStokes, John
Malone, GeraldStradling Thomas, J.
Maples, JohnTaylor, John (Solihull)
Marlow, AntonyTaylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Marshall, Michael (Arundel)Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Mates, MichaelThomas, Rt Hon Peter
Mather, CarolThompson, Donald (Calder V)
Maude, Hon FrancisThompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Mawhinney, Dr BrianThornton, Malcolm
Maxwell-Hyslop, RobinThurnham, Peter
Mayhew, Sir PatrickTownend, John (Bridlington)
Meadowcroft, MichaelTownsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Mellor, DavidTracey, Richard
Merchant, PiersTrippier, David
Meyer, Sir AnthonyTwinn, Dr Ian
Mills, Iain (Meriden)Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Mitchell, David (NW Hants)Waddington, David
Molyneaux, Rt Hon JamesWakeham, Rt Hon John
Monro, Sir HectorWaldegrave, Hon William
Moore, JohnWalden, George
Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)Wall, Sir Patrick
Moynihan, Hon C.Waller, Gary
Murphy, ChristopherWard, John
Neale, GerrardWardle, C. (Bexhill)
Needham, RichardWatson, John
Nelson, AnthonyWatts, John
Neubert, MichaelWells, Bowen (Hertford)
Newton, TonyWhitney, Raymond
Nicholls, PatrickWilkinson, John
Normanton, TomWinterton, Mrs Ann
Onslow, CranleyWinterton, Nicholas
Owen, Rt Hon Dr DavidWood, Timothy
Page, Richard (Herts SW)Young, Sir George (Acton)
Patten, John (Oxford)Younger, Rt Hon George
Pawsey, James
Peacock, Mrs ElizabethTellers for the Noes:
Penhaligon, DavidMr. John Hannam and
Pollock, AlexanderMr. Andy Stewart.
Portillo, Michael

Question accordingly negatived.