I understand that the order is due for consideration by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments tomorrow. The order was laid on 6 April and could not be considered by the Committee at its sitting on 7 April, and there has been no sitting since. The order has an operative date of 1 May. I am happy to give the assurance that should the Committee bring any aspect of this order to the attention of the House when it considers it tomorrow, the usual channels will consider the matter further.
Section 3 of the Coal Industry Act 1987, which received Royal Assent on 5 March, empowers the Secretary of State to make grants to the British Coal Corporation towards eligible expenditure relating to costs falling in certain financial years of the corporation. In any years in which grant is to be paid, the Act requires an order, approved by the House, specifying the kinds of expenditure for which grant is to be paid and the limits on that grant. Such orders specify only kinds of expenditure which fall within one or more of the descriptions in schedule 2 to the Act. The Act has thus introduced a flexible regime, enabling support to be given towards the corporation's restructuring costs, with the rate and coverage of support being specified under annual orders in the light of circumstances at the time.
The Government announced to Parliament on 11 March objectives for British Coal which had been agreed with the chairman, Sir Robert Haslam. These have already been published in the Official Report. The Government believe that these objectives represent demanding but attainable aims, and that working within this agreed framework will provide long-term security and prosperity to British Coal and the greatest benefit to the nation.
The first draft order under section 3 is consistent with the objectives. It provides for 75 per cent. grant support towards a broad range of costs associated with restructuring to be incurred by British Coal in 1987–88, including costs of redundancy and early retirement, changes of work and place of employment, retraining for those who are to leave or have left the corporation through redundancy or incapacity and costs associated with the promotion of new employment opportunities. It also provides for generous grant towards the maintenance of existing arrangements for the provision of concessionary coal to former employees, who have reached retirement age, or their widows.
The order begins the process of transferring to British Coal full responsibility for terms and conditions which, for most industries and employers, are matters for the employer and borne by him, consistent with the transition to commercial viability in the industry, whilst enabling the Government to continue to meet the larger part of those costs during the process of that transition.
I should emphasise that the order does not seek to transfer to British Coal the burden of continuing costs associated with past restructuring. Continuing benefits to those who took redundancy before 28 March 1987 under the redundant mineworkers' payment scheme will, as in the past, be funded directly by the Government. Similarly, British Coal will continue to be eligible, under section 4 of the Coal Industry Act 1967, section 7 of the Coal Industry Act 1977 and section 4 of the Coal Industry Act 1987, for grants towards the costs of premature and enhanced pensions, transfer payments and other benefits in relation to men already qualifying.
Nor does the order seek to transfer to British Coal more of the costs which are associated with restructuring in the current financial year than it could reasonably hope to meet. The Government remain fully committed to providing the finance necessary to support British Coal's transition to viability. The 75 per cent. grant support proposed for 1987–88 is generous. The increased costs to British Coal arising from the establishment of its own redundancy arrangements is balanced by the extended availability of grant in other areas which were not previously eligible for non-deficit grant or where the level of that grant was previously limited to 50 per cent.
Over the past two years British Coal has made massive progress towards the fundamental restructuring of the industry, concentrating its activities on more highly capitalised and efficient coal faces, enabling the same amount of coal to be produced with fewer faces, fewer men and lower costs. The success of this policy has been dramatically demonstrated by the outstanding growth in productivity, with the weekly productivity record being broken no fewer than 15 times during the course of the 1986–87 financial year. Prospects for the industry and all those who work in it are being transformed. The draft order before us will play a part in that continuing transformation and will, I hope, be welcomed by all hon. Members who have the interests of the coal industry at heart.
In introducing the order, the Minister tried to explain why it has been introduced. I know by speaking to them that some of his hon. Friends were a little puzzled that we should be debating the order, because it is not long since the House debated the Coal Industry Act 1987.
The Minister has explained that we are debating an order which relates to the restructuring of grants. He has explained again that he is satisfied about the financial structure and the targets that have been laid down for British Coal. He is well satisfied, even in terms of the Coal Industry Act 1987, that they are generous. We expressed doubts about that at the time, and I still have doubts.
The schedule to the order has six important headings on various types of expenditure. Head 1 is "Redundancy and early retirement". Head 2 is
Changes of work and place of employment".
Head 4 is "Concessionary Coal", to which the Minister referred. I am suprised that in his opening remarks he did not deal with heads 5 and 6, which relate to retraining and
new employment. Those are in the schedule. I am not trying to chastise the Minister; the Opposition regard the order as important.
The four sections on redundancy and early retirement are important to the men who will be affected. I do not think that the Minister will dispute that fact. He made it easier for me to make some of my comments, because he referred to the state of the industry. The hon. Gentleman must tell us what contraction of manpower is expected in the near future. It is generally recognised that there has been a massive contraction since 1984 and I have been informed that the average age of men in the industry is about 34. Mining must have virtually the youngest labour force in the country.
There have been substantial productivity increases, and they must be welcomed, but the Minister must concede that the 15 new productivity records set in the past year surely mean that we are producing by far the cheapest coal in Europe. As some miners have been performing so well, will the labour force be free from further contraction or does the Minister expect further calls on expenditure on redundancy and early retirement?
The Minister took care to say that we were not talking about the future, but miners and the people of this country want to know about the future. I have often said on behalf of the Opposition that the industry belongs to the people; it is a source of national wealth.
We have tried to get the Government to ensure the welfare and health of the miners and their industry. I have tried, particularly during energy Question Time, to press the Government about imported coal. They are giving the nod to about 9 million tonnes of imported coal and they cannot claim that that is in the spirit of the free market or competition, because most of that coal is being dumped here at below production cost.
At my annual meeting with my local farmers—the three-hour meeting turned out to be something of a seminar — they complained about cheap food being dumped in this country at below production cost. They said that that was unfair and that it was harming their industry. They were saying the same things about their industry that we say about the coal industry. As some of those farmers are liable to be Conservative supporters, I asked them whether they wanted to address their complaints to the Government. But that is by the way.
We must ensure that manpower in the coal industry does not contract further as a result of the distorted overseas market. I was told today that due to the pound going up in value from about $1·52 to its present level, another cost of £3 per tonne will be put on the coal industry. We could considerably extend this debate if we considered what happened in 1981 and the effect that the pound had in destroying a large slice of British industry. The Minister rightly paid tribute to the productivity record of the miners but a statement on the effects of the pound and overseas markets would be welcomed by both sides of the House.
With regard to redundancy and early retirement, I wish to discuss licensed mines. That question was discussed in my constituency at the weekend. I should explain that, as a result of a takeover bid, about 110 miners in licensed mines face redundancy. It has been suggested to the miners that they will not be covered by the National Coal Board's or British Coal's redundancy terms because the mines are not wholly owned subsidiaries. However, these mines are licensed by the NCB or British Coal. Indeed, there are written terms — a contract — under the coal industry conciliation scheme regarding such mines.
I find this matter a bit perturbing, to say the least. Is it not a fact that a royalty is paid to the NCB or British Coal for the production of coal from private mines? Indeed, we heard lobbies from the Conservative Benches on behalf of private mine owners. I wonder what some of those hon. Members have to say about the problem in my constituency. We are discussing the prospects for miners who have perhaps a few years or many years service. I must tell my hon. Friends that, although I am dealing with this matter on a constituency basis, I believe that it is something that may confront them.
In the various coal debates, we have heard a great deal about the virtues of private ownership and privatisation. The example that I have given is small scale, but it means a hell of a lot for the 110 miners and those other people who may be involved in similar closures in other parts of the country. Is it a good advert for privatisation? Is it a good advert for private mine owners when the miners employed in such mines find themselves in this position? It is appropriate to this order that the Minister should investigate this matter. Indeed, the Minister has a duty and responsibility to do so.
We hear a lot about human rights nowadays, and I am talking about fine decent people. Such people have rights and the Minister has a responsibility not only to investigate this matter, but to try to resolve the problem. I do not expect to be given all the answers tonight, but I am raising the matter now because I do not believe it is something of local significance, but I believe that it could easily affect all the coal-producing areas of the United Kingdom.
I intend to restrict my remarks, although it is tempting to make a longer contribution. The order is important, not trivial. Heads 5 and 6 of the schedule deal with retraining and new employment. The order deals with the allocation of financial resources, so it is appropriate that, however short the debate, the Minister provides the House with an update on what is happening and what is likely to happen.
Like other hon. Members, I receive press releases from British Coal Enterprise Ltd. I bear in mind what the chairman of British Coal said to our Select Committee.
The Opposition do not intend to oppose the order, because of its nature and purpose and because of the way in which it allocates finance. We attach importance to the order because it affects the financial prospects of many people who were employed in the industry and many people who will not be employed in the industry in the years to come.
The hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) spoke about the treatment of private sector miners. I wonder about the difference between the public and private sectors in relation to the expenditure listed in the schedule to the order. It seems that miners in the public sector are treated more generously than those who work in the opencast or small private mines. However, I come to a different conclusion. The hon. Member for Midlothian spoke of the rights of those who work in the private and small mines sector. They have rights, but surely the most important right is the right to work in an industry that flourishes and expands. If we were able to remove the restriction on that sector— in particular the restriction on the number of men employed in each mine—perhaps some of the private companies that unfortunately have to make men redundant would expand and make more provision for the better treatment of employees.
I have received correspondence from private small mine owners in the north-east saying that they would be willing and able to expand employment if that restriction were lifted.
The hon. Gentleman misses my point. I was talking about the victims of a takeover bid. The private mines are licensed by British Coal. Under the conciliation agreements, the private mines have responsibilities. Private mine owners enter a contract. They should honour it and look after their men.
I accept that. I was trying to say that it would be easier for the private mining sector to honour contracts and to expand if it were not limited to employing 30 men and not governed by bureaucratic and restrictive licensing systems which inhibit development.
I have only one question to ask my hon. Friend the Minister about the order. I perfectly understand why the costs involved in past restructuring of the industry should not now be laid at the door of British Coal. Presumably, for the present restructuring costs, the expenditure listed in the schedule is the expenditure that we would normally expect a commercially viable and profitable industry to sustain from its own resources, out of its own profits, rather than rely on taxpayer grant to subsume. If that is so, what is the aim of the percentage figure in paragraph 4(b)? Is it the aim gradually to reduce that percentage figure to zero as the Coal Board heads for break-even and eventual profitability.
I should like to make several points about the order. Perhaps it is strange for me to speak in a coal industry debate, but there is coal-mining in the southern part of my constituency. I am proud to say that my grandfather went down a pit at the age of 14, so I am not entirely ignorant of the industry.
The order is a commentary on the present state of the coal industry. There has been a massive decline in the number of people employed in it. In south Wales alone, the number of people employed underground has declined from 31,000 in 1970 to 12,000 in 1986. There has been a massive decline of 6,500 in the past 18 months alone.
I remember visiting the town of Maesteg—where my relatives lived—frequently in the 1950s and 1960s. Ten thousand miners worked in that community. The order is a sad commentary on the decline of the industry. The coalfied communities have been badly hit. The order gives some means of redress after the enormous job losses in those communities.
Reference has been made to the expenditure headings. We in the alliance are interested in the changes in the type of work that we hope will take place in the coalfield communities. The provision on concessionary coal is helpful, because many families in the coalfields have suffered greatly as a result of mineworkers sustaining injuries. No doubt widows and others who live in those communities will benefit from that part of the order. Head 5, on retraining, is a move in the right direction. The problem is that there have been cuts in retraining, certainly in the part of the south Wales coalfield with which I am familiar. Retraining is extremely important when people are leaving the industry and looking for new employment.
New employment will be and is at present being stimulated by British Coal Enterprise Ltd., an initiative that we support, but we must ask whether the £27 million identified in the order is adequate to solve some of the problems in the coalfield communities now. There is massive unemployment in some of those communities—25 per cent. in some areas. There is 20 per cent. unemployment in Ystradgynlais, the coalmining part of my constituency. There is a feeling that there has not been enough redress in terms of job creation in those communities.
It may assist the hon. Gentleman if I point out that the £27,700,000 limit is merely to cover the expenditure specified under head 4—concessionary coal —and does not relate to heads 5 and 6.
I stand corrected. However, if I may now make a point that I would have made later, I should like to ask the Minister how the allocation of funds is broken down between the six heads of expenditure contained in the order. Will he give us some information on that? I stand corrected on item 4 and the figure of £27 million, but what expenditure will take place under the other headings?
Expenditure for redundancy, retraining and new employment is important. However, for the coalfield communities, linked to that is the general investment policy of British Coal. There is too much of a dichotomy of interests in the energy policy of this country. Decisions have been made about the size of the British coal industry and the manipulation of different sources of energy, such as oil and nuclear power, and the mix between our different sources of energy.
There is no doubt that the British coal industry has to some extent been run down. However, I welcome especially the proposed investment in the Margam mine in south Wales, which is a small start to try to invest more in deep mining. Certainly, we welcome the attitude of the National Union of Mineworkers in south Wales in accepting those proposals for six-day working. I know that that is controversial, but it will certainly result in greater productivity. I hope that that will be the forerunner of more investment in deep mining in the south Wales coalfields.
Will the Minister also advise us how the order will affect the open-cast sector, which appears to he expanding? The Energy Select Committee reported that it wished to see expansion of open-cast mining from 15 million tonnes to 18 million tonnes per annum. However, that is not necessarily in the best interests of those areas where deep mines have been closed. Indeed, one could say that that is a policy for unemployment, because open-cast mining employs fewer people and is causing a great deal of damage to the environment and to the communities—
I shall give way in a moment.
It is also inhibiting investment in those communities in other enterprises and industries that would otherwise enter those areas. Open-cast mining creates a bad environment for the encouragement of the new industries which, perhaps, British Coal Enterprise Ltd. is trying to encourage.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that open-cast coal is important for some mines because of its high chlorine content? If coal from open-cast mines was not mixed with the deep-mined coal, many underground mine workers would be put out of a job because they would not be able to sell that coal to the Central Electricity Generating Board.
We must achieve a balance between open-cast and deep mining. The amount of open-cast mining that is proposed at present is too great, to the detriment of deep mining and of the jobs in those coalfields. There is clearly a need for open-cast mining but not at the level of 18 million tonnes that is proposed by the Energy Select Committee.
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's desire to strike a balance in a debate such as this, but is he not coming near to saying that because open-cast mining employs fewer people, so is endemically more efficient, it should be discouraged on economic grounds?
I have not said that we should abolish open-cast mining overnight or anything of the sort; the open-cast sector is too large and has a detrimental effect on coalfield communities by inhibiting new industries, particularly high-tech industries which require a clean atmosphere, because of the amount of dust that it raises.
On the whole, the order provides funds for the industry, so it is welcome, but I doubt whether sufficient resources are being allocated to solve the problems of the coalfield communities. We welcome certain aspects of the order, but the resources may be inadequate to service it.
The order comes before the House at an opportune moment, because if the newspapers are to be believed, this may well be our last debate on the coal industry in this Parliament.
The debate provides us with a good opportunity to look back and compare the policies of the Government and the Opposition towards this vital industry. The Opposition made a concerted attempt to do the most grievous damage to it through their silence during the strike and their carping criticism of every piece of legislation that we have introduced to help the industry. It is a stain on their record and it will long be remembered by those who depend on the industry.
I invite the House to compare that with our policies, which have achieved record investment, leading to record productivity time and again. Month after month we read of new records of productivity being achieved. That has been linked with massive redundancy benefits for those who have lost their jobs as a consequence of restructuring which have helped them rebuild their lives and bring new life into the coalfields, and with the creation of British Coal Enterprise Ltd. — one of the most successful job creation endeavours.
Every time we raise the subject of BCEL in the House there is carping criticism from the Opposition. Either it is doing too little or it is not serious. Yet only last week BCEL announced that it had met its job creation target for 1986–87 of 10,000 new jobs. If that company continues to develop 10,000 jobs from nothing in three years, it is clear how quickly it will bring new life into our coalfields. What great progress it has already made to that objective.
One aspect of BCEL accounts for its success more than any other. Obviously, the Government's commitment to provide it with the money that it needs is most important. It knows that it can underpin any good project which is brought forward in the sure knowledge that Government money will be provided to help with its development. The figures show clearly that the most extraordinary additionality is achieved. For every £1 that BCE invests in a project, nearly £7 of other money is also invested. That is a particularly successful and important criterion in job creation.
But the one aspect that accounts for the success of BCEL above all is the hands-on help it gives to people setting up their business for the first time. Ministers need help to set up new business endeavours, because they have not done it before. Wherever there are hands-on help agencies, the job creation success rate has been better, as has the business survival rate. BCEL is developing an enviable record for helping and nurturing new businesses into creation, prosperity and long-term survival.
I ask my hon. Friend to consider whether this hands-on help might not be extended. Many Conservative Members have assisted in the past few months in the creation of urban development corporations in areas of dereliction where industry has declined and where a major effort is needed to pull together all the strands of policy from central Government to local government and tying them in with the private sector. Many of the coalfield communities, particularly in Yorkshire, are well adapted to a similar technique being applied.
When we are returned in the new Parliament with a renewed, perhaps an increased, mandate, I ask that we turn our attention to developing the work of BCEL by adopting and perhaps adapting the techniques of the urban developments corporations. Those who live and work in the coalfield communities have no doubt about one thing above all — that this Government are their future. This Government have given them the money, organisation and determination to give British Coal a successful future. When they contrast this with the mindless militancy of the Opposition, they all know where their future lies.
Listening to the previous speech, I could not help thinking that the election had started. I do not think the hon. Member for Elmet (Mr. Batiste) will mind me saying that I thought he jumped the gun with great style. He has probably rehearsed that spontaneous speech a dozen times.
We tend to for get that this is a debating Chamber and that we should try to pick up points made by our colleagues. As this is likely to be the last occasion on which I will address the House, being a miner, it provides me with a good finale. I would like to pick up a point made by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey) that this order is a commentary— I think a very sad one—on the decline of an industry which, in spite of what the hon. Member for Elmet said, has not been the success story that he portrayed. I will give one or two reasons why before I touch on one or two heads of expenditure.
I am the second oldest mining Member of Parliament. As you would know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, when I came into this House there were about 29 mining Members of Parliament. Without preaching or seeking to persuade people that we are as good as we think we are, I think that those 29 Members were an adornment and played a very useful part. I am not now speaking of myself, but of those who were more illustrious than me. We provided top-quality men who brought practical experience here.
When the next Parliament convenes, without a shadow of doubt under a Labour Government, there will be only about 12 mining Members. My hon. Friends the Members for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) will be among the most senior of those 12. The decline has happened, as it has happened under this Government. because the best interests of the country have not always been merged with the best interests of the mining industry.
One needs a computer to follow one's own interests in the House nowadays, but a statistic provided in an answer to a question last week showed that the total number of people employed in the mining industry now is down to about 110,000. The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor gave the graphic illustration of a town in south Wales where there were once about 10,000 miners and where there are now only about 12.
When I became a Labour candidate in 1961, Lancashire had two members on the national executive of the NUM. There was one member on the executive for every 20,000 members and part thereof. Lancashire is now merged with the western region and is probably down to about 7,000 members.
I apologise to the Minister for missing his speech. I thought it was to be made at the time scheduled and I should have anticipated that it would be earlier. He did not speak very long so I missed the few comments he made. I know that the Minister would have given a eulogy about the order and the various heads of expenditure. I am bound to tell him that since the Government have been in charge and since the debacle of the miners' strike—I do not want to go into that because I had a particular point of view on it—we have lost about 40,000 miners.
If I hear Ministers telling me how they are helping the mining industry, I want them to tell me that they are helping by saying that they will provide the new coal-fired power stations that I believe are desperately needed. We know that the Government are hanging fire on that. I want them to give the mining industry the same sort of attention they give to the nuclear power lobby.
I made a statement in the House the other week which was misunderstood because, not being a classical scholar, I had to give a more homely metaphor. Those who have a working class background will know that there is a working class game known as brag in which each player has three cards. It is a simple idea; a sort of poor man's poker. The lowest hand on which one could hope to win the kitty and persuade one's opponents that one has a good hand is two twos, known as a pair of deuces.
My hon. Friend must play a different school to us. However, there is a saying, "He is bragging on a pair of deuces." Why did I use that expression for the nuclear power lobby? If one reads the history of the promotion of nuclear power, even when the late Fred Lee was the Minister of Power in the 1964 Government, one got the impression that nuclear power was going to be so abundant and cheap that it would not pay one to meter it. It was suggested that it was the greatest invention known to man. Our own people believed in that. The history of nuclear power has read like a fairy tale. The Government are persuading us again that it is the greatest thing that ever happened, ignoring the signs of great dark clouds on the horizon. Yet the coal industry is having to battle with one hand tied behind its back. That is why, when people promote nuclear power as distinct from coal-generated electricity, I say that they were bragging on a pair of deuces.
I shall now deal with exports. In my constituency I have the company that is the leading exporter of mining manufacturing machinery in the country. I am pleased to say that I was there on the day that my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian was presented with a miner's lamp, suitably inscribed, when he opened the test bed that subjects machines that are sold all over the world—to China and elsewhere — to simulated weights, heights, powers and stresses that I do not think they will meet even in the mines. It is one of the jewels in our industrial crown. I wonder what the export record is for nuclear power. I think that we gave one power station away once and I cannot see us doing much different in the future.
That is the sort of thing to which I want the Government to pay attention. In spite of the enthusiasm of the hon. Member for Elmet—I do not know whether he will go into his mining areas—I think that he will be subject to some critical examination. He will need to sing a slightly different tune because the miners will say, "Here we have a Government giving us all these wonderful things but we are declining at a rate of knots."
The hon. Gentleman will be interested to hear that the majority of decent miners understand clearly that their future lies in an industry supported by the Government through investment, a Government who are determined to stand up to the militancy, which is the industry's biggest threat.
That is all very well. I believe that the Minister referred to the increase in productivity and the records being set daily by the miners. I tried to couple that with an action that the Government have deliberately taken. I am not sure of the precise technical term, but it was designed to encourage companies to switch to coal burning. I am not sure how long that lasted, but it was cut off. If I were to question the enthusiasm of the Minister and one of his most devoted supporters over what they were doing for the coal mining industry, I would ask, "Why has that not been continued?"
Almost every week the Minister bombards us with the success of the mining industry, and I am pleased to hear it. He tells us how company X or Y has increased its profits, that it is marvellous and that it has gone over from oil burning to coal burning. A positive way of encouraging that is to keep the scheme going, but I believe that it is about to finish. Therefore, when people tell me what wonderful things they have done I like to marry that to practical realities.
I also welcome the proposals in the order. No one with any sense would oppose them. One of the headings is "Concessionary Coal". In the past, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover, I have mounted odd rearguard actions — futile though they were — to draw attention to some of the cruel anomalies on concessionary coal, and how they limited the giving of concessionary coal to widows of mineworkers, some of whom had worked in the mines all their lives. It often depended on the coroner's signature or the pneumoconiosis medical panel. Many widows were confused by the fact that the coroner's certificate said "industrial disease", as that was the pathologist's recommendation, whereas the pneumoconiosis medical panel — on whose advice the Coal Board would give concessionary coal—said "natural causes". It is almost impossible to convince a widow of that when her husband has worked many years in the mining industry—sometimes a lifetime—and has been in receipt of an industrial disease payment. I dealt with many such cases when I was pit secretary. There were buckets of sympathy but no practical help. It is impossible to say, "I am sorry. That is how the rules are defined and you cannot get concessionary coal." Some of these people now live alongside others who qualify even though they served a much shorter period in the pits, but good luck to them!
Many of these things were symbolic of the fact that the work of these miners was appreciated. Naturally I welcome anything that will continue such concessions. The problem of such people will gradually reduce because anno domini will ensure that they die off. I shall not flog this to death, but I wish there was something in the order to give them solace and comfort, particularly as this is my last chance to say a few words on this subject.
I end as I began. This is a commentary on the decline of a once great industry. I doubt whether it will again be great in terms of its size in its heyday. When I first entered the House, we talked about whether coal production should be 190 million tonnes or 220 million tonnes. For many of us the Ark of the Covenant was the forecast of Dr. Idris Jones, who, in the early 1960s, said that the coal mining industry should be gearing itself to 250 million tonnes.
A late colleague, Dick Kelly, the Member for Don Valley, used to hammer the Minister regularly about this plan, but it has continued to decline. Certain events have hastened the industry's decline, but I would rather hear Ministers say, "This is the way in which we shall get it back on its feet. We shall give it a proper place in our energy policy because compared with nuclear it is easily and outstandingly the best. We will not leave for future generations any of the problems that we are storing up through nuclear generation." If there is one more whiff of a Chernobyl all the forecasts for nuclear power in this country and elsewhere will go out the window. That has been the response in other countries, but we have not seen the light.
If the Government were really keen on promoting the coal industry and intent on doing what the bright young Member for Elmet will say when he goes around his constituency bragging on a pair of deuces—if I may use that term again — the Minister would tell us what positive steps the Government intend to take to restore the fortunes of the coal industry. If the Minister acted in that way, he would be heard with much greater conviction.
I shall be very brief, as other hon. Members have been before me.
I want to pick up on one or two of the points made by the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Fallon) about privatisation of the collieries and mines. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Darlington has ever worked in a mine, never mind a private mine. In fact, I doubt that very much indeed. He does not know what he is talking about. He is basing his comments upon textbooks. If he considered the matter practically, or if he had ever seen a private mine working, he would not be so keen on them. I have worked in such a mine. Actually I worked for one. The benevolence of the National Coal Board in those days meant that the board lent out its craftsmen to private mines because those mines could not afford to keep them. We helped out. We put those mines in order when the inspector of mines came down. Those mines could not keep within the regulations unless they had assistance from the National Coal Board. The National Coal Board had to hold money back to ensure that the reinstatements were completed after those mines had abandoned their dependence on oil.
Perhaps the hon. Member for Darlington should consider the history of the industry and discover that the mines were nationalised purely and simply because the private mines could neither produce sufficient material nor provide the working conditions that were becoming necessary. As a result of the war, the Government realised that the products of the private mines would be inadequate, and that is why they were nationalised.
If people believe that open-casting is primarily a sweetener for deep-mined coal, they must also believe that pigs may fly. That story was put about simply to get open-casting expanded. Open-casting was carried out simply because it was more economical, less manpower intensive, and a great deal of coal could to extracted. That method created environmental problems that we are still living with in my area after 30 years. If people want open-casting they can have it. Please do not send it our way, because we do not want any more.
We want new industries in the area to make up for the old industry that has disappeared. I am not so naive as to believe that the collieries that have closed will reopen. However, I hope for a future in which the existing collieries will expand. We shall find that that will be necessary, because the Government are making the same mistake as the Labour Government in the 1960s over the closure of the collieries. We had to return to the position later and realise that a mistake had been made.
If we consider the amount of oil and gas taken and used from the North Sea at the moment in terms of coal equivalent, it is possible to measure the amount of coal we shall need in future, unless the Government are prepared to enter into the full-scale use of nuclear power stations or, if they run down the British coal mining industry, to import more coal. There is no other way for the Government to act.
British Coal Enterprise Ltd. is doing an excellent job, but we should put the jobs that it has created into perspective. The Minister said that 10,000 jobs have been created, but where are they? I know of six in my constituency — one is in a pub and another is in prefabrication. The irony is that the biggest part of that prefabrication work is ordered from British Coal. We have got six jobs in return for 6,400 jobs lost, so we must put the figures into perspective. The company is doing excellent work, and I would encourage it all the way because it must continue, but let us not run away with the idea that it will replace every job that was lost; it will not.
People are right to point out the massive redundancy payments that have been received by many grateful mine workers, but let us not forget what they were. The were given not out of the generosity and goodness of heart of the Government or British Coal; they were used to buy out jobs, because that was the easiest way to run down the industry. It has been done by Governments of both parties. I do not say that this Government must take all the blame, because the Labour Government also had a redundancy scheme. The Minister knows that my job was resettlement. But the massive redundancy payments are no longer available. We have this Bill because we must pay for those redundancies. As the Minister said, it is a continuing payment and the industry will be viable only if we keep on paying it. We would not even think of voting against such a measure. We must not be mealy-mouthed about it. We must recognise it for what it is worth.
The industry is now called the British Coal Corporation. Not so long ago, it was the National Coal Board, and when we questioned the use of "British Coal", we were told that it was just a name to be used for selling coal. It was thought that it would sell more coal using that name. Now it is called the British Coal Corporation, and it seems that we are getting rid of all the dead wood—as the Minister would probably call it, but which I believe is a necessary part of the industry — and reaching a position where private capital can be introduced. The corporation may also be sold off, but that remains to be seen.
Let us consider the people who will he caught up in redundancy but will not benefit from the massive redundancy payments that have been made. The retraining scheme is totally inadequate and should be re-examined. It cannot be done in eight weeks. In 1947, the new National Coal Board sent me away for six months' training as an electrical engineer. The board recognised that it took about six months to get the basics right before going on to technical college and university. What has changed? Why is a period of eight weeks now considered to be adequate for retraining? The industry must know from its history that it is simply running a whitewash brush over the problem. Now that the redundancy payments have disappeared, and the jobs are no longer being bought out, we must consider retraining.
The British Steel Corporation's retraining programme runs for a minimum of two years. We should consider that example seriously, because the people who will be leaving the industry, because of the change in structure, will be young men. If we hope to carry out retraining of the young men who are being made redundant or who are leaving the industry, we must look seriously at how we retrain them for future occupations.
British Steel looked seriously at the way in which it should carry out retraining. I talked to British Steel about that. It looked at the labour market and at the possibilities of jobs that might be available. Consequently, it was retraining not for a dead end, but for the future. I ask the Minister to look at retraining for the future. The minimum time necessary is two years, and people must be retrained for specific jobs that may become available not necessarily in the area in which they were born, but in other areas.
We must be far more constructive about training than we have been in the past now that the big redundancy payments have gone. We must look after the people who have given many years and whose fathers have given a lifetime to the industry. We owe them that. A Labour Government will expand rather than contract the industry. The Minister talked about a new base. We will build on that and expand the industry, because that is what is necessary.
My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) spoke about the six jobs allocated to his constituents as a result of the setting up of British Coal Enterprise Ltd. My hon. Friend is not sure how many more people have got jobs. I am not aware of any more in great numbers, but I think that about half a dozen or eight or perhaps 10 were created on the Government quango that set up this organisation. Two of those people did their level best to run down the efforts of the people who were on strike and they got their just reward for participating in that action. Some of them already had jobs.
If my hon. Friend is drawing up a register of those who have got jobs under British Coal Enterprise Ltd., he should have a look at the brochure. Perhaps he will find a few more jobs, but I doubt whether he will get to the figures of 10,000 or 14,000 that have been mentioned. No doubt the Minister, in a flight of fancy, would say 20,000.
Hon. Members have spoken about record productivity in the British coalfield. There is no doubt that there has been record productivity every time we have got away from pit closures. One does not need to be a Pythagoras to work that out. If at any given moment the 20 or 30 pits at the bottom of the productivity table are chopped off, the net result is that those further up the table show a greater increase in productivity. That has happened under all Governments.
My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone knows only too well that the pits at the bottom of the table at any given time could, given a bit of a chance and a breather, get to a white face or overcome whatever the trouble is, perhaps various difficulties in the strata, and find themselves three years later at the top of the league when previously they had been at the bottom. Other pits, sadly, have been shut and all the men and women involved are out of work. When they go to the unemployment exchange to get some money from the taxpayer—part of the £20-odd billion that unemployment is currently costing—they find an order from the Government saying that we have to spend more money on some sort of redundancy payments and concessionary coal payments.
Then we will be told that we have to find some more money for British Coal Enterprise Ltd., in order to provide more jobs for more bureaucrats and half a dozen people in the average coalfield constituency. Anybody looking at that from abroad or from afar would say that it was economic madness. They would ask why on earth the Government are doing it. Of course, they are doing it because this order is a follow-on from the Bill that we debated some time ago. My hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) spoke strongly about that.
That Bill was about laying the way open for privatisation in the event of a Tory victory at the general election. That is the essence of the order, because the last thing that the Tory Government want is to saddle certain areas of the coal industry with a large bill. We know from past experience that, when the Government have launched privatisations, they have ensured that the chosen sectors of the economy have been well breached by the time of the handover or sell-out, and the order continues that practice. That is what the game is all about.
It is sad that in their retreat in the search for jobs, some in the industry have even talked of working six days a week for single-time payments. It would be ridiculous if there were to be any further erosion of terms and conditions of that sort. I listened to the spokesman for the Liberal party, the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey) praising those who have declared that they will work a six-day week. He and his colleagues are telling miners that if they want a job they must work six days a week, but he and his friends turn up for work only half the time. The recent victor at Greenwich, the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mrs. Barnes), voted only a few times in this place before we learned that she was looking for another job. Having found one job, she has obtained another, at a salary of £9,000 a year. However, the Liberal spokesman has the cheek to tell miners that they must grovel for six days a week if they are to have a job. These are the messages that come from the mouths of Liberals, and they should understand that my colleagues in Wales are not sold on the idea of a six-day week. I advise the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor and his colleagues not to get any fancy notions.
The matter will be decided soon at the NUM conference. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman confers with the leader of the Social Democratic party, the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), and checks on his record of attendance in this place. He should ask his right hon. Friend what he thinks about six-day working. The right hon. Gentleman appears six days a week only on our television screens. He is prepared to appear on that medium every day of the week, five times a day on any tinpot subject under the sun. I am amazed that no interviewer has said to him, "By the way, leader of the Social Democratic party, what did you do about this issue when you were Foreign Secretary? Were you too busy signing glossy autographed photographs of yourself, which you were trying to sell but did not manage to as you trotted around the globe, doing very little apart from that?" We do not want any lectures from those who have just dropped in for a moment or two on the Liberal-SDP Benches, and who in this instance might not be around to continue the discussion after the general election.
This is a serious matter. We know that 9 million tonnes of coal are being imported and that it would be wrong to take a partisan point of view. Why import 9 million tonnes of coal at this time, when we have so many difficulties with the balance of payments and everything else? Surely the Government should have the decency, quite apart from anything else, to follow up their candy-floss words about being against apartheid, and at least stop the coal that comes from South Africa via various routes through Amsterdam and so on. Why do the Government not have the guts to stop that imported coal?
They should go further than that. They say that they stand up for Britain. We always get a lot of patriotism from Ministers and the Prime Minister, but they never seem to put it into practice. What is the economic sense in allowing all that coal to come in? It is subsidised up to the hilt, as everybody knows. Some countries are awash with coal. They say, "I tell you what—send it to Britain. It is an easy touch. It is into monetarism. It is mad on it in certain areas, although not in the City of London, which is into subsidy in a big way. Tax relief is the order of the day in the City. But if it is manufacturing industry, send it across to Britain. It will take it on. The philosophy still holds good in certain areas."
The Government fall for that ploy, with the net result that they finish up with having to pay even more people at the unemployment exchange, and bring in some more Bills and orders to make all the redundancy payments. What nonsense. This order is about reducing jobs. It is hound to be. How can it be anything else? It recommends that one should pay more people what used to be called large redundancy payments. The only large ones that I have ever seen are those that I have read about in the newspapers for top business men — £1 million was shared between seven of them recently.
These orders reduce the capacity of those working in the pits. This is partly a paving order for privatisation, and the interesting comment from the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Fallon) was all part of the plan. One of the legs of this plan is to make sure that there is plenty of opencast production because all those interested in moving into the mining industry will be looking at that first. If they can increase the 80 million tonnes, that would be important.
However, the hon. Member for Darlington said something else. He asked why the Minister did not move on to increasing the numbers allowed to work in the private mines. All of us who have worked in the industry know that such mines are more dangerous than the mines in which we worked. One of the reasons for the limit of 30 workers is the health and safety hazard.
Another important point is that the Government are focusing their attention on places such as Selby in north Yorkshire, and the Margam complex is all part of that. Once they get greater efficiency from those pits, they will shut the smaller, less efficient and less economic pits next door. If anybody gets the fancy idea that Margam, the privatisation of Selby, the Warwickshire coalfield and the Leicestershire and South Notts coalfield will do anything for the industry, they had better think again. It will all be about maximising production in the easiest seams.
We all know from our experience that one of the benefits of nationalisation was that if there were seven seams, however, difficult some of them were, at least an attempt would be made to work them. Once privatisation gets hold, they will say, "Let's get the best three seams, the easiest, and then we will move along with our opencast friends."
The order also deals with housing. They have the cheek, under paragraph (vi) of the schedule, to talk about:
Payment to local authorities and housing associations for the provision of housing for employees on account of their place of employment being changed.
It sounds grand; we cannot object to it on the face of it. As everybody knows who has taken part in the argument, we have been having battles and discussions with British Coal, about selling off its houses. British Coal has been encouraged by the Government with their market orientation, to sell off all its houses to some entrepreneur who will then sell them off to somebody else. A lot of the tenants in my constituency do not know who the landlord is. Some of them have disappeared into the night. The Government come before Parliament and say, "We have a little item here which will help British Coal to provide housing through local authorities and housing associations," when the job could have been done by keeping, hold of those properties, as was the case until fairly recently.
I refer to concessionary coal. My hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McGuire) said that he was making his last speech. I am not so sure. One can never be sure in this place. He said that he was concerned about concessionary coal payments to widows. He has raised this point every time that he has had half a chance. Successive Government Ministers have not taken up the cause, so we are asking again. I extend the point marginally because it includes others—the pre 1968 widows and some miners who are still living. Only a few hundred are left in parts of the north Derbyshire coalfield, part of Lancashire and a few scattered about in some of the other coalfields.
My hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield is making one last effort, and I am supporting him. Surely to God the Minister could, instead of saying no, have a look At this matter. When I came into this House one of the first things that the Government of 1970–74 did, to great applause from the Tory benches, was to provide pensions for the first time to the over-80s, who never had pensions. There was great applause and the Government received wonderful publicity for it. It only affected a few. That was our argument. We said, "We know why they are doing it. They should give better pensions to everybody." They were giving these pensions for the first time to the over-80s because a lot of them had passed on. The same applies to this. A few hundred people in those coalfields have had a raw deal. Some of them worked 40 or 50 years in the pit and those widows have seen their husbands pass away, many of them of pneumoconiosis. We are asking the Minister, once again, to give a concession to my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield in his last effort.
My hon. Friend said that he did not think that there would be any more great days. I would not accept that lightly. If he will cast his mind back, he will remember that there have been occasions when the industry has stabilised; it has not gone on a great leap forward, but there have been at least three occasions in my experience when the coal industry, because of market forces, the oil business and various other factors, has managed to hold on to its manpower and pits, which astounded us for a number of years.
My hon. Friend's prediction about nuclear power is probably on the ball. When it happens, there will be great days for the mining industry, because such will be the clamour, if the disaster is a bit nearer than the last one at Chernobyl, that people in all parts of the country will rightly say, "There are 300 years of coal beneath our feet. Let us put an end to nuclear power." The Government say that the nuclear industry is so productive, yet it has not been able to sell one power station. People will understand that more clearly. It is a terrible thing to have to say that it will be that kind of experience that will change matters. The oil and gas will run out, so the great days may still come. I am not throwing the towel in. One fine day, in my last days in this place and when my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield is in the other place, I will say to my hon. Friend, "The great days are here again."
I thoroughly enjoyed the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). He always makes good speeches, particularly when he is talking about the mining industry.
The difference between the Opposition and the Government Benches is that Opposition Members speak with the voice of experience, although the Liberal spokesman's only connection with mining is the fact that his grandfather was a miner. Labour Members have had mining experience, working underground at the coal face. I wonder how many Conservative Members have ever had a No. 10 shovel in their hands. I have. It is as big as a table top and you are given a whacking great heap of coal to shift.
I have listened to the contribution of Conservative Members. We hear from farmers, solicitors and City slickers in the financial world. Many hon. Members have been talking about British Telecom shares; that is what I mean by City slickers. There is more information to come out about other privatisations of public bodies.
Many Tories make their contributions and buzz off. Perhaps they are tired and have to go bed. They certainly have not stayed tonight to hear the education that has been provided by the Opposition. One Tory Member talked about surface mining. He obviously does not know anything about mining because there is a difference between surface mining and deep mining. The nation has depended on the mining industry for donkeys' years, but the Government are destroying that industry in pursuit of profit.
The hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart) should listen carefully. He has probably heard this before, but he will hear it again, especially on the doorsteps in his constituency when he talks to miners, particularly the older men who have retired and who suffered so that we could have decent conditions, decent pay and decent jobs in mining. They suffered and I and some of my colleagues experienced that under private ownership.
When the industry was nationalised, safety became the No. 1 priority. It was No. 3 under the private coal owners. The hon. Member for Sherwood shakes his head. He does not understand what I am saying. When I was a youngster in the pit, safety was No. 3 and earnings were No. 2. The No. 1 for the coal owners was production.
I welcome what the Minister said about record-breaking production. Miners have always been able to achieve such results. They were asked to produce during the war and they did so. They produced the energy that the nation required to win the war. They will do the same again whenever they are called on. However, if the Government destroy the mining industry we shall be unable to supply the required energy.
Chernobyl has been mentioned—the hon. Member for Sherwood has a frown on his face, but I have not heard one word from him about miners' objections to nuclear power. I am convinced that one of the reasons why the Government are running down the British coal industry is to bring in more and more nuclear power stations. The Prime Minister promised that in the pre-election period of 1979. When she got in here she talked about the number of new nuclear power stations there would be and set out the programme for such stations. It is clear what the Government are about; it is further to run down the mining industry.
There will be further pit closures in my constituency. When I was a youngster there were up to 14 pits in the area, but slowly but surely those pits have been destroyed. As a result of the Government's policies, slowly but surely the industry is being destroyed. One day we shall end up with no coal industry and we shall be sorry for it. When we get back into power we must do something about that problem. I believe that there should be a stop to any further nuclear power stations and those existing nuclear stations should be run down. We must again become sensible about the production of energy in Britain. The miners have always been asked to produce the energy requirements for the nation and they have lived up to their responsibilities.
No, it is 11.11 pm. The hon. Gentleman has just walked back into the Chamber—I do not know where he has been—and now he wants to make an intervention. If the hon. Gentleman had remained in the Chamber he could have made a speech.
We are discussing the coal mining industry and additional finance to that industry. I welcome that finance, it is a step in the right direction. However, it is nowhere near enough because of the problems that the industry faces. The point that I am seeking to make is that this Government have put all the weight of the costs of compensations and repairs — necessary because of mining subsidence — on the pits that caused that subsidence. Previous Governments had a commitment regarding those costs. However, the Government have washed their hands of the matter to save money. The end result of that saving is that the Government, through the National Coal Board or British Coal, as they now like to call it, are now telling those people who are making claims for compensation or repairs to damaged properties, "Sorry the damage is done" Those people are getting nowhere with their claims.
No compensation is being offered and no repairs are being carried out. That is the way that the wicked Tory Government work. It is high time that the Minister took responsibility and told the NCB or British Coal that it has a responsibility to the people, not just in my constituency, but in the constituency of the hon. Member for Sherwood. However, in any debates that we have had regarding compensation and repair to properties as a result of mining subsidence we have not heard a word from the hon. Gentleman. It is high time that the hon. Gentleman and other Conservatives whose constituencies face mining subsidence problems followed our lead.
I had hoped that the Minister would do something about the problem, but he has done little. Representations have been made and I even went so. far as to introduce a ten-minute Bill on the problem. We have not met with much success yet. I am hoping to get a Second Reading for the Bill on 8 May so that it can go into Committee, come back for a Third Reading and we can get something done for the people in the mining areas.
I appreciate the time and I shall be brief. I wish to discuss concessionary fuel. My hon. Friends the Members for Bolsover and for Makerfield (Mr. McGuire) have mentioned this problem. The Minister has been told time and time again about it. There are elderly people in my constituency, especially widows, who are receiving concessionary fuel. They receive smokeless fuel in lieu of cash. Because of the wicked winter the fuel went nowhere near keeping them warm. The fuel was gone in next to no time. The cash was gone, because as the price went up people could buy less fuel for the cash that they received. Because of cuts in the rate support grant the local authorities have not been able to pay for the fuel. The hon. Member for Sherwood should not shake his head because I am explaining the facts. In my constituency the local authority cannot afford to change its suppliers because the rate support grant has been cut. The Government have cut the grant each year since 1979.
I will not give way.
I welcome the Southampton coal-fired power station. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover said, the Government propose to ship coal from South Africa to fire that station. The Government have not denied it. I ask the Minister to state tonight that the Southampton power station will be fired by British coal. For years coal from the north-east has been transported to the south. That should be continued. The coal should be transported by barge—or by some other means—to the south. The Minister must deny that the Government intend to import South African coal and say that they will use coal from the north-east for the Southampton power station.
I do not want to detain the Minister, because he has many comments to make. The debate has been interesting and perhaps there can be some unanimity. Perhaps the debate has proved that King Coal is not dead and that the coal reserves are an insurance for our people.
My purpose is to take up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McGuire), who has perhaps made his last contribution in the House. The House is richer for his contributions. He made a passionate plea to the Minister. He has made that plea repeatedly during his distinguished career. He talked about the people who are left out. I do not know whether the Minister is feeling generous, or whether he has the power to be generous, but when he considers my hon. Friend's contribution and the hard work that he has done in the House, he might find it possible to say that he will consider what my hon. Friend said about concessionary coal for those left out because the schemes are not retrospective. My hon. Friend's argument was amplified by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner).
The Minister has many aspects to respond to, such as nuclear power and the future of the mining industry. I hope that he will comment on the contribution by my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield. It may be his last contribution. However, his membership of the House has been very distinguished.
This has been a fascinating debate. I hope that the House will understand that in the 10 minutes that remain I shall not have time to cover all the points raised. I shall write to those hon. Members to whose questions I do not have time to reply.
All those who have spoken in the debate have been united by their concern for the coal industry, but I highlight the remarkable contrast between the contributions from the Government Benches and those from the Opposition Benches. On the Government side there were forward-looking, positive speeches from my hon. Friends who are close to the men whom they represent. My hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart), who has more producing pits in his constituency than any other hon. Member, represents the brave men of Nottinghamshire. My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. McLoughlin), who was until recently a coal face worker at Littleton colliery, knows what it is like underground. He probably has the most recent experience underground of any Member in the House of Commons. We are proud to have him on the Conservative Benches.
My hon. Friends the Member for Darlington (Mr. Fallon), for Loughborough (Mr. Dorrell), for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Portillo) and for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, all listened, I thought, with rapt attention to a remarkably good speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet (Mr. Batiste). Indeed, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe turned to me and said "Do you really need to wind up the debate after a speech as good as that?" I hope that he will forgive me for quoting him. The best thing about the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet was that he looked forward well into the future. The worst thing about speeches from Opposition Members was that they were once again voices anchored in the past. I suppose that the strangled cries of dying Socialism are not a nice noise for the House to hear, but it is still going on, and it drags on and on.
One of these days I hope very much that Opposition Members will lift up their eyes and see the new spirit in the coalfield, the fine fellowship that I find underground at the coal face at present and that I found at Agecroft colliery in Manchester only a few weeks ago, where the men told me that the last thing they wanted was a Labour Government. They believed that life would be as black as the coal that they worked if Labour were ever returned to office because they felt that power would return to the discredited president of the NUM. I just hope that one day they will lift up their eyes and see that new spirit in the coalfield.
I shall respond to the points raised by the hon. Member for Midlothiam (Mr. Eadie). He asked why we have the order when we have only just passed a Coal Industry Act. That is, of course, because the order follows directly from section 3 of the Coal Industry Act 1987 and seeks to introduce those very provisions that I spoke about in Committee when we discussed that measure.
The hon. Gentleman questioned whether I had mentioned retraining and employment opportunities. If he checks Hansard, he will find that I said that the order provided for support towards a broad range of costs associated with restructuring, including costs of redundancy and early retirement, changes of work and place of employment, retraining for persons who are to leave or who have left the corporation through redundancy or incapacity, and costs associated with the promotion of new employment opportunities. Those are crucial points.
I respond to the hon. Gentleman's invitation to give a progress report on British Coal Enterprise Ltd, because the Government are encouraged by what has happened so far. For the first time we have a company dedicated to the provision of assistance for job creation in coal mining areas. That company's aim is to assist in the creation of jobs on a sufficent scale to offset the jobs lost during the restructuring of the industry. Since that company was formed in October 1984, it has committed £27 million in support of 1,184 projects, with a combined capital cost of £186 million, and assisted in the creation of 16,102 job opportunities by the end of March. Therefore, additional investment of over £160 million has been triggered off by direct action by British Coal Enterprise Ltd.
I challenge Opposition Members to stop discrediting or seeking to discredit the work of British Coal Enterprise Ltd. I recognise that the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) did not do so — he mentioned that it had done excellent work — but other hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), continually try to discredit the work of British Coal Enterprise Ltd. However, the facts fly in the face of what the hon. Gentleman sought to persuade the House.
It has never been the case, under the redundant mineworkers' pension scheme, which was introduced by a Labour Government, that people working in the licensed mines would benefit. Similarly, it has not been the case that those working in the private open-cast sector would benefit. Now with the redundant mineworkers' pension scheme at an end, the new arrangements, announced by the chairman of British Coal, apply to the employees of British Coal, not to those employees who are involved in the private sector. The question of royalties had no bearing on this question. It is for the employers in the private sector to provide for their own employees.
In 1979, when this Government came to office and inherited the coal industry from the stewardship of the hon. Member for Midlothian, the United Kingdom was a net importer of 2 million tonnes per year. Within four years, we were able to change that and this country became a net exporter of 2 million tonnes. Sadly, the strike destroyed that position. However, with the fine efforts of the men in the coalfields, I understand that we shall reach a position where coal is even more competitive than it is now. We cannot ignore our competitive position in world markets.
My hon. Friend the Member for Darlington challenged me to tell him exactly what would happen in future orders as regards percentage and responsibility for terms and conditions. I am happy to confirm that, as British Coal returns to full viability, the proportion of the costs borne by it will be increased. However, I would not wish to anticipate the percentage support to be specified in future orders, nor when it would prove appropriate for British Coal to bear all such future costs.
To the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey) I would just say, "Yes, there has been a decline in numbers in south Wales, especially during the past 18 months." However, that has not been accompanied by a decline in output. Therefore, I do not call that a decline in the industry. Productivity has risen as never before in south Wales, and miners have been able to maintain the same level of output although with much reduced numbers. That is a marvellous example for the future of the coal industry.
I have also been asked about open-cast coal. Of course, open-cast mining has a vital role to play. My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West stressed—he knows from his own work at Littleton colliery, as I found out by going underground at Lea Hall colliery — that deep-mined coal from such mines is unsaleable unless it is sweetened and blended with open-cast coal. Therefore, open-cast coal has an important part to play when it is combined with deep-mined production, and it is not to be seen as directly in competition with jobs in the deep mine sector. [Interruption.] I am not sure whether the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) is disagreeing with me. Some deep mines require open-cast coal to sweeten their output so that an acceptable product is produced for the customers.
I am sorry. I thought that the hon. Gentleman was heckling me. Obviously he was not.
The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor raised the issue of damage to the environment. Planning procedures ensure that an application to work open-cast coal does not go ahead without all the arguments for and against the development being aired, thus allowing for a balanced judgment. The Open-cast Executive spends a great deal of time and effort to reduce the impact of its sites and to restore them once coaling has ceased. I do not have time to mention the other points about open-cast mining now.
I am sad that the hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McGuire) has made his last speech. We all remember the courage he showed during a difficult period which most hon. Members have tried to avoid mentioning. I, too, shall try not to make the mistake of doing so in detail. He is a brave man, and I am sorry that we have heard his last speech. He will know, as the hon. Member for Bolsover knows, that for many years the entitlement to concessionary coal was governed by a complex series of local and district agreements, some of which dated from many years past. Many anomalies often caused disputes and—