Coal Industry

Part of Estimates Day – in the House of Commons at 9:27 pm on 8th March 1988.

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Photo of Ronnie Campbell Ronnie Campbell , Blyth Valley 9:27 pm, 8th March 1988

He was right in what he said before the strike, and he is saying it again. Sir Robert Haslam, who appeared before the Select Committee, in answer to a question about privatisation and foreign coal, said, "Well, life is uncertain." The Secretary of State for Energy said that British Coal would have to compete in the market place; in other words, on the foreign market. Foreign coal is coming in and competing with British coal, so the figures quoted by the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes will go out of the window.

We do not know what our competitors' figures are. The other week 1 asked the Secretary of State for Energy what direct subsidies or direct help foreign coal gets in South Africa, Australia, Colombia, America and Poland, and I was given a completely negative reply. When I collared him afterwards he asked me, if I got to know, to tell him. So we do not know what we are competing against.

What we do know is that deep-sea ports in this country are being changed into coal-importing ports. That is a fact. There is Fawley in Southampton, one in Bristol, one on the Mersey and two on the Humber. That sounds the death knell of the Nottingham coalfield. Once foreign coal gets a hold, once we become blind to foreign subsidies, we must be prepared to see the demise of our coal industry, because once the electricity industry is privatised it will go for the cheapest coal.

If South Africa can offer one of the electricity companies a price for the next five years that is better than British Coal can match, that will be the demise of nine to 10 pits in Nottingham and Yorkshire, making 20 in all. It will be the demise of all industry in the north-east and in Scotland as well. That is the danger facing the coal industry.

Another danger is that which is faced when a country destroys its own industry and is left in the hands of its foreign competitors, just as we were left in the hands of the Arabs during the oil crisis. We relied on oil, and Joe Gormley said that the Arabs would not always live in tents. We ignored him, to our cost, because up went the price.

The same will happen with the coal industry, because men cannot go back to a pit once it has been closed. Our foreign competitors will put up the price, and then we shall see what the cost of electricity will be to the consumer in this country.