I beg to move,
That this House believes that the future of a resource as important as coal should not be left to market forces; opposes reliance on imported coal to meet Britain's energy needs; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to intervene in the negotiations between British Coal and the electricity supply industry in order to ensure the long-term contracts for production which are necessary for the coal industry to fulfil its duties to the country, the consumer, the environment and those that work in it.
We have debated the coal industry many times, but rarely in the context of such pressing and urgent developments. We are not talking this time about whether we should close so-called non-economic pits or save them in the interests of mining communities. This is not a debate about whether the coal industry can make itself efficient, because the industry has recorded a 35 per cent. reduction in costs in three and a half years, and such a record would be the envy of any private sector company. It is not a debate about productivity, as it is generally acknowledged that no other group of workers could rival the 75 per cent. increase in productivity that the miners have achieved in recent years. We have peeled away the outer layer of arguments about Britain's coal industry and we are down to the core.
The focus of our debate may be the coal industry but the issue concerns the whole future of the nation's energy needs. The question is whether a modern energy policy should be dictated by short-term market forces, as Conservatives believe, or whether—as the Labour party declares—it should be the product of industry and Government acting together to balance the long-term interests of the country against the vested interests of the market.
Whether in meeting the traditional concerns of the consumer or the fresh challenge of the environment, we say, without hesitation, that energy policy is too vital to our future, too critical in its effects on our quality of life and too fundamental in its strategic importance for industry and the consumer to be left to the vagaries of the market. The essential truth, which the Government seem incapable of recognising, is that what the marketplace wants is not necessarily what the country needs.
This is not an abstract argument. It arises today in an acute practical form. We know that British Coal is in the process of negotiating new contracts with National Power and PowerGen—the duopoly created by privatisation of the generation of electricity. At the moment, the two bodies take about 75 per cent. of British Coal's output and are thus pivotal to its survival.
In turn, National Power and PowerGen are negotiating contracts to supply power to area boards or distributors. That is supposed to happen under the new contract system that is central to the privatisation process, whereby each of the area boards negotiates for separate parts of the generating capacity. That was the original plan. With more than 70 different power stations and 12 area boards, the nightmarish complexity of the contractual arrangements —to be superimposed on the merit order system which, by common consent, has worked well for decades—is only now becoming apparent. When I visit power stations and ask about the new contract system I find that the response varies between despair and hysteria. So complex is the new computer system that it alone will add £60 million to consumers' bills.
As I said, that was the original plan. Yet the Financial Weekly of 22 June says:
Government advisers on the privatisation of the electricity industry have proposed scrapping the horrendously complicated intra-industry billing and charging system planned for the sell-off. The advisers are said to have told ministers that the system won't work".
In other words, the negotiation for the carve-up of power station contracts, which was at the heart of the case for privatisation that the Secretary of State advanced, is in a complete mess. At least it is now easier to make sense of each clay's press as it speculates on the future of the Cabinet in general and of the Secretary of State in particular. As the right hon. Gentleman's plans for privatisation come step-by-step closer to terminal chaos, so does his anxiety to flee his Department, or even to abolish it, become ever more frenzied.
We are now witnessing a rather undignified race between the reshuffle and the day of reckoning; between the right hon. Gentleman's future ambitions and his past mistakes. He has at least one unrivalled talent—he is always the first to abandon the sinking ship. Nothing in politics is closer to a gale warning than the sight of the right hon. Gentleman trying to climb on board one new Department after another. The Opposition have a very firm view of his prospects—a view which, I have no doubt, is endorsed by his Cabinet colleagues—that he should stay where he is and stick with what he started. If a critical element of his privatisation process is failing between National Power and PowerGen, the pressure will become all the greater to put the squeeze on short-term fuel costs to provide some fig leaf of justification for continuing with the privatisation proposals.
During the past few years British Coal has reduced the cost of coal supply to the electricity industry by some £650 million. That has not been passed on to the electricity consumer because the Secretary of State has been fattening up the industry's profit sheet to pave the way for privatisation. None the less, it has happened. The contracts between British Coal and the electricity industry amount to 75 million tonnes. We have heard reports that the electricity industry is now thinking of contracting for only 60 million tonnes, which would lose the country 15 million tonnes, 15,000 jobs and 15 pits.
When the matter was first raised a few weeks ago, the Under-Secretary gave one of his memorable interviews on the "Today" programme. He was asked seven times whether the reports were correct, and as each answer or non-answer became longer and more incoherent, we were reminded of what Lord Byron said about his mother-in-law:
She has lost the art of communication but not, alas, the gift of speech.
If the Under-Secretary, who is charged with responsibility for the coal industry, does not know the state of the negotiations, we are entitled to ask who does. If it is true that the electricity industry wishes to import more coal or heavy fuel oil, and if that is brought into the southern ports, it will reduce the need for power sent south from the midlands power stations and therefore reduce the need for midlands coal. Conservative Members should reflect on that when they vote tonight, because a 15 million
tonne reduction in coal is not at the margin of energy policy: it is fundamental. It would mean a significant fundamental shift in energy supply.
Today we have prepared an analysis of what the international coal market might look like over the next few years. If we consider all the main centres used to import coal into Britain, it is difficult to understand how any sensible Energy Secretary could be justified in relying upon imported coal to meet the country's future energy needs. The latest "International Coal Report", published just a week ago said, for example, about Australia:
Australian exporters are suffering acute shortage.
The supply situation is so tight that the world's largest exporter of seaborne coal is about to become an importer.
We know that the new Australian pits to be opened during the next few years are intended to supply Pacific basin countries, and in particular Japan, which is constantly opening up new coal markets.
The home market in the United States is growing, and its new acid rain controls are estimated to put $2 to $5 a tonne on the price of its coal, so there is no succour for us there. What about Poland, Colombia or South Africa? Are we to make our energy needs dependent upon supplies from those countries? What about the great hope mentioned a few years ago by many Conservative Members, that to meet future energy needs we should look to coal produced by China? According to our figures, in the first quarter of this year China's coal exports declined by 11 per cent., and according to the most recent reports, China is now importing coal.
I have been listening with fascination to the hon. Gentleman's speech. He mentioned both oil and coal, but not nuclear power, which provides the second largest percentage of generated electricity. What representations did he receive from the National Union of Mineworkers and from sponsored Labour Members when they discovered that the new pro-nuclear policy of the Labour party was pushed through while they were out of the room?
In a debate about the price of fuel and how to reduce costs to the consumer, it is rather peculiar for an hon. Member to make a statement in favour of nuclear power. I am grateful that he has raised the matter, because, if the privatisation process has taught us anything, if it has brought us any benefit, it is that it has exploded once and for all the notion that we should go nuclear because it is cheaper.
Is the Secretary of State aware of, and has he studied, recent history which, for example, shows that in 1981 imported coal was 20 per cent. more expensive than indigenous coal because of industrial unrest in Poland? Does he know that every 20 cents change in the sterling-dollar exchange rate makes a £6 per tonne difference one way or the other? Does he know that the world market for steam coal is so small that, if an extra buyer goes into the market for as much as 15 million tonnes, that will, of necessity, drive up the price of imported coal?
If the Secretary of State thinks that that is all the imagination of the Labour party, he should study the recent report by James Capers international mining department—hardly a body sympathetic to the Labour party—which said about the electricity supply industry in its analysis of the coal industry:
A privatised ESI will aim to minimise fuel costs: imports, in the short term, will be the answer … In the long term, international prices will go up. The British coal industry could be competitive with world markets by 1990 and could be restricting imports to peripheral power stations by 1995. A free-for-all policy on imports would close many mines which could be competitive.
That is the risk that we take.
If National Power and PowerGen decide, for their own strategic reasons—to second-source coal, as has been reported; if they want imports as a matter of principle irrespective of price competitiveness; if they believe that to be in their commercial interests, surely it is the job of the Secretary of State to ask whether it is not in the interests of the public to secure supply and whether it is not in the interests of the balance of payments that we do not suffer losses as a result of imported coal. Should not those interests be weighed in the balance against those of the private sector?
We have sought in vain to discover the Government's exact energy policy on coal imports. The junior Minister said in another place a short time ago—and perhaps it is the belief of the Secretary of State:
We believe that the purchase of coal, whether imported or indigenous, is a matter for the commercial judgment of individual customers."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 4 April 1989; Vol. 505, c. 1006.]
We are entitled to know the state of the negotiations between the industries, for both of which the Secretary of State is still absolutely responsible under his statutory duties. When we weigh the sacrifices of miners and mining communities, with almost one third fewer employed today than 10 years ago—many of my hon. Friends can bear testimony to the appalling levels of unemployment that still exist in the mining communities—we are at least entitled to know the Government's energy policy on coal imports. It is said that the strategic interests of this privatised duopoly may differ from those of the country, but why should we put those interests above the country's interests? Why should this be treated as if it were some private concern between the Coal Board and the privatised electricity industry, without involving the Government acting on behalf of the public interest?
It is not as if the Government are unable or unprepared to recognise strategic considerations when it suits them to do so. The Secretary of State has talked about coal meeting what he calls, fair competition. How do the proposals on nuclear power square with that proposition? Nuclear power will be ring-fenced from the market with 20 per cent. of all fuel being bought from what are primarily nuclear sources. It was said in the other place that the industry will be given a guarantee against future costs on decommissioning, reprocessing and disposing of nuclear waste if they arise from factors outside the industry's control.
If coal has greater duties imposed upon it in relation to the environment, they will not he subsidised by the taxpayer. The Government may say that the reason they are prepared to offer this unique public guarantee to a private sector company, which is what it will be, is because of the importance of nuclear power. But is coal any less important than nuclear energy? If the Government recognise the market's limitations and the wisdom of taking a long-term view of nuclear power, why do they insist that these matters are of no account with regard to coal? If the test to be applied were whether this would provide fair competition, I can tell the Government that fair competition with the nuclear industry is all that the coal industry demands.
In order to understand why these policies have come about, we must ask: what is the Government's overriding priority? It is simply privatisation and nothing else. The Secretary of State has been told that nuclear power cannot be sold without these unprecedented public guarantees against commercial risk. We are to have private profit and public liability, and in this grotesque contradiction of everything which the Conservatives avowedly stand for, we can clearly see the simple fact that they have no principle of policy, no motive and no objective in view, save to sell the nation's assets as quickly as legislation will allow and as cheaply as they dare. The message is privatisation first, public interest last.
The long-term future of the coal industry, the pressing demands of environmental protection, which require not the maximising of profit, but its control in the public interest, are to be sacrificed to the idol, the mixture of ideology and vested interest. It is the Secretary of State's peculiar misfortune to be in charge of the largest privatisation in history, just when privatisation has gone out of fashion.
Today, there is a new political agenda which is not about selling off the nation's public services, but about improving them. It is not about the old game of extracting profit from captive consumers, but about new ways of ensuring that consumers, and the society in which they live, can control the profit makers in the interests of the people. It is because the Government are out of date and out of touch that we believe with increasing confidence that, at the next election, they will be out of office as well.
I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and add instead thereof:
'congratulates the management and workforce of British Coal on their achievements in increasing productivity and reducing costs; welcomes the Government's continuing financial support for the industry which is enabling it to move towards profitability and a viable future; recognises that the only secure long term future for the industry lies in becoming an efficient and competitive supplier of coal; rejects the proposition that British Coal can only sell if its customers are forced to buy, and, has confidence that British Coal, on the basis of its own performance and not of Government dictat, will become the supplier of choice to the privatised electricity industry.'
I very much welcome the opportunity to debate the coal industry, but I must say straight away that I am disappointed by the shallow terms of the Opposition's motion. I wish to start by breaking some bad news to the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair): the contracts negotiations are going extremely well. In spite of snippets which he may read in the Financial Weekly, I assure him that the new system will be in place and working by 1 October, and all the signs are that we are ahead in our arrangements, rather than behind.
No, I shall not give way at the moment.
The industry is going through a period of enormous change. Twenty-five years ago, coal had many customers. Most people heated their homes with coal, our trains and ships were largely fuelled by coal, which provided our gas and virtually all our electricity. Today the industry has only one major customer: the electricity supply industry, which is being privatised.
I shall give way in a moment, if the hon. Gentleman will allow me to make a start.
We have made it very clear that the privatised electricity industry, like any other business, will be free to choose its suppliers, and that includes its coal suppliers, but we have also made it clear that we want British Coal to win the bulk of the business and we believe that, on the basis of its own performance, it can. These are not just empty words. It is a sign of our confidence in coal's future that we have committed ourselves to the privatisation of the coal industry after the next election. That is not a commitment which we would make unless we believed that we were going to have something large, successful and worthwhile to sell. We will have a large, successful and worthwhile coal industry after the privatisation of the electricity industry, and after the next election.
Our confidence is firmly based on the industry's performance since the strike. In the year before the strike British Coal produced 105 million tonnes of coal at a productivity of 2·43 tonnes per man shift. Last year, 1988–89, British Coal produced 103 million tonnes at a productivity of 4·14 tonnes. Therefore, output fell by less than 2 per cent. over this five-year period, while productivity rose by over 70 per cent., and productivity is continuing to rise. So far this year it has been running at levels over 9 per cent., above the same period last year. At the end of last month British Coal achieved a new productivity record of 4·63 tonnes—that is nearly 12 per cent., up on the average for last year.
I shall give way in a moment.
I believe that it also reflects the Government's record of unwavering support for the industry, not just since the strike but before as well. Over the 10 years since 1979, we have put over £6·5 billion of capital investment into the industry. The investment in low-cost capacity and in modern mining equipment has been a crucial factor in what the industry has achieved. This Conservative Government have provided the taxpayers' money to fund that huge investment.
The contract arrangements of which I spoke involved the contracts between the generators and the distributors which, as the hon. Gentleman said, lead on to the coal contracts—[Interruption.] The centre of my speech deals with why I believe the hon. Gentleman has a wrong-minded approach.
It is not just the capital investment itself, but the financing of the industry to which I should like to draw hon. Members' attention. We hear a great deal from the Opposition about the industry's financial burdens, but if they took the trouble to look at the figures for themselves they would see that British Coal's debt has actually fallen over the last five years from £4·2 billion to under £4 billion. As the House knows, I shall be coming forward in due course with proposals for restructuring the industry's capital, but I must point out that the massive investments we have made have been financed very largely at no cost to the industry, by grant which carries no interest.
Altogether, since 1979 we have injected nearly £10 billion of grant finance. Going back even further and taking into account previous grants and debt write-offs, our coal industry has received almost £20 billion at current prices since nationalisation, all of which has been written off and none of which bears a penny of interest.
If, since nationalization, the industry had received as much pro rata as the farmers have received we would be selling coal all around the world.
The Secretary of State referred to the massive productivity increases that the miners have achieved during the past few years. If that is correct—and it is—will he lend his weight to the NUM resolution that will be passed next week, which will state that NUM members want to recoup some of that massive productivity increase in the form of a substantial increase in wages of at least double digits—I hope as much as the 26 per cent. that the top directors got last year?
The hon. Gentleman consistently speaks up for and cares about the industry, but one of the problems is that he advocates the very policies that would destroy it.
I should like to repeat the last figures that I gave. The taxpayer has provided this industry with more than £20 billion of grant and loans, every penny of which has been written off as loss and not a penny of which bears interest.
Apart from deficit grant we have also provided restructuring grant support. Since the strike the number of men on colliery books has fallen from 170,000 to about 75,000 today. The House will note with satisfaction British Coal's achievement of being able to offer alternative jobs to all who wish to remain in the industry, even in coalfields such as those of Scotland, in which I recognise that the contraction has been especially severe.
No other industry has received such support, but for those who want to leave the industry the grants that we have provided have allowed British Coal to offer redundancy terms that are second to none. We have also made available £60 million of funding for British Coal Enterprise, thereby enabling the creation of more than 40,000 new job opportunities in Britain's coalfields. This is an impressive record by any standards. Our support for the industry has been consistent, generous and effective, and I bitterly resent snide remarks from the Opposition to the effect that the Government are somehow hostile to the coal industry. The facts give the lie to that assertion.
My right hon. Friend's figures are impressive—;he mentioned a £20 billion write-off since nationalisation. How much additional assistance has been granted to the industry in the form of social credits?
As I have said, the £20 billion includes all grants under all headings, plus the capital injected into the industry by the taxpayer and subsequently written off as lost.
I turn now to British Coal's relationship with the privatised generators. As I said earlier, there is no tripartite agreement between the Government, the generators and British Coal to reduce coal purchases by 15 million tonnes or by any other figure. The generators and British Coal are about to embark on the final stage of their negotiations, and those negotiations will settle the level of future purchases. I must make it clear that the Government will not force customers into long-term contracts for British coal in order to provide artificial support for the industry. I am confident that if British Coal continues to restructure its operations, to cut costs and to introduce new and more flexible working practices, the generators will choose to retain British Coal as their major supplier. They are hard-headed business men and they know the dangers to their business of being over-reliant on foreign suppliers, just as they have learnt from hard experience, four times in the past 20 years, the dangers of total dependence on a single United Kingdom supplier.
I listened to the sudden discovery by the hon. Member for Sedgefield that coal prices in world markets could go up, that Australia is quite a long way from the United Kingdom and that China is not planning to be a major supplier. I am glad the hon. Gentleman is finally catching on; these things have been known to me and to other members of the industry for years and they will form part of the considerations which will affect the attitudes of the generators as they come to place their business. The idea that the hon. Gentleman and his juvenile team of researchers have just stumbled on an amazing truth shows how naive and ill-informed he has been to date—
I find it difficult to see whether that amounts to a confession or a denial of our principal charge. I shall put the question to the right hon. Gentleman again. I do not doubt that the electricity suppliers are looking at this matter from their commercial viewpoint. I have asked the right hon. Gentleman a specific factual question. He is the Secretary of State in charge of both industries. Have they or have they not been talking about a contract for the entire 75 million tonnes or for a lesser amount of 60 million tonnes?
The hon. Gentleman is trying to get me to issue some form of instruction to the negotiators. The two sides are in negotiation, seeking to arrive at an agreement. The generators do not want to be over-dependent on a single United Kingdom supplier—they have been bitten by that bug four times in the past 20 years. They also know that there is an enormous advantage in having a secure, reliable, home-based supplier, and that being over-dependent, or dependent to any major extent, on imports can be dangerous. They do not need the hon. Gentleman to remind them of that. I trust both sides to negotiate sensibly and to come to a sensible arrangement.
All sorts of figures have been bandied about in the past. The only ones that matter are those which emerge from the final negotiations which are about to get under way—
Let us get this straight. If the privatised electricity industry decides that it wants to second-source its supply—to look to imports for a substantial, not the main, chunk of its coal supply—are we to take it that the right hon. Gentleman will not stand in the industry's way? If it wants to make an agreement for 60 million tonnes, 60 million tonnes it will be?
Once again, the hon. Gentleman is trying to get me to predetermine the negotiations. I have already made it clear that we have put the industry in a position to protect itself. We expect it, on the basis of its new competitiveness, to land the lion's share of the business, but I am not prepared to put a figure on what it will or will not achieve. It must negotiate—
In a moment.
As I told the UDM annual conference earlier this month, I am sure that the generators are well aware of the reputation of particular pits and coalfields for good industrial relations and for reliability of supply. The UDM pits have and deserve that reputation; others have not, and do not.
The hon. Member for Sedgefield asked why British Coal, having obtained a core contract, should not be allowed a first option to sell additional coal at the lowest price quoted by its competitors. That is what the hon. Gentleman demanded the other day. He does not suggest in any way that British Coal can win this business. The hon. Gentleman wants me to give it permission to buy the business with taxpayers' money. Volume for volume's sake is a recipe for bankruptcy, not security. I am not prepared to intervene on such an option.
The Opposition motion refers to the duty that the coal industry owes to the environment and I agree with that. We have to recognise that even so-called "clean" coal-burning technologies have damaging environmental effects. We cannot wish away the environmental advantages of other fuels such as gas, but we can help to reduce the disadvantages of coal, and particularly of British Coal.
As many hon. Members will know, British coal is relatively high in sulphur—I believe the average figure is around 1·5 per cent. but it ranges from less than 0·5 per cent. in some Scottish coalfields to 3 per cent. or so in Yorkshire. To reduce sulphur emissions to more acceptable levels, generators have essentially two choices: they can either burn low-sulphur coal or they can install fluegas desulphurisation equipment.
I am able to confirm today that we have asked the privatised generators to continue to plan on the basis of installing 12,000 MW of FGD capacity during the 1990s. That represents a very large cost indeed—about £1·6 billion. The first of those installations at Drax should come on stream by 1993–94, and should provide a secure outlet for up to 10 million tonnes of indigenous coal, and should substantially eliminate the need for low sulphur imports.
The Secretary of State has acknowledged that Scottish coal has one of the lowest sulphur contents in the United Kingdom. Why has he stood back and allowed the last of the Lothian coalfields to be mothballed, in spite of the fact that we have more than 100 million tonnes of good quality and low-sulphur reserves in that coalfield?
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has pointed out to the House that the capacity has been mothballed and can be opened up if it becomes economic. The plain fact is that the Scottish pits are far and away our most uneconomic. We are seeking to ensure that there continues to be a market for high-sulphur British coal. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.] If we were to revert to low-sulphur coal, we would have to import massive quantities from overseas. The fitting of Drax and other stations with FGD equipment will ensure that there is a substantial market for British Coal, which would otherwise have been at a major disadvantage.
We have also agreed that British Coal should pursue a joint venture with the private sector to construct a pithead power station in Nottinghamshire, using a modern and efficient boiler design, and we are encouraging the next stage of the Grimethorpe topping cycle experiment, which holds out the possibility of much higher efficiencies than in conventional boilers. All these developments will help British Coal to compete more effectively and fairly against imported coal in the power station markets of the 1990s.
The Government have shown in many ways their commitment to coal. By its own performance and with the taxpayers' support, British Coal has put itself in a position to win the major share of the electricity industry's coal business.
By contrast, the "new pragmatists" in the Opposition are as ready as ever to revert to type and to the failed policies of the past. When the young lion roared today, what we heard was exactly the same noise as the old lion of Chesterfield used to make—protect, subsidise, interfere, direct, ban competition. They claim to care about the environment, but they plan to make us almost totally dependent on the most polluting fuel. They claim to care about the workers, but they back the most reactionary union in Britain, the NUM, and reject one of the most progressive.
I invite the House to reject the Opposition's defensive and defeatist motion and to support the Government amendment.
I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to address the House on an issue which is very near to my heart and the hearts of all my constituents. I speak as someone who has worked in the industry for 29 years. My father worked in the industry for 51 years, so between the two of us we have 80 years' service. I am a sixth generation coal miner. For six generations, the colliery in which I worked has supported not just my family, but the families of many thousands of hard-working people. After hearing the Secretary of State's remarks, I believe that the Government no longer have faith in the mining industry of Great Britain. Since 1985 we have had from British Coal false promises about the north-east area, followed by half promises, lies and deceit.
We have had closures, which became restructuring, which in turn became reorganisation and then rationalisation. All of them had the same result—the redundancies of a valued and precious work force, who require work and the dignity of being able to work. However, the Government and British Coal have denied them that dignity.
The Government and British Coal are not just selling short a very valued work force; they are selling short the British nation. The Secretary of State has sold short the nation's most precious assets—assets which the Japanese would give their eye teeth for and assets which could take this nation forward well into the next millenium. However, the Government are prepared to sell now for a quick buck and to hell with the future. I believe that that is a disgrace of national proportions.
There are now seven deep coal mines in the north-east. Capacity in those mines has been reduced, while there has been expansion in opencast mining in west Durham. The countryside has been raped and pillaged in a way that has never been seen in the north-east.
The Government are supporting the production of coal by means of slave labour in such countries as Colombia, South Africa and Poland in the eastern European bloc. There has been rape and pillage, too, of those nations. Such coal production is, however, supported by the British Government against the interests of miners in the north-east, who are producing coal economically and profitably and with greater productivity than ever before. That filthy Colombian coal—won on the backs of slave and child labour—is being imported into the ports of Sunderland, Middlesbrough and Hartlepool. That is a disgraceful affair, of which any proud Englishman would be ashamed.
I want to consider industrial relations in British Coal. I was a lodge secretary for 20 years at my colliery, and I sat on a consultative committee for close on 30 years. We engaged in consultation and conciliation. We knew the manager, the under-manager and the officials. We entered freely into conciliation week in and week out to improve safety and industrial relations. There was understanding and agreement between people who had a common love of the industry. What is happening now? The industry is managed by silhouettes from British Coal headquarters. They are the marionettes of the Secretary of State and his cronies in the Department of Energy.
The finest consultation and conciliation process within any industry in Great Britain has been subjected to the manipulation of the Secretary of State and people who have neither love nor understanding of the industry. For example, my forefathers and I worked at Murton colliery which is 150 years old this year. The lodge secretaries are very anxious about C seam—the old yard seam. They wrote to the area board asking for a meeting of the Murton Mining Federation. They received the reply, "What is the mining federation?" That federation has been in existence since 1890 and it has dealt with manager after manager from the days of the South Hetton Coal Company, through the managers and agents of the National Coal Board, to British Coal. However, British Coal had the impudence to ask, "What is the Murton Mining Federation?"
The Murton Mining Federation has existed for the benefit of the community, through the provision of colliery housing, swimming pools, welfare parks and welfare of the elderly. It has also existed for the benefit of management. Management has been able to discuss matters with all the unions from Murton colliery for nearly 100 years, but the gen boys at British Coal have had the impudence to come in and ask, "What is the Murton Mining Federation?"
In the north-east area of British Coal, as in other areas, we have undergone change. We have freely accepted mechanisation, and we accepted computerisation with enthusiasm. We did that freely, without agreements or seeking financial remuneration. We accepted those things for the good and the benefit of the industry. Where has it got us? Spite and vindictiveness of a kind which we have never seen before—not even from the South Hetton Coal Company, the Landonderrys or other private enterprise—has been levied at us by the Government and the corporation. The Secretary of State has announced a sell-out of treacherous proportions today and that will be remembered by this and by future generations.
Today's debate on the coal industry gives the House the opportunity to review the Government's commitment and to contemplate the future of Britain's major source of energy in the new green environment and privatised power generating industry. The British Coal industry exists only if there is a market for its product. The cost of coal in a free market determines whether it succeeds or loses out to other carbon fuels. We must remember that the consumption of coal is now only half what it was 50 years ago. The consequence has been pit closures under both Labour and Conservative Governments, although from what we hear from Opposition Members, one would think that closures happened only under a Conservative Government.
During the Labour Administrations between 1964–70 and 1974–79, a total of 295 collieries were closed, of which 32 were closed by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) when he was Secretary of State for Energy.
When I became the Member for Sherwood in 1983, my constituency had 10 collieries employing 12,000 men and producing 7·5 million tonnes of coal. After losing Hucknall and Linby pits as their reserves ran out, and Newstead which joined the nearby Annesley complex, only Blidworth, which closed in March 1989, was closed because production was uneconomical under British Coal management.
With coal reserves at 30 million tonnes, many miners believed that with different management the tragedy at Blidworth could have been avoided. Many of the miners facing redundancy at Blidworth were convinced and prepared to put their money into forming a company to keep the pit open. However, at the time of the closure announcement, a British company carried out a feasibility study and was convinced that it could make Blidworth colliery a success. It offered to manage the pit from British Coal under the Coal Industry Act 1947, at no cost to British Coal or to the taxpayer. Sadly, that offer was rejected out of hand.
Today, there are six highly productive and efficient collieries in Sherwood which employ 6,000 men and produce 7 million tonnes of coal. That streamlining of the industry has take palce without the need for any compulsory redundancies. Nevertheless, I have always publicly urged miners who must face the choice of taking redundancy to stay with the coal industry unless they were satisfied that they had a marketable skill which was in demand locally. Those who have stayed have seen another year of improved earnings and conditions. It is ironic that those conditions which were skilfully negotiated by the Union of Democratic Mineworkers benefit all mineworkers throughout the industry.
I want to thank my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Energy and for Employment on behalf of my retired miners who rightly took advantage of the enhanced redundant mineworkers payments scheme, for accepting the miners representation through Roy Lynk, the president of the UDM, and for meeting my hon. Friends the Members for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester), for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo), Nottingham, East (Mr. Knowles), Newark (Mr. Alexander), Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) and myself, to put their case.
The prompt response from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment that he would change the unemployment benefit rules to meet those circumstances was greatly appreciated. However, I was puzzled, because during that time we heard numerous allegations from Opposition Members of miners being harassed and intimidated by staff working in employment offices to sign up for work at restart interviews or their benefits would stop. Only last week, the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) during Employment Question Time was still running the Labour party line of alleged harassment.
I contend that, for political gain, Labour Members sat on their hands, allowing rumour to escalate and thus causing unnecessary alarm before they did anything about it. I may be asked what proof I have of that. I need say only that complaints of that nature came from Labour Members. In my constituency, which the House knows has more miners than any other, 1,500 men used the redundant mineworkers payments scheme to retire permanently.
In the week after the Second Reading of the Employment Bill last January, I received two telephone calls and three letters drawing attention to a letter from the unemployment benefits office in Arnold concerning restart and benefits. One telephone call made by me to the employment deputy manager for the Nottingham area clarified the position, and my statement to the local press reassured my constituents that there was no need for alarm. I suggest that, when Opposition Members are confronted by a similar situation in future, instead of making mischief they should give their constituents the service that they deserve.
No, I shall not give way. I have too many important things left to say.
Overall, Nottinghamshire's super-miners clocked up an operating profit for British Coal in the financial year 1988–89 of £65 million, which represents half of British Coal's profits from deep mining—a record that no other coalfield area can match. British Coal's total operating profit of £500 million is the highest figure since the industry was nationalised in 1947. However, the downside to that achievement is that the industry carries an interest burden of £430 million, representing a charge of approximately £5 per tonne of coal sold. That highlights the need for restructuring British Coal's finances.
I ask my right hon. Friend urgently to consider giving British Coal the same preferential treatment as that afforded to British Steel in the early 1980s. Although British Steel's profits are similar to those of British Coal, as a consequence of restructuring, its interest charges amount to only £17 million.
We hear a lot about the past in coal industry debates. Unfortunately, we cannot turn back the clock but should use the past as a guide to the future, in meeting the challenges that face the industry after the electricity industry is privatised in 1990. National Power and PowerGen—the two successor companies to the Central Electricity Generating Board—will require coal at a price that will provide the nation with its primary source of energy at a cost that will make our industrial goods more internationally competitive, and one that will not be considered a luxury.
Competition for annual contracts of 75 million tonnes must be fair, and British Coal must not be subjected during negotiations to pressure from the new companies, with the threat of cheap, subsidised imports. If allowed, that would exacerbate the nation's already stretched balance of payments. British Coal's ability to continue as the supplier of choice rather than of necessity is well demonstrated by its progress over the past four years. Productivity is up by more than 90 per cent., while costs are down 32 per cent.
The hon. Gentleman has spoken at great length about colliery closures and the necessity for them, and about the beautiful redundancy terms that were offered. Is it not the case that the hon. Gentleman was one of the Conservative Members who, during the 1984 strike, assured the Union of Democratic Mineworkers that it was no part of British Coal's programme to close pits? What changed his mind?
I can tell the hon. Gentleman what changed my mind, and I thank him for asking the question that I deliberately prompted. Hansard of 4 December 1978 quotes the then Secretary of State for Energy, the right hon. Member for Chesterfield as stating:
I have never found the NUM in any way unreasonable where closures are necessary because of exhaustion or because pits are out of line in economic terms."—[Official Report, 4 December 1978; Vol. 959, c. 1015–1016.]
I believe that that answers the hon. Gentleman's question.
Of paramount importance is a reduction in coal prices of 22 per cent. in real terms, representing a loss in sales realisations for British Coal of £900 million per year. Collieries continue to improve their performance. In Nottinghamshire, there is a big switch to retreat mining. This year, 52 miles of underground roadways will be completed. Leading the way are Thoresby and Rufford collieries, with record-breaking performances of 130 m per week. Bilsthorpe pit is about to begin a £10 million underground motorway 4,000 m long.
It seems that every Opposition Member wants to intervene, but I am not giving way again. I have done so once, and that is enough.
A further £18 million will be spent on heavy duty coal face equipment in the coming year. Some of that machinery will be fitted with British Coal's new automatic steering systems, which reduce the amount of dirt mined by up to 40 per cent. and give better roof control, enabling productivity to increase by a further 30 per cent. Such improvements will make the industry highly competitive by 1992. However, before then, many collieries will be vulnerable to subsidised imports. It would be tragic to threaten their progress for the very short-term gains to be made from importing coal. By 1995, any savings made by an all-out import policy in 1990 would have disappeared and the electricity supply industry will be paying millions of pounds more for imported coal than if it had bought British.
There is a risk that many deep mines that could compete with imported coal in 1995 will be closed by 1990 if the Government encourage an early free-for-all on imports. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will dispel rumours that British Coal can compete for only 60 million tonnes of the new companies' total requirements of about 75 million tonnes, even if it agrees to meet the last tranche of 15 million tonnes at world prices.
The Union of Democratic Mineworkers has always accepted fair and unfettered competition, but the threat posed to Nottinghamshire by imported coal is potentially catastrophic. Restructuring has already seen 15,000 men leave the industry. Recently, the UDM president proposed a five-year honeymoon period after electricity privatisation, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will seriously consider that suggestion. It is not a case of special pleading. As the Nottingham Evening Post commented, the UDM's attitude is the stuff of realism. The union is forward-looking, prepared to modernise agreements and to adopt working practices that relate to the reality of highly capitalised mining technology—without which the coal industry would be hopelessly ill prepared for the 1990s.
Decisions affecting the next decade will be governed by the environmental debate on the greenhouse effect. Misleadingly, that is being equated with the operation of coal-fired power stations. Although coal burning is responsible for 15 per cent. of the global greenhouse effect, coal-fired power generating contributes only 7 per cent.
That is not the basis on which to base a switch to nuclear power, which was once seen as the panacea in providing cheaper electricity, but which is now accepted both by the Government and by the CEGB as costing about 40 per cent. more. To have any significant effect on emissions would require a worldwide nuclear programme of impracticable dimensions. Action in Britain alone, or action concentrated only on coal, would be ineffective. Annual consumption of coal in Britain is 115 million tonnes, from a worldwide total of more than 3 billion tonnes. The United Kingdom coal-fired power stations contribute less than 0·5 per cent. to the global greenhouse effect. Remedial action must be on an international scale. Already, all are agreed that increased efficiency in the use of energy would be an effective way in which to lessen the greenhouse effect.
Leading the way is British Coal's new system, called the topping cycle, which will allow new coal-fired stations to generate electricity at 45 per cent. efficiency rather than the 37 per cent. from standard stations now in use. It would be clean in terms of sulphur and nitrogen oxide, and would reduce electricity costs and carbon dioxide output. A miniature high-tech station based on the system is planned in my constituency—where else?—at Bilsthorpe colliery. It is the joint project of British Coal and the east midlands electricity board. The principal reason for the choice of site is the excellent industrial relations in the Nottinghamshire coalfield.
A unique feature of the project is that mineworkers will be offered shares at preferential prices. Their opinions were echoed by their president, who said, "It is a chance of a lifetime for the working miner to have a financial stake in his future, and we are very enthusiastic about the project and its prospects."
I share that optimism. The technological revolution has arrived. In a debate in 1984, I said:
Every day we hear of the sunrise industries. The greatest of these is the coal industry. It will be here when the others have gone".—[Official Report, 7 June 1984; Vol. 61, c. 474.]
I have neither heard nor seen anything since then to change my statement. Come 1992 and the single European market, the British coal industry will be ready and able to supply the home market and the highly protected European markets, particularly those of France and Germany.
It depends on which side of the issue we stand.
This evening, however, we have listened to what amounted to nothing less than NUM-bashing from the Secretary of State. We have come to expect it from the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart), who always has a prepared brief—probably from the UDM, but we do not know. Personally bashing a major union, however, does the Secretary of State no credit. I should have thought that it would be wiser to leave that subject well alone.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) said, the debate is not about market forces; it is a continuation of the bashing of miners and the mining industry that began in 1984. As the Secretary of State knows, I have spent many hours over the years on the Select Committee on Energy, listening to many expert witnesses, including the right hon. Gentleman. At no time have I heard any evidence that the Government's policy was not deliberately to run down the mining industry purely for reasons of dogma and revenge.
The Secretary of State will recall that in his evidence to the Committee he said that the increased import of coal posed no fears, because the capacity of the ports could not cope with it: that was his defence when he was challenged. Of course, it was part of the plan to increase port capacity to enable more coal to come into the country. His permanent secretary does not really agree with the proposals: only a fortnight ago he told the Select Committee that there were no plans to interfere with the free market, and suggested that his Department was sitting on the sidelines. It is fairly obvious this evening, however, that the Secretary of State is prepared to accept a much lower percentage of fuel for the CEGB than is guaranteed by the agreement now in operation, which can mean only that there will be more imports.
Sir Peter Gregson—the permanent secretary to whom I have referred—told the Select Committee on the same occasion that the £311 million in the Department's estimate for the restructuring grant was equivalent to 15,000 miners' jobs in the current financial year. Given that the overspill from the previous year was 5,000 jobs, we are talking about the loss of 20,000 jobs. If Sir Peter Gregson is wrong, I invite the Secretary of State or the Minister to say so. If he is right, however, I remind the Secretary of State that the same Select Committee, in its 1987 report on the coal industry, said that never again must this or any other industry be run down so rapidly without consideration of the social consequences.
Those consequences have been pointed out in the House time and again, but the only reply that we have received from the Secretary of State and his hon. Friends is a reminder of the attractive redundancy terms enjoyed by miners. Not once have they been able to give an instance of measures to encourage alternative employment in the mining communities. In areas such as mine—the Wakefield area, which has lost 11,000 jobs since 1984—there is no evidence of that to this day.
I hope that the Secretary of State accepts the figures that I have given, and will tell us whether his Department, the Department of Employment and the Department of Trade and Industry are taking part in discussions to try to solve the problems of communities that have been devastated by the rundown of the coal industry.
Let me clear up that point. What Sir Peter Gregson said was that the total available provision was £311 million. We do not know how many redundancies there will be, because we are not in charge of the closure programme. Last year we under-provided and had to come back to the House for a supplementary estimate. This is not a prediction; it is a provision which may or may not be needed. If it is not needed, it will be carried forward into the next year.
Sir Peter Gregson made it clear that the figure might also be an under-estimate. If that is the case, we are talking about more than 20,000 miners.
Hon Members have referred to attractive redundancy terms, and I do not deny that men over 50 received reasonable compensation in the form of lump sums and weekly payments, which some of them welcomed. But it is a different ball game now: the average age of miners is 34, and they have no weekly payments to cushion the blow. Young men have nowhere else to go. One of the schemes guaranteed that a further payment would be made if men took redundancy, based on so many years' service. The agreement expires in August, in the same financial year as about 20,000 job losses in the mining industry. Does the Secretary of State plan to extend the redundancy payments scheme for mineworkers, bearing in mind that a devastatingly large number of men will be made redundant? If he does not do so, the mining communities will suffer even greater hardship than they have experienced hitherto.
The Government's policy is deliberately to encourage coal imports. Lord Marshall has repeatedly told the Select Committee that he will shop in the cheapest market. He made no bones about it. If that happens, profitable pits will have to be closed. The miners have been congratulated on their wonderful achievements since the miners' strike, but 20,000 of the miners who have done such wonderful things will lose their jobs this year. That is on record. Only a fortnight ago Sir Peter Gregson told the Select Committee on Energy that 20,000 miners would lose their jobs this year.
I am convinced that the CEGB, or its successor, will not take the same amount of coal from British Coal as it has taken hitherto. There will be even more coal imports. It is economic lunacy to run down the coal industry and close profitable pits. In 1987 the Select Committee on Energy said that the industry would be down to 67,000 men by 1990. The then Secretary of State for Energy pooh-poohed that forecast. However, it is now forecast that the industry will be down to 50,000 men by the end of this financial year. When the industry is run down to the extent that it cannot meet demand, how much cheap coal will there then be? Kids in primary schools in my constituency know the answer to that question. When we cannot meet demand from our own resources, the price of coal will spiral. That will be the effect of the Government's policy.
I hope that the Secretary of State will note the comments of Sir Robert Haslam. In his evidence to the Select Committee, Sir Robert made it clear that he does not share all the views of the Secretary of State. I hope that the Secretary of State saw the press statement issued by British Coal on 14 June in which Sir Robert expressed his concern about the future of the coal industry and about the unfairness of the Government's policy regarding nuclear power. The Secretary of State's policy is to cut the aid that is given to British Coal, but at the same time he is introducing legislation that will featherbed the nuclear industry.
In his press statement Sir Robert Haslam
expressed great surprise that nuclear power—with costs for producing electricity at least 40 per cent. more than coal—is now being justified as the 'environmentally friendly' fuel resource.
Sir Robert went on to say that the United States does not think that nuclear power is environmentally friendly because nuclear power stations are to be closed, partly for economic reasons but also because of the views of people in the United States. They have found that nuclear power stations are not the great economic success that they had hoped for; they do not result in the production of cheap fuel, the argument that is used against coal.
The Secretary of State took over from his predecessors the job that the Prime Minister began during the miners' strike—to destroy the miners, to get revenge on them and damn the consequences to the country's major source of energy.
A notable feature of the debate is the total absence of Liberals, SDPs, nationalists—all those who claim to be interested in the environment. The last two speeches by Opposition Members to which I have listened were very similar to those that I heard when I entered the House some 20 years ago. They were genuine, from the heart and full of understanding. They reminded me of what I call the old mining group of the Labour party. They were in sharp contrast to the speech by the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), which was full of entertainment value but very short of understanding.
I, too, heard the radio interview that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Energy gave. I should have been very angry if he had said what the figures would be, because it is not his job to carry out the negotiations. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made clear, negotiations are now taking place and we shall have to await the results. It is not for Ministers to interfere in negotiations of that kind.
I am probably the last remaining Conservative Member who has worked underground for more than two years in the pits, mainly as a back ripper. I remember my very happy association with the mining industry. For a couple of years I was on the national committee of the Bevin boy movement. I did my training in Nottinghamshire and I worked in Derbyshire. My one claim to fame is that in those days I worked at the same pit as Cliff Gladwin who is, of course, in "The Guinness Book of Records". I, probably, never shall be. Perhaps we could do with Cliff Gladwin in the England team today, if he was able to score runs now as he did in that particular match, with one leg bye off a certain part of his anatomy.
It cannot be right that the electricity industry, whether under nationalised or private control, should be forced to buy from any particular source. The industry has to provide a service to the consumer. It is the consumer who in the end decides whether he is satisfied. He is entitled to expect that those who supply him are buying in the best market in terms of both calorific and monetary value. I would place my reliance on the common sense of those who are carrying out the negotiations. I only wish that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State could knock a few heads together to stop unnecessary legal fees being accumulated in a certain dispute between part of the coal industry and part of the electricity industry north of the border. That is a total waste of money and I only wish I could persuade my right hon. Friend—I have failed so far —to give a direction to stop that nonsense.
My second point may not command as much support as what I have said already. The Labour party seems to have learnt virtually nothing in 40 years. It is still blinkered by outdated ideas. I recall a speech on this subject. I had to do a lot of research to find it and I should quote from it briefly:
The coal situation is one of the gravest and most complex in the whole of our affairs to-day and one which will have its repercussions on every sector of national life. With the formation of the National Coal Board, the middleman will be eliminated, but this will not mean cheaper coal".
How right that was.
Lord Hyndley has already indicated that the price of coal will almost certainly rise.
The speaker opposed the formulated policy of the National Coal Board because, he said, it ignored technical improvement; it would not stop the fall in production or help our export trade. It had no recruiting policy, and would be one of the worst monopolies in the country. It would impair the freedom of the miner; there would be no impartiality in price fixing and no protection of the public.
That speech was made on 10 January 1947, and according to the press report it was given by a certain Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg. I stand by every word that I uttered 42 years ago. I said then, as I say tonight, that in the end it is the consumer who matters and the National Coal Board grossly let down the consumer.
As one Bevin boy to another, does the hon. Gentleman agree that we would never have been Bevin boys had the system of market forces not ruined the coal industry to such an extent that it has to be privatised because it could not supply coal when it was wanted?
I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman, who in circles outside the House I would call a friend. He omits the facts at the time. I shall not take a long time to answer his point because we have been asked for short speeches.
The industry could have found the capital to have re-equipped the industry without the taxpayer being called upon as a result of nationalisation.
I saw the flag of the NCB being raised to immense cheers from miners who thought that a new world was beginning. Sadly, that new world never came about because they were let down by those who ran the industry and those who ran the National Coal Board.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. That was how most of the miners for whom I had and have immense admiration were duped. They thought that a new panacea was being created by the raising of that flag. They were duped by the Labour party which was then in government. The hon. Gentleman knows that that is true.
I believe that the sooner the coal industry is in private hands the better it will suit the miners who work in it and the customers who buy its products. If what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is doing to speed up the denationalisation of the electricity industry will help that, I give him not three cheers but four cheers.
First, I should like to comment briefly on the speech by the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart). I shall not say too much about the parrot nature of his written speech in case I embarrass him, but Opposition Members well know who must have written it. The hon. Member for Sherwood told us quite a lot about Bilsthorpe. Bilsthorpe has a Labour parish council, a Labour district council, a Labour county council and, as of last week, a Labour MEP. The only link that is missing is a Labour Member of Parliament.
The hon. Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood), who was one of my constituents before he left for greener pastures, should see the letter which I received from the Bilsthorpe parish council in 1983. The nine Labour party councillors wrote congratulating me on winning the election to Westminster above the Labour candidate.
I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman received a letter from Blidworth parish council.
In the tenth year of Conservative government, known to many of us in the mining industry as the decade of shame, it is important to remember that we are discussing the mining industry ten years on. I listened with amazement to the Secretary of State tonight boasting about the wonderful job that the Government have done for the mining industry. If getting rid of 150,000 miners is doing a good job, that shows how much the Government care about the mining industry and the mining communities. Why did they run down the mining industry? Why are they so against miners, their families and their communities? Is it because coal stocks are declining? there has been no such decline in coal reserves. Is it because there is a drop in demand for coal? That is certainly not enough to justify running down the mining industry. Is it not a livid hatred of miners and their unions, particularly the National Union of Mineworkers?
The hon. Member for Sherwood told us that the UDM is such a responsible organisation. It is so responsible that it has negotiated the smallest percentage increase in basic rates in the history of mining unions in the past 20 years. That is how good a union it is. Let me give the hon. Member for Sherwood one piece of advice to help him in his good fortunes, or his misfortunes, in the next general election. If he honestly thinks that wrapping his arms around Roy Lynk will help him get re-elected, I can tell him that that is like wrapping his arms around the captain of the Titanic.
I wish to make a brief reference to the Under-Secretary of State who is on the Government Front Bench. I was a bit annoyed, to say the least, at some of his out-of-character and disgraceful comments earlier today in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) about the sacked miners. We heard him display all the old hatred and expose the Government's attitude towards the miners once again. I wish to clear up a few matters. The Minister did not tell us about the thousands of miners who were charged with standing on picket lines, standing up in a village or sitting on a summer seat and who were taken to court, found innocent but still not given their jobs back.
The hon. Member for Sherwood spoke about the great work that the UDM is doing in a new rejuvenated industry. He did not tell us about Paul Gallant who is on the area executive of the UDM who was charged with GBH for assaulting a striking miner and his retired father. Nothing was done against that individual, who is now welcoming the Secretary of State to UDM conferences wherever it has them now. There was no fair hand in considering the problems of miners and administering justice to miners at that time. Is it not a fact that of all the atrocities that were committed against miners who were on strike, not one working miner found guilty of any offence was sacked? Can the Secretary of State tell us what happened to the working miner who petrol-bombed my car because I was a striking miner during the miner's strike? Can he tell me what happened to the working miner who bombed my garage because I was a striking miner during the miners' strike? The answer is, nothing.
The hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart) talked about the green pastures to which I have gone. He is so right. I am now among my ain folk, as we say in Scotland, where I was born and bred and I am proud to represent them. Before I moved, the hon. Member for Sherwood was my Member of Parliament, but there has been a 100 per cent. improvement in the quality of my life because I represent myself, because I live in my constituency.
The number of Scottish miners has decreased during this decade of shame. Ten years ago, there were 21,000; five years ago, there were 14,000; and now there are 1,600. A shadow is hanging over the Scottish deep-mine industry. On 2 February 1989, in a press release, British Coal praised the Scottish miners for their 15 per cent. increase in productivity. There was a special reference to Longannet:
At Longannet coal face teams have established a new record for a week's output from a single coal face of 31,228 tonnes"—
a record that improved on the previous 1957 record of 25,000 tonnes. British Coal praised the Scottish miners with one hand and put the knife into them with the other.
I hope that my hon. Friend will remind the House that Shell, an international company, is bringing coal—in small boats, not bulk carriers—into small ports in Scotland. It is a loss leader. It is not making a profit on that exercise, in the hope that, when it wins the market, it will be able to get the contract and then up the price.
My hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) made a suggestion about redundancies that affect Scotland. Should not what Sir Peter Gregson said on 14 June to the Select Committee on Energy be put on the record? He said that the £311 million for restructuring grant should be able to cover, first, the redundancies that spilled over from last year, in addition to the 15,000 redundancies in the current year.
My hon. Friend is right. We have been given horrific figures showing by how much coal has been subsidised when transported by Shell to capture the so-called market. I was pleased to hear my hon. Friend's helpful intervention, because it takes me to my next point.
To add insult to injury for miners, Ministers have acted against them. I remember the Prime Minister introducing a Bill to allow for up to £40 million of imported coal. I remember Nottinghamshire Conservative Members opposing that Bill, obviously because of a certain self-interest.
The Secretary of State has said today that the Government will not be so foolish as to put the market into the hands of foreign importers. I see no evidence to support that. We have been told that only 2 million tonnes of coal comes from South Africa. That sounds fine, but how much South African coal is dumped in places such as Rotterdam and enters Britain through the back door? We know that South African coal has been moved in lorries from Nottingham in the midlands and blended with Durham coal, but that coal is not recorded in the figures.
We might not know the true figures, but we know that there are Conservative Members who willingly support the closure of the mining industry. One Conservative Member—I doubt that he will speak tonight—would probably want to tell us that we should bring all our coal in from South Africa. The South African bovver boys are here, and I see one. They would love to bring in South African coal, selling our natural reserves short.
Britain's natural resources are the envy of the world. We all know what happened in the 1960s and 1970s. I shall not defend the actions of other Governments who fell into the trap of accepting cheap oil but who, when the market was captured and the coal industry started to run down, pulled the rope in and quadrupled prices, almost destroying many western economies. That is the danger that we face. We must recognise that it is a trap into which no Government, regardless of party, should fall. I am not convinced that the Government are sincere in saying that they will not fall into that trap.
The Government support the idea of using coal from China, South Africa or Colombia. As my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Cummings) said, that coal comes from child labour. The Government would sooner have that than British coal. The Government who whinge about Parliament's sovereignty support the idea of placing our energy requirements in the hands of foreign importers.
The Government are on their way out, are they not? [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Are they behind 12 per cent. or 14 per cent. this week? [HON. MEMBERS: "It is 14 per cent."] We will soon have a Tory-free Scotland and a Tory-free Nottingham. This country needs its coal produced by British miners. The Government will not achieve that—only a Labour Government will.
I am grateful for the chance to speak in the debate. I recognise the sincerity with which Labour Members prosecute any debate on the coal industry. There is a sort of agelessness about the way in which it is conducted. For many Labour Members it is clearly a measure of success if miners are kept in jobs, whereas Conservative Members believe in promoting a successful industry that can produce economically and sell what it produces.
I want to make three general points. The first is about the tremendous progress that has been made in the industry in Nottinghamshire. It is a pity that Labour Members do not look more carefully at that aspect. Secondly, in one or two tangential ways, I have some sympathy with the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) about the coal industry's difficulties in the negotiation of contracts. Thirdly, I emphasise the critical need for the industry to be returned to the private sector as swiftly as possible.
I read the motion moved by the hon. Member for Sedgefield with some surprise, because it did not acknowledge the tremendous progress that has been made by the mining industry. It does not show the sort of support for the industry—which Conservative Members would have expected following the review of Labour policy—or the new brand of trade unionism represented by the Union of Democratic Mineworkers which so well fights for its members' interests. The hon. Gentleman may have failed to show his motion in advance of the debate to the latterday Machiavelli who plays such an important role in the Labour party—Peter Mandelson.
In a hitherto adverse market, the mining industry has made much progress, and it is important to recognise that. Its operating profit this year at £500 million is twice as much as last year, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart) said in his excellent speech. It is not for nothing that my hon. Friend is known in Nottinghamshire as the miners' friend—a title to which he is justly entitled.
Tremendous price reductions have been made in the industry, saving its customers £500 million in the past year alone. Operating costs have been reduced by over 20 per cent. in real terms. Deep-mine profits of £125 million have been made, whereas the comparable figure for last year was a loss of £112 million. Accidents in the industry have reduced by no less than two thirds since the strike, from 93 per 100,000 man shifts to 29·4. Conservative Members would have liked to hear Labour Members acknowledge how well the industry has done over recent years.
Deep mine operating profits of £73 million were achieved in Nottinghamshire last year. Even after capital charges of £55 million, an overall profit of £34 million was made. Productivity in Nottinghamshire has increased by nearly 12 per cent., which represents 4·35 tonnes per man shift and an increase of nearly 40 per cent. in three years. So far this year, productivity is running ahead of those levels. Those are significant statistics.
Nottinghamshire provides well over half of British Coal's deep-mine profits. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister what possible commercial justification he sees for British Coal having its headquarters in London, miles from the nearest pit. It is an extremely valuable piece of real estate. For those who work there, it is a nice, gentle location overlooking the walls of Buckingham palace, but there can be no possible commercial justification for it. Even if there were some economic justification for it, it is bad for management to be so far removed from its area of commercial activity.
Given that nearly 60 per cent of British Coal's deep-mine profits come from Nottinghamshire, will my hon. Friend the Minister, in the run-up to privatisation, encourage its chairman and board to locate near its most profitable area? I agree to take British Coal's chairman to see the excellent office sites in Nottingham so that he can see how congenial it would be to locate there. Many people believe that such a move would send out highly desirable signals to the industry and the generators who buy from it.
Pressure on the industry remains intense, and nowhere more so than in my constituency. Earlier this year, Gedling colliery underwent massive restructuring. It will never be enormously profitable because its seams are too thin, but it sells almost all the coal that it produces, because its quality is so high. Heavy losses were made last year, and this year, following the costs of major restructuring, it has been set a new target of 12,500 tonnes a week. I am glad to be able to tell the House that last week, for the first time, the much reduced work force managed to reach that target. Excellent progress has been made and we should congratulate its men and management on what has been achieved and express the hope that it continues.
The need to achieve viability is generally recognised, but not by all Labour Members. However, there is a glimmer of hope that recognition is coming. The Secretary of State spoke about British Coal being a supplier of choice and said that it is important that there is a free market in coal. I was extremely surprised, therefore, to hear that generators have said, and I think that I have heard right, that they do not intend to buy exclusively from British Coal, regardless of economics. Surely what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If they intend to achieve the best value for money, they must allow British Coal that same opportunity. This correct approach for British Coal has been endorsed by the electricity supply industry. I am sure that that approach will be supported by the chairman of the East Midlands electricity board.
A policy of the carrot and the stick is required. Turning round an unprofitable, unproductive and demoralised industry takes much time, but as long as that turnround is being achieved, the industry deserves to be given the time for which it has asked. It must know roughly how much coal will be needed by generators over the next five years. After that, the UDM calculates that the industry will be sufficiently reformed, productive and successful to take on all comers and have no fear of foreign competition.
In supporting my right hon. Friend's excellent amendment to the neanderthal Opposition motion, I do not ask him to intervene in commercial negotiations, but I hope that he will point out that, just as we expect British Coal to compete on its merits, so we expect it to be allowed to compete for all generators' coal requirements and not be frozen out of a part of their market. That is required in order to ensure the future stability of the distributors, the generators, the coal industry and the public.
In addition, the desirability of any form of dependence on foreign coal is now looking particularly shaky, for the reasons expressed on both sides of the House. There is no such thing as an organised market in foreign coal. The Amsterdam-Rotterdam-Antwerp market is not a true spot market. Coal is traded in dollars and at the moment the dollar is, to say the least, a fluctuating currency.
China has been mentioned. It has taken on some long-term contracts, but it has failed to deliver. That country has major infrastructure problems and there are also tremendous problems with its port handling. Later this year it may even have to import coal.
Currently the United States industry is suffering major industrial disruption and it may be hard pressed to meet its internal demands.
British Coal was riddled with political involvement, strikes, appalling industrial relations and a complete lack of commercialism. Since the strike it has produced the same tonnage with roughly half the manpower. The cost per gigajoule in Nottinghamshire is £1·42; it has come down from nearly £2. Those arguments, quite apart from a debt of loyalty that the country owes to the UDM, underline the desirability of a soft landing for the industry and a defined period of time for continuing reconstruction and adjustment.
Recently, the Secretary of State addressed the UDM annual conference. He cannot have failed to notice that the UDM fights just as hard for its members as any other union, but it looks forward to the future and not back to the past. I regret that the union is opposed to privatisation, as nationalisation has been the curse of the industry. I hope that miners will talk to their colleagues in the steel industry before making up their minds about the merits of privatisation. The leadership of the UDM is, nevertheless, determined to ensure that its members get an outstanding deal if privatisation goes ahead.
I wonder whether my hon. Friend noticed the agenda at that conference, which dealt with matters such as the importance of free shares for miners if privatisation takes place; pensions payable with a lump sum at 50 years old; creative schemes such as that at Bilsthorpe; and plans to develop a mothballed pit with the creation of nearly 1,000 new jobs.
Did my right hon. Friend hear the words of the president of the UDM following its deal with British Coal last autumn concerning six-day working? His words are most important. He said:
This agreement is necessary and in my opinion will protect the jobs of many miners and the future of the mining industry. The agreement will allow us to compete with any foreign competition and is yet another demonstration that the UDM are working for, the future while other unions are living in the past".
But the NUM remains immune to common sense and refuses to accept six-day working.
British Coal and the UDM face great challenges and great difficulties. They need to achieve economic viability, to adapt to electricity privatisation and to face up to the environmental problems about which we have heard. They must also face up to the privatisation of the industry. The men whom I met on my recent visit to the Gedling pit are not interested in the politics of coal mining or in the past. They want a healthy industry where their hard work and skill wins them a secure future and a decent wage.
I hope that we shall soon see a fair deal between British Coal and the generators based on some of the realities that I have raised tonight.
I shall be brief. The thing that concerns me about the speeches of the hon. Members for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) and for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart) is that they do not share my view that the industry is contracted to the point where the sooner there is one union for mineworkers the better. That would certainly not suit either their own or their political book.
I want to contribute partly because I represent the National Association of Colliery Overmen, Deputies and Shotfirers, which has its conference in Cardiff this week. That association is extremely anxious because, although it has heard the platitudes from Ministers, it knows that, despite the fact that large sums of public money have been invested in the industry, that is no guarantee that the Government will manage the industry in the national interest, no guarantee that the Government will ensure that taxpayers' money is properly safeguarded, and no guarantee that the Government will try to persuade the electricity industry to use British Coal in which they have invested large sums of money. That is no guarantee that this country would not be exposed to the consequences of a dependence on coal imports. Apart from the retention of jobs and self-sufficiency, we have an obligation to sustain industrial capacity, and our mining engineering and equipment industry could be greater and more important. However, it requires a substantial home base and I fear that that home base is contracting.
That base has contracted in my area. The Minister will boast that not a man has been made compulsorily redundant. That is so. Their morale has been destroyed deliberately, so that they have wanted to get out because they have felt fearful that, no matter how successful their pit, it will close and they may as well take the money now. The operation of the time scale of redundancy payments was engineered and structured to secure that. While the individual has been cushioned against the shock of redundancy, the communities in which the mining industry was of enormous importance have been simply ignored.
We are supposed to be having an economic miracle. A few areas appear to have experienced it, but the coalfields of Britain have not. They were the areas with the highest level of unemployment even before the policies inflicted on them in the past three or four years.
The hon. Member for Sherwood talked about representing many pits. When I entered the House, there were more collieries in my constituency than in any other. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) will be aware, the Boundary Commission removed quite a few of them, but this Government have reduced the number further. Some pits that I lost as a result of the Boundary Commission changes of 1983 remain, but their life expectancy may be reduced, and the work force has contracted.
There is one colliery left in my constituency. It is one of the most successful and profitable in the country, but even that colliery, with a potential for profit and a record of achievement of which the men should be proud and of which I, as their Member of Parliament, am proud, the men are still fearful for the future. That is a ridiculous situation and a comment on the farcical policies now followed.
I see that the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) is in his place. Some Conservative Members seem to be far more interested in the South African industry than in the British industry. Forty-two Conservative Members have signed an early-day motion about the South African coal industry and 16 of them have probably been on free trips to the South African coal industry in the past two years. Perhaps that early-day motion accompanied the return to work of the Passport Office and those Conservative Members have now realised that they have an opportunity to go abroad on holiday.
It would be interesting if some of those 42 Conservative Members were to visit a pit in the United Kingdom, especially one of the pits with heavy duty faces which result from the substantial investment about which the Minister boasted. If they make such a visit, perhaps it will dawn on them that it would be remarkably foolish and feckless for us to embark on the course of action that they want to pursue.
You will be aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that many of us from mining areas became green long before it was politically fashionable. We were green because we objected to the disfigurement and destruction of our environment. We became concerned about the lust of Conservative Members to see as much opencast mining as possible, in the hope that it would be followed by privatisation, so that profits would be made in other parts of the country from the rape and exploitation of areas such as mine. The removal of our publicly owned enterprise should persuade the Minister that, if the Government are concerned to be a Government of one nation, they will have to recognise the bitterness and anxiety about future opencast mining, which we would be expected to tolerate. If the Government close our deep mines, they should not expect the people of the coalfields of Britain to tolerate their surface environment being destroyed as well. We were prepared to support the national interest. We are not prepared to support the profit-seeking greed of a few Conservative Members.
The hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg) appeared to question the approach, tactic and values of nationalisation, and read us the speech that he made in 1947. I know that the hon. Gentleman is fair-minded so I ask him to bear in mind the industry's achievements since 1949. It became the safest deep-mine industry in the world, with more and better industrial training than any other mining industry in the world. Relationships within the mining community developed patchily but sometimes superbly. Imperfect though the nationalisation of the industry may have proved to be, it served this country's interests, not least because 90 per cent. of British Coal's purchases came from British commerce and British business. That would go out of the window with the loss of the market about which hon. Members have been expressing their fears tonight.
I urge the Government to renew their endeavours to ensure that the electricity industry maintains its satisfactory and viable level of purchase of British coal. I ask the Minister to accept the argument advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) who said that sterling will certainly not remain at its present level as a result of industrial devastation and the reduction of oil exports. If the Minister accepts that Governments should look beyond the end of their noses, he will recognise the worth and the wit of the Opposition's motions.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) and to the other Opposition Members who trailed my speech so generously, although, unfortunately, they do not seem to have been very successful in attracting my hon. Friends into the Chamber.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) has temporarily left his place. He imparted the most unusual flavour to the debate by introducing some literary references—for example, to Lord Byron. That suggests to me that his speech was vetted by the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), who is known to be one of the foremost experts on that great poet. The hon. Gentleman's speech certainly had all the characteristic vagueness of the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman, but without the romance.
In reflecting on the hon. Gentleman's speech I was reminded of Byron's description of Don Juan:
He was the mildest manner'd man
That ever scuttled ship or cut a throat,
With such true breeding of a gentleman,
never could divine his real thought.
I thought that that was particularly relevant to the hon. Gentleman's speech. We heard nothing from him about the Opposition's ideas for the future of the industry. He had the gall to accuse the Conservative party of looking to ideology and vested interest in its policy on coal. If there is one charge that could not be laid at our feet, it is that we take an ideological view or seek to protect vested interests. That is precisely the Labour party's policy on coal.
The hon. Gentleman also had the gall to accuse us of seeking to put the industry in a position to grasp profit from captive consumers. But what happened in the 40 years of nationalisation? The legal structure of the industry, coupled with successive Governments who were unwilling to grapple with its problems have allowed it to extract huge sums from the taxpayers and consumers—unwillingly, and by way of taxation and higher prices than were necessary. In our privatisation policy, which I greatly welcome, we seek to restore to the coal industry the freedom of the market so that consumers, rather than vested interests, can rule the day.
Several Opposition Members, including the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse), accused us of seeking to bash the coal industry. If we have been bashing the coal industry for the past 10 years, we have been using the most extraordinary weapon to do it. Our weapon has been the cheque book. Have we really damaged the coal industry by giving it £10 billion in grants and £6·5 billion in investment? It is the most massive investment programme for the industry during the post war period. If a crime has been committed by successive Governments, it has been to demand money with menaces from the taxpayer and the consumer. The end of that criminal activity, through privatisation, will massively benefit the people of this country.
The truth is that 40 years of nationalisation have proved a disastrous failure. It has not been in the interests of the miners, because the number of men employed in the industry is now a small fraction of what it was in the immediate post-war period. It has not protected the industry against the inevitability of contraction of output, because output is very much smaller than it was in the immediate post-war period.
I wish that Opposition Members would come to grips with the realities of the international energy market, because that is the only way in which the future of the industry and the jobs that go with it can be sustained. Coal is a fossil fuel—and, unfortunately, the industry and the country have been faced with a fossil union in the National Union of Mineworkers, which over the years has set its face against every beneficial change that would have been in the interests of both the miners and the industry. Even now, after the most disastrous strike—during which, because of its irresponsible activities, it virtually destroyed itself and many pits that might otherwise have survived —it is still opposing such forward-looking policies as flexible working and the six-day week, upon which the profitability of some pits and the opening of new pits depend.
There has been a fossil party in the form of the Opposition, who have danced to the tune piped by Arthur Scargill and, it seems, still do so—[Interruption.] Opposition Members sit here tonight trying to defend their vested interests. They are certainly not defending the vested interests of those who, over generations, have supported the Labour party in the belief that in so doing they were supporting the interests of the coal industry.
We are not here simply to debate what is in the best interests of a particular section of the population or a particular section of British industry. We should be debating the national interest, which depends on the cheapest possible source of energy consistent with strategic requirements. There has been a sense of unreality in the speeches of Opposition Members. They spoke about the freeing of the energy industry, especially electricity generation, as tolling the death knell of the industry, as though it will import all its coal requirements, regardless of the strategic and long-term implications. No sensible company, which is in business in the long term and must make a profit to survive, will base its decisions on such short-term considerations. The importance of the freedom to import is that, at the margin, it will exercise a considerable discipline on the British industry to ensure that its costs are as low as possible so that it can be competitive.
I rise to the bait put in front of me by the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) about South African coal. There is nothing horrific in the fact that we may import some South African coal. If, by doing so, we reduce the energy costs of British industry and, in the process, provide jobs for black workers in South Africa, there is surely nothing wrong in that. I am not suggesting that those imports will amount to anything very much in comparison with the total coal burn in this country. They will always be marginal. However, if they amount to even 10 or 15 per cent. of our total coal burn, the beneficial effects will be widely felt.
Privatisation offers enormous scope to improve the position of the coal industry and to remove the constraints of political interference from which it has suffered so much during the past 40 years. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will agree that it is a shame that we have to wait until after the next general election, which we certainly intend to win, in order to implement our privatisation policy. Action can be taken in advance of privatisation without prejudicing the public sector.
As it is 9.24 pm, I do not have time to give way, because I hope that one other hon. Member, perhaps the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale), may be able to make a speech.
Opencast production is constrained by legislation. The licensed opencast producers are limited in what they can produce, both by tonnage limits and other controls, principally because British Coal is both the regulator and a competitor in the market. I should like my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to invest coal in the Crown before the next general election so that British Coal no longer has the inevitable conflict of interest of deciding who will produce, and at what price the royalty should be set. That would be an important fillip to a part of the British opencast industry which will wish to be a major player in the market after privatisation.
Therefore, the coal industry has nothing to fear from privatisation so long as the miners who work in it, their union representatives and their other representatives of different political persuasions look to the future of the industry as being based on satisfying the demands of the consumers. That is the surest foundation on which to base a successful industry. After privatisation, the coal industry's future will be good and, therefore, I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary on having had the vision and courage to bring forth this, the greatest of all privatisations.
I wish to talk about Conservative Members' constant references to the Government's good work in relation to the coal industry. I represent a constituency which is at the heartland of the coal mining industry—Mansfield, Nottinghamshire—in which the headquarters of the Union of Democratic Mineworkers and the National Union of Mineworkers are located. It is about time that Conservative Members, particularly those who are from Nottinghamshire, stopped rubbishing the miners of both unions in the Nottinghamshire area.
Those miners know at first hand exactly what the Government have done to the mining industry and they know that every time Conservative Members open their mouths as they have been, all they do is to conjure up fires between the different groups of workers. It is no good Conservative Members saying that they know and understand what is happening, and even smile about it.
We in the Nottingham area are currently spending tens of thousands of pounds via social and other services throughout the county, and in education programmes both voluntary and statutory, to try to douse the flarnes created by the mining strike of the early 1980s. It is about time that Conservative Members stopped rekindling those flames just for the sake of political votes at election times. Instead, we should be concerned about the people from those mining communities and what we can do to help them obtain and retain jobs in their communities.
Today, the Secretary of State mentioned the mining strike. He is the least qualified to come forward with such arguments. If he is concerned about Nottinghamshire, he should do more than visit it once in a blue moon, and call in at Nottingham to speak to those at the chamber of trade who represent a minority of people in the county.
The Secretary of State raised the subject of the Government's good housekeeping. Conservative Members also mentioned harassment, which occurred throughout the Nottinghamshire coalfields in the form of the loss of 16,000 mining jobs, the closure of pits, the rundown of communities and the lack of investment because there was no structural plan for investment in new jobs throughout the county.
Speaking of good housekeeping, today I received a reply from the Minister responsible for coal. I had asked him how much the Government had spent on the privatisation of electricity supply. In 1987–88 they spent £0·8 million on financial advice in connection with the privatisation. In 1988–89 that rose to £5·5 million, and this year the Government have set aside £26·5 million for outside advice on the privatisation of a public industry. It is a disgrace that there should have been a 3,000 per cent. increase in the spending of public money on the privatisation of a public asset.
Finally, Conservative Members representing the Nottinghamshire area should stop their party political battles and should stop putting out press releases asking where particular Labour Members were when there were votes on the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill and on similar legislation. In votes on motions such as tonight's, they should vote with the Opposition and support the mining communities in Nottinghamshire.
I must tell my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) that I hope that many hon. Members on both sides will take to heart what he said about the prevailing social conditions in the Nottinghamshire coalfield, which stem from the industrial dispute of 1984–85. All of us can learn lessons from the problems that still exist in that area.
I must tell the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart) that he was out-jumped on the restart scheme —his claim to fame—because a few months before he mentioned it in the House, Opposition Members had already—last July—brought up restart in the context of British coalfields. If he can derive any comfort from this, we intend to look into an extension of the restart scheme to cover ex-Tory Members of Parliament in the Nottinghamshire area in years to come.
My hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) touched a nerve earlier tonight when he mentioned what the Minister's civil servant said said when giving evidence to the Select Committee on Energy two weeks ago. The Secretary of State jumped up and tried to explain in detail what the restructuring grant meant. I was present to hear the evidence, and what it meant was plain: at least 15,000, to judge from last year, when the figure given was 2,000 or 3,000 and we ended up with almost 8,000. Who knows what this year's amount will be? The events of the next few weeks will determine it.
The hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg) was quite right to read us his speech of 1947. It showed what has happened in the intervening years since the time when he worked for two years in the industry. There have been massive changes in the past 40 years. I was pleased to be part of the industry for 20 of those years —a time in which the industry, within the public sector, became one of the best respected deep coal-mining industries in the world.
These reflections shatter the arguments of the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton), who brought us his customary historical view of the industry—nothing in the past 40 years has been good because the industry has not been in the private sector. On both occasions this century when this country was attacked from outside, the first thing that the Government did was to nationalise the coal industry so that we could fight those who threatened our existence.
The implicit question behind the motion tabled by my right hand hon. Friends and myself is whether this country will begin once again to import large amounts of its energy supplies or whether it has learnt the lessons of the past and will support an indigenous coal industry—one that not only supplies coal securely and at the right price but protects the balance of payments and, despite the job losses of the past few years, still provides direct employment for some 100,000 people.
Throughout the world, coal producers negotiate long-term contracts with their electricity generators. Obviously, that makes good sense on both sides. If one wants to see the real world of privatised electricity, one need only go to the United States. Companies there own the generators and the coal mines. Companies will not build generators or sink mines unless they have contracts of 20 to 30 years. In this country, people thought that the privatisation of the electricity supply industry would replicate the real privatised generators of the world—and that could have happened.
British Coal was able to make an unsurpassable offer to the successor companies of 10-year contracts within the retail price index. People will remember that such a contract was sounded out in January. However, between January, when that 10-year contract was offered—perhaps the best on the energy market—and now, there has been an intervention by the Department of Trade and Industry and the Prime Minister about what was then thought to be the correct lifeline of a contract between the generators and the fuel suppliers. The Prime Minister put an end to those contracts.
It was first of all thought that the Prime Minister and the DTI had insisted that coal supply contracts should be signed for only between six months and three years. Even the generators, fighting their corners, thought that that was nonsense. The Prime Minister, however, had to be appeased, so the compromise was reached that the contracts should be between one and five years.
The Secretary of State has recently made a number of statements about the Government wanting to see free market negotiations. It is all very well for him to talk about free market negotiations, but the stipulation by a Government Department, and I understand by the Prime Minister, is that contracts should be for between one and five years. In fact, the Secretary of State said that he would not force customers into long-term contracts with British Coal. That is true, because the Government are stopping British Coal negotiating what anybody would call long-term contracts for the supply of fuel into the generation companies.
What appears to be missing from the Government's calculations is an understanding of the realities of the coal-mining industry. If contracts with British Coal should run for only five years, on what criteria could the industry make judgments about future investment? The Secretary of State and many Conservative Members have made great play of the £6·5 billion capital investment in British Coal in the past 10 years. Will the Secretary of State tell us whether any industry or the Government would have made the investment in Selby or Asfordby without a predetermined market for that coal?
What will happen in future when the only contract possible will be for five years, but it can take anywhere between five or 10 years before a fuel source is brought on in such massive mines as Selby or Asfordby? The Government's imposition of short-term contracts on the industry is to enable the fulfilment of the Prime Minister's dream of a Britain without coal mines or miners. It is to give time to those who would replace British coal—as my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Cummings) said—with coal mined in Colombia, South Africa, Australia or Poland, and to prepare the facilities for its large-scale importation. That is the reason for the five-year contracts.
The recent fall in sterling against the dollar has meant that international coal prices are increasing. It can no longer be asserted that British Coal cannot compete in the international market, and many experts say that it could and does now. By encouraging the myth that imported coal is cheaper, the Government are doing a great disservice to the British coal industry and to the country as a whole. We know that the international energy markets are wildly unpredictable and that that can put Britain's industrial competitiveness at risk—or what is left of it since the Government came to office 10 years ago.
British Steel now imports seven out of every eight tonnes of coal that it uses. That did not use to happen. Ten years ago, it imported hardly any coal except when that was necessary. It took a determined line and now imports seven out of every eight tonnes of coal. How will the change in the pound-dollar rate affect British Steel now? For how long are its supplies assured? Are the Government prepared to allow the uncertainty of supply which results from transferring from home-produced coal to imported coal to affect the electricity supply industry in the way that it will surely affect British Steel?
Despite the Government's amendment, the Secretary of State has shown that he will take no steps to secure the long-term future of the coal industry. He was quite embarrassed today when it was revealed in the debate that 60 million tonnes is the figure for the future market for British Coal in this country. I challenge the Secretary of State now. I will give way to him if he will tell us that British Coal will be allowed to fight evenly and competitively for every tonne of coal in the market for electricity generation over the next six months. The Secretary of State will not rise to that challenge. The generators, British Coal and everyone else know that the Government are determined to take markets away from British Coal no matter how much imported coal costs. The Secretary of State's silence speaks volumes about this.
I have quite taken to the hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) since he became a Member of the House. I hope that he does not feel that this compliment will be followed by an attack on his local Conservative association. He made a good contribution to the debate; he referred to the positive aspects of what is happening in British Coal, and many hon. Members on both sides of the House share his feelings about them.
The hon. Member for Gedling has evidence in the Secretary of State's refusal to rise to my challenge that the Government are deeply involved in ensuring that British Coal loses its contract irrespective of the price for the 10 million tonnes or 15 million tonnes to which I have referred.
Instead of awarding the British Coal work force a Queen's award for industry for their 90 per cent. productivity increases, the Government appear to be rewarding them with the prospect of more job losses. Instead of applauding British Coal's contract, which offered coal for 10 years at prices related to the RPI—an offer which is not matched anywhere else in the world for any form of energy—the Secretary of State voted for the construction of port facilities designed specifically to import coal into this country.
The Secretary of State may shake his head. I was a teller when he walked through the Aye Lobby with the Prime Minister to vote in favour for the Bill for the ports on the Humber. I will send the Secretary of State a copy of Hansard if he has forgotten what he did that night.
Opposition Members and the whole of the British coal-mining industry will not be unaware of the kind of support that they have received from the Government over the past six months or so. No matter what words they utter or what they do, it is clear that the Government's policy towards the coal industry is determined by a mixture of their ideological idiocy and political prejudice.
The prejudice between British coal miners and Tory Governments is well known. It has been evident in the 1980s, and it was evident in the 1970s in my generation. However, it was clear also in the 1920s when the arguments between Labour and capitalism were rehearsed in the mining communities between the coal owners and the mining unions. We know where Conservatism has stood for generations.
Nothing more could have been asked of the British coal industry over the past four years than that which it has delivered. For the industry to be confronted by a Government who are prepared to work against it in the winning of contracts so that foreign coal will come into this country is a stab in the back for the people who work so hard. That shows where the Government's loyalties really lie. There is nothing of flag waving in the Government's attitude. Now we can see who really wants to protect British interests and who does not. If British Coal does not win the contracts that it deserves, that will go down as one of the most tragic stabs in the back that the industry has ever suffered from the current Government.
As my hon. Friends the Members for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) and for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg) so shrewdly noted, there can be no doubt that the debate has been a terrible personal embarrassment for the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) who opened it. I noticed that he kept his head down throughout his speech like a Chinese news-reader. He hardly mentioned coal at all, except to say that the international coal market is so tight that logically we have nothing to worry about from imports.
My right hon. and hon. Friends and I do not go that far, but the hon. Gentleman is on the right lines. My advice is that he should talk occasionally to his hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron), who is petrified, like most of his right hon. and hon. Friends, at the prospect of coal imports. I shall return to that subject shortly.
The future of coal poses the hon. Member for Sedgefield a ghastly dilemma. On the one hand, he and his new-style Socialists see the coal industry as baggage that they would like to discard. It reminds them of Mr. Arthur Scargill, who for obvious reasons they are trying to put back under wraps, but not very successfully. Labour understand that coal pollutes the very atmosphere that they want to clear up, and generally it does not fit well with their adman's image of sweet-smelling roses and jolly music that is their particular manifestation of Socialism.
On the other hand, Labour have to contend with the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and with other Opposition Members who have spoken tonight, telling them that coal lies at the very foundation of the Labour movement, and that for Labour to turn its back on it is to turn its back on years of struggle and disruption. So good is coal, say the hon. Member for Bolsover and his hon. Friends, that one day it must triumph again and replace most other sources of energy—notably nuclear power.
The important question in assessing the significance of the Opposition motion is who is winning the power struggle within the Labour party over the future of coal. If one looks at the Opposition's recent policy review, the answer is clear. Despite all the charm of the hon. Member for Sedgefield, the hon. Member for Bolsover and his hon. Friends have won the argument. That is why Labour is committed unequivocally to phasing out nuclear power, why it chooses motions such as that before the House tonight to debate in the Opposition's own time, and why the hon. Member for Sedgefield leaves coal matters to his hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley whenever he can, hoping himself to be moved to other pastures as soon as the Electricity Bill has passed safely through Parliament. [Interruption.] Opposition Members have made remarks about my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and I am returning the compliment.
That is also why the hon. Member for Sedgefield employs every diversion that he can muster to avoid addressing the essential question of how we are to meet the increased demand for electricity that everyone—probably even the hon. Gentleman in his heart of hearts—acknowledges will come about, even if we allow for measures to increase efficiency, while at the same time cutting carbon dioxide emissions and abolishing the nuclear industry.
One of the hon. Gentleman's recent diversions was to issue another of his famous press releases on 20 June. Its primary purpose was to attack our policy on the nuclear industry. At the bottom of the first page, in quotation marks, was an extract from a speech that I was alleged to have made to the House on 10 April this year. I am supposed to have said that the schedule in the Electricity Bill that provides for making grants to the nuclear industry would be activated
only if there is a change in environmental policies that the industry could not have foreseen.
What I actually said—it is column 667 of Hansard—was:
We are clear about the policy. The industry, and therefore the consumer, will pay for decommissioning unless something happens that was not capable of being foreseen—such as"—
the regulations concerning the environment being changed —and proper provision could not therefore have been made in the accounts."—[Official Report, 10 April 1989; Vol. 150, c. 667.]
That is virtually the opposite of what was attributed to me by the hon. Member for Sedgefield.
I have laboured the point partly to illustrate the diversionary tactics employed by the hon. Gentlemen to disguise his embarrassment about his energy policies—particularly those concerned with coal—but partly because I think it scandalous behaviour on the part of Labour's official energy spokesman to distort totally what I said to the House of Commons and then to attack it.
I take it as an enormous compliment that nearly half the Minister's speech so far has been taken up by an attack on me. May I set the record straight? In column 677 of Hansard for 10 April 1989 appear the following words—the very words that the Minister has just denied using:
Because we do not want that to persist"—
that is, the comments that would be made by Opposition Members—
we are making it clear that the schedule will be activated only if there is a change in environmental policies that the industry could not have forseen."—[Official Report, 10 April 1989; Vol. 150, c. 667.]
All that I did was quote those words.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that he has completely distorted the position as given in the quotations that I have given him and the speeches that I have placed on the record, and he knows it.
No, I shall not give way.
Some of his hon. Friends have tried to help the hon. Gentleman out of his embarrassment—it has happened again tonight—by trying to focus the argument on clean coal technology. Of course we all agree that the methods of producing electricity with reduced carbon dioxide emissions are a good thing, but do not let us kid ourselves. The building of a nuclear power station results in a 100 per cent. reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, while a coal-fired power station using the topping cycle —which is yet to be fully developed—is likely to produce a reduction of only about 20 per cent. The Labour party, in its attack on the nuclear industry, seems to be incapable of recognising that. Even a modern gas-fired station will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 40 per cent.
Perhaps it is because we do not have the cultural hang-up about the coal industry that is so deeply rooted in the Labour party that we have a clear policy on its future. It is precisely that policy which was spelt out by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy at the beginning of the debate. Through the massive investment of capital in modern machinery, which is still running at £2 million every working day, we intend to exploit the nation's best reserves of coal in such a way as to allow the industry to stand on its own feet, to beat off foreign competition as the supplier of choice to the electricity industry and ultimately—to answer my hon. Friends the Members for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) and for Tatton and others who have raised the matter—to place it once more in the private sector.
The Minister said that he is prepared to see British Coal beat off foreign competition. Will he now answer the question that twice today the Secretary of State has refused to answer: whether British Coal will be able to negotiate to supply the generating industry with more than the 60 million tonnes of coal that is the sticking point at present? Will he answer yes or no?
The hon. Gentleman has asked that question—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."]—and I shall answer it in my own way. The hon. Gentleman knows exactly what our position is—that it is not our policy to order any industry to do anything at the expense of another part of the community. My hon. Friend the Member for Tatton made that point when he said that we have to represent not exclusively the coal industry but the entire nation, including those who use electricity. They have the right to buy their electricity as cheaply as possible. Opposition Members are not concerned about that. We have never hidden our aim that there should be free trade in coal. I have said time and again to the House of Commons that there is no question of the Government preventing anyone from negotiating a price for the import of coal. The question, however, is which side of the House has the confidence to back the industry's ability to fight off coal imports.
The hon. Member for Sedgefield made the point, quite fairly, that the world market for steam coal is not particularly bright. British Coal is in an extraordinarily powerful position, partly because of the difficulties over importing coal, partly because of the problems in the world coal market and partly because—a point which the Opposition are never prepared to accept and concede—of the massive investment by the Government in the coal industry. The only question that Opposition Members should answer is whether those who work in the mining industry are prepared to back the massive investment, largely by the taxpayer, in the industry by adopting the manning procedures and efficient mining methods that are required if the industry is to beat off competition, something which all hon. Members hope will take place.
Of course it is free to negotiate. What a stupid question, if I may be discourteous to the hon. Gentleman. That is precisely what we have been saying all along. Of course British Coal is allowed to negotiate whatever it thinks that it can sell. The question, however, is whether the coal industry will take advantage of the massive investment by the Government in the industry. It has responded in many respects. It has nearly doubled its rate of productivity. There are good things. The reason that the industry is in its present state—a potentially powerful position—has everything to do with what this Government have done for the industry and nothing to do with the carping and griping which has come from the Opposition throughout the whole process. That is why I ask the House to discard the motion and treat it with the distain that it deserves.
|Division No. 261||[10.00 pm|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Corbyn, Jeremy|
|Adams, Allen (Paisley N)||Cousins, Jim|
|Allen, Graham||Cox, Tom|
|Alton, David||Crowther, Stan|
|Anderson, Donald||Cryer, Bob|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Cummings, John|
|Armstrong, Hilary||Cunliffe, Lawrence|
|Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy||Cunningham, Dr John|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Darling, Alistair|
|Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)||Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)|
|Barron, Kevin||Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)|
|Battle, John||Dewar, Donald|
|Beckett, Margaret||Dixon, Don|
|Bennett. A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)||Dobson, Frank|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Doran, Frank|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Douglas, Dick|
|Blair, Tony||Duffy, A. E. P.|
|Blunkett, David||Dunnachie, Jimmy|
|Boateng, Paul||Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth|
|Boyes, Roland||Evans, John (St Helens N)|
|Bradley, Keith||Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)|
|Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)||Fatchett, Derek|
|Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)||Fearn, Ronald|
|Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)||Field, Frank (Birkenhead)|
|Buckley, George J.||Fisher, Mark|
|Caborn, Richard||Flynn, Paul|
|Callaghan, Jim||Foot, Rt Hon Michael|
|Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)||Foster, Derek|
|Campbell-Savours, D. N.||Foulkes, George|
|Canavan, Dennis||Fraser, John|
|Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)||Fyfe, Maria|
|Clay, Bob||Garrett, John (Norwich South)|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)|
|Cohen, Harry||George, Bruce|
|Coleman, Donald||Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John|
|Cook, Frank (Stockton N)||Gordon, Mildred|
|Cook, Robin (Livingston)||Gould, Bryan|
|Corbett, Robin||Graham, Thomas|
|Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)||Mowlam, Marjorie|
|Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)||Mullin, Chris|
|Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)||Murphy, Paul|
|Grocott, Bruce||Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon|
|Hardy, Peter||O'Brien, William|
|Harman, Ms Harriet||O'Neill, Martin|
|Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Haynes, Frank||Parry, Robert|
|Healey, Rt Hon Denis||Patchett, Terry|
|Henderson, Doug||Pendry, Tom|
|Hinchliffe, David||Pike, Peter L.|
|Hoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall)||Powell, Ray (Ogmore)|
|Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)||Prescott, John|
|Home Robertson, John||Primarolo, Dawn|
|Hood, Jimmy||Quin, Ms Joyce|
|Howarth, George (Knowsley N)||Randall, Stuart|
|Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)||Redmond, Martin|
|Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)||Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn|
|Hoyle, Doug||Reid, Dr John|
|Hughes, John (Coventry NE)||Richardson, Jo|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Robertson, George|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport E)||Robinson, Geoffrey|
|Illsley, Eric||Rogers, Allan|
|Ingram, Adam||Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)|
|Janner, Greville||Rowlands, Ted|
|Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)||Ruddock, Joan|
|Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Sheerman, Barry|
|Kirkwood, Archy||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert|
|Lambie, David||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Lamond, James||Short, Clare|
|Leadbitter, Ted||Skinner, Dennis|
|Leighton, Ron||Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)|
|Lestor, Joan (Eccles)||Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)|
|Litherland, Robert||Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)|
|Livsey, Richard||Smith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)|
|Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)||Spearing, Nigel|
|Lofthouse, Geoffrey||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Loyden, Eddie||Steinberg, Gerry|
|McAvoy, Thomas||Stott, Roger|
|Macdonald, Calum A.||Strang, Gavin|
|McFall, John||Straw, Jack|
|McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|McKelvey, William||Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)|
|McLeish, Henry||Turner, Dennis|
|McWilliam, John||Vaz, Keith|
|Madden, Max||Wall, Pat|
|Mahon, Mrs Alice||Wallace, James|
|Marshall, David (Shettleston)||Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)|
|Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)|
|Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)||Williams, Rt Hon Alan|
|Martlew, Eric||Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)|
|Meacher, Michael||Wilson, Brian|
|Meale, Alan||Winnick, David|
|Michael, Alun||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)||Worthington, Tony|
|Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|Moonie, Dr Lewis|
|Morgan, Rhodri||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Morley, Elliott||Mr. Robert N. Wareing and|
|Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)||Mr. Ken Eastham.|
|Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)|
|Adley, Robert||Batiste, Spencer|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Beaumont-Dark, Anthony|
|Alexander, Richard||Bendall, Vivian|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)|
|Allason, Rupert||Benyon, W.|
|Amess, David||Bevan, David Gilroy|
|Amos, Alan||Biffen, Rt Hon John|
|Arbuthnot, James||Blackburn, Dr John G.|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Body, Sir Richard|
|Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)||Bonsor, Sir Nicholas|
|Ashby, David||Boscawen, Hon Robert|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Boswell, Tim|
|Atkins, Robert||Bottomley, Peter|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Bottomley, Mrs Virginia|
|Baldry, Tony||Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)|
|Banks, Robert (Harrogate)||Bowis, John|
|Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes||Gorman, Mrs Teresa|
|Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard||Gow, Ian|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)|
|Brazier, Julian||Green way, Harry (Ealing N)|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||Greenway, John (Ryedale)|
|Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)||Gregory, Conal|
|Browne, John (Winchester)||Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)|
|Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)||Grylls, Michael|
|Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick||Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Hague, William|
|Budgen, Nicholas||Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)|
|Burns, Simon||Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)|
|Butcher, John||Hampson, Dr Keith|
|Butler, Chris||Hanley, Jeremy|
|Butterfill, John||Hannam, John|
|Carlisle, John, (Luton N)||Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)|
|Carrington, Matthew||Harris, David|
|Cash, William||Hayes, Jerry|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney|
|Chapman, Sydney||Hayward, Robert|
|Chope, Christopher||Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)|
|Churchill, Mr||Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)|
|Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n)||Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)||Hill, James|
|Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)||Hind, Kenneth|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)||Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)|
|Colvin, Michael||Hordern, Sir Peter|
|Conway, Derek||Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)|
|Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)||Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)|
|Coombs, Simon (Swindon)||Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)|
|Cope, Rt Hon John||Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)|
|Couchman, James||Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)|
|Cran, James||Irvine, Michael|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Irving, Charles|
|Curry, David||Jack, Michael|
|Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)||Jackson, Robert|
|Davis, David (Boothferry)||Janman, Tim|
|Day, Stephen||Jessel, Toby|
|Devlin, Tim||Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey|
|Dicks, Terry||Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Jones, Robert B (Herts W)|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Jopling, Rt Hon Michael|
|Dover, Den||Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine|
|Dunn, Bob||Key, Robert|
|Durant, Tony||Kilfedder, James|
|Dykes, Hugh||King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)|
|Eggar, Tim||Knight, Greg (Derby North)|
|Emery, Sir Peter||Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel|
|Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)||Lord, Michael|
|Evennett, David||Maclean, David|
|Fallon, Michael||Martin, David (Portsmouth S)|
|Favell, Tony||Maude, Hon Francis|
|Fenner, Dame Peggy||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)||Miller, Sir Hal|
|Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey||Miscampbell, Norman|
|Fishburn, John Dudley||Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)|
|Fookes, Dame Janet||Mitchell, Sir David|
|Forman, Nigel||Moate, Roger|
|Forth, Eric||Monro, Sir Hector|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Norman||Montgomery, Sir Fergus|
|Fox, Sir Marcus||Moore, Rt Hon John|
|Franks, Cecil||Morrison, Sir Charles|
|Freeman, Roger||Moss, Malcolm|
|French, Douglas||Moynihan, Hon Colin|
|Fry, Peter||Mudd, David|
|Gale, Roger||Neale, Gerrard|
|Gardiner, George||Nelson, Anthony|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Neubert, Michael|
|Gill, Christopher||Newton, Rt Hon Tony|
|Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||Nicholson, David (Taunton)|
|Goodhart, Sir Philip||Norris, Steve|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley|
|Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles||Page, Richard|
|Paice, James||Stokes, Sir John|
|Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil||Stradling Thomas, Sir John|
|Patnick, Irvine||Sumberg, David|
|Patten, John (Oxford W)||Summerson, Hugo|
|Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Taylor, Ian (Esher)|
|Pawsey, James||Taylor, John M (Solihull)|
|Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Porter, Barry (Wirral S)||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Porter, David (Waveney)||Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)|
|Portillo, Michael||Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)|
|Powell, William (Corby)||Thorne, Neil|
|Price, Sir David||Thornton, Malcolm|
|Raison, Rt Hon Timothy||Thurnham, Peter|
|Redwood, John||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Renton, Tim||Tracey, Richard|
|Rhodes James, Robert||Tredinnick, David|
|Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas||Trippier, David|
|Ridsdale, Sir Julian||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Roe, Mrs Marion||Waddington, Rt Hon David|
|Rost, Peter||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Rowe, Andrew||Waldegrave, Hon William|
|Sackville, Hon Tom||Walden, George|
|Sainsbury, Hon Tim||Walker, Bill (T'side North)|
|Sayeed, Jonathan||Waller, Gary|
|Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas||Ward, John|
|Shaw, David (Dover)||Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)|
|Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)||Warren, Kenneth|
|Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')||Watts, John|
|Shelton, Sir William||Wells, Bowen|
|Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)||Wheeler, John|
|Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)||Whitney, Ray|
|Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Shersby, Michael||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Skeet, Sir Trevor||Wilkinson, John|
|Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)||Wilshire, David|
|Soames, Hon Nicholas||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Speed, Keith||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)||Wolfson, Mark|
|Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)||Wood, Timothy|
|Squire, Robin||Yeo, Tim|
|Stanbrook, Ivor||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John||Younger, Rt Hon George|
|Stevens, Lewis||Tellers for the Noes|
|Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)||Mr. David Lightbown and|
|Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)||Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory.|
That this House congratulates the management and workforce of British Coal on their achievements in increasing productivity and reducing costs; welcomes the Government's continuing financial support for the industry which is enabling it to move towards profitability and a viable future; recognises that the only secure long term future for the industry lies in becoming an efficient and competitive supplier of coal; rejects the proposition that British Coal can only sell if its customers are forced to buy, and, has confidence that British Coal, on the basis of its own performance and not of the Government's dictat, will become the supplier of choice to the privatised electricity industry.