Coal Industry

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:22 pm on 26th June 1989.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse , Pontefract and Castleford 8:22 pm, 26th June 1989

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.