The hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson) said that coal is cheap, but for the last 10 years, unfortunately, this country has lurched from economic crisis to economic crisis. The fundamental weakness of the British economy is our balance of payments deficit. Nevertheless, the Government would wipe away the coal industry and make us absolutely dependent upon imported coal, at a cost that the country would be unable to afford.
During the past few months the Secretary of State has been repeatedly interviewed. I heard him refer to a £1 billion subsidy. What he meant was that if the electricity industry had gone on to the open market and bought at the Rotterdam spot price, the lowest possible price that might be available, the price of British coal would have been substantially undercut. What he never took into account was that if we had gone on the world market with £1 billion with which to buy coal, the inevitable effect upon international coal prices would have been substantial.
The main purpose of my brief intervention is to press the Secretary of State a little further regarding his assurance this afternoon about mine safety. He gave me what was almost a categoric assurance about mine safety. I have already heard in this debate three or four hon. Members on the Government Benches demanding changes in statutory regulation and working practice. The Conservatives cannot have it both ways. They cannot deregulate mining safety, and give Opposition Members assurances such as the Secretary of State sought to give this afternoon, and as he has given to some extent in the White Paper.
I hope that the Secretary of State for Wales will wind up the debate. British Coal has for the past three years sought to abolish the role of the colliery deputy and replace the deputy with an underground supervisor with no statutory responsibility for safety. In the new set-up that some people in Hobart house want to develop, there would be a foreman underground, and if he saw something that was hazardous his job would be to find someone to whom he could eventually report it.
By all means let us see the enormous improvement in productivity maintained, but I trust that the Secretary of State means what he said to the House in giving his assurance this afternoon and will not abolish the statutory responsibility which has been exercised by friends of mine very effectively in my association in contributing to maintaining Britain's mining industry, which is not only highly productive but is the safest mining industry in the world.