I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
In our election manifesto, we pledged to privatise British Coal. Last spring, in our White Paper "Prospects for Coal", we renewed that pledge. Before I deal with the specific measures in the Bill, it is worth spending a few moments on the wider issues of nationalisation.
The British coal industry is one of the last major industrial sectors left in the public sector. Nationalisation of our industries was a central feature of post-war Labour Governments. It was resisted fiercely by the Conservative Opposition of the day, and there are few people left who would deny that, as a policy, it imposed intolerable economic and legislative burdens on our country and contributed to the decline of our regional economies.
The policy was designed to transfer the commanding heights of the economy to state control. The naive political rationalisation at the time was that control would be vested in the people. In reality, power rapidly shifted to monopoly providers and monopoly producer unions. What power the people possessed was exercised by civil servants, who rapidly became both protector and confidant of the industries' self-interest, and, worse, by the political convenience of the party in power.
The traditional—and, in the end, the only effective—disciplines of the marketplace were replaced by ill-disciplined compromises and cash-consuming delay. The objectives of enhanced efficiency, increased productivity and a high quality of service played little part in the day-to-day practices or assumptions.
Industrial management, hitherto widely dispersed throughout the regions of the United Kingdom, was replaced by top-heavy bureaucracies that were located largely in London. Perhaps most damaging of all, in virtually every case our key industries withdrew from or were denied access to the markets of the world. I say this to reinforce the case for the Bill, if such reinforcement were necessary. Today, the concept of state ownership is bankrupt. Across the world, country after country is turning to the discipline of the marketplace as each seeks to dispose of its nationalised industies.
Even the Labour party has lost the will to fight for this arcane concept of industrial organisation and management. Of course it parades and re-parades the weary arguments that a tiny body of its constituents, and of course its union paymasters, want to hear, but it knows that the tide of freedom that we have brought to the nationalised industries is now as irreversible here as it is in so many countries, under Governments ranging from the socialists of China to the right-wing Government in France.
I shall deal with the specific objects of concern case by case, as I consider the detailed contents of the Bill.
Before I leave the overwhelming case in favour of privatisation at large, which rests behind the Bill, I must point out that, as hon. Members will know, the facts are stark. In 1979, the nationalised industries were costing the taxpayer £50 million per week in losses. Today, they pay £60 million per week in taxes on the profits that they earn as private sector companies and, most chilling of all for the Labour party, 6 million shareholders are willing to testify and to vote for the success that privatisation has brought.
What are the facts about the nationalisation of the mines? At the time of nationalisation in 1947, there were 720,000 mineworkers employed by the National Coal Board. By 1980, that figure was down to 230,000—a reduction on average of around 15,000 a year. The rundown was as much a characteristic of Labour as of Conservative Governments.
The number of operating pits also declined throughout that period. Opposition Members will recall, for example, that between 1964 and 1970, and between 1974 and 1979, the number of producing pits fell by 313. Indeed, since 1979, it is a Conservative Government who have injected by far the largest support for British Coal in the history of British Coal—nearly £20 billion.
Yes, the Conservative Government made very generous redundancy payments. However, the hon. Gentleman is not prepared to face up to the fact that £8 billion of that £20 billion was capital investment in the industry. So, since the war—
I can give the Secretary of State one example of what happened in my colliery. A transport system, which cost £300,000, was bought, put in the timber yard, hapt up and kept there, and charged to that colliery when it closed. That is only one example. What happened at the other collieries in which the Government invested?
The hon. Gentleman can quote his £300,000 example, but does the House seriously believe that it stands up against the £8 billion that has flowed into capital investment in the Coal Board since 1979? The Opposition talk as though they cared about the industry, but they ran it down. There has never been such a large investment programme in the coal industry as under Conservative Governments since 1979.
The hon. Gentleman might ask himself whether the decision to invest such large sums of money was justified in the face of a falling market for the product. That is an example of precisely the lack of discipline that I have been referring to—a lack that was characteristic of nationalised industries throughout the post-war period.
The accounts of the National Coal Board show that it repaid to the Government, at a very high interest rate, loans that it had received over some years. The money that the right hon. Gentleman was crediting the Government with investing in the industry was paid back before the so-called profit was decided. The Secretary of State can investigate that fact if he likes.
The hon. Gentleman must understand that most of the £20 billion invested in the National Coal Board since 1979 will be written off, which means that it will be charged in perpetuity to the taxpayer. I admire the fact, however, that he is now a director of a private sector coal company. I know that the House will wish him all the very best good fortune.
I would not wish to misrepresent the hon. Member. If his advice is successful, however, he might soon be a director of the company.
Since the war and nationalisation, the coal industry has lost its market for producing town gas, it no longer sells coal to the railways or mines coking coal, and it has lost the greater part of sales of coal for home heating and industrial use. During the debates of the past year or so, we have been all too familiar with the fact that British Coal is now very dependent on sales for electricity generation, and we are equally and starkly aware that it is coming under increasing pressure in that market as well.
The explanation is entirely a matter for those people who have submitted the applications to carry out the mining. It seems extremely unlikely to me that people are bidding to take on onerous responsibilities for mining coal in an opencast field when they could get it cheaper from the deep-mined industry. However, that is a judgment for those people who are prepared to invest their money in the process.
The Government's position is clear. We have given an undertaking to ensure that the Coal Board offers to license the deep mines to the private sector, and I am glad that there are a number of cases in which agreements have been reached or the negotiations are well advanced. I much admire all those Opposition Members who are playing a role in facilitating negotiations and encouraging the prospects that those pits might find an alternative life in the private sector.
Will the President tell us exactly why he is not prepared to set up a target for the amount of opencast mining, and why it is that in, north Staffordshire, Trentham and Silverdale have been closed, and we now expect even more opencast mining to go ahead? Why are not environmental issues at the heart of his energy policies?
The hon. Lady mentions a most important subject, and she must be aware that consultation is now under way on mineral planning guidance 3. It is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, but it raises important issues of balancing the environmental and economic arguments that are—superficially at least—in conflict. I have great sympathy with the hon. Lady's arguments.
The right hon. Gentleman has confused me. I agree with him that successive Governments, Labour and Tory, have invested heavily in the mining industry during the past 30 years. Indeed, with the closure of Easington colliery, tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers' money have been left in a flooded mine. Is it not obligatory for the President to underpin that £20 billion-worth of taxpayers' investment by assisting in working a market for the benefit of a British industry, providing British coal?
The hon. Member has obviously missed the point: that, with the approval of the House, we offered to put more taxpayers' money behind the production of deep-mined coal if people would come forward and find an additional market for that coal. In some cases, negotiations have been concluded or are proceeding. It would be wrong for me to give artificial assurances that I can sustain economic activities for which there is no market justification.
I challenge that logic constantly. My department, as the custodian of much of the trading interest of this country, has the responsibility of constantly challenging the existence of subsidies. The aim is not for us to introduce them into our economy; it is for us to try to eliminate them from the rest of the European Union. That is the task in which we are engaged.
Will the hon. Gentleman forgive me? Madam Speaker, you introduced a ten-minute limit, and I suspect that I am beginning to intrude into rather more speeches than I would wish to do. I must ask hon. Members to allow me get on to the detail of the Bill.
There is one last point that I wish to record about my judgments on the industry. I have not the slightest doubt that our coal industry would be in a much healthier position today if the adjustment which has taken place under every Government, and too late, had taken place in the post-war period of economic expansion, when the diversification of the economy could have proceeded faster and when the highly desirable employees of the coal industry could have found jobs in growth industries of that time.
I will go further. I have little doubt that, if the coal industry had had to face the challenge of the marketplace much earlier, it would have achieved productivity gains which recently, and under pressure, it has begun to achieve, but it would have achieved those productivity gains in time to head off at least part of the dash for gas, and thus it would have secured for itself a larger share of the marketplace than is today realistic.
If the President is arguing that a secure future for coal required privatisation some time ago, there have been 14 years of his government during which that could have happened. Is not the criticism the same—that a lack of strategic energy policy has been the consistent feature of every year of his Department and its predecessor since 1979? That is why coal is in difficulty; it has never known what place it would have and never been given any security as part of a diverse market supply, as the best resource that we have available.
That was an interesting intervention by the hon. Member from the Liberal party. I do not pretend to have been shadowing with great care Liberal policy statements for the earlier part of the past decade, but I do not remember, Madam Speaker—perhaps you do, and perhaps I owe the hon. Member an apology—the Liberals making a major demand in all those years that we should privatise the coal industry.
Indeed, if the Liberals had ever come forward with any firm demand at all, especially one that might contain any element of controversy, it would have come as a surprise to me. The Liberals would demand privatisation of the coal industry only in sections of industry, or of the electorate, where there was no coal industry, for fear that otherwise they might offend someone. That is a classic example of the Liberal Democrat party waiting until all the policy options have been closed, and then asking, "Why don't you do it some other way?"
The right hon. Gentleman has not been following Liberal policy closely enough. I know that he has been ill and has been missing, and that for a long time he was not a Cabinet Minister. However, if he would check the facts, he would find that, in true Liberal Democratic fashion, that party was in favour of privatisation before the general election, but is now against it.
The hon. Gentleman reveals the sort of inconsistency on doctrine that we have come to expect from the modern Labour party. I congratulate him on having read the documents. It shows that he is preoccupied with "back to basics", and has learnt to read effectively after all this time.
I took great note of the right hon. Gentleman's long diatribe against nationalisation. Is he prepared to tell the House how many private companies have made as many gains in productivity as the Coal Board has made over the past two years?
The hon. Gentleman will know that British Steel is now a world-class company, that British Gas is trading in more than 45 foreign countries, that British Airways is now one of the most successful airlines in the world, and that our electricity, our power and our telecommunications industries are straddling the world in the best interests of Britain.
Why? It is because we privatised the companies that have made that possible. Let us remember that we did that in the teeth of the opposition of the Labour party. If it had had its way, we would still have huge bureaucracies of politicians and civil servants suffocating the entrepreneurial zeal that the Conservative party has let loose on the world market.
I have followed the right hon. Gentleman's argument closely for the last few minutes, and he rightly claims that £20 billion has been put into the industry in the period concerned—£8 billion in capital investment. But does he recall that the Conservative party has been in power for the past 15 years, and that he and his predecessors were responsible for policy? Surely policies could have changed over those 15 years so as to accommodate the situation that has developed now.
If I had to plead guilty to the hon. Gentleman's accusations, I would have to say that I wish that we had privatised the coal industry in the early 1980s. I must make that clear. However, the implication is that, in doing so, we would have gained the serried support of the Labour party, whereas actually it was encouraging the National Union of Mineworkers in any obdurate political action that it could devise to stop the modernisation of the industry. The coal industry has found itself at the end of the queue. More's the pity, and, I suspect, more's the price that the coal industry has paid as a result.
The Bill contains the Government's proposals for restructuring and privatising British Coal. It sets out the necessary provisions for safeguarding pension rights and concessionary fuel entitlements, and those affected by mining subsidence. It also reflects our determination to ensure that the high safety standards in the industry are maintained or improved in the light of the advice of the Health and Safety Commission.
We believe that a competitive energy market is the best guarantee of secure, diverse and sustainable energy supplies in the forms that people and companies want, and at competitive prices. Electricity and gas privatisation have changed the nature of the energy market from a producer-led to a consumer-led market. We have made it a priority to establish a range of substantial privately owned energy companies free to take strategic decisions within a proper framework of regulation. The time has come for the coal industry to enjoy the same freedom.
We examined the prospects for coal within the energy market very carefully during the coal review. On the basis of all the evidence that was presented to us, we had to conclude that there was every prospect that the market would continue to be difficult.
Despite that, it remains the case that coal accounts for over half of all fuel used for electricity generation. On any calculation, coal will continue to be one of the chief sources of energy for the electricity supply industry in the years ahead. The House will remember that we accepted the key recommendation of the Select Committee and have introduced a subsidy for additional sales for electricity generation from deep mined coal. However, the real test is the rate at which the industry can improve its competitiveness.
The industry, as Opposition Members have said, has made considerable strides in improving productivity over recent years. It is only by building on those gains that the industry will compete effectively in future. Privatisation will best ensure that prospect. Time and again, privatisation has demonstrated the ability of industries which had previously lagged behind their international competitors to catch up and, increasingly to set the pace. That is true whether one looks at the docks, at steel, or at a whole range of public utilities. There is every reason to expect that the coal industry will do the same.
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I think that I have given way enough.
Our intention is to offer British Coal's assets for sale in five regional businesses. Those will be based on Scotland, Wales, the north-east, and two parts of the central coalfield. Potential purchasers will be able to bid for one or more packages, and all bids will be considered on their merits. Our proposals will attreact new outside management, and they will give the industry's existing managers and employees the chance to make proposals to take over their own industry.
The Government have made it clear that we are prepared to offer financial support to help potential management and employee buy-out teams to carry their proposals forward.
On receiving Royal Assent, the Bill will end immediately the existing statutory restrictions that limit the scale of operations of private sector mines that can be licensed by British Coal. It will provide for a new Coal Authority to carry out those functions of British Coal which would not be appropriate for the private sector.
The new Coal Authority will be based in Nottinghamshire. Its main functions will be licensing of coal mining, owning and granting access to our coal reserves, carrying out British Coal's responsibilities for the physical legacy of past mining to the extent that they are not taken over by the private sector, and making available mining records and geological information.
The Coal Authority must be fully impartial in carrying out its licensing duties, so it will not, therefore, be allowed itself to participate in commercial mining. British Coal will become a licensee of the Coal Authority prior to privatisation. The Bill contins scheme-making powers, similar to those in previous privatisations, for the transfer of property, rights and liabilities of British Coal to other parties as necessary for the privatisation of the business. The Bill provides for the dissolution of British Coal in due course.
I turn now to the critical issue of safety. The coal industry in the United Kingdom has one of the best safety records in the world. I made it clear as soon as I arrived at the DTI that I would do nothing to prejudice that record. I repeat that pledge today. In 1992, we sought—
The hon. Member has had a go.
In 1992, we sought the advice of the Health and Safety Commission on the safety implications of privatisation. The commission's full and considered advice was received in October. The Government published that advice, and accepted it in full.
The essence of the commission's advice is that it should continue to be the health and safety regulatory body for the coal industry, that the Health and Safety Executive should be the enforcement authority, and that the framework of legislation must be sufficiently robust to command the continued confidence of the industry and to ensure that health and safety standards are maintained or improved.
The commission's advice is that there is already a comprehensive framework of law governing the mining industry, with a rigorous inspection and enforcement regime. The commission believes that the work that it has been doing since 1983 to modernise that framework will make an important contribution to ensuring that it is adequate to the demands of a privatised industry.
The commission has also taken steps to ensure that the best practice in British Coal's existing owners' instructions continues to be applied throughout the industry. The work to achieve that is now largely completed. Draft regulations were laid by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment on 1 October last year to give legal status to a number of the most important requirements of British Coal's safety instructions.
The commission has also recommended that there should continue to be a national rescue service. The commission will consult widely about the way forward. The Bill reflects the advice that we have received from the commission.
Another issue of fundamental concern to employees and former employees of British Coal is pension provision. I am determined that the pension entitlements of those who have given their working lives to the industry, and their dependants, should be fully respected and safeguarded in the process of privatisation. A consultation paper on proposals for British Coal pensions after privatisation was published in September last year. Comments were received from the trustees of the British Coal schemes, from the corporation, from industry unions and from more than 1,000 individuals.
After careful consideration of all the responses to the consultation paper, on 2 December we announced our decisions. All pensioners and deferred pensioners of the mineworkers' pension scheme and the staff superannuation scheme and all currently contributing members will be able to leave their past service entitlements in the schemes, which, on privatisation, will be closed to new members. New industry-wide pension schemes will be created for employees of British Coal and its subsidiaries who are transferred to employment in successor companies.
The Bill provides for the closed schemes to be given a Government solvency guarantee that will ensure that pensions and deferred pensions are increased annually after privatisation, in line with the retail price index by reference to their level at privatisation. In addition, beneficiaries will be able to benefit from any fund surpluses through pension payment increases over and above RPI levels. The new industry-wide schemes will provide the same package of benefits as the corresponding main scheme. Employees transferred to the new schemes will be given protected person status under the Bill.
The Government believe that those proposals meet in full our commitment to protect pensions under the two existing schemes. The proposals will provide security for pension entitlements earned from service with British Coal and will provide protection for pension entitlements from future service with successor companies. The Bill provides the necessary statutory underpinning for all the- safeguards proposed.
Next, I refer to concessionary fuel entitlements. I am again determined that they should be properly safeguarded. A consultation paper on this subject was published in October. My hon. Friend the Minister for Energy yesterday announced our conclusions. Responsibility for meeting the entitlements of former employees and their dependants will be transferred to the Government. Successor companies will be responsible for the entitlements of British Coal employees who transfer to them.
I believe that our policies for the treatment of pensions and concessionary fuel fully meet the Government's commitment to safeguard entitlements, and are fair to beneficiaries and to taxpayers. They will provide welcome and essential reassurance to many mining families that their hard-earned entitlements will not be jeopardised.
No. I have given many times.
The Bill addresses the issues of subsidence. There must be proper protection for the rights of householders and others who may be affected by coal-mining subsidence. A large part of the Bill is devoted to establishing a strong regulatory regime for that purpose.
The Coal Authority will take over all British Coal's existing responsibilities for subsidence, except in clearly defined areas where licensees will be responsible. Householders will therefore be in no doubt against whom to claim. It is an enabling power. We have yet to take final decisions as to the extent of the areas for which licensees will be responsible. Obviously, that will need careful consideration, bearing in mind the interests of the industry, the taxpayer, and, of course, the claimants.
The Coal Authority is given a strong duty to ensure that licensees make proper financial provisions for meeting claims, and the power to require that security, possibly in the form of a trust, is provided.
Can the President give an assurance that the beneficiaries of concessionary coal will continue to receive coal if that is what they wish, and will not be forced to take cash in lieu?
The answer is yes. But as happens now, there will be arrangements for a financial exchange of those rights if it is agreed with the individuals concerned. The hon. Gentleman's point is well made.
After nearly 50 years in the public sector, the coal industry has acquired exactly the same myths as those that used to haunt other nationalised industries. It is commonly suggested that they can never match the efficiency of their competitors; that their future lies only in an endless continuation of taxpayers' subsidies of one sort or another; that somehow or other they cannot attract significantly worthy management for the task in their control; and that, in the end, only politicians are fit to take the strategic decisions affecting their future. Time and time again, all those myths have been exposed and exploded. In case after case, they are myths.
This Bill will give the coal industry the opportunity to demonstrate that it can compete, it can stand on its own feet, it can attract managers who are the best in the world, and it is fit and able to take control of its destiny. I do not have the slightest doubt that the industry will make good use of that opportunity.
I look forward to the day when private sector coal companies will join other privatised companies as free-standing, competitive enterprises, carrying a new entrepreneurial spirit into the marketplaces of the world. To enable that to happen, we will privatise the coal industry. We will set the industry free to meet the challenges of the marketplace, to innovate, to compete and to win its rightful share in the diversified energy market in the years ahead. That is the Government's policy, and I commend the Bill to the House.
The President has presented the Bill to the House in a speech which began with a light essay in history in which he was willing—indeed, enthusiastic—to take interventions, followed by a presentation of the detail of the Bill in which, perhaps wisely, he appeared to be extremely reluctant to take interventions.
My hon. Friends who listened carefully to the speech noticed that there was a gap. We heard about the details of the device by which the Government will privatise the coal industry. We heard about the arrangements for the claims of subsidence. We heard how the Government propose to resolve the bill that will be left for the pensioners of the two coal industry pension funds. It was proper that the President went on at such length about the pension arrangements, as there are now 20 times as many people with a claim on the pension fund as there are left among the dwindling few people working in the pits.
There was a gap in the speech. Although the House heard all the details about how the Government propose to privatise the pits, we did not hear how many pits will be left in the coal industry when it is privatised. The President told us about the arrangements for concessionary coal, hut he could not tell us how many pits will be there to dig the coal in the first place. He knows perfectly well how many pits will still be there at privatisation. If he does not know, he should take the Bill away and come back when he is able to answer that question.
On Friday, the Chief Secretary provided us with a timely warning of the threat of this great institution of Parliament being undermined by cynicism. I wholeheartedly agree that there is a danger of the House being undermined by cynicism. What undermines the House is the cynicism of Ministers who will not tell us what is common knowledge within their Departments. It is worse cynicism than that: it is the cynicism of Ministers who think that it is all right to brief the press privately on what they are not prepared to share with the House.
I give the example of The Times last Thursday. Someone told The Times how many pits will survive privatisation. The Times is quite confident that it knows how many pits will be closed in the future; the article has the confidence of being accompanied by a photograph of the President of the Board of Trade. It tells us that six pits will close next February. Whoever told The Times did a thorough job, because the article names seven pits out of which the six will be chosen.
The same story also appeared in The Independent, and the same seven pits are named. If all those pits go, there will be only two left of the famous 12 pits which we were told would be reprieved by the White Paper last March. That White Paper is now so discredited that it makes the Government's tax proposals at the election appear to be models of probity and candour.
A remarkable feature of the list is that most of the pits that are to be closed next month were not even on the President's list of the original 31 pits for closure. They are pits that received a clean bill of health for their financial viability, and where there is no pretence of coal reserves being exhausted. If those seven pits close, they will take with them the 114 years' working life of their coal reserves. That is the scale of the coal reserves which we will lose as a result of the vandalism of pit closures.
The Times obligingly tells us how the closures will be presented to us next month. Those pits, we are told, will be not closed but merged. The pits will be shut down, miners will be sacked and the shafts will be plugged. However, the pits will not be closed. They will become merger-seeking pits.
I would not want Ministers to be embarrassed as they sit on the Front Bench by appearing to be less well-informed than The Times. I therefore give them the chance to prove that they know as much as The Times. Will they tell the House whether it is true that six pits will shut next February? [HON. MEMBERS: "Give way."] If it is not true, I will give way also. Can Ministers deny it? Can they tell us how many pits will survive until privatisation? I will give way to anyone on the Government Front Bench who feels that he knows as much as appeared in The Times.
I must warn the President of the Board of Trade: if we are to be lectured on cynicism by Government Members, I believe that nothing would demonstrate greater cynicism than to invite Parliament in January to debate and give a Second Reading to a Bill to privatise 22 pits, to proceed to Committee to consider the Bill line by line and then to announce in February, "We are sorry, there are now only 15 pits." That is all that will be left.
If the number is not 15, I will give way. I will give way to anyone on the Government Benches who finds his tongue and who can tell us how many pits will be there, because they know. I would not wish them to think that we believe that they are ignorant or that, like the Prime Minister, they did not read the briefing note or, if they did read it, they did not take it in. We know that they know.
There were 50 pits in operation at the time of the general election. In the next month or two, there may be only 15. There were 44,000 miners employed at the time of the general election. After the next round of closures, there may be 10,300 miners left in the whole of Britain, from Longannet to Point of Ayr. In two years, the Government have closed two thirds of the remaining pits and destroyed three quarters of the remaining jobs.
After that smashing of the industry, how dare the Government pretend to us that privatisation is intended to strengthen the industry? It was to privatise the industry that the Government ran it down to a tiny profitable core. Privatisation brings a new threat of more closures. There is only one real asset which they have to privatise in the Bill, and that is the contracts of British Coal with the generators. The Bill may be selling the jobs of 10,000 miners and the local economy of whole communities. The one thing that the bidder will want to buy is the contract to supply the generators.
The contracts expire in March 1998. By the time privatisation is well down the road, there will be only three years left of those contracts. There is no guarantee that they will be renewed. If they are, there will certainly be another cut in the volume of coal unless the Government act to tackle the rigged market in which those contracts are given.
That is why the President of the Board of Trade has been unable to come to the House today with any expressions of interest from the big private corporations in mining. That is why Rio Tinto Zinc and Hanson are not named in the press reports of what will happen after privatisation. The President was unwise enough to say at a press conference on the day the Bill was published:
the short duration of contracts with the electricity industry would not deter buyers.
He even mentioned Hanson as a possible buyer. Unfortunately for him, on the same day, the chief executive of Hanson ruled out making a bid on the pithy ground that
short-term contracts are not our idea of fun.
The President looks like being stuck with bids from second-rank mining companies.
The danger is obvious to those of my hon. Friends with knowledge of the mining industry. It is that companies that must borrow to buy out British Coal will then run the pits with a single objective—to get their money back within the three years left in the contracts. My hon. Friends who have been down mines know that, once it has been decided to run down a pit, a lot of money can be made for a couple of years. One has simply to halt the development work that costs the money and rip out the coal that can be reached easily. The mining equivalent of looting leaves pits robbed of a long-term future.
If Ministers want to assure us that that will not be the outcome of privatisation, they can do so simply by plugging the most obvious hole in the Bill. The Bill provides the scheme by which the new coal authority will privatise the industry by granting licences to operate the present pits.
The clauses contain provisions for all sorts of tests to be made on operators' financial standing and credit rating, just to ensure that the Government get their money out of the measure. Clause 26 makes it perfectly clear what comes first when the coal authority judges an application for a licence—the financial terms on which a mere bid is made for that licence. Nowhere in the Bill is there a requirement on the applicant for a licence to submit a mining plan for a long-term future for the pits.
The test that we shall lay down as to whether privatisation will provide a long-term future for the coal industry will be contained in amendments in which we shall require those who apply for licences to submit a mining plan that will keep a deep-mine coal industry alive into the next century. If Ministers really believe the promises that they have made today that privatisation will provide a long-term future for the coal industry, they will welcome our amendments. They may even offer us drafting assistance to ensure that we get them right. But if they resist the amendments, they will confirm what everyone in the industry knows—privatisation is pathetically irrelevant to the real pressures on the coal industry.
Does the hon. Gentleman really believe that, if he could have his way tonight and defeat the Bill, there would be a better and longer future for the coal industry in its present form, rather than if it were privatised so that it could compete and get a larger market?
The hon. Gentleman's intervention conveniently takes me on to what we must do if we are to give coal a long-term, healthier future than at present. The answer to his question is that, if the Government genuinely wanted a long-term future for the coal industry, they would tackle the rigged market that arises from their privatisation of the electricity industry.
I am not ducking the question. The Government seek to duck the mistakes that they created when they privatised the electricity industry—mistakes that have given rise to the present pressures on the coal industry.
The problem for the coal industry is that it has been squeezed out of a fair share of electricity generation. The President talked of the long-term decline in electricity generation from coal. As recently as 1988—even under this Government—the Central Electricity Generating Board was planning to expand, not contract, coal generation. It applied for consent to build two new coal-fired stations and had prepared plans for a third.
The coal for those three power stations is equal to the output of the half dozen pits that the Government intend to close next month. Those plans were knocked on the head by the privatisation of electricity, a privatisation that opened the door to the dash for gas.
Last week we gained a new ally in our attempts to expose the fact that the privatised electricity market is rigged. The director of business planning at National Power, the biggest privatised electricity company of all, revealed its breakdown of generation costs. That shows that electricity from new gas-fired power stations is one third more expensive than electricity from the coal-fired stations that are being shut to make room for them. That does not even take account of the bogus subsidy offered in the White Paper. I do not take account of it, because the generators have not taken a penny of it.
I put to the President the question which I have asked in every debate on coal in the past year and to which I have received no answer. How can the Government pretend that there is not a rigged market when its effect is to reduce the market for coal even though it produces the cheapest electricity for the consumer? They should present a Bill not to privatise coal or to waste our time on another piece of their dogma but to end that rigged market. That is the way to provide a real future for coal.
The White Paper promised to take some measures to tackle that rigged market—not many, but one or two. One of the factors squeezing coal out of the market is that one of its biggest rivals, the nuclear industry, gets £1 billion subsidy a year. Subsidy is being poured into the most expensive source of electricity. Last month, the chief executive of Scottish Power explained that electricity from nuclear power was now 50 per cent. more expensive than that from coal. However, so daft is the current market that nuclear power is being expanded and coal generation is being cut to make room for it.
In addition to my hon. Friend's comparison, will he comment on the fact that last week British Nuclear Fuels issued figures showing that the cost of decommissioning new nuclear power stations is less than 1/100th of 1p per kWh? In that context, the justification for the levy against coal-fired generation is completely non-existent.
My hon. Friend will be aware that the Select Committee recommended that the nuclear power levy should be ring-fenced so that it was used specifically for decommissioning and not to subsidise current operations. The Committee also recommended that the nuclear review be brought forward to 1993. The Government accepted that, and the White Paper said that that review would be brought forward to 1993. In October, the Minister of State said that the nuclear review would be announced before the end of the year.
I may not carry the Minister of State with me on many issues, but I think that he will agree that we are past the end of 1993 and into 1994. The end of 1993 saw the end of another Government commitment, leaving the question as to how they can find the time, the energy and the priority to produce this thick Bill to privatise coal but cannot get down to the review of one of its main rivals and the biggest subsidised element in the energy industry.
Why cannot the Government do something about French imports, for which we are paying more than 3p per kWh—50 per cent. more than it costs to produce electricity from our own coal?
Yes, we do. That is possible only because the Government extended the nuclear subsidy to French imports. Why are not they doing something to tackle that distortion of the rigged market instead of privatising coal? How can the privatisation of coal help in view of those blatant market distortions? Why should a privatised coal industry be any more successful than British Coal in selling coal in that rigged market? For that matter, why should a privatised coal industry be any more successful than British Coal in improving productivity? For the first time, the President acknowledged the remarkable productivity improvements under British Coal.
In the past 10 years, there has been a threefold increase in productivity and in the past year productivity has increased by more than one third. In nine of the past 10 months up to December, output per man shift broke all previous records. That is the achievement of the men down the pits who will be rewarded with closure next month —an achievement which outstrips that of any private industry. It is a public success story. Why can we not keep that success story in the public sector that made it possible in the first place?
One of the features that gives British Coal in the public sector an edge over private companies is that its gain in productivity did not go into private pockets or was not taken out in increased profits; it was passed on in reduced coal prices. In the 10 years to 1992, the price of coal came down in real terms by 36 per cent. Since then, the new contract with the new price has reduced the price of coal by 27 per cent. in cash terms. The Government tell us that containing inflation is their top priority. How many private sector industries could claim to achieve the reduction in price that British Coal has achieved over the past five years?
The figures from National Power to which I referred earlier show that electricity can be generated from coal at a cost of 2·1p per kWh. It is currently sold at 2·8p per kWh. That is a mark-up of 33 per cent.—a rip-off produced by the last privatisation that Energy Ministers presented to the House. It is a rip-off at the expense of the consumer and the coal industry.
The President had the nerve to tell the House that nationalisation had created monopoly power. Privatisation will create monopoly power and the abuse of monopoly power. If the President is serious about monopoly power, why is he coming to the House today, not to privatise the coal industry, which has no power, but to address the mistakes made in the last privatisation by tackling the monopoly power of the two giant generators and sending them before the Monopolies and Mergers Commission to explain why they are keeping up their prices when the price of the main fuel has fallen so markedly?
The coal industry does not need privatisation to show it how to increase productivity or cut prices. Miners do not need privatisation and they do not want privatisation. How can privatisation improve the safety of the men who work 2,000 ft below the surface of the earth? When those men drop down in cages to work in that dangerous environment, they do not want to think that the people in charge up above are thinking first about the profits of the company. They come from coal communities and they remember when profit was the first priority of the pit owners.
The greatest achievement of the public coal industry was to make Britain's pits the safest in the world—an achievement that is most prized by the men who work in it. Australia has the next safest mining industry in the world and its fatal accident rate is double that of Britain. That is not due to the regulations that the President lays down. British Coal has achieved that safety record because throughout British Coal there is—and it is a story of achievement—a safety culture that permeates every coal-face.
The danger is that, by destroying the structure that created that culture, the Government will destroy the safety to which it gave rise. Why do they propose to tamper with that success story and put it at risk by destroying the structure of the industry that made it possible?
Privatisation will not improve the pensions of the men who have already been pensioned off. The trustees of the pension fund have registered 17 areas of concern about the Government proposals on pensions. They relate to the same issue.
Schedule 5, which deals with pensions, contains no fewer than 20 references to the powers of the Secretary of State. There has been an oversight here. It is about time that the President drew it to the attention of the parliamentary draftsmen that he is no longer Secretary of State but wishes legislation to refer to the powers of the President. Whatever name he chooses, for the first time a Secretary of State has sweeping powers over the miners' pension funds—powers to sack the trustees and powers to require them to use the national interest to override the interests of the miners.
The issue is not whether the pensions will be index-linked to inflation but how any increase in the value of funds will be divided between the Secretary of State and the miners who have created that fund by paying into it. The last person that the members of those pension fund schemes will accept as capable of giving them a fair division of the fund is the person who has taken away their jobs.
I come to the final reason why the privatisation of coal does not make sense. To Conservative Members this may be the clinching reason. The final reason why privatisation does not make sense is that the Treasury will not benefit.
We always knew that, when we opposed the privatisation of electricity, we were wasting our breath. There was a great deal of money to be made from it and the Treasury would steamroller it through whatever the arguments. When the Government discovered that they would not make money out of privatising the nuclear industry, they left it in the private sector.
There is never much money in a fast sell and the Government will not get much money from selling off the rump of the much-reduced coal industry. They will be lucky to get back one third of the money they have poured out in redundancy payments in the past year alone. Not only will the Treasury not get much money, but it will be left with the liabilities for subsidence, for example. The Treasury will get the worst possible deal. It will be left with historic liabilities from the old coalfields without any of the revenue from the current operating pits to help pay for it.
Privatisation is not needed to get the gains in productivity that the coal industry has achieved for itself. It will not resolve the real problems of the coal industry which arise from the privatisation of the electric industry. It will not even make the Government money, so why are they pressing ahead with the privatisation of coal?
It has nothing to do with what is good for the coal industry. That came out strongly in the ideological preamble to the President's speech. The privatisation of the coal industry has everything to do with what is bad about the Government's dogma.
Lord Parkinson first told us that coal would be privatised in a speech to the 1988 Conservative party conference. He described it as the ultimate privatisation. It was also Lord Parkinson who in October 1992 told us the real reason for the closure of 31 pits with when he told "The World at One" that we should never forget that the miners brought down a Conservative Government. The Government never forgot it and as they sink lower in the polls, caught in a web of their own deceits and buried in the rubble of the industries they have destroyed and the public services they have run down, they are determined to take the miners with them.
The Bill is rich in symbolism. I began by reminding the House that the Chief Secretary had given us a sermon on cynicism. The deepest hypocrisy of the Chief Secretary lecturing us on the cynicism undermining national institutions is the fact that he has devoted his entire political career to undermining the national institutions of the post-war settlement—institutions that for 30 years fostered political consensus in a stable society.
A prominent part of the post-war settlement was the nationalisation of the coal industry. For 30 years until the 1970s we had full employment, an excellent national health service and an education service of which we could be proud. Part of that settlement was the nationalisation of the mining industry. It offered an alternative way of running an industry based on respect for the rights of men who worked underground at the coal face. It was an alternative way of running the industry motivated by the need of the nation for energy, not the desire of owners for profit. The Government cannot comprehend those values. That is why they want to destroy the coal industry. That is why they have found time for this pathetic, irrelevant little Bill.
Of course the Government will win the vote tonight. But the Conservative party is so terrorised by the packs snapping at every straggler that they will all be found huddled together for safety in the same Lobby. I must tell the President that, long after today's speeches are forgotten and he and I are remembered only by our children and their children, the public ownership of coal will be remembered as a brave attempt to provide decency and dignity at work in the foulest conditions, to give expression to the common purpose of the nation by asserting the right of the nation to own the sources of its energy. The Government's betrayal of that great industry and the final insult of this mean little Bill will be remembered as a display of dogma and vindictiveness. We will reject their betrayal of the coal industry tonight, and history will reject that betrayal throughout the century.
Whatever else one might say about the speech that we have just heard from the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), it cannot be construed by any stretch of the imagination as a welcome for the Coal Industry Bill. I am glad that, just before the Christmas recess last year, British Coal and its chairman, Neil Clarke; took a rather different line from that of the hon. Gentleman. Neil Clarke welcomed the introduction of legislation to return coal mining to the private sector. I echo his welcome unequivocally as one who represents the modern Selby complex of five integrated and interconnected mines employing some 3,500 people.
Neil Clarke observed realistically enough:
The market realities will remain, whatever structure emerges from the privatisation process
But he went on to say:
Privatisation will help free the industry from some outdated restrictions. It will also allow the interests of coal mining in Britain and the people who work in it to be pursued separately from the interests of Government.
I shall make a little more progress and then I shall certainly give way to the hon. Lady.
That formal farewell wave by British Coal to the embrace of Government is worth dwelling on for a moment. No industry in Britain has demonstrated so vividly and starkly that state ownership is no panacea and cannot inoculate an industry, however venerable, however widespread, against the pervasive realities of costs, competitiveness and market alternatives.
As all hon. Members who are present will know, the coal industry has been clasped to the breast of Government for nearly half a century in Britain, and by an almost perverse reversal of nature, instead of a suckling infant becoming progressively bigger and stronger over those post-war decades, a viable adult hitched to the paps of Government in 1947 has become progressively weaker and more infantile. The figures of decline are simply astonishing: 718,400 National Coal Board employees in 1947 down to 250,000 by the time Mrs. Thatcher came into office in 1979, with output down from 200 million tonnes in 1947 to about 120 million tonnes today.
I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman a specific question about the public responsibility arising from the consequences of coal mining, whoever owns the mines. It is about the responsibility to the land and to the environment, which will continue for generations and for many a long year beyond anything that we do today. Does he agree that that responsibility, for example, for ensuring that water continues to be pumped from the redundant mines, must lie with Government and that the Bill must address that fully so that in constituencies such as mine someone will accept responsibility for ensuring that the real danger of serious environmental damage is not allowed to arise?
The hon. Lady's intervention strikes an echo in my mind and, I am sure, in the minds of many of my hon. Friends. Indeed, that is why the Bill as drafted, postulating the existence and future of the Coal Authority with an indefinate lifespan and with many responsibilities already spelt out, which no doubt will be further spelt out in Committee. This is precisely the mechanism that will ensure that her misgivings are properly attended to.
Even at its lowest evaluation, privatisation could hardly preside over a more dismal decline in a state-owned industry than that which is now on record in the decline from the 718,400 employees in 1947 to the 31,700—a tiny fraction of the original body—that exists today. In my view, privatisation offers an attractive and reassuring prospect of future stability and profitability to the five mines, at least in the Selby complex, into which huge sums of capital have been poured by the Conservative Government.
Productivity at Selby is about four times the British Coal average—30 tonnes output per man shift compared with about the 5 to 8 tonnes national average. If it was run as an independent mining enterprise, Selby could produce and sell coal at prices per tonne that could comfortably beat off any foreign coal at present on offer at any British port, let alone inland. Selby sits cheek by jowl with three of the largest power stations in the kingdom—Drax, Eggborough and Ferrybridge. Furthermore, its productivity and output can only get better under privatisation. Hence, its prospects are brighter.
The right hon. Gentleman made reference to the 50 years of close contact between the Government and the coal industry. He stated that he thought that privatisation would be much better. Would he care to refer to the 50 years prior to that, when we had a privatised coal industry which was a blight and disgrace on any civilised nation? Does he accept that we are likely to revert back to those standards when we go back to the same criteria for operating an industry, which will surely come when private enterprise takes over again?
The hon. Gentleman undermines his own argument. If he looks back over the span of nationalisation, going right back to vesting day in 1947, he will see that there was then, as I argued recently, a manpower dimension of 718,400 employees in the coal industry and an output of 200 million tonnes a year. That did not come just by flicking the fingers at the moment of nationalisation. It represents a long evolution of 50 years, which the hon. Gentleman attempts to discredit.
That was the treasure and the prize that was placed on the plate of Parliament to nationalise. If it had been such a discreditable, unconstructive and useless period, why was it that the point of nationalisation was the high point of output, quantity and quality in the coal industry? Since then, it has gone steadily and consistently down. That heritage is not to be discredited.
I was saying that the prospects already for Selby are very bright because of its astonishing capacity in terms of output per man shift. Even as one of British Coal's star performers at present, there are shortcomings in efficiency in the Selby complex, particularly in relation to the waste of materials and the somewhat cavalier attitude sometimes taken towards stock control. That shortcoming will be familiar to those whose employment has straddled both public and private sector industrial activity.
Experience of the electricity generating industry is a familiar guidepost in that respect. I received briefings on inefficiency and waste from miners who have worked overground and underground at the Selby complex, and believe that a yet better prospect for output, productivity and profitable coal sales will loom under privatisation.
I hope that an experienced, perhaps international mining or extraction company will perceive the jewel that glitters in the Selby coalfield and seek to bid for it. The hon. Member for Livingston mentioned National Power and PowerGen in particular. Local generators should not overlook the marvellous asset that lies so close to hand. National Power has just invested millions of pounds in a flue gas desulphurisation plant at Drax and is thus committed to coal for many years. It should certainly consider a bid for the hand, so to speak, of the Selby complex.
The closeness of that profitable mining operation to huge power stations suggests that one third of British Coal's entire prospective output of 30 million tonnes a year within the next few years could be produced at the Selby complex alone. That is a profitable and attractive basis not only for maintaining Selby's existing output but for increasing it. I believe that privatisation offers that.
I want my right hon. Friend the President to register one or two cautionary notes. The industry's effective restructuring will depend crucially on the skills and dedication of relatively few key miners and managers, whose services will be essential in putting privatisation in place.
In the worst scenario, one such miner or manager might deliberately forgo the option of early retirement or redundancy and suffer the loss of a huge redundancy payment out of his dedication to seeing the transition through to its conclusion—only to find that he had inadvertently done himself out of a subsequent long-term post in the new structure and had forgone his entitlement to the redundancy package to which he might have been eligible, had he chosen redundancy, and thus ends up with nothing.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will put such possibilities under a microscope. Without his action to safeguard prospects and future employment, the maintenance of essential morale and motivation at all levels will falter—particularly among those who will be responsible for seeing through the transition.
I am deeply concerned about one or two narrower but significant aspects, and echo points made to me this afternoon by representatives of the Country Landowners Association. A compulsory rights order is a form of compulsory purchase order that applies to leases, with reversions at the end. CROs are used by British Coal for the acquisition, for example, of temporary rights for opencast operations. CROs are a familiar phenomenon at present, but it seems inappropriate for the new private companies or licence holders to enjoy the almost absolute, draconian power that British Coal currently enjoys through the CRO machinery. In the new privatised environment, normal private treaty negotiations should be the order of the day between private licensed holders and private landowners and the CRO procedure made redundant.
I am concerned also about the future of working rights agreements, which are used and operated by British Coal but which are apparently destined for transfer intact and unmodified to the new private licence holders and owners. The unqualified transfer of WRAs would be inappropriate. Most were concluded by British Coal and private landowners under the somewhat coercive shadow of the possible use of compulsory rights orders, so WRAs were reached under modest duress. Most made only cursory provisions for current payments, terminal payments or indemnity payments to make good damage done when the agreements come to an end.
The cursory character of such agreements has not mattered much in the past because behind the National Coal Board or British Coal lay the vast resources of the Exchequer. Everyone knew that the various payments for which WRAs provided would ultimately be available. No such basic security will exist in respect of the private company heirs and successors to British Coal, which may find themselves in real financial difficulty at certain points in their operation. Current WRAs should be updated and revised, and any that apply to prospective operations should be surrendered. It would not be appropriate to carry through that mechanism into the new structure without modification and amendment. I hope that my right hon. Friend will give that some thought.
Landowners should have the right of notification when licence bidders apply to the authority, in the same way as they receive information when a local authority causes a planning application to be made public and drawn to the attention of all and sundry in the surrounding countryside. The same should apply with prospective licence holders, so that people on the ground know what is in prospect. Two thirds of the Country Landowners Association's members are owners of fewer than 100 acres—mostly farmers. It is essential that their modest inhibitions and doubts should come under close scrutiny by my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Minister for Energy, probably in Committee, and that appropriate amendments be made.
Unlike the hon. Member for Livingston, and on behalf of the Selby complex—which has a glittering future—I warmly welcome the provisions that my right hon. Friend has introduced today. I hope that the Bill will mark a new era for many miners and many mines throughout the United Kingdom.
I want to raise several matters of concern. It is a pity that the President of the Board of Trade is leaving the Chamber, because I wanted to refer to his typical performance this afternoon, which was long on rhetoric and short on detail. No doubt most Opposition Members will endeavour to extract that detail. I hope that the Minister who replies will take note of the comments by Opposition Members with many years' experience of the industry.
I need hardly make clear my personal view of the principle of the Bill. I am firmly opposed to privatisation. The Government have spent many months preparing the ground for privatisation, beginning the process back in October 1992 with a mass closure programme. They were determined then—as they still are—to reduce the industry to what they consider a manageable size: between 10 and 15 pits. They have effectively undermined the industry's safety structure with measures that they introduced while Parliament was in recess, showing their complete contempt for parliamentary democracy.
Those of us who have spent many years of our lives in the industry were horrified by the proposal to deregulate the industry in preparation for privatisation. The Government's plans prove that they are fundamentally concerned with ideology and their continuing grudge against the coal industry, rather than with what is best for the industry and the country as a whole.
As Ministers well know, the industry's problem is not the question of ownership, but the question of market share. It has lost its market share as a direct result of the Government's energy policy—or, rather, their lack of an energy policy. The Government failed to redress the imbalance that they had created, because it was all part of their master plan. They allowed the electricity companies to move away from coal, encouraged the dash for gas and sat back while regional electricity companies made long-term deals to ensure that they could control the supply of gas that they bought. The privatised companies will profit; the taxpayer and the consumer will lose.
As a direct result of the faults in the Government's thinking, pits have been closed on a massive scale—and there are more closures to come. There are now only 22 working collieries in British Coal, compared with 50 in October 1992, and recent newspaper reports suggest that the Government's axe is dangling over a further seven. No doubt Ministers are pleased that they seem to be meeting their original target, and do not care about the misery that they have brought to thousands of miners and their families.
Interested parties are worried chiefly about the number of holes in the Bill. We are being asked to vote for a measure that is only half complete. Vital concerns—concerns of great importance to mining communities such as those in north Doncaster—have yet to be resolved fully, or even addressed. The number of job losses is immense: 180,000 jobs have been lost since the strike of 1984–85. My area has just lost its last two pits, Bentley and Hatfield, which has meant the loss of more than 700 jobs. That does not include all the jobs lost through redundancy in previous months.
However, despite the appalling problems with which mining communities have been presented, the Bill is silent about the Government's plans for the future of British Coal Enterprise. Only passing mention is made of BCE, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of British Coal. It is important for the Government to make clear what they intend to do with BCE. The services that it provides are needed more than ever, given the increased number of pit closures: the Government must ensure that that source of help for men who have lost their jobs, and for local businesses, is maintained in the months and years ahead. I hope that Ministers will be able to give us more details about their intentions—if not today, in the near future.
The Bill is also relatively silent about the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation, known as CISWO. Although it provides for the abolition of the Miners' Welfare Act 1952, it sets out no alternatives. I hope that the Minister will soon be able to dispel the uncertainty that still surrounds CISWO's future; I know that he has been examining the position, and I believe that we would all have liked to hear concrete proposals today.
CISWO plays an important role in mining communities. It provides recreational facilities such as welfare halls, playing fields and social clubs, as well as providing important social services such as convalescent homes. Its social work helps disabled miners and their families. If the Bill makes no provision for them, those services could well be lost to local communities. That would be a huge loss, which would place additional burdens both on local authorities such as Doncaster metropolitan borough council and on the mining communities themselves.
Many people would be affected by the loss of CISWO's services. The whole mining community can use its recreational facilities, and it estimates that more than half a million people may require its assistance. Those people's needs must be recognised. I call on the Minister to ensure that full provision is made for the continuation of CISWO's work, so that local authorities are not left to carry the financial can.
So far, CISWO has been financed by proceeds from the coal industry and miners' contributions. Adequate provision must be made to ensure that its services are maintained and that help is available to keep them going; otherwise, elderly and disabled people will suffer, and valuable facilities used by the whole community will be lost.
There is also concern about the pension fund changes announced by the Minister in December—in a pretty diabolical way, by means of a parliamentary answer. I understand that discussions about the operation of the funds following privatisation are still taking place; I hope, however, that the Minister will be able to respond to anxieties raised by the trustees of both pension schemes about the extent of the Secretary of State's powers over the funds. Pensioners are entitled to know that the money that they have worked hard to earn is safe, and that it will continue to pay them a decent pension in the years to come.
Pensioners are also entitled to know that the Government will guarantee to increase benefit levels if necessary. The Government's present proposals mean that, as a guarantor of the scheme, they should be able to cream off a large part of the surplus. Unless they can provide a cast-iron guarantee that pensions will be increased by more than the retail prices index, many pensioners will rightly feel that they are being ripped off.
The Bill is totally inadequate. It contains no plans for an overall energy policy, and no recognition of the fact that the private sector failed in the marketplace when it was last in control of the industry. The Government cannot even justify their proposals on the basis of their most popular argument—that nationalised industries are overstaffed and inefficient. Not even the Tories can say that about the present coal industry.
Only last week British Coal boasted about the latest productivity records. Miners broke the record of 10 tonnes per man shift for the first time in the industry's history. So the legislation is not about dealing with an inefficient industry. It is purely and simply about the Tory dogma of privatisation. In pursuit of it, the Tories have wreaked havoc in our communities.
Only this Tory Government could be stupid enough to destroy an industry that should be supplying our base energy needs. Their theory is simple: if it is public, it is no good, and do not let the facts get in the way of a good privatisation. These people are manic about privatisation no matter the cost in money or human misery. From public funds, the Government will gladly take care of the billions of pounds of liabilities and let their friends in the public sector cream off the millions of pounds of profits.
I stress that there is absolutely no justification for the privatisation. The Government know it, we know it, the miners know it and the public know it. The only things that could possibly come out of coal privatisation are higher electricity bills, the sterilisation of a magnificent national asset, a return to unsafe practices underground and the destruction of our coalfield communities.
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me so early in the debate. Perhaps at the outset I should declare an interest. I am a partner in a large firm of solicitors and among our clients we have had many people who are affected in many different ways by the coal industry and will have a strong interest in the outcome of the Bill.
I have always been a strong supporter of privatisation. Everything that I have seen of the privatisation process so far has confirmed that belief. Companies have outstandingly improved their performance in the private sector simply because the basic management decisions are left to those who run the industry instead of managers being always second-guessed by the Government. I can see no reason why the coal industry should not also be the beneficiary of that process. I believe that the coal industry has suffered considerably because it was so far down the queue of privatisation in an energy industry most other members of which have already been able to reap the benefits of freedom.
I wish to raise four specific points which I imagine will affect many of my colleagues in the House as well as myself and my constituency. The first point is about coal-fired power stations. It would have been far better, had it been possible, for the coal industry to be privatised in the 1980s as a package of power stations and the coalfields supplying them. The great weakness that the coal industry has suffered in a competitive environment is that it can sell coal only to a relatively small handful of customers whereas it ought to be able to sell electricity competitively.
In the past two or three years, groups of people have looked at the prospects for putting power stations and coalfields together, but the idea has always foundered on the rock of PowerGen and National Power insisting on unreasonable prices for redundant coal-fired power stations. It should be put clearly on the record at this stage that that is unacceptable and uncompetitive. If it means a reference to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, so be it.
The coal industry must have the opportunity of access to the provision of electricity so that we can expand and enhance the competitive energy environment in this country. If the course of privatisation had not been distorted by the miners' strike in the 1980s, such a system would already have been in place.
My second point is about the industrial health of individual miners. I understand that the Bill provides that those who have retired from the industry before privatisation and those who retire on privatisation will retain intact any claims directly or indirectly against the Government resulting from ill health perhaps derived from events early in their mining careers. Equally, I understand —the principle must be right, that those miners who transfer to the private sector will have their rights transferred with them primarily against the private sector company which employs them.
It is important that the Government give a clear undertaking that if, for example, a miner in his mid-40s who, in the early part of his career suffered the cause of an industrial injury which appears much later in his life, goes into the private sector and if that private company fails for some reason or another, perhaps in circumstances in which there are unsatisfactory insurance arrangements for the company's liability, his residual rights relating to his period of employment with British Coal will remain intact. It is vital in justice and equity that those rights should not be extinguished.
Thirdly, I wish to deal with the powers of compulsory purchase. It is one thing for the public sector to exercise compulsory purchase powers; it is another thing for those powers to be transferred to the private sector. My hon. Friend the Minister must make it clear that there will be no fundamental change in the way in which those powers are exercised as a consequence of the privatisation of the coal industry.
The whole issue of compulsory purchase for coal should be put on exactly the same footing as the gravel industry or any other opencasting or quarrying activity in the private sector. I know that my hon. Friend envisages a transition period, but I would require persuading that such a transition period, is necessary. If it is necessary, excessive use of compulsory purchase powers should not become a blight for many of our constituents during the interim period. In other words, I wish to see the public sector, through the coal authority, maintain tight control over the exercise of compulsory purchase powers and ensure that the exercise of those powers comes firmly within the general area of Government accountability.
The fourth point that I wish to raise is, for my constituency, the most important—the general issue of opencasting. It relates to part II of the Bill and its interaction with the consultation exercise now under way on mineral planning guidance 3. The interaction of the Bill with planning law will be of the gravest possible concern to many Members of Parliament and their constituents across areas where there have been coal workings in the past and which now face a huge rash of new opencast applications.
It must be clear that, in most circumstances, there is no longer any national priority to justify the extraction of opencast coal. It is the opposite. If we agree that there is a need to maintain a strategic reserve of coal for the future for unforeseen circumstances, opencastable coal is the best way of preserving that strategic reserve while we use the already developed deep-mined coal.
I am not completely opposed to opencasting. Three separate issues have to be addressed which I should like to illustrate in the context of my constituency. Where there is dereliction, opencasting can be the best way of dealing with it. In my constituency we had a huge site at St. Aidan's which was flooded when the river wall between the River Aire and the Aire and Calder canal collapsed causing a massive problem in the constituency. There was widespread consultation on the methods of dealing with that problem, extensive involvement of the local community and the local authority granted planning consent for further opencasting with the support of all parties. A private Bill came before the House in the previous Session of Parliament.
That seems an entirely appropriate way in which opencasting can provide for dealing with dereliction and the enhancement of the countryside and the environment when that opencasting has been completed. In the interim, it will often provide a substantial financial gain to local community groups as part of the exercise. It has certainly done so in my constituency.
I also accept that, when a major new road programme runs across existing or past mine workings, there is a strong case—within the confines of that programme, in terms of the time allowed and of restricting work to the most limited area necessary—for allowing coal to be taken ahead of road building, so that the land can be graded and the roal built more easily and expeditiously. The A1-M1 link road will go through my constituency and no doubt opencast coal mining applications will be made so that the route can be stabilised; I accept that that will be necessary.
However, nowadays, when environmental issues are far more important, it is not acceptable for opencast applications to be made for green-field sites, where there is no dereliction. Such applications are being made for the most sensitive areas of green belt in my constituency. There are a variety of important and exceptionally sensitive green belt areas around Garforth in my constituency, separating the Garforth community from the Leeds conurbation on one side and from Kippax village on the other. That is the core of planning, and I want it clearly spelled out that local planning authorities can reject unsuitable applications on environmental and planning grounds.
I have considered carefully part II of the Bill and the MPG3 consultation document which has been published by the Department of the Environment. I recognise that my hon. Friend the Minister cannot provide me with answers today because a consultation process is under way, which will expire in a couple of months. Having looked at the consultation document, I submit my speech as part of that consultation process. When one is attracting high-quality world-class investment in manufacturing industry, as is the case in Garforth, where there is a good environment and the planning ethos of the area has long since moved from its roots in the coal industry, it must be clear that there will be good and satisfactory grounds for rejecting opencast applications.
The consultation document refers to the role of unitary development plans. In West Yorkshire, we already have the benefit of unitary authorities, and in the Leeds area we are engaged in a major consultation exercise, which will shortly result in the commencement of public inquiries for our unitary development plan. I see that there is also scope within that plan for a minerals plan
From reading the documents, I do not know the extent to which the exercises can be put together. If the unitary development plan specifies that certain areas must be left as open land, to protect the separate identities of communities and the quality of the environment for developments in those communities, that should be honoured in the planning process and should not be overridden by opencast applications. That must be right, not merely from the point of view of people who live in the area but from that of the opencast industry, which does not want to incur the odium of public protest time and again and ought to focus clearly on those areas where opencast mining will be acceptable rather than those where it will not.
I am happy for the House to give the Bill a Second Reading and will watch with great interest how the debate develops in Committee and during the consultation process on MPG3. I hope that, by the time that the Bill returns to this Chamber on Report, the answers to those questions and to the three questions that I have asked earlier will be clearly answered. If my hon. Friend the Minister is to carry many of my colleagues with him on Report and Third Reading, we must be given clear answers on those issues.
Tonight's debate is about the long-term future of our main non-renewable source of energy. The background to the debate—judging by what the President of the Board of Trade said, it is much delayed as far as the Tories are concerned—is that the coal industry has been in decline for 20 years. We all know that that is because of the decrease in sales to the electricity supply industry, which is its principal market.
The way in which the Government dealt with that industry, especially in the past 10 years, and the fact that it has moved to using gas-fired power stations has caused the gradual dying of the coal industry. The domination of electricity generation by the two companies that the Government set up—National Power and PowerGen—and the monopoly in distribution, which has been given to one regional electricity company in each area, have had the coal industry by the neck.
We could have had, and still could have, an energy-efficient and cleaner coal industry. Coal is a natural mineral resource, which remains a crowning national asset. If the Government had wanted to liberalise the market, they could have done so without jeopardising efficiency or the security of supply. Instead, because of the way in which the Government tackled the electricity industry several years ago, they have made it impossible for the coal industry to survive at a size at which it could otherwise have done.
The President of the Board of Trade, like his colleague the Prime Minister, has obviously not read the documents produced by the Liberal Democrats. That is a common Government failing. Perhaps they are also failing to read the opinion polls. If they had read both, they might be doing better.
Yes, he appears to have done so.
We have never opposed the privatisation of the coal industry. However, we have opposed and will oppose, which is why we will vote against the Bill tonight—
Not at all. We have been consistent throughout and have always made it clear that we cannot expect the coal industry to survive as one of the sources of energy supply if we rig the market to its disadvantage in advance. Unless coal is allowed to compete fairly, it will be fighting with one hand tied behind its back. The central issue is not whether coal should be in the public or the private sector.
What opportunity is there for the coal industry to sell its product? The market has not changed during the past 10 years from the perception of the Government. The President of the Board of Trade may tell us that one reason why coal has done badly is that it was not privatised several years ago, but that would be a bit rich from a Government who have privatised everything else and could have put coal on the agenda a decade ago.
What has happened? During the past few years the industry has died the death of about 50 cuts—27 mines have already closed, four are out for market testing and there are only 18 to go. The former Secretary of State for Energy called it the "ultimate privatisation". None of us realised that "ultimate privatisation" meant privatisation when everything else had gone and there was nothing left to privatise.
We have inherited as a race the black energy jewel of coal in our energy-diverse crown; yet, years before the sale, the Government took away the glass case of any protection. They then, in the disguise of the electricity generators, sent in people to smash, and now they will put up the industry for others to grab. What the Tories destroy they later sell off.
It should not, and need not, have been like that. The hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) said, correctly, that coal, without distorting subsidy to other sectors, is still cheaper than two of its main competitor industries. It is cheaper than nuclear power, which has had a persistent and consistent subsidy from the Government—the only reason why the Government did not privatise the nuclear industry was that they realised that no one would buy it—and it is cheaper than electricity derived from gas.
The figures were provided last week. The figures for electricity produced, as given by the bosses of National Power, are 2·7p per kWh in relation to gas and 2·1 per kWh in relation to coal. That difference in cost could have made up for the cost of fitting and running flue gas desulphurisation equipment at Drax. One could have used the differential money to do to the power stations what was necessary to improve them in environmental terms. Coal has never lost in terms of competitiveness, it has never lost in terms of its price advantage and it has never failed—the figures continue to improve—in its productivity. We have produced British coal increasingly effectively and efficiently.
The words used by the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont), in his personal statement came to
mind when, in the past few days, I was thinking about the debate today. He said to the Prime Minister, in his first speech from the Back Benches:
I now wish to say one thing to him; it goes to the heart of the way in which the Government conduct themselves. There is something wrong with the way in which we make our decisions … As a result, there is too much short-termism … not enough shaping of events … We are, … the trustees of the nation."—[Official Report, 9 June 1993; Vol. 226, c.282.]
Tonight, we are watching the final act of a policy that, above all, is a short-term policy. First, it was a short-term employment policy. Just when the country wanted, and needed as nothing else, more people to be employed, the Government stood by and allowed pit after pit to close and community after community effectively to be put out of work.
Secondly, it was a short-term economic policy because it was, and remains, in the economic interests of our nation that we produce cheap coal, not only so that we can buy it at home for the uses at home and do not have to import it and buy it from abroad, but so that we can sell it abroad too —we have some of the best coal in the world.
Thirdly, it was a short-term energy policy, because, if one cuts out of the alternatives that supply of which we have the largest reserves, if one takes away and closes pits that one then cannot reopen, one reduces the diversity and the security of supply that we may need when the dash for gas is no longer as economically advantageous as it is at the moment.
It is that neglect of long-termism—that adoption of short-termism—for which we criticise the Government's energy policy and for which, sadly, we have had to criticise the Government on so many other issues over the years.
Coal offered, and still offers, security, diversity and competitiveness of supply. It offers good productivity, good quality and good competitiveness. It lacked only a chance to have a fair crack of the whip. All of us who have been down pits—even those of us who have not been employed in pits—ought to pay tribute to those who have so well served the industry, fought for it and kept Britain served by the power from the industry. It is not their fault that there has been no national planning, no national strategy and no reconciliation of the interests of coal, gas, oil, potentially nuclear power—although my party opposes it—and renewable energy sources.
The issue has never been, "Who owns the pits?" The issue has always been, "Why rig the market?" The prospects for coal—the title of the Government's paper of a year ago—were determined when the Government fixed the structure for electricity at the very start of its term.
Whatever our view about how we got here, some questions are not answered by the Bill. There is no clear sign that the Government are committed to keeping coal as a national asset indefinitely, as we believe that they should. Coal should be a Crown asset for all time and only licences to extract and to mine should be given. The rights to ownership of the coal should never be given away.
Questions about the historic liabilities are also left unanswered. The Minister knows well that through, for example, subsidence claims, there are significant and costly liabilities that will cross over the transition from the public sector to the private sector. I gather that the claims in 1992–93 in relation to subsidence alone were about £46 million. Who will pay those claims? If the plan is for them to be transferred in part to the new owners, what is the prospect of the new owners buying if they have to inherit an unquantified amount of liability as part of the package? There are worries—there have been interventions and contributions on the subject—about a range of environmental liabilities. The first of those worries is about contaminated mine water, the subject of an intervention by the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Ms Armstrong) when the President opened the debate. The National Rivers Authority has told the Government that it has inadequate powers to deal with pollution from water from abandoned mines. There have been dramatic illustrations of that, and not only in coal mines—for example, Wheal Jane in Cornwall only a few months ago. The liability needs to be determined and, above all, the resources need to be put in. They need to be national resources and it is the responsibility of the Government to supply them.
There is no provision in the Bill for long-term liability for gas emissions, a common danger with our pits. The Minister for Energy said recently that the Government would ensure that all current responsibilities in respect of the physical legacy of historic mining would continue to be discharged, and that those that were not taken by successor bodies would' fall to the public sector. Before the Bill can be approved, people need to know which fall where and which the Government will keep to themselves.
The most important environmental topic was the subject of the speech by the hon. Member for Elmet (Mr. Batiste)—opencast mining. If we are not careful, we shall not have given up the need for coal, but we shall have substituted for using deep-mined coal in mines that are already there, opencast mining in the countryside, where it is far less acceptable and often far less advantageous. There have been few guarantees that there will be protection for our communities from opencast mining. Opencast mining can be as much of a blight on our communities as ever were pits and spoil from deep-mined coal, and not just immediately but for a considerable period afterwards.
When he winds up, will the Minister be able to assure us that no approval will be given to the Government's mineral planning guidance as set out in MPG3 until the House has debated it after the present consultation period, and until there is cross-party assent in both Houses to a regime that will protect our green and pleasant land in Scotland, England and Wales from the ravages of opencast mining, and that will not allow exploitative applications? As the hon. Member for Elmet said, such applications are often approved only because local considerations are not allowed to apply, and the national interest, whatever it may be, is said to be overriding. That has been a blight on many of our communities. It is unacceptable, and needs to be changed. I hope that the Government will give specific guarantees.
By the Government's own definition, the Bill has been long delayed. The danger is that there will now be a quick sell-off of the small part of the industry that is left. It is rather as if the Government, having stood by while the industry was run down, are now washing their hands of it as they try to sell it off. There is a suspicion that that was the intentional plan all the time, and that the Government knew that they would not be able to sell the coal industry until it had been run down, so, willingly and knowingly, they acted as accomplices in that process. That is a tragedy, because it need not have happened.
The new general secretary of the TUC has said:
History will charge this Government with the murder of the British coal mining industry. Now, in the ultimate insult, they are seeking to sell off the dismembered body".
It is odd that the "ultimate privatisation" is perceived by the great British public to be the "ultimate insult" to that great industry of ours. The Government are trying to walk quickly away from responsibility ; they say that the marketplace can provide, but they have the responsibility for a national energy policy. For 14 years we have never seen it; for 14 years we have paid the price, and all that we can do with the Bill now is to hope that the House and another place will make the best of a thoroughly bad job.
I strongly agree with the part of the speech by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) that echoed the earlier contribution by my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet (Mr. Batiste), about the protection that needs to be provided and assured, in the Bill and in related legislation, in connection with opencast applications, especially in the countryside and in areas of outstanding natural beauty. It would be entirely unacceptable for the Government to be a party to closing down a large slice of such a major industry as the deep-mined coalfields of this country, only to spawn a mass of opencast workings on the surface. That is the last thing we need.
I warmly welcome the decision to privatise the coal industry. I believe it to be axiomatic that anything that the state can run, private industry could run better, more efficiently and more cheaply. However, I am bound to say that I regret the fact that once again we have too little, too late.
Privatisation should have been carried out sooner. Indeed, the President of the Board of Trade almost conceded as much in his opening speech. Certainly it should have been carried out before the industry was decimated in the wake of electricity privatisation. Now, there is little left to privatise; two thirds of the pits have gone since we first debated the subject at the beginning of this Parliament 15 or 16 months ago. Three quarters of the jobs in the industry have gone in that time, or are on the point of disappearing—30,000 jobs all told. I count that an unnecessary tragedy.
I trust that the Government will be successful in finding buyers for the residue of the industry. Above all, I hope that they can find buyers intent on operating the mines on a long-term basis, who are prepared to invest in them. We do not need the industry to be delivered in to the hands of the rape and pillage merchants, who will take out as much coal as is readily accessible but will make no investment in the future of the industry or of its work force.
The Government's determination to saddle new prospective owners with the responsibilty for past liabilities in respect of subsidence and of the health of the work force—no doubt one sees the hand of the Treasury there—appears to be a major disincentive, set against the relatively limited likely profits. On the face of it, it would appear unreasonable for the Government to seek to pass on to the new owners the responsibility for past damage done to the health of miners employed for many years, perhaps two decades or more, by British Coal. I should be grateful if the Minister for Energy, when he winds up, would deal with that matter.
For example, to take an extreme case, what would happen if, after a single year of working in the private sector, a miner or group of miners, having previously worked for 20 years for British Coal, developed pneumoconiosis? Under the terms of the Bill, the new owner would have to bear the entire cost of compensating that individual, although the damage would almost certainly have been caused while the miner or miners concerned worked for British Coal, when, in earlier years, there was no provision for effective dust sampling, and it was not the norm for masks to be worn.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, if the industry is to be privatised, the way forward on pneumoconiosis is for the Government to accept the no-fault liability scheme currently run by the industry, and to carry it over to the private sector?
The hon. Gentleman almost takes the words out of my mouth. I was about to ask my hon. Friend the Minister and his ministerial colleagues whether they realised that such unquantified and unquantifiable liabilities are likely to act as a supreme disincentive.
Furthermore, to take up the point made by the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham), what would happen to such a miner if his new employer went into liquidation? That is quite possible, given the present turmoil in the coal market in this country, and the fact that not a tonne is now being purchased—indeed, I am not aware that any of the £500 million subsidy supposedly on offer from the Treasury has had to be ponied up so far. What protection would there then be for the miner with pneumoconiosis or any other industrial disease? That is clearly something that must be properly addressed.
I know that it is the view of my hon. Friend's Department that pneumoconiosis is no longer a significant problem in terms of the numbers of new cases that are appearing, and that therefore the cost burden will not be great. In those circumstances, would it not be more appropriate for the Coal Authority to shoulder responsibility for that serious, long-term industrial disease?
If those unquantifiable liabilities were removed, not only would that make the remaining mines more saleable, but it would be the miner's guarantee that his compensation would be assured in the event that he developed that much-feared industrial disease, which bears comparison only—
Order. Let me rule on one point of order before I take another. I had not noticed that any hon. Member had been reading a newspaper. If that was the case, I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman will not continue to do so.
Not only would the removal of those unquantifiable liabilities make the mines more saleable, but it would be the miner's guarantee that his compensation would be assured if he were to develop pneumoconiosis. I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends if they will look at that question again.
The most striking difference between the sale of British Coal's core mines and the sale of steam coal properties in the world's biggest free coal market, the United States, is the shortness of the coal contracts with the power stations available in the country to potential new operators. The one certainly dominating the scene is that only three years of contracts remain with the generators. Beyond that, there is only uncertainty. Even the generators believe that, of all the coal-fired stations, only Drax is likely to be on base-load operation by the turn of the century.
Of course, it is too late to extract longer contracts from the generators, but, even now, there are two things that the Government could do to encourage would-be purchasers of the remaining mines. First, they could insist on the completion of flue gas desulphurisation at Ferrybridge—a bargain made at the time of electricity privatisation with the industry and referred to many times by the noble Lord Wakeham. The industry should be held to that. Secondly, and even more importantly, the Government should require redundant coal-fired stations to be made available at reasonable prices to other operators, including the principal coal producers.
We know that the regulator is concerned to see redundant stations offered to other users. However, he does not believe that he has the powers to require it. It is clear that National Power bases its asking price on the loss of sales value for its best stations. That would have the effect of pricing, for example, a 1,000 MW station—even one that is 35 years old and without gas cleaning—at over £300 million, which would be indefensible in terms of investment by a future private operator.
That is in stark contrast to the sales on the real market. Recently, it was reported that PowerGen sold three stations to China for a mere £20 million.
I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument carefully, and I have some sympathy with it. Perhaps he might consider as a possible conclusion that the generators should be referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. The only difficulty with that conclusion is that it would interrupt the Government's proposals to sell off the remaining tranche of shares of the two generators and would prejudice the sums that may be involved. If one has an abuse of monopoly power, it is logical to refer it to the MMC.
I could not agree more. It is a matter of great regret that we in Britain appear to have a significantly less powerful regime against monopolies and the abuse of monopoly power than, for instance, the United States, which clearly acts to the detriment of consumers. The Government need to address that as a matter of urgency.
If the two generators were required to offer all the redundant coal plant at reasonable prices, it would boost the sales prospects of the remaining mines, provide the best guarantee that those who earn their living in the industry have the prospect of long-term employment, while at the same time providing consumers with much-needed competition in what is at present an over-restricted and an over-controlled market.
It is vital that the Government do not allow what is left of that once great industry to be blighted by an unwillingness on their part to address the abuses and distortions that have arisen in the wake of electricity privatisation. While welcoming the Bill, I call on my right hon. and hon. Friends to fine-tune it during its passage through the House to ensure the success of privatisation and to offer the industry and those who work in it a clear and prosperous future in the private sector.
The hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) clearly does not have the same enthusiastic view of public ownership as his revered grandfather. Apart from that, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join those of us who hope to serve on the Standing Committee, in which, perhaps with the assistance of the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), we shall be able to fine-tune some aspects of the Bill, not least with regard to the latter points of his speech and the question of opencast mining, which cause some of us who live in the coalfields considerable anxiety.
On one side, we shall have the sites of destroyed pits, and on the other the devastation of a long period of opencasting, which no one in the local communities wanted. I hope that the consultation over the arrangements for opencast mines will not diminish the influence of local communities and their local authorities so that distant people can help rape what is left of our heritage.
It is a long time since nationalisation. It is appropriate to tell the House that, on vesting day in 1947, when I was a schoolboy, I went with my father and stood at the celebration of this decision by the greatest of post-war Governments. It was an interesting experience for a boy, because it was quiet, it was dignified and it was decent. There were some Tories there, but they were probably on the platform with one or two local dignitaries. I remember that because of the quiet satisfaction and decency of the occasion.
The other day, I stopped my car just to the north of the former pithead baths at Manvers colliery, exactly where I had stood with my father, and thought about what had happened since then. We have had 33 years of Conservative administration, and we, after being in office for only a minor part of the period that has elapsed since then, bear all the blame.
I know what the men were satisfied about and what they were celebrating. Each and every one of them would have known somebody or had relatives or neighbours who had been killed in the pit. Each of them would have known men who had been maimed. Each and every one of them would have known the short-cuts that had operated in the previous arrangements. They had seen waste and lost opportunities —so much so that, during the war, they had to have "Bevin boys" to make up for the inadequate provisions of the 1920s and 1930s.
The mine was taken into public ownership with good will. It was a very important decision. In the 1970s, the Labour Government—the hon. Member for Davyhulme took part in some of the debates, as I did—produced their "Plan for Coal". The Conservative party in opposition enthusiastically supported it, and, until recent years, boasted about it.
We then saw the Conservative Government turning their backs, saying what a pity it was that the miners had not improved productivity earlier. In fact, productivity has been improving at a rate of knots in the past six or seven years. I heard Lord Haslam castigate the Secretary of State only a few months ago for not understanding that fact.
We have many problems, but, with a 10-minute limit on speeches, I cannot refer to all 'of them, but I hope that I serve on the Committee and that Opposition Members will find time, without attempting to prolong the proceedings improperly or unreasonably, to consider matters such as the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation and concessionary pensions. We have heard little about the rake-off that the Government proposed to take from the surplus. I hope that we are also able to consider environmental responsibilities and health and safety matters.
Unfortunately, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you are unable to speak in the House. From your experience of the mining industry, you must be deeply concerned about the paraplegic centre in Pontefract and the future of other such establishments. I hope that the Minister will assure us that there will be proper provision for such establishments.
Subsidence has been referred to. We will have to explore that and many other issues in depth, but I wish to discuss safety.
The other day, a learned judge—the Minister for Energy knows which case I am referring to—perceived
a mining industry which, in future, may see privatisation and, thus, an end to much of the regulation that British Coal has put in place.
We have been told that it dismantled much of the safety structure, and the President of the Board of Trade boasted about that this afternoon. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman said that he would not have done anything to injure safety, except to do what has already been done, and that is to replace what existed before with all sorts of provisions, and then provide the let-out clause that appears on virtually every page of the regulations, stating that there will be priority for safety "in so far as it is practicable".
One thousand men a year were killed in the British mining industry before nationalisation. One thousand men a year was the average in the 1920s, 1930s and early 1940s. As has been demonstrated, the average has been brought down to a tiny proportion, and it is at risk. There will be corner-cutting and short-sighted calculations. If not, the Secretary of State would have given a little more time to consider the disposal of the industry to one company which would have had the capacity to operate with scale, which would not have had to look over its shoulder at competitors operating on the lowest common denominator principle in safety and investment, and which would have been able to take a forward look.
The right hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) might think that all the Selby pits will be saved, but I doubt whether that will be the case.
No. I do not have time to give way.
I have one colliery left—Silverwood. It is a proud pit, with a superb record. My hon. Friends know that Silverwood has been one of the most successful collieries during the post-war period. It has made enormous profits. Only a little while ago, I spoke in the House about the proud achievements of that colliery when it had broken another record. A few months ago, I heard of investment at the pit, but subsequently learned that a development on which much money has been spent was stopped about three weeks before it started to yield.
That is the colliery to which British Coal used to send distinguished visitors. In Jubilee year, the Queen visited Silverwood colliery. A picture of the Queen at that pit was displayed in every colliery in Britain. Men from that pit have often featured in the honours list—one as recently as three weeks ago. They have been treated scurvily.
We now hear that the pit will not be closed abruptly, but will be whittled away, and that some men might be transferred to Maltby. The only problem is that people in Maltby tell me that they have been assured that Maltby's requirements do not need to be met by Silverwood men. What a way to treat people who have made such an enormous contribution. If they are treated like that by British Coal, how on earth will they be treated by private operators?
I again ask the Minister a question. I have asked four Ministers of the Crown this question, and I have not had a satisfactory answer. If the Minister is concerned about safety, will he guarantee that no overseas coal owner will be allowed to buy British mines if his record is as bad as some Opposition Members suspect some are? If coal owners abroad have unsatisfactory safety records, we do not want them here, because we value the lives and limbs of our constituents.
It is no good the Minister saying that that is a matter for the Health and Safety Executive, because the Health and Safety Executive does not decide who will buy the British coal industry. That is a ministerial responsibility, and the executive should not exercise it.
I should like to say much more about Silverwood. I find it far too distressing even to contemplate that men with such a proud record and splendid achievement should be treated as British Coal has treated them. The one thing that I regret about the leadership of British Coal is that they seem to have forgotten that they have been paid to lead their industry on behalf of the nation.
I suspect that, in recent years, they have largely led the industry in the direction in which they want it to go for their personal reasons, overlooking the fact that their position has been—
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade and my hon. Friend the Minister for Energy on bringing the Bill to the House. It has been a long time in coming, but it is better late than never.
The hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) took us back in history to vesting day in 1947, when the nationalisation of the coal industry came into effect. Although the hon. Gentleman described that day very eloquently, sadly, when we look back at the era of nationalisation from a perspective of history, we see it as nothing more than an unremitting disaster.
A once great industry was reduced to a rump by years of protectionism and, I have to say, Government interference. This Government's bold decision—it was a bold decision—to liberalise the energy market in this country showed just how featherbedded, feeble and incompetent British Coal and the British coal industry had become. The result was an unpleasant reality with which my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade had to deal, taking much flak in the process.
In 1947, when the hon. Member for Wentworth stood outside the gates of the colliery, Britain was the leading nation in mining technology. It was exporting tonnes of coal all around the world. Welsh steam coal probably fired nearly every locomotive in the world. We were world leaders. There were dozens of successful and profitable collieries in the north-east of England at the time.
For example, pits in my home county of Northumberland—as the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Thompson) knows, there were many pits in my home county—made a profit at that time. Private coal owners would not have kept the pits open if they had not made a profit.
I rember that Shilbottle colliery used to supply all the coal to Buckingham palace, because it was considered to be the finest household coal in the United Kingdom. Shilbottle coal was requested by the late King. The Queen burns house coal in many of her grates. Many people will now have to burn Polish coal, because British coal cannot provide house coal for our market.
Time and time again, we hear about the effectiveness of the United States system of pillar and stall mining. That method has been recommended to the Coal Board and many private operators as a way to mine coal economically. The technique was invented in the north-east of England. Originally, it was used in the Ellington and Wearmouth collieries. Wearmouth colliery is under threat at present. We will have to bring mining engineers from the United States in order to re-learn the skill of pillar and stall mining.
I am worried that those people who ran the National Coal Board and subsequently British Coal are now, through their plans for colliery closures, helping to shape the future of the privatised industry. It is totally wrong that a group of British Coal managers, who have an eye on future management buy-outs, should be shaping the industry in the way they see fit, while private companies are being frustrated in their efforts to take over pits which British Coal has closed and which are not wanted but which the private sector believes could have a good future.
I shall give an example. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Etherington) is not in his seat, because Wearmouth colliery is a classic example. A private company wants to buy that pit and re-employ some of the 650 men who lost their jobs. Wearmouth colliery is ideal, because there is plenty of good-quality coal which can be transported straight from the pithead to ore-carrying ships and exported.
To sell on the world market, coal must be priced at about £15 a tonne—that is before shipping costs of £5 or £7 a tonne are added. A pit near the coast with easily mined coal is highly competitive. Private coal companies that are interested in Wearmouth realise that they will be able to achieve the target of £15 a tonne and export coal to overseas markets from that colliery.
The hon. Gentleman's constituency is next to mine. Is he aware that Wearmouth colliery could achieve that target whether it is privatised or nationalised? It was able to achieve the target before it was closed, but it was still closed by British Coal, as part of the Government and British Coal exercise of "slimming down the industry", as it has been described.
The hon. Gentleman is totally wrong. The figures are only averages, because they vary from pit to pit. Even after making enormous steps forward in productivity, collieries have a long way to go to get down to the level of £15 a tonne. However, they can and will do so under private management. If British Coal had been able to do it years ago, it would have done so, but the management and protection of the business have always prevented it. It will be left to the private sector to achieve that possibility.
It is worth noting that, in the United States, deep-mined coal from mines exactly like Ellington colliery in Northumberland and Wearmouth colliery in Tyne and Wear can land coal on the surface for £7 a tonne in West Virginia. Such a target is ultimately achievable in British deep-mining collieries. [Laughter.] Labour Members may laugh about that, but if we can achieve that level of productivity in our mines, British Coal will have a future of bringing on new customers in the industrial sector as well as exporting coal around the world, especially to Germany, which spends about ten times that amount on mining one tonne of coal.
It is no wonder that British Coal managers do not want Wearmouth colliery to fall into competitors' hands. Despite making the pit available for leasing, they are making it almost impossible for a private company to take over the colliery.
There are two faces at Wearmouth. One of them is brand new—it has been under development for several months. New coal-cutting machinery imported from America was already at the face. That machinery has been removed and taken to Longannet colliery in Scotland, where puzzled managers have been told to use it come what may.
At the same time, expensive roof supports have been removed from the new face and replaced with temporary supports. The supports have been taken to Ellington colliery, where they are simply lying on the surface. Next week at Wearmouth, work will start on pulling the coal-cutting equipment from the existing face, and more roof supports will be removed.
Why is British Coal doing that? One thing that British Coal cannot be short of in this day and age is coal-cutting machinery, because it has been removed from several pits recently. Surely British Coal cannot be short of roof supports for the same reason. The reason is obvious: British Coal managers, who are looking towards a management buy-out, consider that Wearmouth colliery is a danger. Therefore, they will seek to frustrate a private company which wants to take it over, as they frustrated another company which wanted to take over Bevercotes colliery in Newark.
Hon. Members will watch carefully the way in which the Coal Board deals with the pits between now and the time that the Bill becomes law. The Coal Board retains a much greater responsibility than simply worrying about the management buy-outs which individual managers may be considering. It has a statutory responsibility to the mining industry as a whole. Once the Bill becomes law, it will then be held accountable for what it has done in the months leading up to privatisation.
I welcome this privatisation. Whatever the mockers on the other side of the House may say about it, it will give the British coal industry an opportunity to live once again, to compete in the world, to attract new customers, and to move to being one of the leading coal-producing nations once again.
I listened with some anger to the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) refer to the glories of mining of Tyneside and in north-east England in the days when it was privatised. I merely tell him that my father worked at the Rising Sun colliery at Wallsend. When he was 32 years of age, he drowned in a mining accident for which my mother received no compensation. My mother and three small children aged under six were left in abject poverty. My memories of the privately owned mining industry leave me with no pleasure whatever.
It is with some pleasure that I preface my speech by referring to early-day motion 359 entitled "Women Against Pit Closures Camp at Parkside Colliery". Unlike the Government, those brave women believe passionately in their menfolk and their pit. Tonight, they are holding a party to celebrate the first anniversary of their camp. It was an incredible achievement and experience for those women, who often suffered from foul weather. Severe gales, deep frosts and downpours of rain have often been their lot. Frankly, I do not believe that a group of men could have stuck it out for 24 hours a day for a whole year in the same way as those women. The women have made it clear that they will stay at Parkside colliery until it is reopened and producing coal. I salute them, and I am delighted to wish them a very happy birthday.
When I was elected to the House in February 1974, there were over 250,000 miners in this country working in more than 100 pits. There were innumerable collieries dotted all over north-west England. Today, there are 22 pits and about 20,000 miners—none in north-west England. Parkside, which was the last colliery in the Lancashire coalfield, closed one year ago. Since I was elected, a quarter of a million miners have been sacked and almost 100 mines have closed.
Two hundred thousand jobs have disappeared since the Tories were elected in 1979. The contraction of the industry is continuing. As my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) said, it has been leaked that half a dozen collieries will close during the next few weeks. By the time the Bill reaches the statute book—if it reaches the statute book—we will be down to the 12 to 14 pits which were identified by the Rothschild report as ripe for privatisation.
Ministers of course are washing their hands, and claiming that the rundown of the industry is a result of market forces and that there is no point in digging coal if there is no one willing to buy it. It has been demonstrated many times in the House that that simply is not true. The market has been rigged against coal, and the main features of that rigged market are well known and have been well aired—the dash for gas, the nuclear power levy of a billion pounds-plus, the protected market share of the nuclear power industry and the continuing nonsense of the French interconnector.
There are questions of a possible conflict of interest for the senior management of British Coal, and whether they end up with an agreed market with some profitable collieries which they will look to purchase. Clause 1 of the Bill will establish the Coal Authority, which I have no doubt will be another quango stuffed with Tory grandees, including probably some from the other place.
The Bill instructs the authority to sell all surplus land. British Coal owns 250,000 acres of land throughout Great Britain, some of which I suspect may be valuable. I suspect that the Treasury will be looking for substantial returns from the sale of much of that land. I also believe that a number of proposed sales of land from British Coal to individuals have been stalled for a couple of years prior to privatisation.
A substantial amount of land is owned by British Coal in my constituency, particularly at Haydock. A number of small businesses have leased properties on the site of the old colliery workshop at Haydock. Many of those properties are in a poor condition, and British Coal has always refused to maintain them. One of the small businessmen at Haydock has tried for months to buy the freehold of the property that he is leasing to improve his factory, its output and the conditions of his workforce. However, it has been impossible for him to reach any agreement with British Coal.
wrote to the Minister for Energy last year about the situation. While he sympathised with me, as he often does, he went on to say in his letter of 31 August 1993:
However, as I am sure you will appreciate, decisions on the appropriate disposal of individual sites are entirely a matter for British Coal.
When the authority is set up, I suspect that it will no longer be a matter for British Coal but for the Treasury. Certainly, I expect that the Treasury will be interested in the outcome of the sale of that land.
I want to turn to the issue of opencast mining. The north-west in general, and my constituency in particular, has lost deep mining, and people are greatly concerned about the opencast mining aspect of the Bill. Presumably British Coal's land bank is to be sold off to the highest bidder. Those who purchase the land will expect to be able to mine it, irrespective of the views of the local people who will be affected, because opencast mining is a highly profitable exercise.
In my constituency—particularly at Billinge and Garswood—there has been a number of applications for opencast mining during the past few years. That opencast mining would have gone literally to the precincts of those villages, and it would have had a dreadful impact on the lives of the people of those two communities. The villagers have resisted the propositions ferociously and the council has always backed them. I trust sincerely that that will continue in the future.
If an application were received for opencast mining in the St. Helens and Wigan area, the response of the people of those communities would be that if the nation requires coal, the place to get it is Parkside colliery. The colliery has millions of tonnes of coal lying there and millions of pounds' worth of valuable machinery with which coal can be extracted. An argument which is unacceptable to the people in my area is that the country requires the coal. If the country requires it, the place to go is Parkside.
Another issue to which I would like to refer briefly—because time is running out—is the issue of subsidence. Many hon. Members are concerned about the impact of subsidence on areas where mining will continue. My concern is about the areas where coal mining will no longer be going on. What happens to those areas?
Hon. Members who have dealt with British Coal over the years would be only too willing to say that they have not always had an easy ride. Often, it has been difficult to get British Coal to agree adequately to compensate individuals concerned. We must now deal with the Coal Authority. In the past, we have dealt with a north-west area board but I suspect that we will now have to deal with the coal authority in London. I suggest to the Minister that the north-west is entitled to an area office so that subsidence claims may be dealt with locally.
This is a bad Bill. I sincerely trust that, if it is not rejected tonight, major amendments will be imposed on Report.
I start by apologising to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and hon. Friends on the Front Bench for my absence during the opening speeches. As they are probably aware, I was leading a deputation of people involved in the textile industry in West Yorkshire to the Department of Trade and Industry. As the discussions there took longer than was expected, I decided not to return to the House.
My interest in manufacturing, and particularly in the coal industry, is well known in the House. My more recent interests in the coal industry are listed in the Register of Members' Interests.
In my view, coal has a positive future. It will move back to the centre of the British energy supply industry in the long term if it is part of a well-thought energy policy. The Government must have such a policy to regain the country's confidence and they must support the remains of an important industry by retaining its ability to use the massive coal reserves. Within that policy, a free and competitive market will, with other forms of energy, ensure that there is a viable British coal industry.
Coal will be able to compete in terms of quality, price and service. However, at present the British coal industry is heading towards a crossroads. If the wrong turning is taken, the industry will disappear into the realms of industrial archaeology. With successful privatisation—I say to my hon. Friend the Minister that I support the privatisation aspects of the Bill—and restructuring, the industry will rejuvenate and grow. To achieve that, the industry must be imaginative and take note of past mistakes.
For centuries, coal has been the main energy source for Britain. Much of our industry today was founded on coal during the industrial revolution. The city of London was rebuilt after the great fire, and St. Paul's cathedral would not exist today but for a levy on all the coal which was consumed at that time in London. Yet despite massive reserves under Britain, we are running down our indigenous production and turning to gas, which everyone accepts has a limited life. That is contrary to all international trends. World production levels have risen from below 2,800 million metric tonnes in 1980 to more than 3,500 million metric tonnes in 1992.
For more than a century, the industry has been the source of intense political, social and commercial controversy, often to its severe detriment. In the 1930s, the industry needed restructuring because there were too many pits, there was no investment and productivity was poor. Politicians from all sides of the political spectrum then began to consider nationalisation as a solution.
At that time, Harold Macmillan supported that route in his "Middle Way" publication, proposing
an industrial structure with broad strategic control in the hands of the store and the tactical operation in the hands of private management".
That was an admirable strategy but we have never perfected it.
I have always believed that the state has a part to play in the energy market, which is currently rigged against coal. The announcement of the White Paper last year gave the Government an opportunity to resolve some of that rigging, but no such action was taken.
Nationalisation in 1947 brought about the required reshaping and reinvestment. In the 1950s and 1960s, the National Coal Board, led by men of vision, Lord Ezra and Lord Robens, perhaps with the help of the combative union co-operation of Lord Joe Gormley, made great strides to increase production and, more importantly, improve safety. We have heard quite a bit about safety this evening.
However, nothing stands still. The advent of cheap oil from newly discovered reserves, the development of nuclear energy to produce electricity, and the availability of vast supplies of natural gas revolutionised the energy market. We are still suffering the consequences—some of my hon. Friends will say that we are still enjoying the benefits.
State-run organisations have been shown to be almost incapable of redirecting and restructuring themselves. That was certainly true of the British coal industry. By the 1990s, even with the intervening industrial relations dramas of 1974 and 1984, the industry's structure was unsuited to the marketplace. Overheads were too high, there was too much bureaucracy and poor productivity, production costs were comparatively high, demand was falling and the market share had been reduced. It was a typical demise of a demand-driven rather than market-led industry.
Albeit with hindsight, I believe that the coal industry, with its diverse structure, difficulties in production and social importance to hundreds of communities around the country, should have been privatised before gas and electricity.
The Government's review of their pit closure programme, resulting from my right hon. Friend's devastating announcement in October 1992, has not saved many of the pits that were threatened with closure. However, there is an outside chance that new operators may wish to reopen some of the redundant pits if, when they are ready to be licensed, any of the machinery for extraction from those mines is left and if the bottom of the mines are not flooded.
By 1995, we shall be down to a small number of pits, despite massive increases in output per man from 504 tonnes in 1982–83 to 1,611 tonnes in 1992. I appreciate the fact that, with a falling market and increasing productivity, that has been one of the problems. Because the miners did everything that we asked them from the 1980s onwards, they have, ultimately, been their own worst enemy. But the cost of production is falling and the industry is becoming more competitive. We must ensure that our coal is competitive with imports because we have an ideal situation for substantial import substitution.
We have four basic markets for solid fuel: electricity generation; coking coal for the steel industry; and the domestic and industrial sectors. Obviously, generating demands have fallen because of competition from gas.
The steel industry still consumes 7 million to 8 million tonnes of coking coal a year and the domestic sector uses more than 5 million tonnes of solid fuel a year in nearly 3 million homes. If the Queen wants sensible coal in Buckingham palace, it can be supplied by British industry and our coal merchants, who are good at supplying what their customers demand.
By the end of this year, the market for coal is likely to be some 60 million tonnes. Imports now cover the shortfall of indigenous coal, with major imports coming from Poland, Colombia and South Africa where production costs are low. However, there is a market out there and the demand for coal exists. It is ironic that British Coal, while saying that there was no market for coal, doubled the imports for domestic and industrial coal and, the following week, closed down the very mines that could have supplied that coal. We should look at that carefully.
I agree with my right hon. Friend the Minister and other hon. Members about opencast mining. It adds insult to injury to close pits in Yorkshire and then allow planning applications for the small amount of green field that is left. There will be huge opposition to any such proposals. Planning applications should be granted for derelict land but not for green field sites.
There is never enough time to say everything that one wishes to say in 10 minutes. But all is not lost for the coal industry. Costs are falling and coal is becoming more competitive in the marketplace. Private companies already want to license mines because they know that there is a market, whereas British Coal said that there was none. It is interesting to note that managers of British Coal now feel that they may wish to put in bids for the very coal market which they said did not exist. That suggests that there may be a market in the future.
Some 3,000 merchants sell coal products in this country and they engage in commercial activity through the Solid Fuel Association, selling the "real fire" image. Although many people like to see a real fire in the local pub and elsewhere, not all of us have the time to clean the grates every morning. However, we should try to ensure that coal consumers can consume British coal, mined in British mines by British people, rather than imported coal that is not always of the same quality.
Although I support the privatisation of the coal industry, because the industry has no future if it is left in the hands of British Coal, issues within the Bill will need to be discussed and considered carefully. One of those issues is CISWO—the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation —which has a role to play. Another is pensions—
Privatisation of the industry makes no sense whatever, except in so far as it represents the Government's hostility to the deep coal mining industry in the United Kingdom, the mining unions and mining communities.
The real issues concerns not ownership as such, but markets. The Government have failed to deal with that point. It is evident from the way in which the energy market was privatised in 1990 that the architects of that privatisation, Lord Parkinson and Lord Wakeham, rigged the market against the coal industry to cause its demise. Privatisation is the final part of that agenda.
The format for privatisation has not come about simply in the past couple of months. The Rothschild report has been in the public domain for the past four years. It suggested that the deep mined coal industry could be viable with 10 to 14 pits, which is the agenda towards which the Government have been working. Following the report, the industry was rapidly run down. In 1990 there were 73 collieries and 65,400 men. Within two years, that number was down to 50 collieries and just 42,000 men.
The White Paper, "Prospects for Coal", and the administration package are part of the agenda. The President of the Board of Trade gave the impression to the House when presenting his paper that he would save 12 of the 31 collieries earmarked for closure. The House should be aware that, of the 31 collieries, only four are now in operation. Of the 12 that were to be reprieved, only four are producing coal, and on 23 December The Independent reported that British Coal was considering closing the last four of those 12 collieries early in the new year. The work force has been cut dramatically since October 1992. By December 1993 it had been reduced from 42,000 to 14,700 men. If the other collieries are closed, that will add a further 3,000 to the 27,000 already lost.
The ripple has gone well beyond traditional mining Communities. For example, giving evidence to the Select Committee on Trade and Industry, Mr. Andrew Glyn, an economist from Corpus Christi college Oxford, said that the knock-on effect of 23,300 redundancies in the industry would be a total of 78,900 jobs. That estimate was supported by Yamaichi, which estimated in evidence to the Select Committee that, for every job lost in the industry, three were lost elsewhere.
The hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson), who is not in his place, spoke of world prices and the competitiveness of British coal. He and the House should be aware that world prices do not result from the interaction of the normal forces of supply and demand. Price follows the lowest common denominator, which at present tends to be South African coal which is cheap because it is produced involuntarily by cheap labour. All the other producers tend to follow that price.
Columbia uses child labour. On Wednesday I was privy to a screening arranged by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) of a BBC documentary which showed clearly that child labour is used in Colombian mines. It showed children under the age of 10 working in the most awful conditions. When the Minister replies to the debate he should make it plain that Britain will not import coal from countries that use child labour.
Some United Kingdom mines have been producing coal at below world market prices. In September, Bentley colliery was producing coal at 88p per gigajoule, but that colliery has been closed. Similarly Silverdale colliery, which was in deficit at the beginning of the year, turned the loss into a profit by September, the beginning of the second half of the financial year. Like the miners at Bentley colliery, however, those at Silverdale were treated to a colliery closure.
If it was used properly, the modified colliery review procedure would scrutinise some of those facts, but will that procedure continue? Will the current procedures for monitoring a colliery's performance be continued if the Bill becomes law and the industry has a private sector? Would the Minister be prepared to add a consultation clause to the Bill so that current consultation procedures will continue in the private sector?
The 27 collieries that have already closed have resulted in the sterilisation of 500 million tonnes of coal. That extremely valuable resource could be lost for ever, at massive cost to future generations. Britain has half western Europe's coal reserves—enough for 230 years at current extraction rates. Will the Minister ensure that no colliery is permanently closed, but that all are placed on a care and maintenance basis until he has at least had an opportunity to explore with the European Community whether funds can be made available to pay for keeping the pits on that basis so that, should the need arise, the pits can be reopened quickly?
The Bill contains no provision for continuing Government investment in research and development. In other nations the industry enjoys significant state support. The Australian coal industry gets a 150 per cent. tax rebate for all research and development, and last year the Federal Government of the United States spent $700 million on research and development. The Dutch electricity generating board has just opened a £600 million clean coal project, and is talking in terms of opening perhaps another six projects using such technology to generate electricity for about the next 20 years. Will investment in research and technology, and especially in clean coal technology, continue?
It has been said that privatisation is likely to lead to a bigger industry. I think that the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock) genuinely believes that under private ownership the industry will become larger. How could that be when companies will be operating a handful of pits which will be vulnerable to failure, particularly that caused by bad geology? Of course, when cost targets are not reached, collieries will close.
Secondly, privatisation will be accompanied by a rundown in research and development, and that by the coal research establishment will no longer be carried out. Therefore, developments that would be good for coal are unlikely to be forthcoming.
Thirdly, we must bear in mind the volume of coal that will be sold to the electricity supply industry—
It is a rather happy coincidence that I should follow the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) because, as he well knows, I was the hapless young Conservative who contested that seat in the 1987 general election. I stood against the hon. Gentleman's predecessor, Allen McKay, and when the results were announced on the night of the election I found that I had run him a distant second.
In the course of working in that area I got to know it very well and I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's passion for the interests of miners and former miners in the constituency. Those passions are shared by the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy), who made an impassioned speech earlier in the debate, and by the hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley), who is seated on the Opposition Front Bench. I hope that the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone will not impugn the motives of Conservative Members who welcome the Bill, because we greatly share the concerns that he so well expressed.
The Bill is long overdue and it is the only hope for securing the long-term interests of the coal industry which are so important to the hon. Gentleman's constituency, to mine and to those of his colleagues and mine.
It has been a wretched year for coal. The industry has faced closures which simply cannot fail to provoke the sympathies of every hon. Member. Productivity increases since the 1984 strike have been staggering, and every person in the industry deserves recognition for that success. However, the tragedy of the industry's decline must be recognised and we must try to contend with it in as practical a way as we can. The decline in volume has been going on for ages—for decades. It has been inevitable, and it is our duty to face the realities of that decline.
Labour Members would argue forcefully that that inevitability has been exacerbated by what they would describe as a rigged market. I do not share that view. Competitive purchasing by competing generators is not a rigged market. What lies behind the charge that the market is rigged is a request for the generators to pay an inflated price for coal which would otherwise be above world markets.
In the face of its historic decline, the Bill is designed to provide the best possible prospects for the future development and success of the coal industry. Conservative Members will agree that nationalisation is not and never has been the solution. Any study of all the nationalised industries since the war suggests that it is simply not the answer. In 1979, 10·5 per cent. of our entire gross domestic product was in the hands of nationalised industries. About one seventh of all fixed investment was poured into nationalised industries. Nationalised industry employed 2 million people, but it was going backwards and costing the Treasury billions of pounds.
One of the arguments in favour of nationalisation was that certain commercial concerns simply could not survive in the private sector and required to remain in the public sector, but if the last 14 years have proved anything, they have surely proved the fallacy of that view. All privatised industries have fared better than when they were in the public sector. Privatisation is not the product of blind ideology. It is indeed the product of our conviction that any industry will perform better in private hands, but it is also the product of clear evidence that that conviction is borne out by experience.
Other heavy industries have been privatised. We can cite examples of oil, gas and steel. They are all massive, heavy industries; they require high investment and heavy infrastructure and they have to survive in vicious global markets. We started by selling BP shares in 1979. It is a perfect example of the success of privatisation. The oil industry, in which I have worked, does not need to be nationalised. Shell, BP and other massive private concerns find oil, ship it, refine it, distribute it and finance it, all without help. British Gas does the same; it is a triumph of United Kingdom industry.
British Steel was once a white elephant costing the Treasury hundreds of millions of pounds. It is now the fourth largest company in the western world, producing 78 per cent. of all the crude steel in the United Kingdom. It has a turnover of £5 billion pounds and a couple of years ago made profits of £500 million pounds. Those examples should convince us that, in as much as there are serious long-term prospects for the coal industry in the United Kingdom, those prospects are best served by placing the
If it were just a matter of productivity, I would begin to see some of the reasons for which the Opposition have argued today for the continued public ownership of the coal industry. The productivity increases have been fantastic—almost unbelievable—but the principles which lie behind the Bill involve far more than productivity. The ownership of the industry, which the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone said was unimportant, is critical to the energy and principles which lie behind the purposes of the Bill.
If we change the ownership and place the industry in private hands, as we did for British Gas and other industries before it, we will change the whole climate of initiative, which could pervade the entire ethos of the workplace and the management. It will free the industry to take a more global outlook. It will free it from all the stop and go, the generosity and parsimony of Government finance. It will free the industry from Government interference.
I fervently believe that this is not the place to discuss the exact economics of any business, industry or competing commercial concern. The House can never know as much about the detail of running an industry as the people who are trying to run it. We should free those people to run the industry in the best interests of its profits and its employees.
Let me dwell on safety. Are oil and gas any less safe because they are in private hands? The hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone nods his head, but I defy him to quote an example. In my experience of the oil and gas industry, I simply do not accept that.
The Bill will offer the industry for sale in five regional businesses. The employees will have a stake in it and there are already interested parties. It will set up a coal authority which, I am pleased to say, will be based in Nottinghamshire near my constituency and it will involve proper consideration for subsidence, the environment, pensions and the future prospects of the industry.
A number of hon. Members have mentioned the threat of opencast mining. They do not need to convince me of that. When the Duke of Rutland lay down in front of the bulldozers to stop opencast mining in the vale of Belvoir, he did the right thing. If he were to do the same thing again, I would be chained next to him to stop the bulldozers digging up the most beautiful part of my constituency.
I am delighted that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) will be driving the bulldozer—we know what a careful driver he is.
Asfordby pit is in my constituency. I look forward to seeing it thrive and flourish. If oil and gas can survive and thrive in the private sector, so can coal. I welcome the Bill and look forward to supporting its Second Reading tonight.
I was in Bilsthorpe the other week, where a miner's wife told me that she was fed up with living in the shadow of uncertainty and with the knowledge that the Bill cast a blight over her future. Unfortunately, she had been taken in by the promises in the White Paper "Prospects for Coal" in March, but now she knows the truth. She knows that six collieries in Nottinghamshire have closed since March—Silverhill, Cotgrave, Clipstone, Bevercotes, Rufford and Calverton. That is 4,769 jobs lost since last March.
The miner's wife wants to know what will happen next. People in Nottinghamshire are practical and pragmatic. They can take the bad news, but they cannot take no news at all.
The Energy Minister ought to come clean tonight and confirm whether the coal industry in Nottinghamshire has a future and whether the rumours that Bilsthorpe and Annersley Bentinck are about to close are true. He should confirm whether there are plans to merge 011erton with Thoresby and Welbeck with Manton.
When the review process begins in a few weeks' time when we move towards restructuring day, the woman in Bilsthorpe wants to know whether it is true that there will just be just three collieries left in Nottinghamshire, based on Welbeck, Thoresby and Harworth. She has a right to know, because her family, her community and her fathers before her have contributed to that industry.
She knows that, in 1980, there were 40,000 miners in Nottinghamshire, and that, if the closures go ahead, in a few months' time there will be only about 3,000 mining jobs in the county. In 14 years, nine out of every 10 mining jobs in Nottinghamshire will have gone. At the same time, Nottinghamshire miners, and miners throughout the country, have increased their productivity by up to 150 per cent. over the past five years. They are producing coal at half the cost of that in Germany. No other sector in British industry can match that record.
Is it any wonder that people in Nottinghamshire and throughout the country feel that promises made to them have been broken, and that they have been betrayed? Does not the Minister realise that people believe that the Government's plan is now to put the coffin lid on British Coal, hammer it down and bury it deep, and quickly?
Will the Minister say—he has been asked before—how many pits will remain on restructuring day, perhaps 1 January 1995, or will privatisation be on 1 April next year? Does he know? Will he say? Does he care? People in Nottinghamshire feel that the promises made last March and by Lady Thatcher's Government before that have been torn up. Perhaps he will tell us what his valuation of British Coal will be on privatisation. The value is clearly the remaining contract with the generators. Is it not true that that would give it a market price of perhaps £200 million? Perhaps he will confirm that.
Perhaps the Minister will talk about the substantial private sector interest that has been talked about in the Chamber tonight. Pits have closed unremittingly over the past year. Let me remind the House that not one colliery has opened under private ownership. Promises have been made, leases were about to be signed, but the pit wheel has yet to turn and produce one lump of private coal.
They have had their opportunities. I wish Richard Budge well in his chances to reopen Clipstone colliery. Hon. Members may recall that it closed last March, and that the north Nottinghamshire training and enterprise council was given £2·7 million to redeploy and retrain the miners there, and find new jobs for them.
Is it not a condemnation of the Government's energy policy that, in December, that same TEC voted Richard Budge £200,000 to open the pit again. Is that not a waste of money? It cost £2·7 million to close it down, yet now, as it is seen in the area, a grant of £200,000 has been given to reopen it.
That smacks of sharp practice. People want to know why British Coal is presently repairing the pit at Clipstone. Why is it spending £100,000 on the shaft so that Richard Budge can open it up, perhaps in March? They want to know why he is not footing the bill himself. He will not do so, because he is going to make a profit out of the pit.
That is what it is about. Richard Budge will make that profit off the backs of the miners, because it is clear that one of the ways that he intends to make a profit is to drive wages down. The rumours are loud. The papers seem quite clear—he intends to pay new miners at Clipstone 20 to 30 per cent. less than they would get under British Coal.
While we are moving towards privatisation, perhaps the Minister can tell us how the Bill deals with coal stocks. There are currently 47 million tonnes of coal stocks on the ground. How will he handle that? How will British Coal and the generators handle that problem? In particular, how will the market handle it in the run up to privatisation?
What will he do if Professor Littlechild, the regulator for the electricity industry, decides to intervene and report the generators to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission? Does he not think that that will put a spoke in the wheel of privatisation? Is it not time that perhaps regulators stopped acting like Lone Rangers and became policemen, looking after the real interests of consumers?
There are a great many issues in the Bill. My hon. Friends have talked about some that we shall pursue in Committee—for example, pensions. Miners know that there is a surplus. They want a share of it. They feel that they have contributed, and that it should not be ripped off by the Government.
The subsidence provisions can only be described as a minefield. The notion of areas of influence that the new private owners will take on board seem to me to be a recipe for disaster, because people who suffer mining subsidence want to know who is responsible. They want to go to one door. They do not want to go to the private owner and then to the Coal Authority. There should be one port of call on that issue—the Coal Authority.
I congratulate my colleague, Dennis Walker, the vice-chairman of Boughton parish council, for his work on subsidence in the Ollerton area. He would say that, although he has difficulties and arguments with British Coal staff, at the end of the day he gets a fair reception.
What will happen to those British Coal staff after privatisation? Who will be the experts? What about British Coal's property? It is perhaps the biggest property owner in the country. What will happen to the profits made marketing Babbington colliery? Who will own Hucknall golf course? What will happen to all those assets? Who will raise the quality of the environment and look after the reclaimed tip heaps? Who will look at mine water discharge, about which the Bill says nothing?
British Coal Enterprise is hardly mentioned. Nottinghamshire and areas throughout the country face real difficulty. Those areas need help, new investment, new jobs and a new future. That is why it is important that British Coal Enterprise has a future. In Nottinghamshire at the moment there are just 22 vacancies for young people, with 212 youngsters chasing every vacancy. It is their future we are talking about. We need proper regeneration, and a new future for them and for coalfield areas.
The debate is essentially about the mechanism for the privatisation of the coal industry. The essential question is, does the Bill set out the most effective and efficient structure to effect the transfer from a state-owned monopoly to a privatised industry, to produce maximum benefits together with necessary controls and assurances?
The debate is not about the market for coal, the future of the deep-mined coal industry in this country, Government intervention in the energy market, or an overall energy policy, whatever that might mean. We have been through all that with the Select Committee report and the Government White Paper.
Opposition speakers are still putting yesterday's arguments. They are still going back over old ground. They are still fighting a rearguard action, on which many of their supporters cannot agree. On the one hand, the Labour party presses the Government to implement all the Select Committee's recommendations; on the other, it appears that Labour members of the Committee do not agree with all its recommendations, to which they signed up only last autumn.
The Labour party has repeatedly failed to secure a market for coal. The Labour Governments of 1964–70 and 1974–79 closed 313 pits—a loss of 205,700 jobs. More pits closed in those 11 years than in the 15 years of this Government. Not that they did not try to expand the market. Between 1974–77, they made a big commitment, but failed miserably. Output fell by 16 per cent., from 142 million tonnes to 119 million tonnes.
A former Labour Energy Minister accepts that Labour Governments misled themselves and the miners. The noble Lord Marsh said:
We genuinely believed that with a benevolent mixture of good intentions and massive subsidies we could reverse the market trend.
My Lords, we completely misled ourselves and them … Every time they were betrayed, not by individuals, not by Ministers, but by the realities of the situation."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 20 October 1992; Vol. 539, c. 692.]
Despite being repeatedly challenged, Labour still avoids the key questions. Today, the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) avoided them again. Labour refuses to say how much money it is prepared to commit to continue subsidising British Coal, or in which of the independent commercial contracts between private companies it would interfere to secure additional coal sales.
What would be the cost in compensation? Does Labour realise that that would set a massive precedent that would send reverberations through British industry? How many jobs in other industries is Labour prepared to destroy—in regional electricity companies; the two power generators; the nuclear, offshore oil and gas industries; and the construction industry?
The $64,000 question is, how many mines would Labour keep open? How many times must we keep asking the same question? How many pits would Labour retain, and for how long?
We heard again tonight the myth of coal reserves. Labour keeps saying that energy supplies that would keep us energy-sufficient for hundreds of years are being irrevocably lost. In the words of the Library research paper:
Such a view is over-simplified.
That is charitable, for Labour's claim is certainly overstated, and definitely misleading. There are large reserves in theory, but new pits would not be sunk to exploit them, because of cost.
The Select Committee stated:
In fact, the problem for British Coal is not the availability of reserves but the high investment costs of new pits … which are much higher than opencast costs elsewhere in the world.
The Committee produced revised figures:
Taking all mines together, the ratio of reserves to production at present levels of output and assuming present prices is 21 years. Whether or not the number of British Coal's deep mines falls to 15 by 1997, British Coal's output is likely to decline rapidly in the early years of the next century as reserves are exhausted.
That output decline is fact, and inevitable in the free market.
Mining companies freed from state interference could perform much better, as the history of privatisation has repeatedly shown. Coal will join other energy industries privatised since 1979—North sea oil and gas, particularly BP and British Gas, and the electricity supply industry. All those privatisations were great successes, particularly for the consumer.
Since British Gas was privatised in 1986, domestic gas prices have fallen 20 per cent. and industrial prices 28 per cent. in real terms. There has been increased efficiency, and the customer-to-employee ratio has increased more than 30 per cent. Gas sales per employee have risen 18 per cent. All the regional electricity companies have announced domestic price freezes or cuts for this year. Real prices for domestic users have fallen 6.5 per cent. in the last two years.
Competition will be further pursued in both industries by references to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, to ensure downward pressure on prices. Whichever way one looks at it, energy privatisation has been singularly successful, yet it was opposed by Opposition Members.
The Bill's key provisions must address certain critical issues and offer essential guarantees. The Bill must offer potential buyers a flexible system of purchase. I believe that that has been secured by the establishment of five regional businesses, with the option for potential purchasers to bid for one or all of them. The Bill must allow management and employee buy-outs. It must not just give clearance to bid but must offer active co-operation, support and Government funding to help in the preparation of bids. Some £200,000 is being allocated per team bid.
The Bill must place great emphasis on safety, and I believe that that is ensured by a full acceptance of recommendations in the Health and Safety Commission report, "The Framework for Health and Safety in Britain's Coal Mines". Hon. Members on both sides of the House will widely welcome the fact that continuing responsibility for health and safety will remain with the commission.
It is essential that guarantees are given in respect of existing pension funds, to protect existing and future pensioners. It was said tonight that the Government or British Coal are preparing to rip off some surplus pension funds. Let us remember the deficits and underfunding that occurred a few years ago, and who made them up. If there is a surplus in future, it is only right and proper that some of it should be returned to the taxpayer.
The Bill should give the public full protection in cases of subsidence. It appears to contain the necessary provisions, including the general approach adopted by the Coal Mining Subsidence Act 1991, which enjoyed wide support on both sides of the House.
Privatisation of the coal industry is not just about raising money, saving revenue for the Treasury or interfering in the energy market to secure a larger share for coal. It is about freeing up an industry that has for long been restrained by the heavy and intrusive hand of successive Governments. It is about setting management free to think more laterally and to introduce innovation and initiatives that will secure new markets.
This country has some of the best deep mining expertise in the world. The future of the privatised industry does not lie just in British mines, because that expertise—as in the case of British Gas—could become a key international export. British Gas has shown the way in developing overseas interests, and I have no doubt that the privatised coal industry could emulate its record. I wish it Godspeed on that journey.
The hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Moss) may be interested to know that I am a beneficiary of the mineworkers pension fund, as the recipient of 33p a week. I shall lose a lot of sleep tonight over the taxpayers' contribution to that 33p.
I am disappointed that the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) is not in his place, after his reference to mining activities in the county in which I live and which I represent. I should like the hon. Gentleman to visit my constituency and talk to the miners there about the situation at Ellington and Wearmouth collieries in particular, which work coal reserves 10 km out under the North sea. My recollection is that west Virginia is somewhere in the centre of the United States of America.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned American machinery. I spent most of my life working as an engineer in the coal industry, converting and adapting American machines that did not meet British safety standards.
It is with great pride that I can claim membership of the National Union of Mineworkers for 51 years this month —although I assure my hon. Friends that that does not put me in the Zimmer brigade. I worked in the Northumberland coal industry 40 years before becoming a Member of Parliament. My constituency was once one of the largest coal mining communities in Britain, if not the world.
Earlier, the President of the Board of Trade referred to the mines closed under a Labour Government. There were 20 mines in my constituency at one time, but they have all closed—some recently—because their coal reserves were exhausted. The employment that they provided was replaced by work at companies attracted to the area by incentives offered at the time, such as Alcan Aluminium, Searle Pharmaceutical, Glaxo—renamed Synpac after being purchased by a Taiwanese company—and Robinson Chemicals. Others became established in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell), including Merck Sharp and Dohme and Boots, taking up the employment slack when mines were closed.
I may be unique in being the only Member of Parliament to have worked in the coal industry before its nationalisation. Believe it or not, I worked in the mines for three years before 1947. I see some astonished faces on the Conservative Benches, but I have worn well. Anyone who has worked in the industry will know that mining engineers do take the wear pretty well.
I cannot claim to have happy memories of those times, although it is fair to say that the Ashington coal company was probably one of the best of a bad lot, given the coal owners of the day. The arrangements in those pits were anything but ideal. Pay and conditions were poor, production was the god and safety was a secondary consideration. Miners' lives were completely dominated by the interests of the pit. Not only were miners hired and fired on the whim of management but if an employee lived in a company house as a tenant, any sons in the family were expected to work in one of the mines after leaving school. Some tenants were evicted for failing to comply with that requirement.
At that time, it was common practice to send for employees at any time of the day or night, seven days a week. Working conditions were often extremely unpleasant and dangerous. Dust, water and bad roof conditions had to be endured. Equipment—some of which miners had to purchase out of their wages—was primitive. Pithead baths, safety helmets, footwear, protective clothing and even the local hospital—now in the process of being closed—were mainly financed by miners' contributions. As I have said, that was one of the better mining companies of the time. I shudder to think what conditions were like in other coalfields.
Nationalisation not only brought vastly improved conditions for miners but recognised the value of coal as a national resource, following the need to rebuild our economy after the war. Since then, coal has consistently made a significant contribution to our energy needs. I am sure that Conservative Members will claim that, when the Bill is enacted, the circumstances will be different. Forty years on, a vast expansion of mining technology will prevent the return of such conditions. Time will tell, of course, but there is some evidence of the attitudes that are likely to prevail under privatisation.
I am in close touch with what is happening at Ellington colliery, in Northumberland. For some time, parts of its mining activity have been conducted on a contractual basis, involving the private sector. Initially, the private contractors were involved in the limited development that was taking place; now, large sections of support services are included—for instance, transport and engineering maintenance. Many ex-British Coal employees are being blackmailed into accepting work with the contractors. They are doing exactly the same job as before, earning a basic wage and receiving no sick pay or pensions. They are given minimal holidays and there is scant regard for many of the safety regulations. That is probably a foretaste of miners' conditions under privatisation in the 1990s.
The Bill is the final piece that the Government are putting into place to remove any co-ordinated national influence on the vital energy industries. Oil, gas and electricity all now respond to market forces; coal will join them, and the withdrawal of Government influence from the critical role played by the energy industries in our economy will be complete.
Perhaps the Opposition should learn a lesson from the crafty way in which the Government began the whole process, especially in relation to the privatisation of the electricity industry—permitting, if not deliberately encouraging, the dash for gas, and appointing British Coal board members who felt little enthusiasm about working for a nationalised industry. That was followed by a policy of closing pits and writing off huge potential coal reserves, along with minimal investment in research and development relating not only to clean coal technology but to technology to produce oil and gas from coal—technology that is important for the future.
Let me give another example involving Ellington colliery. In the early 1980s, an area of coal reserves was identified to the north of the existing mine workings. To reach the coal, it was necessary to drive tunnels to, and then through, faulted strata. Tunnelling began in 1983, the year when I left the mine, and the work has still not been completed.
Almost throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, the mine made substantial profits. Few of those profits went into this important development. Only after a meeting last year between the Minister, the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and myself did things begin to move. The colliery restarted the development. The project is taking longer than the development of the Channel tunnel, and has made much less progress, but it is vital to the mine.
Even under privatisation, those future coal reserves should have been opened up, so that someone interested in buying the mine could at least have seen them. The tunnellers, however, are still trying to get through the fault —not because the operation involved is difficult but because of the lack of investment. None the less, it should be noted that Ministers sometimes respond to representations.
Too often, the miners have been blamed for the industry's problems when management has been the real culprit. Little criticism has been levelled at management. I do not support management buy-outs; I see little advantage in having an industry run by those who created many of its problems in the first place. I shall oppose the Bill, in the interests of not only the miners but the nation arid the future generations who will pay the price for the employment of political dogma against national interests.
The Minister will visit my constituency on Monday and will talk to representatives of Britich Alcan Aluminium. Its power station in the area has power lines on British Coal land, and the extraction of sea water for cooling purposes also takes place on that land. The company clearly wants to be granted a privileged position, and to be allowed to purchase the land to protect its power station and its interests generally.
Like several of my hon. Friends, as a young politician I cut my teeth on an area known for its mining industry. As a 23-year-old, I had the privilege and pleasure of standing against the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill), who won with a huge majority. I well remember visiting the mining villages of Cowie and Airth in the constituency. I was viewed with some shock—I understand that I was the first Conservative ever seen there.
When the villagers got over the shock, they went out and re-elected the sitting Member of Parliament, giving him a vastly increased majority. The hon. Gentleman is undoubtedly right in saying that I was the last Conservative Member to visit the area.
Undeterred by my experience, I contested Mansfield in the 1987 election, with somewhat more success—it was the most marginal result in the country. I have one abiding memory of the constituency and the campaign. The night before polling day, I went into the Mansfield miners' welfare club, where the steward on the door immediately took the rosette off my lapel because he wanted to wear it. We had to send out for extra "Vote Hendry" badges. When the Labour candidate turned up, he was asked to leave, because he had supported the National Union of Mineworkers during the strike.
Inevitably, my interest in those constituencies means that I feel very sad about the way in which the mining industry has declined there. Both the pits based in Mansfield—Crown Farm and Sherwood—have now closed, although there is a glimmer of hope. The closures were referred to by the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping), who is a doughty fighter for the mining industry—as, indeed was his predecessor, Mr. Andy Stewart, who was a great friend of the industry. The hon. Gentleman referred to the prospective purchase of Clipstone under licensing to Richard Budge and Company. I think that shows that, where the nationalised industry has failed to work, there is hope for pits in the private sector.
I believe that, in small communities that have grown up purely around the pits, those pits should be kept going wherever possible. It is difficult for such communities to attract new investment—particularly large inward investment, which will inevitably be made in areas with a larger population. That is the key issue which is exemplified by Clipstone. Can the mines be run better, more efficiently and more in the interests of their customers and their workers in the public sector or in the private sector?
I make no apology for being an absolute believer in the principle of privatisation. It means that people can plan ahead for the long term—I shall come back to that point in a moment. Privatisation stimulates enterprise and initiative. It gives managers the ability to do what they believe is right and frees them from the dead hand of Government. I say that with tremendous feeling, because a few years ago when, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Luff), I was a special adviser at the Department of Trade and Industry, I experienced the involvement of the Government in another nationalised industry, the Post Office. Even with a benevolent Government who wished to interfere as little as possible, that interference made it more difficult for the industry to operate as it ought to.
I remember well a meeting between my Minister and the chairman of the Post Office to discuss a minor change in the pension plan arrangements for a director of the Post Office Board. As that change had a knock-on effect on public spending, it had to involve a Cabinet Minister and the chairman of that company. That is no way to run a company. It is no way for Ministers to spend their time. If we want industries to do their best, we need to ensure that they are taken away from that interference. Nationalised industries cannot compete effectively. They cannot provide the best service for their customers or the best and safest conditions for their workers.
I especially welcome two aspects of the Bill. The first is that management and employees will be encouraged to take part in buy-outs and the Government are making £200,000 available to help them to prepare their bids. I welcome that because I believe that it is right and essential that the expertise that exists in the industry should be retained and should not be passed over without employees having the chance to compete and bid for their pit against others from outside.
I welcome the interest that has been shown by the Union of Democratic Mineworkers. I pay tribute to the members of that union for their courage as miners—every miner deserves our respect for the conditions in which they are prepared to work and earn their living—and more particularly for the courage that they showed in standing up to some of the worst aggression that we have seen in this country. They have earned the right to have a greater say in their industry and they have the knowledge to contribute to it. I am glad that the legislation will give them the chance to do so. I hope that in time the National Union of Mineworkers will decide to do so, too.
My second reason for welcoming the Bill is its commitment to safety. I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans) talking about the family tragedy of the death of his father in the mining industry when he was a young boy. That was 50 years ago. Every industry that operated in bad conditions then has tightened up its working methods and improved its, safety. That has happened through improvements in technology, greater safety requirements, more laws and public pressure. I am convinced that the commitment to safety enshrined in the Bill will ensure that levels of safety in the mining industry will continue to rise.
As the Member for High Peak, I have to say that the growth of safety standards owes much to the mines research establishment of the Health and Safety Executive in my constituency at Harpur Hill and the tremendous work that is done there to find out ever safer ways of mining. I am particularly encouraged by the fact that the Health and Safety Commission, which looks after the HSE, will be the sole regulatory body ensuring safety in the mines.
We must now free the mines so that they can compete effectively for the maximum market share. Tonight I have heard Labour Members say that they need to know now how many pits there will be. I am afraid that that simply shows how little they understand about the way industry works. If they had asked a few years ago how many cars Rover would produce in 1994, how many passengers British Airways would carry, what percentage of British Telecom public telephone boxes would be operational or what dividend would be payable to people in the National Freight Consortium who had become owners of their own company, the answers given by Ministers would have underestimated those companies' potential. Every privatised company has performed beyond expectations.
Moreover, the move towards privatisation will enable the mining industry to make the long-term investment decisions that it believes are right. It will make them because they are economic and sound and can be justified in the long term. That includes not only the development of pits but the long-term commitment to desulphurisation. Again, I declare a constituency interest. The lime for the desulphurisation process will come mostly from my constituency and that will ensure that many jobs are protected in High Peak. That demonstrates the way in which a dynamic mining industry has a knock-on effect and creates and maintains jobs elsewhere. All Conservative Members seek to encourage that. We support the Bill tonight because we believe that it contributes to that process.
The history of privatisation is one of remarkable and continuing success. Lossmakers of which we despaired which required ever more Government money have become world beaters. For too long, the mining industry in Britain has been deprived of the opportunity to be part of that success story. I welcome the Bill. I shall vote for it because at long last it gives the coal industry in Britain and the miners in that industry a chance to take part in that success story.
The debate today has shown the chasm that exists between the Government and the Labour party. I enjoyed listening to my hon. Friends—in particular my hon. Friends the Members for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) and for Livingston (Mr. Cook)—give a stout defence of the principle of public ownership.
The Bill tackles the wrong issues at the wrong time in the wrong way. It will come as no surprise to Conservative Members that the Labour party opposes the privatisation in the Coal Industry Bill. It is a folly. To privatise the coal industry is wrong, but to do so at this time is simply criminal because it will undoubtedly have a great knock-on effect on my constituency and others represented by my hon. Friends.
The Government have been strangling coal for the past two years. This is the death knell. The background to the privatisation is a deliberate policy on the part of the Government. All the actions of the Government have been damaging to the long-term prospects of the industry. Their actions have damaged the morale of my constituency and the safeguarding of communities such as north Delyn, which has been damaged so heavily in the past two years by Government policies and which faces no future if privatisation goes through.
Government policy is a failure. We debate the issue at a time when none of the problems created by the privatisations of gas and electricity have gone away. The nuclear power industry is still subsidised by more than £1 billion a year and has a protected market share. The regional electricity companies are still buying power from new gas-fired power stations, which they now own, rather than from cheaper coal-fired power stations. As my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) said, coal is still being imported which is mined by cheap labour in Colombia and other countries. The French interconnector is still being used and is subsidised by the United Kingdom's nuclear levy.
Privatisation at this point in time tackles the wrong issue. Who owns the industry is purely a dogmatic matter for members of the Government. They should be more worried about securing the future of the coal industry instead of settling old scores of 20 years ago, tilting at old windmills and putting forward dogmatic ideas for the future.
The generation of electricity will remain the main market of the coal industry whether it is in private or in public hands. The volume of coal has been fixed until 1999. If British Coal cannot survive and compete in that market, how on earth will private operators compete? British Coal is already making enormous strides to improve efficiency and productivity. At my own pit of Point of Ayr in north Wales much has been achieved in the past 18 months under the pressure of the need for a more efficient coal market. The colliery in my constituency now produces coal based on less than £1 per gigajoule. The miners in my constituency have bent over backwards to improve productivity. In 1987–88, they produced 3·1 tonnes of coal per man shift. Last year, when they were still threatened with closure and on the hit list, they produced 14·7 tonnes of coal per man shift.
The pit in my constituency needs help. It needs a market share and investment, but what it does not need—and what I have not heard anybody in my constituency say that it needs—is a transfer to private ownership. None of the miners in my constituency want that. Throughout the debate on this issue, I have not had a single letter from anybody in my constituency who wants that. Nobody but the Conservatives, who were roundly defeated in my constituency at the previous general election, want privatisation.
Would a private operator have had the millions of pounds necessary to invest to bring productivity in my local pit up to the new levels? I doubt it. Even if an operator had managed to stump up the £2 million needed to purchase the capital equipment installed in the past two years at the Point of Ayr, could it have afforded the weeks of disruption and training necessitated when the equipment was installed and the changeover made? I doubt it. If, in the brave new world of the free market, production was disrupted for any period, the operator could wake up to see markets vanish and profits disappearing.
Should we be selling the pit now after public sector investment has been made to create an efficient, productive market? There are no guarantees in the Bill for the future of the coal industry and it is likely only to accelerate the pit closure programme.
This very week, in British Coal's "Westminster Brief', the Minister is reported as saying:
The political straitjacket of nationalisation has no place in the industry of the 21st Century. Only by allowing real competition in coal, only by letting real business considerations decide the future, can we hope to maintain a viable British Coal industry".
What do "real business considerations" mean in practice for my constituents?
How could private operators provide a better service at the pit in my constituency than British Coal? They could do it in several ways: they could lower the wages of the staff who work in that pit, and they will do so. They could provide less money for research and development, and they will do so. They could and will have the option of reducing safety measures. Nothing in the Bill will protect the pit's safety record.
No, I shall not let the Minister intervene because time is limited and we must make progress.
Private operators could lower safety regulations and they will do so. They could employ fewer miners and they will do so. Private industry will go for a quick kill. Privatisation will not lead to greater efficiency because we have already had that over the past three years under British Coal, particularly in my region.
The Bill is an admission of failure by the Government. Productivity could have been increased and any improvements could have been made while the coal industry was under public ownership. Their lack of responsibility and action should be condemned.
The Bill is full of contradictions that should be highlighted. The major one is that, instead of stabilising and strengthening the coal industry, the Bill will have the opposite effect. Some of its worst faults lie in the duties given to the coal authority to license private operators. Clause 2 establishes a general duty for the coal authority to promote the continuation of the coal industry in the United Kingdom. On the other hand, the coal authority is charged with promoting competition among private operators. The dichotomy of protecting an industry while allowing competition should not escape hon. Members.
Clause 2 states that the Coal Authority should seek an economically viable coal industry "so far as practicable". What the hell, Minister, does that mean?
I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
What would the Minister say is the meaning of "so far as practicable"? The Coal Authority will be as much use as a chocolate fire guard. The coal industry will not in any shape or form be protected by a coal authority that seeks to protect both sides of the market.
Privatisation will be to the detriment of several other factors of key concern. We have already heard about mine safety. The Bill contains 20 lines on mine safety. Without a statutory duty on the coal authority and with no draft licences yet available, the ability of the coal authority to intervene is not sufficiently robust. I also remain unconvinced of the Government's reassurances on the mine rescue service.
We have heard about the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation, which is to be abolished at a time when the work force increasingly need additional welfare services and when more than 500,000 people in our communities benefit from such provisions. We have heard about environmental liabilities. The Bill's provisions for dealing properly with environmental concerns are poor. Coal is a messy business—water pollution can and does occur. Gas emissions are not unknown, yet the Bill contains no commitment to cleaning them up or making polluters accept their responsibilities.
If the Bill is passed unamended, private mine operators will have few environmental liabilities and no good neighbour policy, as undertaken by British Coal. The public sector will, as always, pick up the bill for any environmental lapses by the private sector. British Coal Enterprise has not been mentioned, nor has subsidence. The question of pensions is skated over and massive powers are put in the hands of the Secretary of State. What happens to those constituents of mine who might face redundancy under privatisation? That issue has not been considered.
The Bill should be opposed because it is a travesty of justice. I am proud to support a publicly owned industry, which is in the best interests of those I represent.
It has been an interesting debate, because some of the Tories who have spoken in favour of the Government and privatisation have not been altogether with it. I got the impression that the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock) was trying to explain that she supported hardly any aspect of the Bill, but that she would vote for the Government and privatisation even though her heart was not in it.
The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) told us frankly that he was in favour of privatisation. He is in favour of all sorts of privatisation, apart from that of his own houses. He is careful to keep them. I want to make it clear that, although I said that I would drive a bulldozer if he lay in front of it, I would not drive a bulldozer because I am in favour of opencast coal production.
No. I would drive the bulldozer to ensure that the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton got out of the way.
I should like to put opencast mining in its proper perspective. Last year, there were 18 million tonnes of opencast coal production at a time when pits were shutting. That is equivalent to about 15 coal mines in Britain. Under privatisation, the chances are that there could be 20 million tonnes or even more. We should therefore consider the matter from the viewpoint of the miners who will be thrown on the scrap heap, not to mention the massive environmental damage that will accrue in my constituency.
Opencast mining is easy; it is easy to rip off the turf. The Coal Board is shifting a village. About 200 houses are going to be moved from one village and put in another. That shows the money that can be made out of opencast mining. Everybody should understand that opencast mining means stripping the first 200 or 300 ft of ground, and the rest is sterilised for ever. A mine cannot be drifted once opencast has taken place. The reserves of coal that remain will have gone for good. That is why, apart from the environmental considerations, opencast mining is a dangerous practice.
My hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens North (Mr. Evans) referred to the Lancashire coalfield. My guess is that there will be opencast production in all those coalfields if the operators can get away with it. The same will be true in Derbyshire. Not one pit is left in my constituency or in Chesterfield, although there is one combined operation, between north-east Derbyshire and south Yorkshire. When I was first elected president of the Derbyshire miners in 1964, there were more than 30 pits in the Derbyshire coalfield, even more in Nottingham and many more in Yorkshire.
I want to talk about shutting pits, because it needs to be put on the record. Yes, pits have been shut ever since Waleswood in 1949, two years after nationalisation, when there was a great outcry and the men stopped down the pit. Every single one was offered a job somewhere else. Do not get me wrong—I am not saying that it was a wonderful thing to shut those pits. I did not like the idea when Parkhouse colliery, where I worked, was shut in 1962 and 1963, but at least, when I asked about a job, I was offered six or seven at different collieries within a perimeter of about six miles.
Contrast that with what happens today. In 1993—and now in 1994—hardly any of the miners at the pits that have been shut have had the chance of a job. The Government talk about Labour Governments shutting pits. I did not like it, and I voted against, but we should set that against a background in which people had the chance to work in a neighbouring colliery or sometimes in another region.
It must also be set against the background that there were never more than 1·5 million people on the dole. We should always remember that, until 1979, there were never more than 1·5 million people without jobs in Britain. This Government have 4 million people out of work. It is not 2·7 million—what about all the miners from Sheffield who are on payment schemes? They are not included in the unemployment figures, but they should all be added on.
We all know that, if we went down any street and counted, we would see thousands—there must be scores of thousands of unemployed people in south Wales, Yorkshire and Durham, who are all on the schemes. They do not add to the unemployment figures—and what about all their children, who are also on slave labour schemes?
We do not want any lectures from this Tory Government or the President of the Board of Trade and his sidekicks when they talk of shutting pits. There is a qualitative difference between shutting a pit but giving someone the chance of a job somewhere else and doing so against a background of 4 million people on the scrap heap.
I cannot give way to my hon. Friend, because many other hon. Friends would like to speak.
It has often been said before, but it needs stressing, that no other industry in Britain can claim that it has increased productivity by 35 per cent. during the past 12 months. What an idea—privatising an industry that has increased productivity by that amount. When I first went into the pit in 1949, output was 1 tonne per man shift throughout the industry, and it was hard work. Now, output is 10 tonnes for every miner in Britain, and in some coalfields it is as high as 40 tonnes per man, yet the Government have the gall to say that they need to privatise the mines.
We all know why. It is a conspiracy between this lousy Government and British Coal executives—the members of the board. The miners group met them in July 1992, when some of my hon. Friends were present. I confronted Clarke, the chairman, and asked if he would give us a guarantee that he would oppose privatisation, just as Ezra did before him. He said, "No, I can't give that guarantee." I asked them all, one by one, to stand up and be counted.
To his credit, Moses, with whom we had some great battles during the strike actually said, "Not me, Skinner. I wouldn't join a privatised board. I was born and bred in this industry like thee, so don't say that to me." Then Clarke said, "Don't anyone else answer that question." He picked up his papers and told us, "We're not staying another minute."
From that moment, I knew that the idea of a privatised coal industry was linked to the board taking over when they had the chance. Of course the executives do not want 30 or 40 pits—Neil Clarke only wants a few. He wants to get hold of the 30 million tonnes for the power stations, and he does not want anyone else to compete with him.
When I heard that Tory, the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson), talking about all the shenanigans at Wearmouth colliery and about shifting all that tackle—important engineering machinery—I knew why they were taking it away: because they did not want any private entrepreneur to run Wearmouth or any of the other collieries. They want that 30 million tonne captive market, and they do not want anyone to compete with them, so that they can make a massive killing.
By the end of the century, it could all be over. However, we must be optimistic. We socialists cannot afford to acknowledge that we will allow that to happen, because we clearly have an opportunity to win next time. This privatisation must be set against the background that the Tory Government will not last very long. We have a wimp of a Prime Minister and hardly any Tories were here to cheer on the President of the Board of Trade today. The fan club had gone. One of the most interesting features of this debate is that the right hon. Gentleman used to have phalanxes of Tories behind him, but they are no longer there. The game is up.
Tory Members are more concerned about returning to their constituencies to try to stem the tide that will surely engulf them in a Canadian-style obliteration at the next election. I can see it coming, and that is why we must prepare and know what we are going to do. We must therefore ensure that we do not allow this conspiracy to continue much longer.
My hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, North mentioned the women of Parkside, and I heard one or two sneers from the Tory benches. What were those women doing there, and why have they been sitting at the pithead? To try to stop British Coal filling in the shafts, because they are optimistic and, in all the gloom and despair, have been trying to stop British Coal pouring cement down the shafts, so that, when the Labour Government get in, we shall be able to start the process up again.
Make no mistake about it: the British coal industry is competitive. One cannot have a 350 per cent. increase since 1984 and not be in the frame for selling, which is why it is important that, when that political sea change takes place, we should take advantage of that competitiveness. We know why privatisation is on the cards—because Cecil Parkinson said so, and that must stick in the gullet of Tory wets. Is that not roughly the size of it? There was all the acclaim at the Tory conference, but it was symbolic, as their hearts are not really in it.
However, there is money involved. What are they going to do? They will get hold of the two pension funds. which have £14 billion in them. That is written into the Bill, although not precisely. They have written in that they will get hold of the surplus and use it—they might use it as bait to catch someone. Who knows, Neil Clarke might have another crack at the pension fund, or this Tory Government might use it to offset all the other difficulties that they have been running into.
But it is a scandal. It is corruption and sleaze if they get their hands on that pension fund, when it should go to the miners, their widows and all those who have contributed. There should be no talk of a pension holiday; the money should go to all those who have spilled their blood over the years.
The same is true of concessionary coal. There are no guarantees. The Government say that they will guarantee it to pensioners, but they are really saying that they will buy them out. As all my hon. Friends know, that is what is happening in the coalfields.
There is no guarantee for the working miners. For the information of Nottinghamshire miners—if they are not already aware of it—the new contractors, such as Budge, are already telling miners when they recruit them that they will give them a job, but instead of £5·50 per hour it will be £3·50. What is more, there is no concessionary coal and one takes it or leaves it. When 4 million people are out of work, it is a seller's market. That is the background. So anyone who listens to Ministers saying that concessionary coal will be preserved should forget it. That is the real scene.
The same is true of subsidence. It is not spelt out in the Bill. Literally thousands of people will suffer. It is easy to imagine the arguments that will take place about whether the subsidence at Clipstone or any of the other mines belongs to British Coal, which has just left the scene, or to Budge. Many people will lose as a result of subsidence. British Coal has not been the softest touch of all time, and we have a massive landslip at Bolsolver that will cost about £1·5 million to put right, but it will be even worse in the forthcoming period, if and when the Bill goes through.
Another problem, which has been mentioned before, is the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation. If anyone thinks that it is all about football fields, they should forget it. CISWO is a bigger organisation than that. It is all about providing help for disabled miners and convalescent homes for disabled miners and their widows. Thousands of them go there every year. It is all about providing aids for the disabled which are not provided by the local authority. It is all about providing holidays for some of the disabled and mentally handicapped kids of miners.
So the CISWO operation is not simply about providing a cricket field and one or two other bits and bobs. It is a massive organisation. I hope that the Minister will tell us that CISWO will remain intact, because, once the Government start interfering with it, the whole thing will break down.
The same is true of Mines Rescue—what a wonderful organisation. Everyone has spoken about it over the years; about the fact that, when there is a disaster in the pit. or even the threat of one, Mines Rescue is on the scene—the professionals. They were the paramedics long before anyone else thought about it—paramedics underground. Mines Rescue will be dismantled. There is no reference in the Bill to its being saved.
The Bill has been brought into being to carry through the revenge against the miners, as a result of the Tones' dogma from yesteryear. It has no relevance to the present day. Everyone knows that the best privatisations have been and gone—all the big money that was whittled away and handed over to the richer in our society. All that has gone. This privatisation and that of British Rail does not add up to that type of money at all, like gas and electricity and rain. We are discussing a pettifogging privatisation that is based purely on dogma.
I have to say, in spite of all that, that we have to be ready for government. I say first—it has not been said yet today, but I had better put it on record—that we have to take coal back into public ownership. That is the view of all those in the miners group. It is the view of literally hundreds of Members of Parliament in every region of Britain. I do not say it with the idea that I am putting it in the manifesto, but I am trying to do so because I do not believe that we can resolve the key problems otherwise.
I do not believe that we can rescue the pensions unless we are in control of the industry. I do not believe that we can rescue CISWO unless we control it. I do not believe that we can sort out the problems of people who get concessionary coal unless we are in charge of the industry. What is more, we must curb those imports, and that can only be done by having a publicly owned industry, so that we can demand that those imports are curtailed; so that we can stop the French interconnector link, which is equivalent to about five pits; so that we can curb the opencasting. We need to be in control of our own affairs.
Some of my hon. Friends have mentioned that rail is on the agenda for the next Labour Government. I will run through the Lobbies to carry it through. I will go through the Lobby tonight—we all will—to vote against privatisation. It logically follows that we are not discussing a lot of money: we are discussing a minor privatisation that we could do without even paying them anything. I am not saying that my hon. Friends on the Front Bench will go that far, but I just put it in their minds en passant.
We are discussing an important subject. It is about shaping the future. We have to be able to show people outside that we do not just vote against things here in the House of Commons, but that we are starting to formulate plans to mop up the massive unemployment figures that surround us every day. It is a prime example of having an energy policy which is co-ordinated among all the various sectors. In order to do so, we have to ensure that we take coal back into public ownership.
It has been a good debate. The Tories have packed up and run away. I will leave it now to my hon. Friends.
It is perhaps the first time—at least in the past 150 years—that a Member for Easington has spoken in the Chamber without having a working colliery in his constituency. In the past 15 years, the massacre of an industry has taken place, for one reason and one reason alone, and that is to slim the industry down for privatisation. It is a disgrace that Tories, who have favoured the privatisation of the coal mining industry, the jewel in the crown, are so thin on the Benches this evening.
Tens of thousands of miners were working in the Easington constituency in 1951, thousands in the 1980s and nil in the 1990s. Perhaps in future we should consider employment trends in the region rather than unemployment trends, because recent European figures have shown that employment in Easington has dropped by more than one third in the past 25 years. Those are the figures from Europe, which cannot be massaged or changed by a Government who have been so clever in changing the method of assessing unemployment figures more than 25 times in the past 15 years.
Having understood that the industry is to be slimmed down for privatisation, Ministers must be asked why, out of £20 billion-worth of investment into the industry, at the flick of a switch more than £20 million-worth of expensive coal mining equipment and machinery has been left to flood at Easington colliery.
Those questions are perhaps worthy of some national public inquiry, because they do not affect Easington only, but many other collieries throughout the country, especially Wearmouth colliery, where about £10 million-worth of equipment has been stripped out in the past few months, perhaps to deter potential investors from moving in to exploit the many tens of millions of tonnes of coal that still lie under the sea.
I should have thought that a responsible Government, bragging about an expenditure of £20 billion during the past 15 years, would try to underpin the taxpayers' investment by encouraging a market to exploit the many hundreds of millions of tonnes of coal that lie in and beyond the coastline of Durham, that will be sterilised for ever, ever more. As has been said before, one cannot opencast mine coal reserves that lie under the sea, so they are lost to our generation and future generations for ever.
Questions must also be asked, with £20 billion-worth of investment, about what happens to the highly skilled and motivated work force, basically born and bred to work in a mine—educated to work in a coal mine. Those people now find themselves on the scrap heap. Dignified workers, who have always earned reasonable wages, and at times excellent wages, are now working as security guards for £1·10 an hour—or £1·20 an hour if one provides one's own guard dog. That is not a joke; that is what is happening in the north-east now.
We must deal with the awful incestuous relationship between the suppliers and the generators of electricity. The suppliers are now the generators, and people are paying through the nose for that relationship.
What will the legacy be in Easington and other coal mining areas when the last collieries close? In Easington, we can immediately point the finger at colliery housing. There are hundreds of colliery houses in and around the colliery. All my life, I have lived within 400 yd of a working pit, and we have tolerated the dust, the noise and the clamour because that was our work, and the pits were where we earned our wages.
Now that the colliery will no longer be there, what are we to do with the legacy? What are we to do with the modernised colliery houses grouped together, which need tremendous sums spending on them to provide a decent environment for the former mineworkers who now occupy them? The need comes at a time when local government finances are being squeezed, and there is less money for grants. Will the new Coal Authority take the responsibility for what is left of colliery housing, and for providing a decent environment for former mineworkers?
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) talked about the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation, and said, "Don't mention parks." Fair enough; I shall not mention parks, although they exist, as do football fields, tennis courts, swimming pools, welfare halls, brass bands and other cultural and leisure facilities. There are tens of millions of pounds in the coal industry benevolent fund—a fund that was paid for by miners out of their pay packets every week for the past 15 years.
Has the Minister thought about what will happen to that money? There are social workers too, who provide a vital service for retired aged or disabled mineworkers. Once again, the question arises at a time when local authority social services departments are being cut to the bone. The money in the fund was all provided by ourselves out of our pay notes week by week and year by year—ha'pennies from our grandfathers, pennies from our fathers and shillings from ourselves. There are vast sums of money lying there, and they must be protected and used for retired mineworkers in the future.
What about the legacy of methane gas? That problem existed in Blyth because of the closure of Bates colliery, and 12 boreholes had to he sunk in and around the town. A tremendous debate took place between Blyth council and the National Coal Board. The board said, "That is not our responsibility, it is the local authority's responsibility." But in the end British Coal relented, and took the responsibility for sinking the shafts.
Will the residual Coal Authority be responsible for maintaining the integrity of collieries in future, in case someone wants to take out a licence and operate them, perhaps in 18 months' time? If it will, I should like to know where the money will come from to make such an operation successful.
There is also the problem of mine water pollution. The Government should be careful, because mine water pollution from a colliery that closed about 20 years ago is now percolating through the garden of the Bishop of Durham. There are seven pumping stations in the county of Durham, pumping billions of gallons of water every year, and if someone does not take responsibility for continuing those operations, within six months of the pumps being switched off, there will be pollution in the River Wear at Bishop Auckland. Within 18 months, there will be pollution at Lumley water treatment works, and if that becomes contaminated, someone will have to pick up a bill for about £25 million.
I want to know what will happen in Durham. The Minister will have to give a categorical assurance that someone will be responsible for the pumping operations; otherwise, there will be orange polluted water in the river around the castle and the cathedral, at a world heritage site. There will be gross pollution in the River Wear. The people of Durham and Sunderland are sitting on an ecological time bomb, which could have an awful effect on the environment unless the Minister gives us categorical assurances tonight that the residual body will be given teeth and the money to tackle those problems.
That is extremely important, because major Japanese factories with investments of hundreds of millions of pounds have located in that area of the county of Durham because of the quality of the groundwater. Detailed surveys carried out by Durham county council show that, if pumping operations cease at the seven pumping stations, pollution will occur within months.
I ask the Minister to recognise publicly that that is a major issue in Durham, and that the situation is so serious that it is crucial to deal with it properly. Nothing must fall down the cracks during the process of transferring the environmental liabilities from British Coal. I am confident that anyone thinking about licensing or buying collieries in the north-east will not want to handle several million pounds' worth of pumping costs.
I also seek from the Minister a clear statement on the outcome of parallel work being undertaken by the Secretary of State for the Environment, especially in the context of the review of minerals planning guidance, in which the Government are apparently considering the framework of legal responsibility for pollution from abandoned mines. The scenario in Durham that I have painted must have parallels elsewhere in the country—although I believe that in Durham the position is more serious than elsewhere. I look forward to hearing some assurances when the Minister winds up the debate.
I shall vote against the Bill. I am sure that the relevant amendments will be tabled in Committee, and that the Bill will be opposed tooth and nail through all its stages.
Mr. Deputy Mayor—I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I was just trying to promote you. Mr. Deputy Speaker, one of the aspects of privatisation that worries me is safety in the privatised industry. Having worked down the mine for 27 years, and for 14 years at the coal face, I have a pretty good idea of what happens.
I have heard stories about small private mines and what happens at them. We all know that entrepreneurs will buy the collieries, but I hope that some of them are decent people. It remains to be seen. However, some of them are worthy of watching. We must watch them carefully because safety down the mines is paramount to people working there and their families above ground whose loved ones have been lost and buried and families have become fatherless.
If I may, I shall cite a couple of frightening stories of what safety means in a private mine. A few years ago, the mines inspectorate turned a blind eye, but it has a big role to play in the future of the coal industry. In one private mine, the haulage rope snapped and because a new one could not be afforded, a knot was tied in the old rope and the haulage system was started up and the rope was tied to a truck at the top of the bank. The knot did not hold and a man was killed.
Another instance which occurred in a private mine was nearer to my home. A private mine, which employed about 15 men, bought a cheap, large electricity socket to be used down the mine from a scrappy somewhere and plugged it into the system in the mine to get the machinery going. Lo and behold, within 12 hours, the plug caught fire and almost caused a fatality. Six or seven men almost lost their lives and one man was rushed to hospital, never to go back down the pit again.
We have heard a lot about the £20 billion that has been invested in the collieries over the years. I said to the President of the Board of Trade earlier that some gross indecencies have occurred over the spending of that money. I mentioned the transport system, which was put in the pit yards and left for over two years, accruing a bill for the colliery of £300,000. We only discovered that when we fought to save the colliery because the books had to be opened.
I could cite incidents, Mr. Deputy Mayor—sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am thinking of the council. It must be your dickey bow. I could cite incidents where the worth of big machines, trying to be proved in the heading, have been pulled out into the roadways, pushed aside and covered up, and the cost of that machine has been left to the collieries. Wooden chocks and roof supports have been left on the face to rot, never to be recovered. That is where that £20 billion was lost. Pieces of machinery were never recovered and it was never attempted.
Opencast is a big subject in Northumberland, as it is in the whole country. I tabled a written question two months ago asking the Minister about the state of play regarding opencast in Northumberland and Durham and how many tonnes of coal were available. The answer was 16·5 million tonnes of coal at approved sites in Northumberland and Durham. That is the answer to the earlier question. We are not talking about entrepreneurs taking over mines, but about entrepreneurs taking over opencast.
Two or three Conservative Members spoke violently against opencast. They should not think for one minute that we will avoid opencast, because the whole purpose of the Bill is to move from deep coal mining to opencast. We have seen that happen in Northumberland. We even have the figure for Northumberland—-16·5 million tonnes of coal. Anyone taking on the mines in Northumberland will get that coal, but the pits will shut.
We have seen what has happened in Wearmouth and we do not want that to happen in Northumberland. We have seen what has happened in the workshops and we do not want that to happen to the workshops in Northumberland. Ellington colliery is on the fringe. I hope that we can save it and that there is a future for it, because there is a lot of coal there. I have my doubts and I have voiced them not only to the entrepreneurs who will buy the pit, but to people in the industry. I believe that the entrepreneurs want opencast.
If the people of Northumberland and Durham want to see the end of the industry, they will see the beginning of a new one—opencast from one end of Durham to the other end of Northumberland; dug up every inch of way. That will include the constituency of the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson). He will have to face the wrath of his constituents. We should chuck him in and cement him up as well. The deadly side of opencast is the prospect for the people of Northumberland, because that is what the Bill means.
This is a great opportunity to say one or two words on the mining industry. Looking back over the years, considering the Reid report and the Samuel report, I never envisaged that it would come to the stage when the mining industry of the United Kingdom would be so attenuated. I can remember when production was about 44 cwt of coal output per man shift and now it has exceeded £10 milion tonnes per annum. The miners have done a great job over the years and I am sure that, in the segment where they will be operating, they will continue to do good work.
I have never been able to understand how people can work underground for their whole lives and then recommend to their sons that they should do that as well. However, those miners have been close to the ground of such matters; they have done a superb job and I am glad that the President of the Board of Trade has decided that the pension plans must be considered carefully and that the money which we have been pouring into industry for years —£20 billion, of which about £8 billion has gone into machinery—has been a fitting investment in an industry which has now reduced in size.
Mining is not the only industry which has fallen into disrepair over the years. The steel industry has been truncated. I remember that at one stage the production was to be about 35 million tonnes per annum in the United Kingdom and is now well down at about 12 million tonnes. We have seen one or two private sector companies almost eliminated because of the recession, and disrepair comes to many industries if there is not a market.
The hon. Gentleman said that seeing the mining industry come into disrepair makes him sad. I am sure that it does. Surely his memory does not stop at a particular time. Does he remember how bankrupt and how rotten the coal industry was in private hands? Does he remember how the royal commission in 1918 said that it could not leave the industry in the corrupt hands of the private coal owners and that it had to be nationalised? That took a long time, and into public ownership came a bankrupt industry that was in complete disrepair, because profits were being sucked out of it. Being a public industry turned it round and made it the efficient industry it is today.
The hon. Gentleman will realise that the first step was the taking over of coal rights in 1938. It was not until 1947 that it was decided to nationalise the whole industry and to put it into Government hands. The state has controlled the industry for a long time.
Instead of growing from strength to strength, the industry has dwindled because the market has reduced. That is not the miners' responsibility. British coal was so costly that it could not sell abroad. British coal is probably the cheapest to produce in Europe, compared with German coal and so on. However, the Europeans will accept it only in very small quantities. We want coal to be imported because of the steel industry and other requirements. We find that it is essential to blend it. The state has not been successful in running mines.
The industry has absorbed £20 billion over the years, and it has not been a success. Is that a recommendation for the state to run an operation? Would it not be much wiser to put the industry into the private sector where there are high standards? The private sector has been transformed. It is much more caring, much more responsible and much more adept.
Let us consider Australia and the United States of America. Hanson Industries runs the Peabody company in the United States. It has some problems, I agree. Shell and one or two other companies still have interests in Australia. Many companies successfully operate out there. They are able to bring coal to the United Kingdom at very much lower prices. Of course, the coal industry is becoming more competitive, I hope that, over the years, with the change of ownership, it will be remarkably successful, but that will not be easy. My hon. Friend the Minister does not pretend that there will be an easy ride for it.
Let us consider the era of the Labour Government and remember when Lord Robens was in charge of the National Coal Board. He closed more pits than were ever closed by the Conservatives. As chairman of the National Coal Board, he was primarily concerned to make the industry viable. He faced exactly the same problem that we have today—a declining market. In the early days, we used to produce gas from coal. That was stopped. Later, coal had a diminished market for electricity production. We now have the additional problem of gas turbines. They are remarkably successful and can be brought into operation very much faster than other methods.
The record should be straight in respect of colliery closures under a Labour Government. In my constituency of Rhondda, at one time there were 63 coal mines. Most collieries were closed during the period of a Labour Government, but it was a process of rationalisation. Very small coal mines were integrated. In a dozen large collieries, the same coal take was worked. It was a process of rationalisation, not of trying to destroy an industry. The hon Gentleman completely distorts the statistics. That process happened in every coalfield in the United Kingdom.
I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman likes rationalisation and that it should be done gradually. In the Rhondda valley, much investment was brought in from abroad. In that area, or fairly near to it, Japanese investment produced wirelesses and other electronic equipment. Over time, certain industries were developed because others were retired. That is the ideal way to do things, but if the market is eroding at a fast pace, what are we to do?
If miners are prepared to produce coal in abundance and to build stocks to a gigantic height over the years and we then find that we cannot sell that coal either in Europe, elsewhere abroad or on the local market, what should we do? Should those miners produce still more coal which will remain totally unsaleable? Perhaps, in order to reach a viable size, the state industry will have to do what the private sector has done and cut itself to a suitable size at which it can operate.
If we did the same as we do in the nuclear industry and subsidise coal stocks to the tune of £1 billion a year, we could sell it abroad more cheaply, just as our competitors in Australia, America and South Africa, who are subsidised, do.
The hon. Gentleman talks about subsidies. The industry has had enormous subsidies to the tune of £20 billion over the years. Those subsidies came from the taxpayer. The hon. Gentleman must take that point into account and be realistic. We do not like a local industry to be shut down or diminished, but that is sometimes inevitable because of the state of the market. However, the miners are not responsible for that; we should blame the management, that is British Coal or the National Coal Board, as it was. The experiment was tried for many years but it was not satisfactory. There is no way out of our plight.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the nuclear levy. I was a member of the Committee which considered the electricity legislation. I argued strongly, with the support of the Labour party, that we should keep the nuclear industry in state hands because of the implications and repercussions that were likely to arise. It had to be made a viable industry. It was decided that the best way to do that would be to have a nuclear subsidy or a nuclear levy. That is set out in the Act. The chairman of the nuclear power body has recommended that, over the next two or three years, it is to be discontinued. Therefore, the industry will cease to be subsidised. It will be as competitive as any other section of private enterprise.
Over about three or four years, I would welcome the elimination of the so-called subsidy, but we should remember that money has to be put aside for the retiring of nuclear power plants. We live in a competitive world. Electricity is produced not only from coal. A little is produced from oil, and more and more is produced from natural gas, which seems to be the in thing these days. The various products must be competitive.
We are asking the private sector, "If you take over certain branches of the industry, can you compete successfully?" They say that they can. In the five areas in which licences are to be granted, some of the deep mines and some of the opencast systems should be linked. A combination of both would make them satisfactory.
The hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell) mentioned opencast mining. Opencast mining has produced about 60 million tonnes of coal. Much of the mining in the United States of America, Australia, South Africa and elsewhere is opencast. We must compete with that. Mining in the United Kingdom is principally underground, and it is very expensive.
With regard to opencast mining, hon. Members should remember that we have not only the precedent from abroad but the profitability of it. If we had opencast mining, we would be able to compete with South Africa, Australia and the United States. We would be able to compete with Peabody. Hon. Members should bear in mind the fact that opencast mining is not eliminated, although there will be continuous planning difficulties to get an operation going. In view of some of the restoration work that has been undertaken over the years, full congratulations must go to the companies involved for what they have done to reinstate the land.
The hon. Gentleman is talking about a subject which I have closely monitored in my constituency. Coal in opencast mines can be reached at any time in the next century because it can be dug up quite easily. But once mines are shut, millions of tonnes of coal disappear. If it is too expensive to open new mines, the coal will disappear, never to be mined again. The hon. Gentleman is advocating opencast mining and locking away millions of tonnes of coal underground.
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for making that point. Of course, the coal is readily recoverable—the overburden is removed and the coal is taken out when it is needed. My primary aim is to keep miners in jobs. I am sure that a change of ownership would be much more successful because it would make the industry more prosperous.
I shall refer briefly to one or two points that I have in mind. These are problems largely for the Government. There are enormous stocks at the pithead and in the hands of the power-generating companies. When the new licensees take over, what will be the allocation for the liabilities of those stocks because they could be a burden on the market for many years? I agree with everything that has been said about the problem of pollution. The polluter pays, and it could be expensive. Will the licensees be responsible for such problems? Anyone who takes over an area will be concerned about subsidence. Subsidence can occur at any time in any area. Some of the developments are near towns and villages and can be very expensive. During the passage of the Electricity Bill, I told the Government that one of the principal difficulties in having nuclear power in the privatisation programme would be the unlimited liability which could visit the companies. Will the licensees who are prepared to take over and receive grants be fully compensated for the subsidence which is likely to occur in 20, 30, 40 or 50 years?
Another point that I shall raise briefly is the size of the market which is left. Over the years, we have heard many analyses. A few years ago, Rothschild talked about production in the United Kingdom falling to about 30 million tonnes, and other estimates have been given. I hope that we will not take the mining industry down too far. If we do, it will cease to be as viable as we hope it will become, and it may become more economical to buy more coal of the right quality from abroad.
Now that we are fully participating in Europe, and as most EC countries do not have high-quality coal of their own, I hope that an earnest attempt will be made to pressure the Europeans to take some of our indigenous material. Who are the European producers? Coal is produced mostly in Germany, with small amounts produced in France and Spain. Most parts of Europe do not have coal, and we have the benefit of large quantities of it. I do not want to see resources wasted over the years. If we can get our costs right, and the Minister is determined to secure this, I hope that we will have a thriving industry in the future.
The question we must ask is, why is the Bill being introduced? Is it being introduced because it will bring about greater efficiency? No. Productivity has increased by 500 per cent. since the industry was nationalised and rescued by public ownership in 1947. Let us remember that in 1947 private mine owners begged the Labour Government to take over the mines and nationalise them, as was done. Recently, productivity increases have been spectacular, so the Bill is nothing to do with efficiency.
Is the Bill being introduced to save taxpayers' money? No. If we examine its financial effects, we see that there is a continuing subsidy of at least £1 billion until the end of the century—£1 billion will be used to prop up this private industry. On top of that, the Government have provided grant aid totalling £3 billion. Also, literally billions of pounds have been spent on redundancy costs for miners who lost their jobs. The 26,000 miners who have lost their jobs since the President of the Board of Trade started to sentence the industry to death in October 1992 have cost the state £234 million in terms of unemployment benefit, lost revenue, and so on. The costs of subsidising a privatised mining regime are mounting.
There are other costs as well. Documents in the Library show that it costs £1 million a year, on average, to keep pits mothballed while awaiting privatisation. The new Coal Authority established in the Bill will not be cash-limited. That is made perfectly clear in schedule 1, which states:
The Secretary of State shall, in respect of each accounting year, pay to the Authority such amount as he may determine to be the amount required by the Authority for the carrying out during that year of its functions under this Act.
It is not cash-limited. Potentially, a large amount of money is being made available to the Coal Authority to prop up this privatised regime.
What we will see is a total cost to the taxpayer that is many times more than what the Select Committee on Trade and Industry said would be required to subsidise British Coal over a couple of years so that it could become fully competitive and compete on a level playing field with the rest of the world. Therefore, this is not about savings to the taxpayer.
Is it about a coherent energy policy? Of course not. If the coal industry is privatised, it will pursue its own narrow private interests, as the electricity industry has done since it was privatised. In turn, privatisation of the electricity industry has been responsible for the death of the coal industry over which the Government are presiding.
Privatisation of the energy industry has been responsible for the damaging effects on all our energy resources. About 15 years' worth of our precious gas reserves in the North sea oil shelf have been depleted as a result of gas-fired power stations and the dash for gas, which is totally unsuitable as a fuel for a power station base load. Our reserves have been wasted. The Government are depleting our precious natural gas reserves, which should be directed at domestic and industrial heating.
The Bill is not about a coherent energy policy—that certainly would not come from the Government. They have allowed coal imports to rise by almost five times since 1983, from 4·5 million tonnes to 20 million tonnes a year. That is damaging to the balance of payments and causes difficulties for our economic policy.
The Bill is not about energy policy. Is it about protecting the environment? No, because one of the consequences of privatisation will be the acceleration of the dash for opencast mining at the expense of deep mining. We have seen all the destructive environmental consequences of that in recent years.
In my constituency, it is interesting to see the contrast between British Coal's applications for opencast work at Selar—one of the largest sites ever to be worked in Britain, at the top of the Neath valley—and the situation at Tower colliery, the last British Coal pit in south Wales. Tower has been slimmed down, ready for privatisation, and its production has been cut as opencast mining has been opened up. That gives some idea of the real priorities of the privatisation of coal.
The Bill is not about any of those things. It is really about giving freebies to the friends of the Government who want to set up companies to take advantage of the privatisation of coal. It is also about the long-standing vendetta of the Conservative party against the mineworkers and, in particular, their trade union. It is about the dogma that allows crucial and strategic industries which are vital to the nation's interests to be subordinated to the concerns of shareholders, rather than to act in the wider public interest.
The way it has been done is a scandal. The Government have pursued their strategy absolutely ruthlessly and have slimmed down the coal industry as a matter of deliberate policy to create a small industry for which the private sector would bid. I give the example of Blaenant, which was the last pit to close in Neath. My agent, Howard Davis, used to work there. The pit employed 600 men, and there is a familiar tale in what happened to it. For a long period, it was profitable. Then, 18 months before its closure, a new management team was brought in. That team set about destroying industrial relations and creating turmoil in the pit. It quickly slid from its profitable state to a deficit within six months of the team's taking over. That gave a good excuse for the pit to be closed.
An under-manager at Blaenant was so disgusted by what was happening that he walked off the site in disgust at his senior managers, a practice unknown in south Wales. The conditions that been created for the pit to close. How often have we heard that tale regarding pits across the country as the ruthless drive towards privatisation has been pursued?
The Bill means that we are now on the brink of one of the biggest scams of the century. The same managers who have run down the industry are now to bid for it, and they will reap the benefits as private managers and owners in a new private coal industry. The preparation for the privatisation of British Coal stinks to high heaven. We are seeing nothing short of a national scandal, where all the social costs of private mining are to be dumped on the state while the private owners skim the industry and make profits from it.
The Bill is about two things—protection of the past and planning for the future. So far as the past is concerned, I believe that the Bill does not give adequate protection for pensions, as was mentioned earlier in the debate. Representatives of the mineworkers pension scheme have made it perfectly clear that the Government have not satisfied them that they are interested in the future of miners' pensions. The issue of subsidence was addressed earlier, and that subject is treated absolutely cavalierly.
The pollution from old coal workings is also inadequately dealt with. For example, the Pellenna river, which flows through the former mining village of Tonmawr in my constituency, is a deep orange-brown colour. The river is literally disgorging into the surrounding rivers and the sea thousands, if not millions, of gallons of water which is heavily polluted with iron and sulphur. The pollution is ultimately seeping through into the water table. Lots of old mine workings are deeply polluted and there is no guarantee that the Bill will give local communities the protection that they need.
Another example was brought to light when representatives of Neath angling club approached me recently and took me down to the Neath river to show me a patch that was heavily polluted by an old Ynysarwed mine which closed in 1938. The pollution has just come' out into the Neath river. I approached the National Rivers Authority, Welsh Water and British Coal, none of which wanted to know. If British Coal does not want to know about a private pit that closed in 1938, imagine a private regime wanting to take responsibility for that. Yet that case shows that pollution from a pit that closed almost 60 years ago can suddenly come out of the ground and infect the local environment.
The Bill provides protection for neither the environment nor the many thousands of individuals and families who have benefited over the decades from the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation, the future of which is deeply threatened. A sword of Damocles hangs over it as a result of the Bill, which abolishes the Miners' Welfare Act 1952, through which CISWO was funded from within the industry. The Bill provides no alternative means of funding.
For how long will concessionary fuel continue to be provided? It is vital to the livelihood of many miners' widows and former miners' families, but it is not guaranteed in the long term.
I invite the Minister to come to my constituency, which has more private mines than any other constituency in the country. It has 36 drifts and levels employing from two to 140 men, totalling 450 miners. Ironically, that is double the number of miners now employed by British Coal in the whole of south Wales. I have strongly supported private licensed mines. I have appealed to the Welsh Office to give them grant aid and supported Ryans colliery's successful application to reopen the Vale of Neath railway line to transport coal by rail rather than clog up the roads. Under the Transport Act 1985, that mine received a grant of more than £6 million for that development.
Local private mines are an important part of the local economy, but almost all of them hark back to the turn of the century. In the past two years in my constituency, two miners have died and one narrowly escaped death and was paralysed from the waist down. Conditions are dreadful. Miners have no showers and, in Crugau colliery in particular, some are not even paid with proper payslips, which contravenes contracts under employment law. At Pentwyn colliery, miners who were working over the Christmas period according to their basic conditions of service were about to take the normal Christmas break to which they are entitled under law when the private owner simply sacked 20 of them. That is the kind of thing that will happen under privatisation.
Ponies are still used to bring the coal out of some of the collieries in my constituency. Forest colliery opposite my home in Resolven has two ponies called Amos and Prince, while Nant-y-Cafn colliery near Seven Sisters has a pony called Turbo. Pentwyn pit in Ystalyfera also has a pony. People do not believe that such conditions exist in 20th-century Britain. Those conditions of last century will come back with a vengeance if the Bill is enacted.
The safety problems in those pits are enormous. A survey by the Health and Safety Executive compares accidents in private pits with those in British Coal pits per thousand employees. A miner in a private pit is 23 times more likely to die than a British Coal miner. What reassurance can the Minister give on that? The Bill gives no reassurance. It is an exercise in going back to the future, as the finest deep-mine industry in the world is demolished, men's safety is threatened and lives are risked on the altar of the free market mania that has failed the rest of the British economy.
I shall be brief because we are at the tail end of the debate. My hon. Friends have covered many issues, including the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation, Mines Rescue, pensions and the importation of coal; therefore, I shall deal with just two matters.
I have written to the Minister about the composition of the Coal Authority, which will have many powers if privatisation goes ahead. In the context of controls on opencast extradition, will it give licences to all and sundry or will that be pre-empted by the overall sale of large packets or areas of land with opencast potential? With a nod and a wink, potential buyers will get a licence anyway. Will privatisation be a bonanza for the asset strippers or cherry pickers who will concentrate only on opencast mining?
The Minister will not have the answers to those questions. We all worry about who will make decisions. I hope that they will not be made by the people who run British Coal or by ex-members of the British Coal board of management. There are qualified people in the industry and in the mining communities. Ex-miners, mines inspectors and even academics, university professors of mining, would have some credibility.
I said no; there was a misunderstanding.
I also wrote to the Minister about coal mine abandonment plans. I do not think that he is paying attention to me. Those plans are not being left in the areas where the extradition took place. In 1950, the Coal Board was given the right to take all the abandonment plans into the relevant areas. That was because the area representatives said that it would be handy to have these working plans of exhausted mines in one area to which there was access. They were in the Edinburgh area, but they are now in Midlothian, in my constituency. However, British Coal has now gathered them all together and taken them to Bretby.
It may be useful to have all the plans under one roof, but it is difficult for a mining surveyor or a private developer, who must examine such plans before development is allowed, to have access to them. I do not want those plans to end up under the jurisdiction of Group 4 or some such organisation, because if that happened people would have to pay to look at them. Half of them would probably go missing anyway—we know what happened to prisoners. Even academics who want to study the plans would not have access to them. Perhaps the Minister will consider that point.
I asked the Secretary of State for Scotland about the matter and he said that it had to do with British Coal. That is not the case, because these plans relate to the heritage of the Scots, the Welsh, the people of the north-east and others in Britain. The plans do not belong to British Coal. They belong to the people, and people should have access to them.
Anybody who knows the technicalities will appreciate that colour slides are not good enough. We have to look at the plans carefully because their age makes the shades appear to be on top of each other. Obviously, it is a complicated and difficult plan and it is possible to find things one was not looking for. I am asking the Minister whether the Coal Authority could be responsible for these matters and whether the position could be reversed so that the plans are sent back to Scotland or elsewhere.
Like many other people from Scotland, I feel that the Bill is a bit of a post mortem on the coal industry. A great industry has been decimated, and Conservative Members have voiced many inaccuracies today.
The miners were heroes in the first and second world wars. After the second world war, the coal industry gave up. The miners worked five-day weeks and 11-day fortnights. They produced coal for Britain and sold it to industry. They put British industry back on its feet. British Coal sold coal at a lower price. It imported United States coal and sold it at local prices to keep industry going. It could have used market forces to produce a surplus and it would not have had to take out the loans that were a millstone around its neck for many years.
I spent some time in the Library going through British Coal accounts dating back to 1979. There were many loans, and the interest on them was a millstone around the industry's neck. I know that, because every time we went to British Coal on an organised basis to negotiate wage increases, the management said that the company was not profitable because it had to pay back massive loans.
I will not bore hon. Members with the figures, but I can assure them that they go up and up. Page 8 of the NCB annual accounts for 1979–80 makes it quite clear that the national loans fund was on a 15-year term and that the borrowing was too inflexible to allow the nationalised industries to act commercially. We had blinkers, handcuffs and financial embargoes on the nationalised coal industry, which was not working properly.
Let us get the whole issue straight and put the blame where it belongs. Privatisation is a political decision, not an economic one. It is the politics and economics of madness to close down such an asset. [Interruption.] Yes, they are closing it down; it is a systematic closure. There is no argument about it. Hon. Members can go and see how many coal mines will be privatised.
Like many other people who spent their lives in the coal industry, I have nothing of which to be ashamed. It was an honest, hard-working and honourable job and the miners were the finest men I have had the honour to work beside. Many of them are retired now and remain in the communities. I am looking after their interests through the pension funds and elsewhere.
If the privatisation goes through and many other things happen, I want those people and their families to be protected.
In the 20 months since the general election, we have had many debates on coal, and many of them have followed the same track. We have had paving legislation, announcements on closures, calls for Government action, belated and irrelevant responses from the Government and disgraceful handling of safety arrangements. Now we reach what Conservative Members will regard as the final stage—the privatisation of coal and the Government's washing their hands of the whole issue.
In the immediate aftermath of the miners' strike, the Government ceded control of the coal industry to individuals in the corporation to lick it into shape in preparation for privatisation. Some said that the shape would consist of 12 to 14 pits employing about 10,000 men. Others wanted to sell it into private hands—perhaps their own—and have as big an industry as possible. In the event, the debate turned out to be academic, because the structure of the privatised industry was determined by the availability of cheap gas and subsidised nuclear power from France. As well as that, the electricity industry was privatised.
I seem to have been living on a different planet from Conservative Members, some of whom tell us that the privatisation of gas and electricity was the greatest piece of privatisation ever, while the other half tell us that coal should have been privatised before the other two. The Government's ceding of control and responsibility for the generation of power in this country is highly irresponsible, but that battle in many respects has been lost and we must try to make the best of a bad job.
In the period since the end of the strike, we have seen increased production, the cutting of costs and the reduction of prices in the coal industry. In the first week back at work this year, a figure of 10.26 tonnes per man shift was achieved for the first time ever. Last April, the figure stood at 8.23 tonnes per man shift. As has been pointed out, the record has been broken nine times in the past 10 months. Indeed, at Whitemoor colliery in the Selby complex, some 280 men cut 42.8 tonnes per man shift.
In the northern group alone, up to November last year, four pits were producing at less than E1 per gigajoule. In my constituency, the Longannet mine has been successful in achieving figures for price and quality that have enabled it to sign a five-year agreement with Scottish Power to take 2 million tonnes per annum from the colliery. Those are not the achievements of an industry on its knees. Those figures for cost reduction and production are not evidence of an industry that has lost its way. They are testament to effective public ownership. They are a vindication of the motives of those who nationalised the industry in the first place.
The Attlee Government nearly half a century ago saw the appalling record of the private coal owners, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Thompson) pointed out to us from his personal experience of working in what are alleged to have been the glory days of private ownership of the British coal industry. We tend to forget that, in the days when it was nationalised, coal was used for heating in almost every home in the country, not merely the 2.5 million of today. It was the fuel source for our railway system and our ships. It provided the coke for the gas and steel industry. It fuelled our electricity generation.
With markets like those, it must have taken a particularly spectacular form of incompetence in the private owners not to be able to run their industry at a profit or in a manner that was safe and which afforded the work force—[Interruption.] Fifty years ago, Conservative Members were not arguing in favour of private ownership of the coal industry—they were advocating public ownership. Fifty years later, the performance of the coal industry is such that members of the Labour party—the advocates of public ownership—have nothing to be ashamed of.
There are other aspects of the coal industry. Indeed, the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) a few moments ago showed that the safety of private mines stands very bad comparison with the figures and conditions that prevail within British Coal today, especially if one considers that, in 1946, 1,000 miners a year lost their lives. Between 1933 and 1942, the fatal accident rate was 1.3 deaths per 1,000 miners. Within the first five years of public ownership, that was halved. Today, it is now 0.13—one tenth the rate of 50 years ago.
Safety in private mines, then as now, is far worse. The accident rate is five times as bad in the private service. When we hear about the accidents in mines and about how good the record is, it nevertheless requires us to pay tribute, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) did tonight, to the Mines Rescue service. Some of us remain to be convinced—we shall raise this in Committee —of that service's future. It is not a cheap operation—and it requires sacrifices not only by employees but by employers in allowing their staff time off work to attend training courses and to be available whenever a disaster occurs. There must be guarantees about the continuation of that rescue service.
Under past private ownership, low priority was given to safety, but labour relations were also deplorable. I refer not only to disputes but to the demeaning, casualised nature of employment mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck. Contractors picked and chose their men, and security of employment, holidays and even basic days off were never granted in any systematic fashion. At the end of the second world war, there were few sincere voices raised against nationalisation. The view held today is that, since the industry is small and output low, it should be left to the private sector. The message today was that it does not matter who owns the coal industry because it barely has a future and will never regain its role even in electricity regeneration.
There are, however, vast reserves of coal in the United Kingdom. Estimates range from 40-plus years to an optimistic 230 years. Whatever figure is used, it cannot be disputed that, at current European consumption levels, Britain has half Europe's coal reserves and the cheapest deep-mined coal in the European Union. That point was made by the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, North (Sir T. Skeet), who mentioned the possibility of exporting United Kingdom coal to the European Union.
Perhaps it would be more sensible to make an arrangement with the French whereby they conceded third party status and we could use the interconnector to export British-generated electricity to Italy and Germany. That would be a more satisfactory way of using our surplus coal supplies. However, there is broad agreement across the House that the United Kingdom must make use of its reserves.
We all agree also that security of energy supplies will depend on a variety of fuels, and that the organisation of that portfolio will depend on proper investment levels being sustained. The danger inherent in a small coal industry under several owners is that there is likely to be insufficient critical mass to sustain the industry.
We have already seen the impact on the mining machinery industry of the decline in the home market, which has severely prejudiced the prospects of companies in that sector competing in the international market for mining equipment. A small, privately owned industry would have great difficulty supporting research and development.
Will the Minister for Energy indicate Government thinking on the coal research establishment, which is partly funded by European money in the form of the return of part of the levy on coal produced in this country? It would be ridiculous if the price of British coal were to reflect a levy from which this country cannot benefit. The CRC is not mentioned in the Bill, but it ought to be considered. It is one of the main coal industry research bodies in the world, producing valuable research for not only the United Kingdom and Europe but companies worldwide. It is essential to the industry's long-term future that the centre is protected.
The prospect of a small, privatised coal industry has attracted little interest from international companies with the resources to fund research and development. It is feared that the private operators who are interested in entering the business will be too small or too heavily indebted to have the resources for research and development, and will merely pursue short-term profit by rape and pillage.
Hon. Members have asked about pay and conditions, safety and related procedures. No doubt we shall return to those matters in Committee and on Report. The Bill's implications for existing employees are, however, almost overtaken by the scale of the responsibilities to be shouldered by the Coal Authority and future owners. As drafted, the Bill gives little comfort to pensioners. Some members of the latest group of former workers have already been exposed to unscrupulous insurance salesmen, who have encouraged them to contract out of the industry and adopt other pension schemes.
The Bill does nothing to resolve disputes with trustees about the disposal of surpluses, especially in the staff scheme. The assurances that have been given have not allayed the anxieties of existing staff about the safety of their contributions. If the Government are not prepared to guarantee future employment or redundancy arrangements, surely they can promise to protect the pensions of the existing work force from unscrupulous private owners.
An integral part of a mining pensioner's package is the concessionary coal scheme, but no one is yet convinced of the Government's present and continuing commitment to that scheme. I understand that the Minister answered a question about it yesterday. The matter will be scrutinised closely if and when the Bill enters its Committee stage; I do not think that a one-paragraph answer was sufficient to allay any of our fears.
Those who do not know the industry and the communities that depend on it do not realise the significance of the concessionary coal scheme. It is worth between £650 and £850 a year to the 160,000 people who receive coal and smokeless fuel, and some £270 a year to the 40,000 who receive cash in lieu. The scheme costs about £150 million a year. A number of my hon. Friends have referred to the blatant attempt to buy out that entitlement, and the failure to spell out tax implications of such deals to the elderly pensioners involved. The unscrupulous approach adopted by some parts of British Coal in its attempt to shed the burden must be scrutinised far more closely. I hope that the Minister will at least begin to consider that aspect this evening.
Such problems affect all hon. Members with former miners in their constituencies. Because of the degree of interdependence in mining, and the failure of private owners and the social welfare system to look after the needy, miners have been required to provide for themselves in the past.
Is it not incredible that the President of the Board of Trade did not refer once to the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation? In 1921, following the report of the Sankey commission, the Government of the day introduced legislation that placed a levy on tonnage; that levy was worth more than the Coal Board is paying now. Is it not almost beyond belief that the right hon. Gentleman did not mention such an important aspect of the matter?
Having been in the House for 15 years, I am no longer surprised by anything that the President of the Board of Trade says or does not say. It is significant, however, that in 1952 the incoming Conservative Government—on the back of coal nationalisation—introduced the Miners' Welfare Bill, which created the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation as we know it today. It plays an invaluable part in the lives of communities associated with the mining industry. Apart from the welfare institutions and the clubs, its regional system of social workers complements the social services. [Interruption.] Conservative Members who think that this is amusing should remember that, when the House faces further public expenditure cuts, it will be to voluntary organisations such as CISWO that people will have to turn in increasing numbers for the support that the social services, deprived of funds, cannot provide.
It has been suggested that in the next 25 years about half a million people will need the services of CISWO. Therefore, it is incumbent on the Minister to mention CISWO, even if the President of the Board of Trade does not consider it important enough to be included in his speech.
CISWO and British Coal Enterprise deserve a mention. Neither of them features anywhere in the Bill. Some of us have been sceptical about the contribution made by British Coal Enterprise, but we know that it has a loan fund of £50 million and a cumulative total of some £75 million in loans and grants. We do not want them to be jeopardised because we recognise that the level of unemployment in our areas is such that any help that we can get is welcome.
The Bill does not affect only individuals and the economies of the coalfield communities. Repeated reference has been made to the environmental consequences of mining. There has been discussion of the implications of stopping pumping in the north-east and Wales. There has been discussion of the significance of opencast mining and its irrelevance when we consider the importance of securing markets for deep-mined coal.
The Bill leaves many questions unanswered. We have yet to know the size of the industry that the Government propose to privatise. We do not know how many collieries will remain. We do not know whether proper security will be provided for the pensions and working arrangements of the people who will be left in the industry. But we know that the Government want to get shot of the industry. Indeed, when Lord Parkinson spoke in 1992 in the wake of the pit closures announcement, he made it clear that the closures were more about marking off the scores of the 1974 strike, which brought down the then Tory Government, than about a proper energy policy for Britain.
The Bill is not about a coal industry of the future. It is about a Conservative Government's revenge. The privatised remains of the coal industry, with contracts with the electricity generators of only three years, will not be attractive to the Peabodys or RTZs of this world. It could appeal only to companies such as Budge which operate rates of £3·50 an hour for a 10-hour day—a cut of 31 per cent. in wages. That is what is being offered at the Clipstone mine. It could appeal only to those who operate under safety regulations which will be bereft of the contribution of the mining deputy and in which safety will be paramount only so long as it is practicable to make it so.
Following privatisation, at the end of the contract, when the bankers and the men from the City have walked away with their profits, all that will be left will be the coal miners of this country, the vast reserves of coal and, if we are lucky, supplies of over-priced gas. And there will be one more thing, Madam Speaker there will be a Labour Government mindful of their responsibility to provide a national energy policy in which the public sector will once again play its part. Until then, we must oppose the Bill. If we are defeated tonight, we must fight for changes in the Bill to protect miners, their families, the environment and the energy supplies of this country. I urge all those who believe that there is a future for coal to join us in the Lobby tonight to keep the nation's resources in the hands of the people.
We have had a good debate, with 25 hon. Members speaking, and I shall do my best to answer as many of their questions as possible. Without wishing to offend my hon. Friends and Opposition Members, may I say that my image of the debate is of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). He was in fine form.
He did not talk to the mining group of Labour Members of Parliament. No, he spoke directly to the Labour Front Bench and made an impassioned plea for the Labour party to prepare for government—but by doing what? By renationalising the British coal industry. The battle that he was fighting was not with his mining friends but with his Front Bench.
What was the best answer that the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) could come up with in response to that speech? He said, "Well, we might have a little bit of public sector involvement in the coal industry if we ever happen to get back into power." That was the best contribution that the Opposition spokesman could give the hon. Gentleman.
The hon. Member for Bolsover has a lot more work to do and I am delighted that he has some colleagues on his side, such as the hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell). I am not sure about the hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Cummings)—I am not even sure about me —but I am looking forward to the battle developing on the Labour Benches in Committee.
I must begin by picking up on some of the comments about the safety regime.
Will my hon. Friend cast his mind back 10 years, when we should have introduced this Bill but did not do so because there would have been a synthetic national strike by all those companies and businesses that had been denationalised and which now realise that the miners are coming in too late?
I agree. One of the tragedies that has befallen the mining industry is the way in which labour relations and the attitude of the Opposition have meant that the safety regime has come later to the private sector than to other parts of the energy industry.
I recognise that hon. Members on both sides of the House are concerned about safety issues. My right hon. Friend the President and I are absolutely determined that privatisation will not lead to a reduction in safety standards. Modern mining practice, new technology and a tough regulatory framework will ensure that the industry's safety record continues to be excellent.
I repeat that safety is, and will remain, the Government's paramount concern as we go through the privatisation process. No Conservative Member and no member of the Government will countenance any proposal that puts safety standards at risk. We therefore sought the advice of the Health and Safety Commission. That is why I announced in October that we would accept all the recommendations that the commission has made to us as we move towards privatisation.
If the Minister is as concerned as he says —we shall no doubt explore that in Committee—will he explain why the Government allowed the phrase
as far as may be practicable
to be repeated in almost every page of the new regulations governing safety in mines? Does he accept that the repetition of that phrase causes enormous dismay and deepening anxiety in the mining industry because it obviously provides a let-out clause for every sharp practice that may occur?
I utterly reject the hon. Gentleman's assertion. He knows perfectly well that the document to which he refers, the management and administration of safety and health at mines package, was put together by the Health and Safety Commission, which is a tripartite organisation and which, although I know that it was opposed by the union by which the hon. Gentleman is sponsored and with which he is associated, has generally been welcomed by other entities involved in safety.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not give way.
Several hon. Gentlemen, including the hon. Member for Clackmannan, have mentioned the mines rescue service. Having met some of the people who were associated with the work at the Bilsthorpe pit after the tragic accident there, I recognise that this is an important matter. The Health and Safety Commission has said that it intends to submit new regulations to the Secretary of State for Employment as soon as possible and extensive consultation will follow from that. That has already started.
The Health and Safety Commission's report states that a national rescue service, jointly operated by mine owners, appears to be the best way of meeting the fundamental rescue objectives after privatisation. I will take full account of that report when advancing our proposals for the industry.
A number of my hon. Friends and hon. Members have mentioned the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation.
I agree with the hon. Member for Bolsover and others that CISWO plays an important role. As I think has been recognised by the hon. Member for Doncaster, North (Mr. Hughes), I have been in discussion with CISWO's trustees and executives, as have my officials. I intend to carry forward those discussions. I recognise the importance of the areas of activity that were identified by the hon. Member for Bolsover, and I will make proposals in due course.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not give way, because I am trying to respond to several points that were made in the debate.
Several hon. Gentlemen, including the hon. Members for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping) and for Doncaster, North, mentioned the future of British Coal Enterprise Ltd. BCE's job creation activities will continue throughout the privatisation of British Coal and the Government will continue to support the funding of BCE's operations.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me. He did not leave me a lot of time.
My hon. Friends the Members for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) and for Elmet (Mr. Batiste) and the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) mentioned the possibility of a reference to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission and, connected with that, the possibility of the disposal of power stations by the generators. As I think the House knows, the Director General of Electricity Supply is considering all those issues. It is for him to seek agreement with the generators or to recommend a reference to the MMC, and we await his recommendations.
My hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme mentioned flue gas desulphurisation fitting, specifically at Ferrybridge power station. I think that he is aware that we have given section 36 consent for work on FGD fitting to take place and, as the company knows, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has the power to direct Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution to require the fitting of FGD in a specific case if he and the inspectorate consider it appropriate.
My right hon. Friend will obviously need to consider the issue. The stance that the generator concerned will take is not yet clear. I was pointing out to my hon. Friend that the powers are there.
The hon. Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Thompson) mentioned Alcan and the ownership of land around the Alcan plant. I know that the company is concerned about that matter. As he knows, I will visit the plant and hold discussions with management, and I am sure that that subject will come up.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) and my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet mentioned compulsory rights orders. We fully intend that procedures for compulsory access should be matters of the last resort. We are conscious of the need to balance the interest of the landowners and the need for compulsory access during what we recognise, under the terms of the Bill, is a temporary period of about five years.
The hon. Member for Clackmannan asked about the future of the coal research establishment and research and development funding. The Government are committed to expanding funding for clean coal technology. That was made clear in the White Paper, and the CRE is currently involved in many joint projects. We are aware of the issue that the hon. Gentleman raised about European funding, and we shall work closely with the CRE and with British Coal to find a way forward for that organisation.
Several of my hon. Friends, and Opposition Members too, asked about consultation on mineral planning guidance 3, and the relationship between that document and the compulsory rights orders. Of course, we are in consultation now on MPG3, and I shall ensure that the comments of my hon. Friends and of Opposition Members on opencast mining are conveyed to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.
My hon. Friends the Members for Elmet and for Davyhulme asked about compensation claims for industrial diseases when employees transfer to private sector purchasers. I assure them that what they have said, both during the debate and previously, has been taken on board and that we are examining those matters closely.
Many hon. Members asked about pensions. The Government are determined to guarantee existing pension arrangements, and we also guarantee index linking. We have made it clear that beneficiaries should be able to benefit from any surplus on a 50:50 basis. We are taking part in discussions and shall shortly enter further discussions with the trustees about the balance between protecting the interests of taxpayers and protecting those of beneficiaries. I look forward to the discussion in Committee on concessionary fuel. As I said, we made an announcement following the consultations.
Tonight we have heard the usual arguments from Labour Members. Yet again the Labour party seems to be bound to fail to recognise the realities that face the coal industry and the fact that the best hope for its future lies in the private sector. The hon. Members for Livingston and for Clackmannan both brought up the myth that the Conservative party supported the nationalisation of coal in 1946. I went back to the Hansard report of the debate, so let me tell the House what Mr. Eden said at the time:
What this Bill proposes to do is to set up a State monopoly for the production of coal, and that is all. Are hon. Members opposite"—
really certain that the bulk of their supporters are enthusiastic for such a monopoly; and are they sure that the evils of monopoly disappear, once it comes under the aegis of the State?"—[Official Report, 29 January 1946; Vol. 418, c. 718.]
Winding up for the Conservatives, Mr. Macmillan said —[Interruption.] Labour Members should listen; Mr. Macmillan said:
What about the relations between the National Union of Mineworkers and the Socialist machine? That is more than a friendship. It is a marriage which I am sure Transport House will be careful never to dissolve so long as the sums under the marriage settlement are regularly and punctually paid, whether they are voluntarily subscribed or compulsorily extorted."—[Official Report, 30 January 1946; Vol. 418, c. 958.]
Mr. Macmillan and Mr. Eden got it right. The history of the British coal industry has been bedevilled by that incestuous relationship between the National Union of
Mineworkers and the Labour party. Even now Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen cannot shake off the shackles of that relationship.
Over the past 18 months or so, there has been an intense debate in the House and elsewhere about the future of our energy industries in general, and of the coal industry in particular. Many organisations have put forward their views in a constructive way. Most noticeable was the thorough and helpful report from the Trade and Industry Select Committee. We are also grateful to those who responded on the issues of pensions and concessionary fuel.
Throughout that time, there has been one voice missing from the debate. We have not had a single constructive idea, not a single policy, not a single commitment from Labour party. We are told by the press that the Labour party is now being pulled, kicking and screaming, into the late 20th century. When will the Labour party have the guts to say anything positive at all on energy? There are those who say that it is fear that stops the Labour party from coming out with its views on energy. It is fear, some say, of the hon. Member for Bolsover. It is fear, others say, of a union leader whose union has not negotiated with management on a single issue since 1984.
The union's, I suggest. Listen. The right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock), the ex-Leader of the Opposition, had it in for him. He summoned the courage in June to tell David Frost just what he thought of Mr. Scargill. The Independent headline heralded, "Kinnock says Scargill to blame over pit closures." The right hon. Gentleman said:
The way in which his part in the leadership of the NUM conducted the argument did ensure, in my view, first of all that the prophecy of massive mine closures came true".
The 'question that the Labour party must answer is., if the Leader of the Opposition could say that in June 1993, where was such a statement during the strike of 1984–85? Why did not the Labour party make obvious then the position that was made obvious nine years later? Why did not it say something when it really mattered during that strike? The hon. Member for Bolsover may not have liked it, but perhaps the mining industry would have benefited from it.
Perhaps I am being too harsh. perhaps it is not mere fear from which Opposition Front Benchers suffer, but stubbornness. Perhaps the Labour party and the hon. Member for Livingston recognise the overriding advantage of a market-based energy policy but are simply too stubborn to admit it, are too stubborn to own up to it and are too stubborn to acknowledge the success that privatisation and competition have brought to other industries. Perhaps they are too stuck in the past and too stubborn to concede that the private sector offers the best and the only chance for coal.
I must give the hon. Member for Livingston his due. He did once have a definite view. He published a policy called "No Nukes", which stated that nuclear power was unneeded and uneconomic. That was in 1981. He once had a policy back in those heady days of 1981—but not now. He has not answered any of the questions that we have put to him from the Government Front Bench.
I want answers to my questions. Is the Labour party going to pour taxpayers' money into keeping uneconomic pits open? Is it committed to renationalisation? Privatisation is the way forward.
|Division No. 74]||[9.59 pm|
|Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)||Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)|
|Alexander, Richard||Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North)|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)||Baldry, Tony|
|Allason, Rupert (Torbay)||Banks, Matthew (Southport)|
|Amess, David||Banks, Robert (Harrogate)|
|Arbuthnot, James||Bates, Michael|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Batiste, Spencer|
|Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)||Bellingham, Henry|
|Ashby, David||Bendall, Vivian|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Beresford, Sir Paul|
|Atkins, Robert||Biffen, Rt Hon John|
|Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E)||Blackburn, Dr John G.|
|Body, Sir Richard||Fry, Sir Peter|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Gale, Roger|
|Booth, Hartley||Gallie, Phil|
|Boswell, Tim||Gardiner, Sir George|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia||Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan|
|Bowden, Andrew||Garnier, Edward|
|Bowis, John||Gill, Christopher|
|Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes||Gillan, Cheryl|
|Brandreth, Gyles||Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair|
|Brazier, Julian||Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles|
|Bright, Graham||Gorman, Mrs Teresa|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||Gorst, John|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)||Grant, Sir A. (Cambs SW)|
|Browning, Mrs. Angela||Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)|
|Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)||Greenway, John (Ryedale)|
|Budgen, Nicholas||Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)|
|Burns, Simon||Grylls, Sir Michael|
|Burt, Alistair||Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn|
|Butler, Peter||Hague, William|
|Butterfill, John||Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie|
|Carlisle, John (Luton North)||Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Hampson, Dr Keith|
|Carrington, Matthew||Hanley, Jeremy|
|Carttiss, Michael||Hannam, Sir John|
|Cash, William||Hargreaves, Andrew|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Harris, David|
|Churchill, Mr||Haselhurst, Alan|
|Clappison, James||Hawkins, Nick|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)||Hawksley, Warren|
|Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ruclif)||Hayes, Jerry|
|Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey||Heald, Oliver|
|Coe, Sebastian||Heath, Rt Hon Sir Edward|
|Colvin, Michael||Heathcoat-Amory, David|
|Congdon, David||Hendry, Charles|
|Conway, Derek||Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael|
|Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)||Hicks, Robert|
|Coombs, Simon (Swindon)||Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence L.|
|Cope, Rt Hon Sir John||Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)|
|Cormack, Patrick||Horam, John|
|Couchman, James||Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter|
|Cran, James||Howard, Rt Hon Michael|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)||Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)|
|Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)||Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)|
|Davies, Quentin (Stamford)||Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)|
|Davis, David (Boothferry)||Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W)|
|Day, Stephen||Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)|
|Deva, Nirj Joseph||Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)|
|Devlin, Tim||Hunter, Andrew|
|Dickens, Geoffrey||Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas|
|Dicks, Terry||Jack, Michael|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Jackson, Robert (Wantage)|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Jenkin, Bernard|
|Dover, Den||Jessel, Toby|
|Duncan, Alan||Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey|
|Duncan-Smith, Iain||Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)|
|Dunn, Bob||Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr)|
|Durant, Sir Anthony||Jopling, Rt Hon Michael|
|Dykes, Hugh||Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine|
|Eggar, Tim||Key, Robert|
|Elletson, Harold||Kilfedder, Sir James|
|Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter||King, Rt Hon Tom|
|Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)||Kirkhope, Timothy|
|Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)||Knapman, Roger|
|Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)||Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)|
|Evans, Roger (Monmouth)||Knight, Greg (Derby N)|
|Evennett, David||Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)|
|Faber, David||Knox, Sir David|
|Fabricant, Michael||Kynoch, George (Kincardine)|
|Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas||Lait, Mrs Jacqui|
|Fenner, Dame Peggy||Lamont, Rt Hon Norman|
|Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)||Lang, Rt Hon Ian|
|Fishburn, Dudley||Lawrence, Sir Ivan|
|Forman, Nigel||Legg, Barry|
|Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)||Leigh, Edward|
|Forth, Eric||Lennox-Boyd, Mark|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman||Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)|
|Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)||Lidington, David|
|Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)||Lilley, Rt Hon Peter|
|Freeman, Rt Hon Roger||Lloyd, Rt Hon Peter (Fareham)|
|French, Douglas||Luff, Peter|
|MacGregor, Rt Hon John||Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)|
|Maclean, David||Shersby, Michael|
|McLoughlin, Patrick||Sims, Roger|
|McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick||Skeet, Sir Trevor|
|Madel, Sir David||Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)|
|Maitland, Lady Olga||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Major, Rt Hon John||Soames, Nicholas|
|Malone, Gerald||Speed, Sir Keith|
|Mans, Keith||Spencer, Sir Derek|
|Marland, Paul||Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)|
|Marlow, Tony||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Marshall, John (Hendon S)||Spink, Dr Robert|
|Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)||Spring, Richard|
|Martin, David (Portsmouth S)||Sproat, Iain|
|Mates, Michael||Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)|
|Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian||Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Mellor, Rt Hon David||Steen, Anthony|
|Merchant, Piers||Stephen, Michael|
|Milligan, Stephen||Stern, Michael|
|Mills, Iain||Stewart, Allan|
|Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)||Streeter, Gary|
|Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW)||Sumberg, David|
|Moate, Sir Roger||Sweeney, Walter|
|Monro, Sir Hector||Sykes, John|
|Montgomery, Sir Fergus||Tapsell, Sir Peter|
|Moss, Malcolm||Taylor, Ian (Esher)|
|Needham, Richard||Taylor, John M. (Solihull)|
|Neubert, Sir Michael||Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)|
|Newton, Rt Hon Tony||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Thomason, Roy|
|Nicholson, David (Taunton)||Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)|
|Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)||Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)|
|Norris, Steve||Thurnham, Peter|
|Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Oppenheim, Phillip||Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)|
|Ottaway, Richard||Tracey, Richard|
|Page, Richard||Tredinnick, David|
|Paice, James||Trend, Michael|
|Patnick, Irvine||Trotter, Neville|
|Patten, Rt Hon John||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Pawsey, James||Viggers, Peter|
|Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth||Waldegrave, Rt Hon William|
|Pickles, Eric||Walden, George|
|Porter, Barry (Wirral S)||Waller, Gary|
|Porter, David (Waveney)||Ward, John|
|Portillo, Rt Hon Michael||Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)|
|Powell, William (Corby)||Waterson, Nigel|
|Rathbone, Tim||Watts, John|
|Redwood, Rt Hon John||Wells, Bowen|
|Ronton, Rt Hon Tim||Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Richards, Rod||Whitney, Ray|
|Riddick, Graham||Whittingdale, John|
|Rifkind, Rt Hon. Malcolm||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Robathan, Andrew||Wiggin, Sir Jerry|
|Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn||Wilkinson, John|
|Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)||Willetts, David|
|Robinson, Mark (Somerton)||Wilshire, David|
|Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)||Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)|
|Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)||Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)|
|Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela||Wolfson, Mark|
|Ryder, Rt Hon Richard||Wood, Timothy|
|Sackville, Tom||Yeo, Tim|
|Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim||Young, Rt Hon Sir George|
|Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas|
|Shaw, David (Dover)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)||Mr. Sydney Chapman and Mr. Andrew MacKay.|
|Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian|
|Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy|
|Adams, Mrs Irene||Ashton, Joe|
|Ainger, Nick||Austin-Walker, John|
|Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)||Banks, Tony (Newham NW)|
|Allen, Graham||Barnes, Harry|
|Alton, David||Barron, Kevin|
|Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)||Battle, John|
|Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)||Bayley, Hugh|
|Armstrong, Hilary||Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret|
|Beith, Rt Hon A. J.||Garrett, John|
|Bell, Stuart||George, Bruce|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Gerrard, Neil|
|Bennett, Andrew F.||Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John|
|Benton, Joe||Godman, Dr Norman A.|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Godsiff, Roger|
|Berry, Dr. Roger||Golding, Mrs Llin|
|Betts, Clive||Gordon, Mildred|
|Blair, Tony||Gould, Bryan|
|Blunkett, David||Graham, Thomas|
|Boateng, Paul||Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)|
|Boyes, Roland||Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)|
|Bradley, Keith||Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Grocott, Bruce|
|Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E)||Gunnell, John|
|Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)||Hain, Peter|
|Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)||Hall, Mike|
|Burden, Richard||Hanson, David|
|Byers, Stephen||Hardy, Peter|
|Caborn, Richard||Harman, Ms Harriet|
|Callaghan, Jim||Harvey, Nick|
|Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)||Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy|
|Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)||Henderson, Doug|
|Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)||Heppell, John|
|Campbell-Savours, D. N.||Hill, Keith (Streatham)|
|Canavan, Dennis||Hinchliffe, David|
|Cann, Jamie||Hoey, Kate|
|Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry)||Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)|
|Chisholm, Malcolm||Home Robertson, John|
|Clapham, Michael||Hood, Jimmy|
|Clark, Dr David (South Shields)||Hoon, Geoffrey|
|Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)||Howarth, George (Knowsley N)|
|Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)||Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)|
|Clelland, David||Hoyle, Doug|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)|
|Coffey, Ann||Hughes, Roy (Newport E)|
|Cohen, Harry||Hughes, Simon (Southwark)|
|Cook, Frank (Stockton N)||Hutton, John|
|Cook, Robin (Livingston)||Ingram, Adam|
|Corbett, Robin||Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)|
|Cousins, Jim||Jamieson, David|
|Cox, Tom||Janner, Greville|
|Cryer, Bob||Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)|
|Cummings, John||Jones, leuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)|
|Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)||Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)|
|Dafis, Cynog||Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)|
|Darling, Alistair||Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)|
|Davidson, Ian||Jowell, Tessa|
|Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)||Keen, Alan|
|Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)||Kennedy, Charles (Ross,C&S)|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)||Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn)|
|Denham, John||Khabra, Piara S.|
|Dewar, Donald||Kilfoyle, Peter|
|Dixon, Don||Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil (Islwyn)|
|Dobson, Frank||Kirkwood, Archy|
|Donohoe, Brian H.||Leighton, Ron|
|Dowd, Jim||Lestor, Joan (Eccles)|
|Dunnachie, Jimmy||Lewis, Terry|
|Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth||Litherland, Robert|
|Eagle, Ms Angela||Livingstone, Ken|
|Eastham, Ken||Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)|
|Enright, Derek||Llwyd, Elfyn|
|Etherington, Bill||Lynne, Ms Liz|
|Evans, John (St Helens N)||McAllion, John|
|Ewing, Mrs Margaret||McAvoy, Thomas|
|Fatchett, Derek||McCartney, Ian|
|Faulds, Andrew||Macdonald, Calum|
|Field, Frank (Birkenhead)||McFall, John|
|Fisher, Mark||McKelvey, William|
|Flynn, Paul||Mackinlay, Andrew|
|Foster, Rt Hon Derek||McLeish, Henry|
|Foster, Don (Bath)||Maclennan, Robert|
|Foulkes, George||McMaster, Gordon|
|Fraser, John||McNamara, Kevin|
|Fyfe, Maria||McWilliam, John|
|Galbraith, Sam||Madden, Max|
|Gapes, Mike||Maddock, Mrs Diana|
|Mahon, Alice||Roche, Mrs. Barbara|
|Mandelson, Peter||Rogers, Allan|
|Marek, Dr John||Rooker, Jeff|
|Marshall, David (Shettleston)||Rooney, Terry|
|Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)||Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)|
|Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)||Rowlands, Ted|
|Martlew, Eric||Ruddock, Joan|
|Maxton, John||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Meacher, Michael||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert|
|Michael, Alun||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)||Short, Clare|
|Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)||Simpson, Alan|
|Milburn, Alan||Skinner, Dennis|
|Miller, Andrew||Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)|
|Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)||Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)|
|Moonie, Dr Lewis||Smith, Rt Hon John (M'kl'ds E)|
|Morgan, Rhodri||Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)|
|Morley, Elliot||Snape, Peter|
|Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wy'nshawe)||Soley, Clive|
|Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)||Spearing, Nigel|
|Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||Spellar, John|
|Mowlam, Marjorie||Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)|
|Mudie, George||Steel, Rt Hon Sir David|
|Mullin, Chris||Steinberg, Gerry|
|Murphy, Paul||Stevenson, George|
|Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon||Stott, Roger|
|O'Brien, Michael (N Wkshire)||Strang, Dr. Gavin|
|O'Brien, William (Normanton)||Straw, Jack|
|O'Hara, Edward||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)|
|Olner, William||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|O'Neill, Martin||Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)|
|Orme, Rt Hon Stanley||Tipping, Paddy|
|Parry, Robert||Turner, Dennis|
|Patchett, Terry||Tyler, Paul|
|Pendry, Tom||Vaz, Keith|
|Pickthall, Colin||Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold|
|Pike, Peter L.||Walley, Joan|
|Pope, Greg||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|Powell, Ray (Ogmore)||Wareing, Robert N|
|Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E)||Watson, Mike|
|Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)||Wicks, Malcolm|
|Prescott, John||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Primarolo, Dawn||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)|
|Purchase, Ken||Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)|
|Quin, Ms Joyce||Wilson, Brian|
|Radice, Giles||Winnick, David|
|Randall, Stuart||Wise, Audrey|
|Raynsford, Nick||Worthington, Tony|
|Redmond, Martin||Wray, Jimmy|
|Reid, Dr John||Wright, Dr Tony|
|Richardson, Jo||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Robertson, George (Hamilton)||Mr. Alan Meale and Mr. Eric Illsley.|
|Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)|