Coal Industry

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:53 pm on 25th May 1995.

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Photo of Mr Kevin Hughes Mr Kevin Hughes , Doncaster North 4:53 pm, 25th May 1995

After one false start we finally get to the blocks, as it were.

I welcome the opportunity to discuss this order, which will permit funding to be released for the costs of retirements, redundancies, retraining and new employment following the changes in the coal industry resulting from the privatisation of British Coal. The full cost of that privatisation in terms of jobs has been immense. Before privatisation the Government spent years encouraging the industry to run itself down to a small rump in preparation for the goal of selling it off. The Government's closure programme finished off the last two pits in my constituency—Bentley and Hatfield—and they had already closed down the Askern and Brodsworth collieries a couple of years before.

Taken together, the closures were nothing short of industrial vandalism on a massive scale. Closing profitable pits such as Bentley was economic madness. The jobs lost at Hatfield numbered 700, and 600 were lost at Bentley. That was a further blow to Doncaster's already damaged economy which, in the 1970s, relied on 10 pits and 18,000 mining jobs, not to mention all the other industries that worked in and about the mining industry.

Now the town is having to rebuild. I suppose that the little money from these orders will go towards helping it to do so. Incidentally, the Hatfield pit has reopened under a private management buy-out scheme, and is doing quite well selling coal that the Government said could not be mined or sold economically. The team at the colliery is doing well. I wish its members well and I hope that they will build on their success.

There has thus been some relief in the way of jobs, but not much. Only 200 people work at the pit, but every job is encouraging. Still, the unemployment rate remains well above the national average. What towns like Doncaster need is Government support to make up for the difficulties of the closures. We need more retraining and the creation of new jobs by attracting firms to Doncaster. The local authority has done a great deal in this respect. The town's amenities have been improved; it has good road links in the form of the M1, the M18, the M62 and the A1. The east coast main line runs through Doncaster, and we are developing a railport so that we can key into European railfreight.