Coal Industry

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:19 pm on 25th May 1995.

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Photo of Mr Richard Page Mr Richard Page , South West Hertfordshire 5:19 pm, 25th May 1995

I accept that the hon. Gentleman has a way of ploughing his own furrow with distinction. However, there was not the uniform enthusiasm when BCE was first created that was apparent in the House today.

It is well to remember that, since its inception in 1984, overall net financial assistance for BCE has totalled some £167 million—roughly £100 million for economic regeneration and some £65 million for resettlement of former British Coal employees. I reassure the House, particularly the hon. Member for Wentworth, that the Government are conscious of the need to ensure best value for money from the substantial investments that BCE has already made.

Options for the future have been raised by several hon. Members. It is important to ensure access to funding to allow the activities of BCE to continue. Access to European funding will be of prime importance. However, the availability of European regional development fund grant for coal areas is not dependent on the role of BCE. Applications from those areas can come from other sources such as local authorities and a range of other regeneration bodies.

In addition to the structural funds in eligible areas, the Government secured the highest allocation of any member state from the RECHAR II initiative. That money will make an important contribution to the economic regeneration of the coalfield communities.

Contrary to the impression that the hon. Member for Middlesbrough may wish to give the House and the nation, the Government have recognised, and do recognise, that during the past decade BCE has made a valuable contribution in assisting the regeneration of areas affected by coal closures. The Government and British Coal continue to explore the future options for BCE. I recognise the need expressed by the hon. Member for Sherwood for an early decision and, despite the detour around terminal 5, I recognise the point made by the hon. Member for Doncaster, North (Mr. Hughes).