Coal Industry

Part of Prayers – in the House of Commons at 10:33 am on 10th November 1999.

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Photo of Mr Bill O'Brien Mr Bill O'Brien Labour, Normanton 10:33 am, 10th November 1999

In the interests of brevity, I shall refer to just two issues that have been mentioned in the debate, and try to impress upon the Minister the need to consider seriously the issues that confront the industry. The first issue is that of jobs, which are influenced by coal stocks, as my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) said. Secondly, I want to draw attention to the interest in clean coal technology.

The Government could give assistance in both respects. The suggestion by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone should be seriously considered. We should be helping the coal industry by allowing coal to be delivered to power stations at a price equal to that of subsidised imported coal. I see no difficulty with that, and I shall state my reasons.

The development and engineering of clean coal technology would be in the interests of the country, especially the mining industry. That technology is proven. We had the Grimethorpe scheme, which, incidentally, was sold by the previous Government when we were so near to success. That was a crime. It was a sin on their part. If they had not sold the scheme, we could have been operating that system now. However, it is not too late for us to pursue that option.

In doing justice to the mining industry, we have no need to look for taxpayer's money. Since 1994, when the Government became guarantor of the mineworkers pension scheme and staff superannuation fund, more than £1,000 million in interest has been paid into the Chancellor's coffers. We could recycle back into the industry some of those funds—funds that have been paid by the miners and the industry in the past, and which are now being channelled into Treasury.

I make a plea to the Minister that we now need joined-up government. We need the Chancellor of the Exchequer to release some of the money that he has received, not from taxpayers as such, but from the industry. We could then set up a public-private partnership to develop clean coal technology. That technology is a success story, ripe for development, and there is no reason for us to delay in setting up a PPP. We could use the funds that have already been generated. Moreover, further funding from those pension schemes is guaranteed, because when they are revalued there is always an increase, which is paid to the Chancellor.