Thank you for calling me in this important debate, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is a debate that is very close to my heart, and to the hearts of many Members representing coalfield constituencies. I welcome the debate, congratulate Mr Holden on securing it, and thank the Backbench Business Committee for allocating the time.
My constituency of Easington has always been at the heart of UK coal, from peak coal production in the 1920s, to the role that my predecessor, Manny Shinwell, played as Minister of Fuel and Power in the post-war Labour Government, delivering the nationalisation of the industry on vesting day in January 1947 outside Murton colliery in my home village. But there was a cost to mining coal, and we suffered many tragedies; the most recent in my constituency, involving multiple fatalities, was the Easington Colliery pit disaster on
The miners’ collective spirit and solidarity secured pay increases in 1972 and supported miners and their families throughout the miners’ strike of 1984-85 in a valiant battle to save jobs and communities. Sadly, the miners did not prevail in 1984. Industrial east Durham at that time had near full employment, and that is what we want to return to, but to do so we require investment in health, housing, education and employment.
This nation’s wealth was built on coal and on the toil of miners working in dark and dangerous conditions. Let us not forget that we owe a debt of honour as a nation to the miners and their communities, those men who mined the coal that fired the engines of industry in the last century that made Britain great. As coal is phased out of UK energy production, we should never forget the sacrifice in lives lost and shortened; I think of my late father, my grandfathers and a dear friend of my father’s, Jimmy Grogan, a staunch trade unionist who sadly passed away yesterday.
The legacy of coal in the UK should be a new, bright, clean and green future for former coalfield areas. We should be exploring technology by ground source heat exchange pumps that have enormous potential in former coal-mining areas. The future of coal and the debt we owe the former coal-mining communities must include settling the historic injustices that former miners in coalfield communities still encounter, 30 years after the pits closed. As we consider the future of coal in the UK, let us use this time as an opportunity to amend these historical injustices in relation to the Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme surplus, justice for Orgreave and investment in coalfield communities.
I am pleased that the Minister is familiar with this issue, and I remind him that in the general election Labour had a manifesto commitment to a 90-10 share of the surplus from the Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme, and I am hopeful that the Conservative Government will honour the commitment given by the Prime Minister to a coalfield community in Mansfield.