It is a pleasure to follow Lee Anderson. I congratulate Mr Holden not just on securing the debate but on the work he does for coal and coalfield communities. I am delighted to speak in the debate as chair of the all-party parliamentary group for the coalfield communities.
It is clear that the role of coal in providing our energy in Britain has changed dramatically over the last number of decades. While it has rightly been said that coal usage is necessary in areas such as the steel industry, with coking coal for blast furnaces, coal-fired power stations now account for only 2% of our power. The country now faces the dual challenges of an escalating jobs crisis and the climate emergency, but there is an opportunity for the UK to show decisive leadership and renew its commitment to continuing to diversify energy sources, particularly as we come to next year’s United Nations climate change summit, COP26, which will be vital for driving a global movement towards cleaner fuels and industries.
The Government have announced that the remaining coal power stations will cease operations in the UK by 2025. If that is the case, we need to ensure a just transition for the sector’s workers and ensure that no community or region is ever left behind again in terms of accessing the skills and opportunities needed to thrive in clean industries. We also need to do more to end the billions of pounds in funding given to fossil fuels abroad, which damages our international credibility and makes no sense when we could produce some of them here.
There is a clear way to achieve that. Labour has called for a bold and ambitious green recovery for our country, proudly building the drivers of it right here in Britain, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs, boosting industries, making use of our rich industrial heritage and, in turn, fostering a better quality of life for our constituents. We are living through an age of industrial and economic transition and, as we rightly tackle the challenges, we must not repeat the mistakes that caused such devastation to communities like mine in St Helens and right across the north of England in the 1980s. The legacy of that is not just in economic and societal deprivation but in the illnesses that still scar our people today. Their continuing fight to access rightful support, fair pensions and compensation for former mineworkers and their families has been further compounded by the covid-19 pandemic. I pay tribute to the National Union of Mineworkers for its continuing work on that and draw the Government’s attention to issues around recording deaths during the pandemic to ensure that covid-19 does not mask existing conditions and prevent families of deceased miners receiving the compensation and recognition to which they are entitled.
The history of coal will always be entwined in this country’s industrial tapestry and remains an integral part of the identity of communities like mine in St Helens North, where the pits in Billinge, Parr, Rainford and Haydock helped fire the heavy industries of the UK. As the industry contracted in the second half of the 20th century, Parkside colliery in Newton-le-Willows in my constituency was the last pit in east Lancashire to close.
The report “The State of the Coalfields” last year presented a comprehensive evidence base on the need for ongoing Government intervention in our communities, based on the scale of the challenges that remain. It illustrated, shockingly, that if coalfield communities were a region in their own right—we make up around 5.7 million people—we would be the most deprived region in the UK. We know that life chances across the UK in relation to education, jobs, health and income have all been hit hard over the past decade, but in coalfield areas that has been amplified.
There is a historic debt to coalfield communities for the contribution and the sacrifices they made for the national economy, but also to compensate for the failure to support their post-industrial transition. We have rich histories, but also huge potential. We are proud of our past and ambitious about our future. I believe we can flourish again.