Future of Coal in the UK

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:36 pm on 3rd December 2020.

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Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Conservative, North East Derbyshire 2:36 pm, 3rd December 2020

Thank you for the opportunity to speak in the debate, Madam Deputy Speaker. I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Holden on securing it, and it is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Brendan Clarke-Smith. Even in the year when our attention has rightly been focused mostly elsewhere, it is important to have opportunities like today to speak on important subjects such as this. If there is one subject, as the grandson of miners, that I feel I am always compelled to speak about, it is coal: the substance that both literally and metaphorically my constituency is built upon.

I will come to our transition away from coal as a country in a moment, but before I do, I hope the House will not mind if I, like others, dwell for a moment on the transition that my community has made away from coal. For North East Derbyshire, coal was and remains a huge part of all our lives and our history. It is an industry on which a predecessor of mine, Tom Swain, said 55 years ago yesterday from a Bench somewhere here, coal is only possible

“by dint of hard work and hard thinking. It is an industry which is dependent on very strong men battling every day of their lives with nature.”—[Official Report, 2 December 1965;
Vol. 721, c. 1781.]

Even today, in North East Derbyshire, we mine. Hartington opencast in Staveley is, as far as I am aware, the last and largest opencast mine in England and will continue to produce coal until early 2021, when its regeneration is complete. I visited Hartington in the summer, by the kind invitation of John Wilson, and was enthralled and fascinated by it in equal measure. For a brief second, standing on the precipice of a canyon many metres deep, surrounded by this black gold, which has shaped our lives for generations, I felt a real link to my and our community’s past. When Hartington closes, it will be the closure of final chapter in a very long, illustrious and proud history.

While we remain proud of that heritage, life moves on and my constituency does, too. That is why we now must focus on the incredible challenge we have as a country to shape our new energy future. That all starts with agreeing a pathway to tread more lightly on this earth. The Prime Minister and the Government have inherited this commitment and have made a strong start towards achieving those aims and building on the progress already made, but in the short time I have left, I want to make three points on this hugely important area of policy. I know the Government understand those points and I am keen to see the wider public debate recognise and comprehend them, too.

First, I sometimes wonder if the gravity of what we are trying to do has really been fully comprehended. We are committed to basically re-engineering four centuries of our society’s foundations in a single generation; 2050 is the most incredibly ambitious timeframe and we cannot lose sight of that, as—I do not mean to be typically partisan—the Opposition Front-Bench team did last year in the general election by just plucking dates out of thin air. We have made much progress but we must not diminish the colossal nature of this endeavour.

Secondly, we cannot solve climate change through rationing and nor should we want to. The debate on the environment veers too often towards control and compulsion—it will not work. That is why I very much welcome the Government’s commitment to jet zero and green maritime, which are actual solutions to how we live today, not seeking to reduce that. If coronavirus teaches us nothing else, it teaches us what happens when activity is constrained, even for a short time. Degrowth is a nice debate to have in academic green circles, yet it has real-life implications. We should not exchange one forced retraction of our economy as a result of a pandemic for a debate on another one done voluntarily. Climate change will be solved by innovation, not impediments.

Thirdly, we should, like so many of my colleagues, recognise that this debate is nuanced. Steel and aluminium require coal on a temporary basis, and we should never forget that. Technology will solve this problem—give it time.