§ Relevant documents: First Report of the Energy Committee, Session 1986–87, on the Coal Industry and the Memorandum setting out the Government's Response to that Report (House of Commons Papers Nos. 165 and 387).9.36 am
§ Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)
I beg to move,That this House recognises the specific problems of the coalfield areas, the high levels of unemployment, lack of job opportunities, falling investment and increasing poverty; regrets the Government's failure to respond to the plight of people as described in the Shelter report on housing, entitled Pits and Mortar; and calls on Her Majesty's Government urgently to look at ways of helping the coalfield communities as recommended by the Select Committee on Energy in its report on the Coal Industry, of Session 1986–87 (House of Commons Paper No. 165).I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House have read the motion in great detail. It is not about the coal industry—it is about the effects of changes in the industry and, more importantly, the effects on coalfield communities and the villages that surround coal mines that are working now or that have closed in the recent past. Not only Opposition Members represent people in coalfield communities. At the moment, 105 hon. Members represent constituencies that have coal mines, or have had them in the past five years.
The motion is critical of the Government's lack of action and of an economic policy that is adequate to sustain the coalfield communities after the rapid changes of the past five years. In 1981, 6.5 million people lived in coalfield areas of the United Kingdom. In each area, there are substantial local concentrations. The heaviest concentration is to be found in Yorkshire, where more than 1.3 million people live in coalfield areas.
The coalfields are unique in many senses. Mining has been highly localised in areas that have become almost exclusively dependent on this single form of employment. Close-knit communities have grown up alongside it, and the environment of our communities has been determined by the nature and history of the coal industry. The communities of the coalfield have relied on work in that 1310 industry being passed on from generation to generation, because there is not always diversity of industry in the coalfields.
Anything that affects the industry affects the whole community. In the areas in which the coal industry has declined irrevocably, new opportunities for work must emerge, but that will not happen as long as the environment is not conducive to the growth of new enterprises. There must be suitable sites, adequate services, good access to motorways and good living conditions— for homes, schools and leisure. There must be people with appropriate skills, and positive support for new industries.
In most of the older coalfields, these conditions do not exist. In 1981, about 250,000 people were directly employed by the industry. In addition, there were 70,000 to 100,000 jobs in related service industries. The severity of job losses in recent years has been unparalleled in the history of the coalfields. In recent years there has been a rapid acceleration in colliery closures. Between 1982 and 1987, 23 collieries have closed in the Yorkshire coalfield alone and in the six years from 1981 to 1987, 50 per cent. of total jobs nationally have disappeared.
Obviously, different regions have suffered different levels of job loss. In those few years Scotland has lost 72 per cent. of all its mining jobs, Kent has lost 70 per cent. and Wales has lost 55 per cent. That has left many areas with substantial unemployment problems. In my Rotherham area, more than one out of two coal mining jobs have been lost since March 1978. There are currently about 5,600 mining jobs in the Rotherham area. The threatened closure of the Manvers complex and the rundown of the Treeton colliery in my constituency will push employment in the industry down to below 4,600.
§ Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)
My hon. Friend will be aware that originally British Coal wished to close the Kilnhurst part and reduce the Manvers part to single-face working, with a substantial job loss. Is he aware of the recent suspicion that British Coal now wishes to close the whole of the Manvers complex?
Does he feel that that is perhaps due to British Coal's displeasure at having to have an inquiry? Will he ask the Minister to respond to the proposition that the devastated Dearne valley area should not have to bear further cruel and bitter loss, further destruction of hope and the corrosion of the very lives of our communities?
§ Mr. Barron
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) for that intervention. I concur with everything that he says. The Dearn valley area is one of the worst unemployment black spots away from inner cities — if not the worst. The Rotherham and Mexborough travel-to-work area that I shall mention later in my speech has been devastated by the rundown of basic industries. Obviously any closure of the Manvers complex on that scale, in addition to the closure in the last 10 years of the five coking plants in the Manvers complex, would devastate that area.
In my constituency, unemployment increased by 12.8 per cent. in the two years from February 1985 to February 1987. Nearly all of that can be attributed to cuts in the mining industry. Not only are unemployment levels rising, but, because of the nature of coalfield communities, there is a high and rising level of long-term unemployment. Over 45 per cent. of those out of work in my constituency have been jobless for more than one year.
1311 The figures of youth unemployment paint a very grim picture. There are seven electoral wards in the Rother valley constituency and they all have an excess of one third of people between the ages of 18 and 25 unemployed. A total of 2,149 young people in my constituency are registered as being out of work, and that figure does not include the many hundreds of people who are on youth training schemes or community programmes.
It is not surprising that youth unemployment is so high. In the past, many young people were recruited and trained by the coal mining industry, just as I was trained in the 1960s. That no longer happens. In 1986–87, British Coal recruited only 33 workers in the whole of the south Yorkshire coalfield, and recruited only 2,000 in the country as a whole. In 1978–79, over 20,000 were recruited to the industry. Not only do young people not get jobs with British Coal, but they no longer receive any training.
§ Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)
Does my hon. Friend accept that nationalised industries such as the Coal Board in areas such as Yorkshire and south Wales were the main trainers of young people? By way of electrical, mining and fitting apprenticeships, young people were able to develop skills. The privatised industries, such as British Gas and in future the electricity industry and in recent years British Coal, are not training young people. That means that unemployed young people have no skills, no options and no opportunities to go into developing employment.
§ Mr. Barron
My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) raises an important point. I was trained as an electrician in the coal mines in the 1960s and the idea of craft apprenticeships being offered in my constituency has been unheard of for well over four years. I highlighted this major problem in the industry during a debate that I had in the House in May on youth unemployment.
Young people were not trained as electricians and fitters and for other skilled trades merely for the coal industry. It is a major point that these people were trained and entered private industry in south Yorkshire. What remains of the training programme is now threatened because young people are not being taken on. Nothing has changed since I had that debate on youth unemployment in the Rother valley. Between April and September last year, only 38.4 per cent. of YTS leavers in the Rotherham area found full-time jobs, and over 36 per cent. of YTS leavers last year in Rotherham became immediately unemployed.
It is clear that permanent jobs for young people in that area have disappeared and the training schemes that are available are not proving to be a solution to that major problem. In March this year the number of unfilled vacancies in the Rotherham-Mexborough travel-to-work area was 364. That is one vacancy per 63 persons registered as unemployed, compared with the national figure of one per 15. Training and retraining is not just a problem for school leavers, but also for miners coming out of the coal industry in my area.
The jobs and career change scheme, which is a joint enterprise between British Coal Enterprise and the Manpower Services Commission, is an inadequate response to the urgent and pressing needs of our area. Very few people have taken up the retraining scheme and even fewer have completed the course. In September last year, only 447 people had commenced retraining and only 296 1312 completed it. It is no wonder that a report on the scheme Commissioned by the Coalfield Communities Campaign and carried out by the department of land economy at Cambridge university concluded:the British coal scheme is not adequate to meet the scale of the problem and that training opportunities in coalfield areas are fairly limited.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
Does my hon. Friend recall that, as a result of the confidence trick pulled by the Government in setting up British Coal Enterprise, the chairman of that organisation, Merrik Spanton, appeared before a group of MPs at a meeting that I chaired here just before the Recess? We asked Merrik Spanton to tell us precisely where the new jobs were in every constituency throughout the coalfields of Britain. We asked where the £30 million had gone. He would not give us a list, or place one in the Library. That scheme was set up in a flurry of excitement by the Prime Minister and the Government during the coal strike. It is a big confidence trick and no jobs have ensued. The Government ought to be surcharged for the use——
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
Order. Clearly, a large number of hon. Members are waiting to take part in the debate. Interventions must be brief and hon. Members who make them will be borne in mind when they seek to catch my eye.
§ Mr. Barron
I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) that I intend to go into the details of British Coal Enterprise. [Interruption.] He raises a good point about British Coal Enterprise Ltd. In reality, its setting up is the only way the Government have responded to the problems in any sort of direct fashion. When it was set up I think that I described it in the House as a knee-jerk reaction to the basic problems that had caused the 1984–85 miners' strike. It was set up in the summer of 1984 as an afterthought to respond to the plight of miners involved in colliery closures and the problems that that created in coalfield communities.
The major plank of the Government's success, or non-success, story has been British Coal Enterprise Ltd. and they place great store by its claim to success. The Government say that to date it has created just over 16,000 job opportunities. British Coal Enterprise Ltd. offers three main forms of help. Two of them have provided some aid to local authorities. It has contributed to the provision of managed workshops for small businesses and has supported the enterprise agencies. They are both limited but worthwhile areas of support for local authority initiatives.
The third form of help has been loans to companies, which has assisted in the creation of about 16,000 job opportunities in the coalfields since it began. However, it is impossible to check the accuracy of the figures that British Coal Enterprise Ltd. has produced, because it will not name the companies that it assists and it will not even provide a detailed regional breakdown. Loans average about only 15 per cent. of project costs and are never above 25 per cent. British Coal Enterprise Ltd. never initiates business development through its loan scheme. It tends to just marginally cut the cost of investment that would take place anyway.
1313 On current trends, British Coal Enterprise Ltd. will reach the stage where it has outstanding loans of about £50 million, which will stabilise as repayments are made and bad debts start to be written off. The cost to the Government to provide that amount on cheap terms at the most is about £3 million a year, or about 6 per cent. In addition, it spends about another £3 million a year on salaries, managed workshops and enterprise agencies.
Recent coal job losses have been in the region of 100,000 to 150,000, depending on definition. British Coal Enterprise Ltd. aims to offset those jobs at £6 million a year, over a period of eight years, at a total cost of £48 million. Even on the most generous assumption, it envisages spending £480 per job, or an average figure of about £300 per job, to relieve those jobs that have been lost in the industry. If it could achieve that miracle in job creation, it would be in demand all over the Western world. It is just not feasible that it can do it in that fashion.
Earlier this year, the House of Commons Energy Committee report, "The Coal Industry," reported positively about some of the industry's problems. It recommended that the resources allocated to British Coal Enterprise should more nearly match the size of the problems encountered in coal mining areas. The Committee concluded in paragraph 131:If the macro-economic and social disbenefits of the polices of the management of a strategic industry like coal outweigh the benefits to society of those policies, then it is the job of the government to right the balance by fiscal or other means.In the Government's response to the report, published in May just before the general election campaign, they dodged any direct response to that recommendation.
In paragraph 133, the Committee stated:The worst sort of indifference to the community is displayed when no proper opportunity is given to prepare for a closure.That obviously referred to colliery closures. It continued:The 1985 strike was precipitated by the decision to bring forward the closure of Cortonwood colliery where the NCB was regarded by miners as having broken an earlier promise to the community. There should be no further antagonising incident of this type. BC should give more warning when closures are imminent — their attitude at present appears somewhat secretive, even complacent, and we were distressed by the CCC's evidence that BC do not enter into a proper dialogue with local authorities on these matters, a criticism echoed by the Local Authorities Associations. This was the burden of a large part of the report of the independent review body which recommended a delay in the proposal to close Cadeby colliery. BC claimed in response that 'the arrangements under which the Board close collieries are more extensive in timescale and consultation with the workforce and their representatives than those of any other major employer in the country'. However, the Board must recognise the special vulnerability of mining communities which we outlined in the introduction to this report, and must take local authorities, responsible Government departments and statutory agencies into its confidence as soon as it begins to suspect that a colliery might need to be closed. Only by so doing will BC justify its claim to be 'like any good employer … extremely concerned about the impact of their operational decisions on both their employees and local mining communities'.The Government's reply in paragraph 5.2 of their response referred to a timetable of four to five months if those concerned decide to challenge a closure. However, if that challenge is not made, the closure will go ahead. That affects not just those who work in the industry but the whole community. It affects small businesses, local transport, pensioners, schoolchildren and women. A number of coal mines have been closed in the last two
1314 years by the dangling of carrots with massive redundancy payments. Even this financial year, if miners do not accept closures 13 weeks from the end of the financial year, people who were considering redundancy will lose the £5,000 carrot on top of current redundancy payments.
That is how British Coal is closing coal mines at present, with no respect to the problems caused in the communities. It is a disgrace that the Government have not responded positively to what the Select Committee, which has a majority of Conservative Members, felt that they ought to do.
The Select Committee also recommended that a special ministerial Cabinet Committee should be set up. The Government, in their response, said that there was no role for a Cabinet Committee, yet they have recognised the needs of inner cities and have set up a Cabinet Committee to co-ordinate the work of seven Government Departments to set priorities and oversee results. If the inner cities need that response to their problems caused by the Government—I do not deny that they need that real commitment — so do the coalfields, as they have similarly suffered, although they need different solutions to their problems.
§ Dr. Dafydd Elis Thomas (Meirionnydd Nant Convey)
Does the hon. Member accept that coalfield communities in the valleys of south Wales and the other areas that he has mentioned suffer similar deprivation to many of our inner city communities? Does he agree, therefore, that it is essential not only for there to be a special programme for those communities but also that regional policies should be more effective to ensure that resources are distributed effectively?
§ Mr. Barron
I was about to mention that point. If one took six of the villages in my constituency and put them together, they would have similar housing problems to those of any inner city that the Government are assisting. While many coalfield areas benefit from United Kingdom assisted areas status, substantial areas are excluded, which also excludes them from any existing European aid that may be available.
In paragraph 144 of the report, the Committee stated:it is far from clear that the present distribution of regional aid properly reflects the needs of the mining communities or the advantages of Community membership. We believe Government should have pressed harder to obtain a larger share of EEC aid and we urge a firmer determination to make more persuasive representations for additional assistance.The Government did not accept that recommendation, and in paragraph 5.10 of their response they describe the objectives of their regional policy, which are:to reduce employment imbalances between regions rather than dealing with particular sections of industry in decline.If that is correct, it begs the question: when unemployment in Yorkshire is increasing, particularly in areas that have traditionally relied on coal and steel, why have the Government cut regional development grants, at 1986 prices, from £58 million in 1978–79 to £21 million in 1986–87? At the same time, they have carried through a policy of deliberately running down the steel and coal industries that south Yorkshire has been built on for generations. While the Government may argue that regional development grants are not the only avenue of assistance, other forms of help have not succeeded. Rotherham, a borough that I represent, has an enterprise 1315 zone and also gets selected financial assistance from the Government. However, that has not stopped unemployment increasing.
The Government have rejected the idea of tax incentives as a means of attracting the private sector into areas of high unemployment, although there are some who claim that this policy has been successful in achieving urban renewal in the United States. During September, I visited West Virginia in the United States, which is a coal mining area with problems similar to those that are faced in my constituency. In West Virginia there is a partnership scheme between local authorities and the private sector, but the British Government are less disposed to recognise the role that local authorities can play. They often ignore local authorities, presumably for party political reasons, and in so doing display a lack of common sense. Partnership schemes could help areas that have suffered from the rundown of the coal and steel industries. Unfortunately, the Government seem to be prepared to allow these areas to become wastelands.
There is evidence of that attitude in the Government's neglect of the environment within coalfield areas. Last year, at the invitation of the Coalfield Communities Campaign, the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey), who was then an Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, visited coalfield communities in Yorkshire and north Derbyshire, including the one which I represent. He was quoted in the press as saying that he wasdeeply depressed by the experience and understood why people in the coalfield areas thought that current spending on restoring the coalfield environment was not enough to solve the problems of unemployment and increasing poverty in such areas.It was an honest appraisal from the then Minister. The fact that the hon. Gentleman now sits on the Government Back Benches — in other words, he does not hold a ministerial position — perhaps says much for the Government's attitude to the Coalfield Communities Campaign.
§ Mr. Michael Welsh (Doncaster, North)
The Coalfield Communities Campaign is directed to improving the quality of life in mining communities, and the Government show no desire to help. Does my hon. Friend agree that, if the Government are not prepared to help, they should allow local authorities to spend the moneys that they have in bank deposits as a result of selling council houses so that they can help to improve the quality of life and revitalise coalfield areas? Local authorities could use these moneys to buy old pit houses. Some of the miners who live in these properties do not know who owns them. The spending of local authority money would improve the quality of life and encourage new industry and commerce to come into the areas that we are discussing.
§ Mr. Barron
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. I can do no more than agree with him. Central Government ignore the plight of coalfield communities and prevent initiatives being taken locally by those who are concerned about the problems in their neighbourhood. It is difficult to understand the Government's approach.
Paragraph 142 of the Select Committee's report states:it is indefensible for British Coal to delay the return of derelict sites to economic productivity. We maintain that it is 1316 the responsibility of British Coal to liaise closely with local authorities to ensure the most rapid possible return of mining sites to productive use.It is well known that, in 1982, when the Department of the Environment's last national survey was undertaken, spoil heaps, excavations and tips — coalfield dereliction — accounted for 48 per cent. of Britain's derelict land that justified reclamation. If the associated dereliction as a result of railway closures is also taken into account, the coalfields' share of dereliction becomes even greater. The amount of dereliction has increased markedly as a result of the closures within the coal industry since 1982.
All the local authorities in coalfield areas have been running reclamation and environment improvement programmes in an effort to overcome the problems of dereliction and to make their areas more attractive to investors. Major improvements have been achieved, but the rapid rundown of collieries and industrial closures over the past seven years have overstretched these programmes. To the legacy of dereliction that stemmed from about 100 years of uncontrolled industrial activity has been added the new dereliction that has come from the recent wave of colliery closures. In addition, the rundown of the steel and shipbuilding industries has resulted in serious industrial dereliction.
§ Mr. Martin Redmond (Doon Valley)
Is my hon. Friend aware that British Coal has adopted a vicious attitude towards welfare schemes that our forefathers saw fit to introduce to improve the quality of life in mining villages? The board is seeking to sell off playing fields. Will my hon. Friend join me—I ask Conservative Members to do likewise—in condemning British Coal's approach to the welfare schemes?
§ Mr. Barron
I am pleased to join my hon. Friend in condemning what is happening in many mining areas. In the area which I represent, the local authority bought into welfare schemes during the late 1970s. These facilities are now under even greater threat because the Local Government Bill will oblige local authorities to put out their services to tender. In areas where the local authority did not buy in, miners in work had to pay a subscription to support welfare schemes. With manpower being run down, it is obvious that the schemes are in jeopardy. In many instances, they provide the only source of recreation. They must not be left to the vagaries of the market. Someone must step in and ensure that the recreation that the schemes provide stays within the Community. I hope that this issue will be taken up during the debate.
The Government's response to the problem of derelict land has been to ignore it or to leave it to others. Some successes have been achieved with the Scottish Development Association and the Welsh Development Association, but many areas of England leave much to be desired. Many in coalfield areas feel — I believe with some justification—that their communities are being left to decay. These are communities in which people must live, bring up their children, care for the elderly and work, if employment is available to them. These local people are part of the social fabric. The tasks that face them are becoming even more difficult, and one of the reasons is the Government's attitude, and that of British Coal, towards the sale of British Coal housing. The motion refers specifically to Shelter's report entitled "Pits and Mortar". It provides an excellent description of what is happening in many communities throughout Britain.
1317 Paragraph 132 of the Select Commiittee's report states that British Coalmanage their housing in a responsible manner.This it has not done, despite representations that have been made to it by the Department of Energy, the Department of the Environment and right hon. and hon. Members. Nothing has been done. I have talked on many occasions to tenants and the representatives of housing associations and local authorities. I have spoken and written to Ministers to try to bring help to my constituents. Unfortunately, the Government have closed their ears. Against that background it is not surprising that their response to "Pits and Mortar" has been a deafening silence. The report provides a vivid description of the difficulties that tenants of ex-British Coal houses are facing in having to live with new landlords. There are dozens of reasons why there should be no further sale of this housing.
I shall give the House some examples from my constituency. In Kiveton Park there are homes that are classified under the Housing Defects Act 1984, which in itself has created many problems. It has effectively put a stigma on these houses, even though they are now described as providing an ideal opportunity for DIY enthusiasts. This description is applied in an attempt to re-sell houses that were bought in October 1986 by private landlords for £3,250. They are now being offered at prices between £7,000 and £9,050. As I have said, they are described as providing an ideal opportunity for DIY enthusiasts, and they are the people who are living in those properties.
No mention is made of the problems faced by Mrs. Richardson, for example, who describes her dealings with her new landlords as follows:We get drowned at the back due to faulty guttering and the garage doors are coming off. They were never fixed. So I stopped the rent. He came back"—this is the new landlord—and said, 'It's against the law to withhold rent.' I told him, 'It's against the law not to do repairs!' I agreed to pay the rent for six weeks during which he would do the repairs. It's now eleven weeks and no one has come.The secretary of the tenants' association of Kiveton Park, Mrs. Whaley, describes the overall position as follows:There's a lot of problems along with water coming in and panel joints, dangerous electricity and generally no repairs. No one knows how to get their repairs done and writing letters just doesn't seem to work. When repairs are done, they are often done badly.It is not only tenants in so-called defective houses who are suffering from the policy of British Coal and that of the Government. In the Dinnington area—it is a village in my constituency— brick-built houses have been sold off. The home of one of my constituents, Mrs. Turner, was taken over in December 1986. She states:In January"—that is, January 1987—I had my cold water tank burst. I rang London—nothing happened. They said they couldn't do anything while the cold weather was on.Mrs. Turner did not get her tank fixed until the following May; during all that time she was unable to use her bath, hot water or washing facilities.
§ Mr. Phillip Oppenheim (Amber Valley)
The hon. Gentleman says that he has problems with private landlords who are not doing repairs in his constituency. He is obviously aware that they are obliged by law to make repairs. If he has constituents who have problems in that 1318 respect, surely they should go to see their Member of Parliament who should put pressure on the landlord, possibly legal pressure, to ensure that he does the repairs. My right hon. and hon. Friends have experience of that and we have very few problems with landlords.
§ Mr. Barron
Mrs. Turner is one of 16 residents in Dinnington village who are currently taking their landlord to court.
§ Mr. Barron
Yes, he probably is. The landlord is being taken to court by a solicitor in my constituency, a man to whom I have spoken on many occasions.
The hon. Member for Amber Valley (Mr. Oppenheim) purports to represent a coal mining area. How is a 70-yearold retired miner and perhaps his wife, although he could be a widower, who knows little about the law or landlord and tenant legislation and has no money to go to a solicitor in order to talk about the problem going to cope? Such people are thrown into confusion by the selling and reselling of their homes above their heads by money speculators. They are unable to comprehend what is happening. The hon. Gentleman is speaking nonsense and he well knows it.
Mr. John Brown, the chairman of the tenants and owners association in Dinnington points out what the problems are for many. He has said:There's another woman whose mind wanders a bit. She's not sure how much rent she's sent off. Sometimes she sends off £100 but because of the system of paying she cant really tell whether she is in arrears or not. The Coal Board used to collect every Wednesday. What is needed is someone to collect the rent and report the repairs to, so everyone knows where they are.That is exactly what is needed, but it is not happening in dozens of areas.
Despite mounting evidence that the sale of British Coal houses is a disaster for the tenants, British Coal still plans to sell off its remaining 14,500 houses by October 1988. Housing associations and tenants' co-operatives have offered to buy them but British Coal is demanding a higher price than many of the homes fetched at the auctions held late last year. It is asking a price higher than those bidding can afford to offer. Every remaining British Coal house could be taken over by socially responsible landlords if British Coal would drop its asking price or if the Government would assist those willing to buy. If that does not happen, thousands more will be sentenced to the fate of the tenants in my constituency and in the constituencies of many of my hon. Friends.
I have lived in a coalfield community all my life. I have seen the problems worsening day by day. Those areas have never been the most prosperous areas in the country, but the depths of poverty are now at levels that have not been known in my lifetime or for decades past. A few weeks ago during the summer recess I visited the primary school that I attended as a pupil in the 1950s. The class sizes have decreased from about 45 pupils when I was there to about 35. The number of children in those classes receiving free school meals has risen. From my memory of 30 years ago, there were never more than three or four children in each class receiving free school meals. Today, over half the pupils are receiving free school meals.
That is not in a community where the coal mine has closed down. It is in the village of Maltby where I live. The 1319 colliery in that area has a massive investment programme. The programme is nearly complete and it has cost £170 million over five years. However, there is no correlation between investment in coal mines and poverty in the community. I hope that when the Minister replies to the debate he will not try to talk about investment and productivity in the coal industry and about how good things are when, even in communities that are receiving investment, there is poverty at the levels I have mentioned.
In the Rotherham area there are still coal mining jobs, but over 8,000 children received free school meals in the year 1986–87. That is the reality of the problems and poverty in coal communities that are working and it can only be worse in communities where the collieries have closed. I hope that all hon. Members who speak today will concentrate their minds on what needs to happen to the communities before the problems get worse.
§ Mr. Michael Alison (Selby)
Those who listened carefully to the introductory words of the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) will have noticed a significant sentence that was almost obscured at the beginning of his speech. He said that he did not want to have a general debate about the coal industry today, but wanted to confine himself to the narrow issue of the motion on the Order Paper. Let me remind you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that a politician is never more political than when he disarmingly says that he wants to leave out a large chunk of relevant material to do with a particular issue and concentrate on a little bit of it.
The hon. Gentleman sought to tell the House that a great economic and social hurricane had blown across many coal mining communities. Needless to say, the name of that hurricane is, in his view, Hurricane Maggie.
§ Mr. Alison
I shall give way shortly, but I want to move on a little.
It is ludicrous and grotesque for the hon. Member for Rother Valley to argue that the scale of financial relief and resources being made available to the coalfield communities is inadequate, especially when we consider the cost of the coal strike to the British taxpayer. After all, it is the taxpayers' money for which the hon. Gentleman is appealing, and we are the representatives of the taxpayers. I shall remind the House of the cost to the taxpayer of King Arthur's strike.
§ Mr. Alison
Subsidy to the power stations to burn more oil during the strike cost £1,624 million. Subsidy to the National Coal Board because of the loss of income and revenue to the coal industry cost £733 million. The income tax lost to the Treasury amounted to £319 million. The police cost was £155 million, expenditure tax loss was £51 million and supplementary benefit to strikers' families cost £64 million. The total cost to the taxpayer of Arthur Scargill's strike was close to £3,000 million.
§ Mr. Alison
I will give way shortly.
To ignore that and claim that the Government have not done enough to support the coal mining communities is simply ludicrous.
§ Mr. Alison
I did promise to give way to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers), and shall give way to the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) in due course.
§ Mr. Rogers
I remind the hon. Gentleman of two points. During the coal strike, in response to an intervention of mine, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the amount of money that the Government were spending on keeping the miners out was a good investment for the country. Has the right hon. Gentleman now turned that on its head? Instead of trying to score third-form public school debating points, I wish that the right hon. Gentleman would address the real problems that are mentioned in the motion, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron). The right hon. Gentleman should address these problems, not try to score cheap political points.
§ Mr. Alison
I am delighted when Opposition Members accuse me of scoring cheap political points. They are not politicians; they are general men of good will who never indulge in any dirty, sordid party politics. Never so much as a party political thought crosses their mind.
The hon. Member for Rhondda took me up on the issue of whether the money that was shelled out by the taxpayer — £3,000 million — was a good investment. I thought that the hon. Gentleman was always complaining that we were not investing enough in British Coal. He cannot have it both ways. That £3,000 million was either a jolly good investment or no investment at all. He will have to make up his mind. That £3,000 million of taxpayers' money, if it had not to be shelled out for King Arthur's coal strike, might have been available, at least in part, for some of the expenses that are mentioned in the motion.
Can anybody deny that the coal strike—quite apart from the taxpayers' money involved — inflicted serious social and domestic injuries on coal mining communities by damaging local pits? The official figures are that 73 coal faces were lost or irrecoverable as a direct effect of the coal strike. That was typified by Polkemmet colliery in Scotland, where all three faces were lost and the pit closed. That self-inflicted damage was the result of Hurricane Arthur blowing over coal mining communities.
§ Mr. Alison
The hon. Member for Rother Valley wanted to have a go. He does not wish to any more. I shall give way to the hon. Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood) in a moment. I shall complete this part of my speech.
Against that background, the hon. Member for Rother Valley did not do a fair job in commenting on the more narrow matters relating to British Coal Enterprise Ltd. He did not give sufficient credit to what has been done. Nearly £37 million in taxpayers' money is going to the National Coal Board or to British Coal to help in the creation of as many as 23,000 new jobs.
§ Mr. Alison
In one of his typical interventions, the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) says that it is a con trick. Imagine the words "con trick" falling from the mouths of those who support Arthur Scargill. What about the con trick after the March 1983 ballot, which was held throughout the coalfields to find out whether the miners wanted to strike? What about the con trick of the 1984 ballot to see whether they wanted a strike or not? In nearly every case, the large ballots in different areas resulted in massive majorities against a strike. Where was the con trick? It was King Arthur's con trick. He is the man of con tricks, in getting the coalfields out on strikes that most miners did not want.
The hon. Member for Bolsover says that British Coal Enterprise Ltd. is a con trick. We shall not take the lesson from him. We can see what British Steel has been able to do by its enterprise project. It has done a massive job in creating jobs. We shall see British Coal Enterprise Ltd. do the same thing.
Hobart house has kindly supplied me with a list of specific projects, broken down into all the main regions, specifying the number of jobs that will be forthcoming, and giving the total of projects and jobs. The jobs will materialise, just as they did in the case of British Steel.
§ Mr. Hood
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the loss of three coal faces and the closure of Polkemmet colliery. Is he aware that that colliery closed because British Coal deliberately flooded it? The unions offered to go in and save it, but they were held back by British Coal. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware also that, in Scotland, Polkemmet, which produces coal for Ravenscraig steelworks, is now being run on imported coal from Colombia and South Africa? The hon. Gentleman referred to sabotage. It was sabotaged by the Government and British Coal in closing down a major industry.
§ Mr. Alison
The hon. Gentleman has produced the ludicrous argument that British Coal deliberately flooded Polkemmet colliery. As he made the point, I shall respond to it. He knows that many deliberate things were done during the coal strike. There was much deliberate mobilisation of coal miners to go and picket. Why, then, did the coal miners not deliberately stop the National Coal Board from flooding Polkemmet colliery? Why did they not mobilise large forces and stop the few managers from deliberately flooding it? There could not be any more ludicrous argument than the hon. Gentleman's thesis that British Coal management deliberately flooded Polkemmet colliery.
§ Mr. Alison
I shall not give way. I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman once. I must press on.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The right hon. Gentleman clearly will not give way. Hon. Members must not persist.
§ Mr. Alison
It is not only the investment in British Coal Enterprise Ltd. that I wish to draw to the attention of the House. The hon. Member for Rother Valley——
§ Mr. Alison
I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment.
1322 The hon. Member for Rother Valley touched on British Coal investment in the rather wider technical, proper productive investment sense in the coalfields. According to my figures, it is running at about £650 million a year at present. In my own constituency, investment in the Selby project will be at least £1.25 million, and we have spent £1 million on it already. That kind of capital expenditure on new pits, new projects and new machinery is directly relevant to some of the older communities and coalfields that he talked about.
Leaving aside the rowdy exchanges that we have had the motion points out some of the difficulties that the older mining communities face. For example, in my own constituency, where we have had, in principle, an influx of 3,000 new miners to work in Selby, at least half seem to have decided not to live in the Selby constituency, but to commute. In other words, they will live in their own communities in south and west Yorkshire. Some of them travel from as far as Bradford every day by car. If they are not on strike—most of them do not want to be —face workers can take £250 a week back into the communities in which they live. They commute to and from the new coalfields.
That is the way to get resources, buying power, enterprise, new prospects and new hope to some of the older villages. It is happening in Selby precisely because coal miners are commuting in their cars from places all over south and west Yorkshire and earning good money and taking it back to their communities. Some such coalfield communities might become as prosperous as Ascot and other such places as people take money from the coalfields back to their communities. That is the way to get prosperity for pit villages.
§ Mr. Lofthouse
On the point about the British Coal Enterprise Ltd. scheme, in which the hon. Gentleman seems to put great store, the deputy chairman of the National Coal Board informed the Select Committee:I do not claim much for it",meaning the British Coal Enterprise scheme. Indeed, other senior officials informed the Committee that they expected the scheme only to scratch at the surface of the problem.
§ Mr. Alison
The chairman of the National Coal Board could not claim much for it because he was not providing the money. The Government provided the full £37 million. The Coal Board did not provide anything, so it is no wonder that the chairman said that.
Finally, I should like to make a constituency point, which I hope leaders of British Coal will take on board as it has some bearing on what is known as the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation. In the public inquiry that was held in my constituency in 1975 on the development of the Selby coalfied, reference was made by Mr. J. G. C. Milligan OBE, the director-general of industrial relations at the National Coal Board, to the provision of leisure facilities in Selby. In referring to the settlement of miners and their families into new communities, Mr. Milligan stated:This has been helped in some places because the arrival of miners has led to the provision of improved recreational and other facilities assisted by the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation which is financed by the Branch.That statement was incorporated into the inspector's findings at paragraph 25.10 on page 47 of the report on the Selby coalfield inquiry.
The implication is that the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation was hoping to promote the 1323 acceptance of the Selby project by holding out the prospect of some welfare provision for Selby. I am sure that, although that was said as long ago as 1975 and that in 1987 nothing has as yet materialised, the Coal Board will, in good faith, produce some extra resources to ensure that Selby gets its recreational facilities. I hope that the Coal Board will be able to expedite that as soon as possible.
§ Mr. George J. Buckley (Hemsworth)
I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to make my maiden speech in this debate on the coalfield communities. I hope that Conservative Members will not degenerate the debate by raking over the coals of the 1984–85 strike. I am sure that it was not for that purpose that my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) tabled the motion on the Order Paper. Opposition Members are trying to draw the coal communities to the attention of the House and my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley outlined their problems extensively.
In this, my maiden speech, I want to draw to the attention of the House the social traditions of my constituency. It is a mining constituency and its communities are very much dependent on the prosperity of the mining industry. By their very nature, the communities in my constituency are isolated as compared with other parts of West Yorkshire. When the mining industry developed at the turn of the previous century, small communities developed around the mines. They were attached to the workplace of the mine, and the entire community revolved around the investment that then took place in the mine.
Hemsworth is no different from other traditional mining constituencies. The House will appreciate the complexities that that causes. The House must be aware —I am sure that Opposition Members are aware—of the difficulties that such small communities encounter when dealing with the transformation of the economy of the area. It is that transformation that should exercise our minds in this debate, not the historical upheavals of industrial struggle. My constituency is made up of small communities such as Upton, Ryhill, Havercroft and Featherstone, which, in the past, were totally dependent on collieries that no longer exist. The fact that the mines no longer exist has caused havoc in the economy of my constituency.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley has stated, we are not talking about the prosperity of the coal mining industry in isolation, but about the overall economy of the community, the social aspects of that rundown of the economy and the inability of the economy to rejuvenate itself from its own resources. I feel sure that the House will appreciate that massive Government assistance is needed to finance investment in the transition from dependency on one source of employment to alternative employment in the area.
I should like to pay tribute to my predecessor who represented the Hemsworth constituency for 13 years in this honourable House. Naturally, my predecessors in the constituency are from mining stock. My immediate predecessor, Alec Woodall, represented the constituency diligently and I am sure that many hon. Members will recall the many opportunities on which he exercised that responsibility. I hope that the House will wish him well in 1324 his retirement. I should like to mention other hon. Members who represented the constituency before my immediate predecessor. They include Mr. Alan Beaney, Mr. M. E. Holmes and Mr. G. A. Griffiths, who were all from traditional mining stock.
The indigenous problems of mining areas are not new. I do not want to lead the House into believing that the problems of mining communities are new. However, such problems are now more desperate as a consequence of the present Government's policies. I found it curious that the right hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) who, I am sure, tried to make a positive contribution to the debate, referred to the £3 billion that was expended by the Government during the 1984 strike. I shall make only one point on that — £3 billion was spent on negative expenditure, whereas only £37 million has been spent in positive expenditure on British Coal Enterprise Ltd. I ask the House and the nation to weigh up that fact. My hon. Friends and I call upon the Government and Conservative Members to give positive consideration to the problems that exist in mining communities. We want to resolve those problems, but that cannot be done without massive Government aid.
I refer now to recent mine closures. In my constituency alone—this will be duplicated throughout British coal-fields— Ackton Hall colliery was closed in 1985. That colliery was surrounded by the community of Featherstone and when it closed 1,388 jobs were lost. In 1986 Kinsley drift was closed with the loss of 460 jobs and more recently in 1987 Nostell colliery has been closed, with the loss of 600 jobs. Such closures have a massive impact on small mining communities. South Kirby colliery, which is currently under review by British Coal, employed at one time nearly 2,000 men. It currently employs 696. That is a massive reduction in employment potential. The colliery is under threat of closure and that is having a major impact on the South Kirby, South Hemsworth and Upton areas.
We must get the problem into perspective. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley has said, we must realise the social consequences of the rundown of the mining industry and ask the Government to give a positive response. Apart from the fact that the social structure of mining communities is being destroyed, their regeneration is causing immense difficulties. Even if new industry could be cajoled and persuaded to take root there, massive investment in the infrastructure would be needed to make such areas economically viable. Even if the Government were generous enough to provide investment in mining community areas, no industrialist, with the best will in the world, would be prepared to go down small village roads with large transport lorries to reach industrial estates.
I am disappointed and surprised that the Government have not responded to the excellent Shelter report on housing in mining communities. It is impossible to dispose of properties, whether they are rented or owned, in mining communities when the only source of employment is taken away from them.
I shall not refer to statistics in my maiden speech. I do not really care about them. The unemployment statistics for mining communities are higher than those for any other group of unemployed people in Great Britain. Unemployment statistics as high as 20 per cent. are to be found in mining communities. The people who live in those communities are devastated by the high level of unemployment. Coal mining communities, including those in my constituency, are taking advantage of the so-called 1325 community programmes and of work training experience, but Government schemes are temporary. They do not provide a long-term solution to unemployment in mining constituencies. They are only a palliative.
The task I have set myself in my maiden speech is to outline to the House the desperate plight of the communities that I represent. I repeat the call in 1959 of one of my predecessors, Alan Beaney. He said:Miners will spurn charity, the dole and National Assistance. We shall demand the right to earn our livelihood in the full dignity of our labour."—[Official Report, 30 October 1959; Vol. 612, c. 557.]I repeat that call in 1987. We do not want charity, or the dole, or unemployment. We demand the right to earn our living in order to maintain the quality of life for our families and children.
§ Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (Derbyshire, West)
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Buckley) and to congratulate him on his maiden speech. He well fulfilled the tradition of maiden speakers by giving a graphic description of his constituency and by paying a formidable tribute to his predecessor, Alec Woodall, who was well respected on all sides of the House. He was a man of Hemsworth who, throughout his career as a Member of Parliament, represented that constituency. We congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his maiden speech. I know what a great relief it is to get it off one's chest. I am sure that he is looking forward to making many more contributions to our debates in the months and years to come. The hon. Gentleman chose the right debate in which to make his maiden speech.
In recent times there have been a number of changes in mining communities. However, such changes are not a recent phenomenon; they do not apply only to the 1970s or the 1980s. My father died when I was very young. One of my few memories is of my father walking over the old pit tops in the Cannock Chase and South Staffordshire coalfields. I remember the High Town colliery where he used to work in the south Staffordshire coalfield. Since 1960 there have been over 32 mine closures in the south Staffordshire coalfield—a horrendous number. In recent years only one new mine—Lea Hall—has been opened in the area. That shows how radically the area has changed. That new mine was opened in 1960 by a Conservative Government.
To say that this Government have paid no regard to the coalfield communities is a travesty of the truth. Opposition Members regard the coal industry and the coalfields as their bastion, but sometimes they suffer from selective amnesia. The then National Coal Board, now British Coal, recognised on many occasions the importance of the coal industry. The 1966–67 report of the National Coal Board says——
§ Mr. Barron
The hon. Gentleman says that Opposition Members seem to regard the coal industry as their bastion. During the last five years, coalfields could have been found in 105 constituencies that are represented by both Conservative and Opposition Members. The hon. Gentleman cannot claim that the Opposition regard the coal industry as their bastion. The hon. Gentleman ought to direct his remarks to the problems in the coalfield communities. He should not refer to investment in coal mining. That is not the subject of this debate.
§ Mr. McLoughlin
I understand why the hon. Gentleman is anxious that I should not refer to what is happening now in the coal mining industry. I am not turning away from the subject of the debate. The hon. Gentleman's motion calls attention to the report of the Select Committee on Energy, which deals with the present state of the British Coal. He cannot say that we should pay no regard to the Select Committee's report and to the history that backs up its conclusions.
§ Mr. McLoughlin
I see that the hon. Gentleman wants me to give way, but I do not intend to do so. I have given way already, and many other hon. Members want to speak in this debate.
The only way for British Coal and for the industry to have a successful future is by winning markets and selling coal. We cannot run away from that most important fact. That point has been accepted by many NCB chairmen and by many Governments.
I said earlier that I wanted to refer to the NCB's 1966–67 report. It says:The task now facing the Board is to secure the largest possible output of coal at prices that are competitive with all rival fuels. Competition from oil, natural gas and nuclear power will be a formidable and continuing challenge to coal's share of the expanding energy market.
§ Mr. Rogers
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not want to delay the debate, because many hon. Members want to participate in it, but the motion specifically refers to the social problems and to the high levels of unemployment, falling investment and increasing poverty in the coal industry. The motion then refers to the Select Committee's recommendations regarding the coalfield communities. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. McLoughlin) is deliberately diverting this very important debate from the problems of the mining communities to investment in the mining industry.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. It is right to draw attention to the fact that the Select Committee's report is relevant to the motion only in so far as those parts of the report are relevant to the motion.
§ Mr. McLoughlin
With the greatest respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, it is impossible to refer to the coalfield communities without referring to the investment by British Coal. There is no doubt that——
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am drawing the hon. Gentleman's attention and that of the House to the fact that the appendix to the motion says that the report will be relevant to the debate only insofar as parts of the report are relevant to the motion. References to the report should be confined to that purpose.
§ Mr. McLoughlin
I am trying to set this debate in context by suggesting that this is not the first time that coalfield communities have had to go through radical changes. I am sorry that Opposition Members seem to find that so objectionable.
The future and the size of the industry and its employment opportunities depend upon the speed at which British Coal's plans for making coal more competitive can be fulfilled.
§ Mr. McLoughlin
No, I will not give way, for the simple reason that a lot of other hon. Members wish to get in and make their own speeches.
There is no doubt that the way in which we will secure a positive, good coal industry future is by becoming competitive within the market.
§ Mr. McLoughlin
I want to give other hon. Members the opportunity to make their speeches, but I will give way to the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay).
§ Mr. McLoughlin
The competitive nature of coal must be based upon its relationship with the gas industry, the oil industry and imported coal, although some people would say that imported coal represents an unfair area of competition. I believe that British Coal can get round that problem by offering quality. There is no doubt that, with today's modern fire-handling, coal-burning equipment, quality is of the utmost importance. It is important to ensure that the product is clean and does not have a high ash content when delivered.
I wish to spend some time discussing the coalfield community that I know in south Staffordshire, which is now partly represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth). I wish to discuss the two mines that are left in that area, Lea Hall colliery and Littleton colliery. As far as I can tell, the greatest threat to the production in those areas is not from British Coal, but from the Labour-controlled county council. That county council will not allow opencast mining to take place in that area. One of the problems alluded to by the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) was related to those areas that had produced coal and the subsequent use of the land that had become derelict. One of the problems that is faced when local authorities continually stand in the way of opencast mining is that areas become landlocked.
§ Mr. McLoughlin
Such landlocked areas cannot be used.
There is no doubt that, if opencast mining is not allowed at the collieries I have mentioned, the future of those collieries is in danger. The coal mined from those colleries has a fairly high chlorine content and opencast coal is required to blend with that coal. The way in which British Coal and the Opencast Executive return such land to productive use ensures the benefit of amenities for such communities. Such efforts are commendable.
§ Mr. McLoughlin
No, I will not.
The coal industry wants a future and there is no doubt that it can have a future. There have been closures and to an extent they are regretted, but such closures are not a new thing. No Government have done more to help with the changeover period than this Government.
§ Mr. McLoughlin
This Government set up British Coal Enterprise Ltd. to try to help with that transitional period, which has been extremely difficult. However, anyone who considers the recent actions of British Coal and the National Coal Board will appreciate that some huge closure programmes took place between 1965 and 1970. The Opposition cannot escape that, yet it is one example of the selective amnesia of the Opposition.
I should like to refer to the annual report of the National Coal Board for 1965–66. I believe that a Labour Government were in power at that time. That report states that the board had originallyplanned to phase colliery closures fairly evenly over the years 1966 to 1970, but at the Government's suggestion the major part of that closure programme will be completed in the two years 1966 and 1967.There was no help whatever from the Government to see that transitional period through. There was no British Coal Enterprise Ltd. and nothing to help those mineworkers.
There have been tremendous changes in the coal industry. We have accepted that those changes must take place, but we have tried to do something to help.
When my hon. Friend replies to this debate, I hope that he will make some reference to the Select Committee on Energy report. I draw his attention to paragraph 193;It may also be that there are pits which BC has recently closed or will close in the immediate future which could be operated profitably, whether on a different scale or by different methods.
§ Mr. Rogers
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You have already pointed out to the hon. Gentleman that he is out of order if he talks about the mining industry. Will he address himself to the problems we are talking about?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
What I have done is the very opposite of what the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) has suggested. It is in order to talk about the coal mining industry. It would seem to me extremely difficult to talk about the coal mining communities without talking about the coal mining industry. However, I was at pains to point out that the fact that there was a link provided on the Order Paper with that Select Committee report did not mean that we should have a debate about that Select Committee report, although it would be relevant to refer to it.
§ Mr. McLoughlin
I am grateful to you Mr. Deputy Speaker. I believe that this matter is important. So often Opposition Members say that there is not enough investment in the coal industry. However, we are told that the National Union of Mineworkers has access to quite a bit of money, often from Libya and such places. The report continues:For example, BACM witnesses thought that Horden colliery had an 'opportunity of breaking even' or better; NACODS argued vigorously that Bates colliery should not have been closed; while the NUM maintained that up to 20 million tonnes of capacity had been lost because of the abandonment of the Plan for Coal. In consequence, when BC decides to close a pit, we believe that the licence to operate at that site should immediately be offered on the open market.The report said that that licence should be offered on the open market only after it had been offered to the unions and those people interested. I believe that that would be a positive way to ask the unions to give their commitment to British Coal.
1329 British Coal and the coal industry have great opportunities in this country. I believe that those opportunities will come about as a result of investment and achieving more sales in the industrial market. At the moment, approximately 10 per cent. of British Coal's output goes to the industrial market. There must be ways in which that level can be increased, and that would lead to a great future for the coal communities. I appreciate that those communities feel threatened at the moment. Indeed, there have been tremendous changes within that industry, but the challenge of those changes has been met.
§ Mr. McLoughlin
I am about to conclude; then other hon. Members will be able to speak.
The challenge has been met by the coalfield communities. I believe that, in future, similar challenges may be faced if a positive commitment is given to the industry. So far as the union has an impact on the future of the industry, the present president of the NUM has done more to sell British Gas for industrial installations than anybody else. At the very mention of the burning of coal, the spectre of Scargill emerges. That does great damage to the potential sales of coal.
There is only one way in which British Coal will have a successful future; that is by selling its products within the market so that we do not have to rely on imported coal. That is the way that the coalfield communities can secure a future.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. All this sedentary noise is only delaying the debate and it is out of order. I hope that hon. Members will behave themselves.
§ Mr. McLoughlin
When British Coal has a positive future, the coal communities will have a positive future.
Let us consider wages—the hon. Member for Rother Valley mentioned this. The average wage of miners in 1965–1966——
§ Mr. McLoughlin
The wage level then was £9 14s. British Coal's annual report for 1986–87 shows that a miner's average earnings in that year were £219 a week. Wages generally would have had to increase 10 times during that period to keep up with wages in mining. The fact that for miners they increased by more than 12 per cent. above that does not bear out what the hon. Member for Rother Valley said about miners being poor and unable to pay their way. Indeed, it adds to the remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) about the future of coal mining areas.
Money is there to be made in the industry, provided that we can sell the coal. But we must not produce coal that we cannot sell, because that is no good to British Coal or to the country which, under this Government, has invested a great deal of money to give British Coal a future.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I remind the House that about 20 hon. Members are trying to catch my eye. Unless speeches are curtailed, many of them will be disappointed. I appeal For very brief speeches.
§ 11 am
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Buckley) on his sensible maiden speech and on his valuable contribution to the debate.
This is a depressing debate. Not one job in the coalfields will be created by raking over the grim experience of the strike. The shouting match that seems to be developing is wholly out of character with the work that the Coalfield Communities Campaign has done. I commend that organisation, which works across party lines, having to accept that the coal industry involves change and having to accept that colliery closures have taken place and will take place in the future. It brings together people who have different views about what the rate of closure should be and about the Government's policy towards the industry. But it brings them together in agreement that the coalfield communities have specific problems that need special attention. We should take our model from the Coalfield Communities Campaign in our discussions on these matters and in our attempts to develop ways of dealing with the problems. I welcome the fact that the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) chose this subject for debate today.
Since 1957 my constituency has experienced 10 colliery closures, three of them in the past few years. We still have the large and productive Ellington colliery, which has absorbed manpower from all parts of the Northumberland coalfield, but almost all the Northumberland coalfield's eggs are in that one basket. It is worrying to think that Lynemouth colliery, which, in its time, was a showpiece colliery and the great hope of the future, has gone. A great deal of hope now hangs on the future of Ellington colliery. My constituency is experiencing all the problems which have been described during the debate and which are shared by other hon. Members.
The Select Committee report states:It is far from clear that the present distribution of regional aid reflects the needs of the mining communities or the advantages of Community membership.Nowhere is that more true than in the Northumberland coalfield. The Alnwick and Amble area, which has experienced the colliery closures that I have described, does not enjoy any development status and is wholly denied the benefits of European aid, as well as the now very limited benefits of the Government's regional policy. The adjoining Morpeth and Ashington travel-to-work area has only intermediate status, which gives it limited assistance. Unemployment in the Alnwick and Amble area is higher than in most intermediate areas, and higher than in many assisted areas. It is a clear case of what the Select Committee meant: the Government have ignored the way in which colliery closure patterns have developed by failing to revise their assisted area map. They have simply not taken account of the impact of colliery closures on their regional policy.
We have pleaded with Ministers again and again. Just a few weeks ago a deputation from the coalfield came to see the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. I too went to see him, but he was unable to respond positively, although he listened to us sympathetically and acknowledged that we had a good case. He has still done nothing to bring to that area, so hard hit by colliery closures, the benefits of regional policy and access to European help. It would be helpful if the Under-Secretary of State for Energy would tell us today what will happen 1331 on regional policy. Will there be a regional policy in the future? Will it be drastically changed, as the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry seems to wish? If it is changed, what will be done to ensure that it meets the problems of the coalfield communities, which have the most obvious need for an effective regional policy?
The coalfield communities have tended to lose again and again in various aspects of regional policy. Urban aid is another example. Many of us are worried that, with the understandable emphasis on the needs of the inner cities, the problems of the coalfield communities will be forgotten because they are small communities. Yet the problems in those communities are just as acute.
In my constituency, urban aid was withdrawn suddenly from Alnwick — an area where many miners and ex-miners live — on the grounds that its population was fewer than 20,000. It met every other criterion, including free school meals taken by many children and high rates of deprivation. It met all the criteria that one could imagine, except that it had a population of fewer than 20,000 and, according to the Government, was not urban. One can think of many colliery communities that are smaller than 20,000 but which have worse problems, on all the standard criteria, than some of our worst inner-city areas. We are worried that the needs of the coalfield communities will be forgotten while the inner-city problems receive the emphasis which, of course, they deserve.
The Select Committee, and hon. Members today, mentioned miners being given the chance to take over their pits. The Select Committee said that the Department of Energy should be the body that licensed coal and that miners should have the first option to continue mining operations at a colliery that has been closed. But I must tell Conservative Members that the Government have not done that. They have left licensing in the hands of British Coal, and it has not given the first option to the men who work in the pits.
A specific example of that was Whittle colliery in my constituency. When the colliery closed, a group of employees decided that they would like to take it on and mount a smaller mining operation, for which they could see a clear future, and for which they had access to capital, but British Coal, following its normal practice, granted the licensing option on a first come, first served, basis to an organisation which was familiar with the procedures and got in its application quickly. The miners at the pit simply were not familiar with the procedures and could not be expected to know what they had to do.
§ Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley)
Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the engineer who closed Whittle mine is leading the consortium that wants to buy it?
§ Mr. Beith
That would require apportioning responsibility within British Coal more accurately than I could, but it would at least be fair to say that the outside consortium that put in its bid knew British Coal very well, was familiar with its procedures and had good contacts on the board. That is not giving the miners first option on their pits. Indeed, they would have to wait for 12 months to see whether the first applicant backed out before they had any chance of becoming involved, and by that time the pit would have deteriorated substantially.
1332 In this case there is hope that an understanding will be reached between the miners who wanted to take over the pit and the group that has the first option, but it is not a sensible way to proceed. Why should British Coal license its competitors? Why should a body which is a near-monopoly have the right to license its potential competition? I do not understand what sense that makes in the Government's economic thinking. It makes it difficult, if not impossible, for miners to get the first option to take over their pits. The Government fell down badly in not doing something about that when I drew it repeatedly to their attention.
Another problem affecting the coalfield communities is opencast mining, which provides 40 per cent. of Northumberland's coal production and employs more than 800 people, most of them local. Initially, it helped a great deal to clear up dereliction in parts of my constituency. Therefore, the problems associated with it were borne by the community, in the knowledge that, at the end of the day, the area would be in a better state than it was when opencast mining started. But we have moved from there to the point where opencast mining is going deep into open countryside and its proximity is beginning seriously to threaten local communities.
In places such as Linton and Ulgham, people are deeply concerned that opencast mining is coming right up to their doorsteps, posing environmental problems for a long time to come.
One of the few benefits of the decline of deep mining in areas that have experienced many environmental problems as a result of such mining is that at least the environment would be improved. For most of their lifetime they now face the threat of serious environmental disruption from opencast mining. We must consider carefully how to maintain employment in opencast mining without further disrupting the local communities, which have already had to cope with a great deal over the years.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy (Mr. Michael Spicer)
I am very interested in the hon. Gentleman's comments. Does he believe that the situation is getting to the point where the land is not capable of being restored to a better condition than it was in the past?
§ Mr. Beith
Opencast mining is moving into areas where I cannot imagine it would be restored to a better condition than before. In some parts of my constituency, areas made seriously derelict have emerged in a better state than they were when opencast mining took over. It is still painful and hard going for the people living there, and, in the case of bigger schemes, it was for a long period. Following the Butterwell scheme, however, the potential expansion of opencast mining around villages such as Ulgham and Linton creates a long period of disruption with no prospect that the areas will be better after restoration than when they started. It makes it difficult for local people to accept, even though it would offer employment to local people.
Given the decline of deep mining in many areas, the case for improvement of the environment is very strong. The village of Lynemouth has a very attractive beach and setting, but it has all the grimness of massive tipping and the works associated with it. The local authority should have the support and encouragement of the Government to try to do something about it. These communities deserve environmental improvement. When I talk to 1333 people in Lynemouth they look back to the time when it was a showpiece village. It was to have been the model coal mining village of the future. In the intervening years, it has suffered serious environmental decline and the people in that village now look back with real sadness, because it is not now what it was once hoped it would be. By modern standards, the housing stock is quite inadequate. Many houses have no inside toilet and have inadequate facilities. Local authorities should have more freedom to use their own resources — the money in the bank from council house sales—to improve the communities.
All these things must be taken together. Villages suffering from environmental decline need a resident policeman to ensure that vandalism does not lead to a further decline in the physical structure of the community. To put these places back on their feet requires the integration of many policies, not just housing policies.
Hon. Members have referred to the problems that have arisen from the sale of Coal Board houses. I welcome the fact that many miners now want to buy their own homes and have been able to do so. I do not believe in the company town structure in which the employer owns everything— the place of employment, trading facilities and houses. It is an unhealthy and uncomfortable position for the community. However, where tenanted houses are sold, we want to see housing associations and local authorities, rather than distant landlords, given the chance to take over responsibilities.
There was a specific problem at Ellington colliery, where miners could not purchase houses because the lease was not owned by the Coal Board. The Coal Board has agreed to buy the lease when it expires, thus enabling people to buy the houses in which they live. I am grateful to the deputy chairman of the Coal Board for the personal interest that he took in the matter, which I hope will be resolved to the satisfaction of all concerned.
I find it extraordinary that, in areas such as Northumberland which still have considerable deep-mining potential, the Central Electricity Generating Board should be considering, not its coal-producing capacity, but its attractiveness for nuclear power. It wants to establish a nuclear power station at Druridge Bay rather than expand coal-fired power facilities in the area, thereby sustaining coal-based employment. We shall have plenty of other opportunities to debate this issue, but if the Government intend to privatise the electricity industry and put the issue to the free market, it is obvious that private enterprise would not make that decision. The CEGB is taking decisions which the free market would not support. I want to see the courage of the Minister's convictions when we come to that issue.
One of the few things bringing money into the coalfield communities at the moment is, alas, the redundancy money being paid to miners. That has some side benefits. I am glad to see that those who are able are setting up their own businesses and others are enjoying an early retirement from an arduous industry. I look back to the time when I was first elected. When I went down the pits, miners said, "People should not have to work here in these conditions. As soon as I can get out, I shall do so. I do not want my son to work here." Now they do not say that, because they do not see alternative opportunities outside the pit.
It is all the more important, therefore, that we put the effort into helping and restoring these communities. Redundancy money is only a short-term thing. When that is gone, there will be no opportunities for young people in 1334 those areas when they leave school. There is a potentially great market if we realise what is available in those areas —the quality of labour and the fact that land costs are much lower than in the congested areas of the south of England—but it will need encouragement and backing from the Government to safeguard the future of communities that have given so much to this country over the years.
§ Mr. Spencer Batiste (Elmet)
This is a welcome opportunity to discuss the circumstances of the coalfield communities. In response to the request for brief speeches, I apologise in advance if I do not accept any interventions, so that more people may have the opportunity to speak. However, it would be remiss of me not to join other colleagues in congratulating the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Buckley) on his exceptional maiden speech. We all look forward to his future contributions to our coalfield debates.
Of course, one cannot divorce a debate about the coalfield communities from a debate about the wider circumstances of the industry. It is typical of the disarray on the Opposition Benches that they have done nothing this morning but precisely that. Government policy towards the coal industry affects the communities in three vital ways — first, in relation to the investment and restructuring of the industry; secondly, in relation to the employment and environmental restoration of those areas with pit closures; and thirdly, in relation to the working practices and industrial relations of the industry which will determine the pattern and location of future investment and the shape of the communities that will serve them.
My constituency is deeply involved in all three aspects. There have been a number of pit closures in recent years. There is one long-term pit remaining with major investment in it. Significant problems have arisen from opencasting and its aftermath and there is the development of the Selby coalfield adjacent to my constituency. Let me deal first with investment and restructuring. No industry can have a future unless it produces a commodity at a price and time and of a quality that its customers require, without the threat of disruption. After all the water that has flowed under the bridge in the last five years, is it not a tragedy that we still have to tell Labour Members that in our coal debates.
Leaving all the rhetoric aside, two simple facts stand out. First, the Government are spending £2 million a day in support of the coal industry to give it a future; secondly, major restructuring has taken place, without any compulsory redundancies. Without that investment and restructuring, the future for all coalfield communities in Britain would be very bleak indeed. That is widely recognised in my constituency by miners who have a future in the industry, as a result of Government investment, and by those who are taking their redundancy money and making careers outside the industry, thus broadening the industrial base of my constituency.
This leads me to my second point, concerning the restructuring of employment and the environment, which 1335 is vital in areas with pit closures. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister, in taking away the lessons from the debate, to go back to a point that I have raised in previous debates. The urban development corporation, which works so well in city centres, is a device well suited to the remoter mining communities. It should not be confined to the city centres, because there is dereliction and poverty outside those areas, too. If we have a device that works well in one place, let us adapt it to all the places that need it.
The opencast debate has been a constant theme this morning. There may be circumstances in which the effective restoration of an area of pit closures, where there has been deep mining, will be achieved more effectively if there is opencasting afterwards, but I hope that not many hon. Members share in their constituencies the problem that I have with the Gamblethorpe site in mine. After a long period of opencasting, when the site was supposed to be restored for the benefit of the community, the local authority said, "There's a lovely deep hole. We'll tip rubbish into it for the next 20 years." Anyone in my area who makes another proposal for opencast mining will have to answer to those who look at the example of Gamblethorpe and say that they want guarantees that in their lifetime that site will be restored for public use and utility. It is no good people arguing that opencasting is essential unless they also address the real concerns of people who live in those areas and look at what has already happened.
It is pointless Conservatives arguing any more with the Opposition about British Coal Enterprise Ltd., when the Opposition do nothing but belittle its efforts. Let me say simply that any investment that it wants to make in my constituency will be welcome. I have found its cooperation and assistance in business projects welcome. There is an open door for it among Conservative Members, and if the Opposition do not want it and do not recognise its achievement, let them forget about it. We are happy to use that resource that has been made available.
Working practices and industrial relations are a vital concern in my area. We do not want the future of the Selby coalfield to be put at risk because of the failure by the NUM to adapt to modern working practices. The problems that have arisen in south Wales have been noticeable, and led to Dr. Kim Howells of the south Wales NUM saying that Mr. Scargillis prepared to distort history and mangle the facts to convince others, and perhaps himself, that he is the saviour of the workers. The national president feels he has to bulldoze into the dirt anyone who dares voice opinions contrary to his own. He dismisses the democratic decisions of the South Wales miners as if he were the Pope and they were heretics".Mr. Scargill has achieved what people would have regarded as almost impossible five years ago. He has marginalised the NUM, first by splitting it over his undemocratic strike, and now by threatening to split what remains over the fundamental issue of the adoption of modern working practices. He is the real enemy of the coalfield communities. Nobody is deceived by his sudden conversion to democracy on the road to Damascus—or is it Tripoli or Havana? Labour Members of Parliament could use this debate most profitably for their coalfield communities if, at this sensitive moment, they were to take the opportunity of repudiating Mr. Scargill and what he stands for.
§ Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)
It is my privilege to represent four of the 14 remaining pits of the Welsh coalfield.
The hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. McLoughlin) talked about change. Our communities are not strangers to change. There are now 14 pits compared with a coalfield that once had 200 pits and 108,000 miners. Our communities are not static. The hon.Gentleman missed one point — he does not realise what has been going on in the past few years. We have lost jobs not only in the coal industry. Over the past 20 or 30 years, we have sought to diversify our economy and encourage alternative employment. In the 1950s and 1960s, regional development policy brought new companies to our area and produced an alternative economy. What is the big difference between then and the past seven or eight years? Not only have we lost more pit jobs, but the jobs that were brought in by the companies and factories that were meant to be the alternative economy have become the victim of decline.
I can illustrate that best in my own community in Merthyr. There was a regular movement from pit to factory in the 1950s and 1960s. That is why pit closures took place—alternative jobs were being created. People moved between Merthyr Vale and Aberfan pit and Hoover and Thorns. There were job opportunities, but not only Penrhiwceiber, Ewis Merthyr and Deep Duffryn collieries have gone. In 1979, there were 5,400 jobs at the Hoover factory, but now there are only 1,900. That is a loss of nearly 4,000 jobs. Thorns has halved the number of jobs in the neighbouring factory. It is a matter not only of pit closures but of the decline and destruction of jobs in the alternative economy in our pit communities, which has led to tension and frustration. That is the major issue that we face. The number of jobs lost in the pits and through the decline in the factories is the equivalent of the closure of the whole of one steelworks in my community. So we are not strangers to change. Jobs are being destroyed not only in the coal industry but in our industrial and manufacturing base.
In the county of Mid Glamorgan, there are now nearly 30,000 fewer people in employment than in 1979. That is taking into account a notional figure of the number in self-employment. That is the crisis that we face and the difference between the 1960s and the 1980s in my communities. Four of the 14 remaining Welsh pits are now under review, so it is little wonder that we are worried about a new wave of redundancies and pit closures.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) and several of my colleagues went to see the present Secretary of State for Wales when he was Secretary of State for Energy just before the election to discuss the redundancy payments scheme. He said that we did not need one in the coal industry any longer, which we had until last March, because the restructuring and rationalisation were over. But now a new redundancy payment scheme has suddenly been reintroduced £5,000 per man if more than 50 people leave the pit. It is an incitement to a collective walk-out by miners, who now fear that we are in for another round of pit closures. It is little wonder that the apprehension, worry and concern are re-emerging.
We are concerned not only about pit closures, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) 1337 is right to remind Conservative Members, but about the impact of closures on the communities that are the subject of the debate. I should like to draw attention to some key areas.
There is not only environmental dereliction but dereliction in health, housing and infrastructure. In my constituency, there has been a generation of dereliction in limbs, lungs and heart. Our health resources, hospital services, demands and special health needs, by every index that one can devise, show that the county of Mid Glamorgan has massive deprivation. The resources given to the area do not match, reflect or acknowledge properly our historic health problems, which are with us now. That is an issue of profound concern. Our area health authority suffers from a lack of resources.
I do not have so many massive problems as my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley, with regard to tenants of Coal Board housing. I used to have them, and we are beginning to resolve them. One of the reasons why we do not have so many is that we have a long tradition of working-class home ownership. Vital to the maintenance and salvation of that housing stock are improvement and repair grants, yet thousands of my constituents in the communities of Rhondda, Merthyr and Rhymney have been waiting up to four years for repairs and improvement grants. On top of that, the Government introduced in their White Paper plans to means-test for home improvement grants. That would be a disaster for housing in our communities. In terms of health, housing and the infrastructure, we have the right to demand on behalf of the coal mining communities bigger resources and more investment.
§ Mr. Rogers
My hon. Friend has highlighted a problem that is peculiar to the south Wales valleys as against areas such as Yorkshire. It is true that the Rhondda has the highest percentage of owner-occupation in Britain and we desperately rely on improvement grants for our very old houses. Does my hon. Friend agree that leasehold reform is a problem? British Coal or other home owners have sold off their leases. Some 100 years have passed since the houses were built and we, as constituency Members, have to chase property companies all around the country.
§ Mr. Rowlands
Our communities are familiar with the problem of ground landlords, and that legislation needs to be strengthened.
I wish to draw the attention of the House to some positive steps that could be taken to encourage development in the south Wales coal mining communities. It need not be a matter of gloom and despair—it could be a positive move. The people and those communities have a great capacity for survival and regeneration. We have already demonstrated that, and we can do it again.
One way of supporting south Wales coal would be to develop power generation within the region. This year, for the first time, south Wales will be a net importer of electricity. For the past three or four years, we have exported electricity. Although there may be a case for building the large coal-fired plants at West Burton and elsewhere, there is also a case for the smaller units of power generation such as the combined heat and power scheme or the extension of Aberthaw C to produce regionally generated electricity so that once again we shall at least be in balance, or be able to contribute to the national grid.
1338 If we did that, opportunities would arise which would reinforce and support the Welsh coalfield. That would give greater stability to the coal industry.
I want to emphasise to the Minister that we do not need a new agency—we have the Welsh Development Agency and the local authorities. We need resources and a bigger budget, particularly to help with land reclamation. I have some knowledge of those matters as I was the first Minister in the Welsh Office to set up the land reclamation project in 1969, and I represent the community of Aberfan. We know all about the problems of land reclamation and land dereliction. Since then, we have been quite successful, and we have spent £100 million.
The problem is that we still have the same amount of dereliction as when we started the project. Even with the investment of £100 million we are still in the same position in terms of clearance because the pace of new land dereliction is almost as fast as our ability to deal with existing dereliction. Therefore, the WDA's budget of £16 million a year for land reclamation is hopelessly inadequate for the needs of good environmental and reclamation programmes on the scale needed by communities such as those in my constituency. We need a budget of about £25 million. Is that a terrible demand, considering how much money the Chancellor claims to have available? Is it so terrible to request that we spend £25 million a year on clearing the land dereliction in our communities?
We must also stop creating new land dereliction. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. McLoughlin), spoke about opencasting. I have vivid experiences of opencasting.
We had one of the largest holes in Europe. The hon. Member for Elmet (Mr. Batiste) spoke about the holes in his constituency. I have one that would compare with his, and the local authorities are putting rubbish into it. In addition, British Coal has proposed the opencasting of both sides of my valley simultaneously — only yards away from residential areas, and next to a new industrial and commercial park on land that we had just reclaimed and in which we are trying to promote new diversified investment in our economy.
When Ministers speak about expanding the opencast programme in my community, where there is still a lot of coal in the hills, people know that 10 or 15 years of opencasting will mean the destruction of opportunities to diversify our economy and move into other areas. We are told that we must attract jobs and companies, and we must not cling to the old jobs in coal and steel. We may not want to cling to the jobs of gouging and desecrating our hillsides when, as a result of reclamation programmes, we can regenerate, build new factory premises and create new varieties of job opportunities so that the community that I represent, which started the industrial revolution in the 1750s, can take part in the new industrial revolution of the 1980s and 1990s.
§ Mr. Andy Stewart (Sherwood)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) on his choice of subject—the effect of Government policy on coalfield communities—a title that allows hon. Members a fairly wide brief for today's debate.
With British Coal's continued commercial success towards viability, it may be the only time that the House has the opportunity to debate the coal industry, when it 1339 is introduced on a private Member's motion. It is a far cry from the annual ritual of the Secretary of State for Energy coming to the Dispatch Box cap in hand to ask for money to meet the National Coal Board's revenue deficit, which during the lifetime of this Government has been £5.5 billion. With those requests was always the latest plan for the industry to become viable in our time. The most famous of those plans was "Plan for Coal" 1974–75. Even today, the concept of that plan cannot be criticised. It was born as a result of the world's energy crisis, conceived between Government, management and trade unions, but sadly it was only the Government who stuck to their side of the bargain to meet their investment commitment. Weak management and domineering union leadership denied the work force the opportunity to participate in the plan, giving them the rewards which should have been theirs by right.
With the wisdom of hindsight, we now know that, if "Plan for Coal" had been adhered to by all its signatories, our coalfield communities would not be facing the problems of today. However, before highlighting those problems, I must pay tribute to those who work in the coal industry for achieving productivity records which would have been considered unobtainable two years ago. Productivity has increased by 23 per cent. in the last year and is unmatched by any other industry, giving us unprecedented national levels of production of more than 3.5 tonnes per man shift. In my constituency, more than 5 tonnes per man shift have now been reached.
§ Mr. Stewart
I am grateful for the compliment.
Continuing good results ensure the coal industry's future—a future in which British Coal's largest buyer, the Central Electricity Generating Board, will be privatised. Private or public, 75 per cent. of that industry's raw materials will be coal for the foreseeable future.
§ Mr. Stewart
If the hon. Gentleman will give me a chance, I shall deal with that.
The history of the nuclear industry guarantees the industry's future.
Earlier this year, two new coal-fired power stations were announced, one of which will be built in Nottinghamshire, with a promise of another three in the medium term. The commitment was recently endorsed by the Secretary of State for Energy as justification for increasing electricity prices to pay for that investment. There is a large market for coal and the demand can be met by British Coal meeting customers' requirements on quality, availability and price.
The House will recall that last year British Coal reduced its prices to the CEGB by £4 per tonne to secure a five-year contract. Knowing those who work in the industry, I am confident that that contract can be won again in four years time.
§ Mr. Stewart
Yes, against imported coal because many coal faces in British mines are matching the high performance levels achieved by our overseas competitors, and because the high investment in the heavy duty coalface equipment will continue. In Nottinghamshire alone this amounts to £220 million in the next two years. That continuing efficiency and our advantage in transporting coal with the knowledge that the world steam coal trade is small and unreliable gives me confidence to predict that the electricity industry will continue to receive its present volume from British coal for years to come.
British Coal has other valuable customers, taking 25 per cent. of output. To increase that market, it introduced Coalflow at a launch in Nottinghamshire in September. Coalflow is a system which is clean, automatic and gives cheap heat at a cost which is 20 per cent. lower than oil or gas.
This autumn British Coal launched a new coal conversion scheme in response to the ending of the Government's coal firing grant. Within a month that initiative has been a huge success, attracting applications from industrialists, local authorities and health authorities. It was especially good news for the public sector, since it was not eligible under the old scheme. The savings will allow the public sector to devote more resources to its services and communities.
While I am talking about conversions, perhaps the hon. Member for Rother Valley will tell us how he has been converted from being the chief campaign manager when Arthur was elected president, to being the chief campaign manager for his present leader, who wishes Arthur to disappear completely.
I have spoken about the upside of the coal industry. Unfortunately that success has been responsible for a downside, with pits closures, unemployment and low morale in the industry where the future of some pits is uncertain. Associated with that is the inept way in which British Coal went about disposing of the remaining housing stock, which caused unnecessary fears among tenants, not only those living in my constituency but across the breadth of the country. The uncertainty which we in the coalfields have experienced for the past two years will, I hope, be satisfactorily concluded in Nottinghamshire in the next few days. The "Pits and Mortar" report, to which the hon. Member for Rother Valley referred, gave me one small comfort.
§ Mr. Stewart
It actually gave me three small comforts. Nobody in my constituency featured in that document. What surprised me was why other hon. Members allowed what happened in their constituencies to arise.
§ Mr. Barron
When we debated the matter at the conference in Mansfield it was clear that the houses in Nottinghamshire have not been sold because Nottingham estates office has been tied up dealing with subsidence claims and has not been able to go ahead with the regional sales policy. That should be easy for anybody to understand. Perhaps I should draw a picture for the hon. Gentleman so that the facts will sink in.
§ Mr. Stewart
There have been no sales in my constituency because the former chairman, Mr. MacGregor, imposed a moratorium until arrangements could be made with local housing associations. That is why 1341 they did not feature in "Pits and Mortar". If you had been listening. Mr. Deputy Speaker, you would have heard that the contracts for sale of these houses in Nottinghamshire will be concluded in the very near future.
§ Mr. Stewart
You never Miss a thing, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should like to thank my local district councils, the coalfield community campaign secretariat and the housing associations which will be the new landlords. Above all, I must thank my elderly constituents for being patient and understanding. The Nottinghamshire coalfield is generally regarded as being one of the most prosperous in the country.
§ Mr. Stewart
No. The hon. Gentleman must realise that many other hon. Members want to make a contribution. I am sure that he agrees with everything that I have said.
The Nottinghamshire coalfield is generally regarded as one of the most prosperous in the country, with an assured long-term future. However, 15,000 jobs have been lost in the industry over the past five years. In March 1982, almost 41,000 people in the county worked for British coal. By March this year that number had fallen to 26,000. Half the lost jobs were due to pit closures and the others to increased productivity and mechanisation.
Hucknall colliery in my constituency closed after 120 years, as a result of what is known in the industry as a wash-out of the coal seam, causing losses of 1,400 jobs and over £100 million. In March this year Newstead joined the Annesly colliery complex in the constituency represented by the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) and in the next 10 days the future of Linby colliery will be discussed. I hope that I have illustrated clearly that even in a successful coalfield there are closures and job losses.
Recognising the need for rationalisation, the Government introduced generous redundancy terms for those who wished to leave the industry before 31 March this year and arranged alternative jobs for those who wished to stay. [Interruption.] Hon. Members must be patient; I have a long speech to make.
So far, we have not given assisted area status to all areas which are heavily dependent on mining. That was recommended in February this year when the Select Committee on Energy published its report on the coal industry. In a paragraph relating to pit closures, it recommended that such areas should have assisted status. It also urged the Government to pump in more resources at least comparable to the commitment required to generate London docklands.
Of course, we now have the new commitment to the inner cities. I believe that the time has come for some form of regional assistance that is specially aimed at the problems of the declining coalfields. Such coalfield aid could he directed to improving business advice and support services, providing better sites and premises for industrial development and improving the local infrastructure and environment.
As things now stand, local authorities in the east midlands do not receive any extra resources to meet the demands that fall upon them when pits close in their districts. I pay tribute to Nottinghamshire county council which, in the past four years, has made available assistance 1342 from its own resources to 17 businesses in the pit closure areas of Nottinghamshire, totalling £797,000 in loans, £546,000 in equity subscriptions and £32,500 in grants. My district councils of Ashfield and Sherwood also help in this work, but without special coal aid they are losing the battle in which we have involved them.
As deficit funding to British Coal is almost over now, would my hon. Friend the Minister consider channelling some of the substantial savings into the hard-hit coalfield areas? That would complement the role of British Coal Enterprise Ltd., which is doing an excellent job within its brief. In our region of the north midlands, which comprises Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, British Coal Enterprise Ltd. has committed £1 million, which has resulted in 640 new jobs.
I know that those figures do not yet match the 3,000 who left the industry in my constituency during this period. That is why I appeal to my hon. Friend to consider the number of lost jobs in the industry and present a case for European assistance for programmes that have been successfully introduced in recent years for other traditional industries—such as steel, textiles and shipbuilding. We need look no further than the old steel town of Corby to see how successful that programme has been.
The Coal Industry Act 1987, passed by the Government this year, is one that Opposition Members will not wish to be reminded of, as they tried to vote it down at every opportunity. The Act will have a profound effect on the running of the mineworkers pension scheme, which has assets of £5 billion, by allowing two seats on the pension body to be taken by members of the Union of Democratic Mineworkers. Their expertise will enhance the moneys paid to their pensioners, who are the forgotten people of the coalfield communities — but no longer. In future, investment decisions will be made with their interests in mind — not those of Marxist philosophers. As Roy Lynk, the president of the Union of Democratic Mineworkers said:A good union can be judged by the treatment of its pensioners.To back up his statement he announced a 30 per cent. increase in his members' pensions from this month. That, I am sure, will not have gone unnoticed by those who depend on the mineworkers scheme for their pensions.
Today, the industry is entering a new chapter in its history — viability through capital investment, a work force committed to increasing productivity, and, God willing, a future without Scargill.
§ Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley)
Unlike the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart), who passes as a farmer, I was in the mining industry for 27 years—14 of them in the coalfields—so I know what I am talking about. I remember when the Coalfield Communrties Campaign was set up to help the areas affected by pit closures and the running down of the industry, which Arthur correctly predicted would happen. Never mind the strike. It would have happened even if the strike had not taken place, so let us get that out of the way immediately.
I want to discuss my area. I am a miner, but I do not have a mine in my constituency—unfortunately. it was closed. It was the first colliery to go through the so-called review procedure set up during the miners' strike. I remember trying to fight to save it. I remember coming down here with the delegation of councillors, the Mayor, 1343 Old Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all, and we went to see that 71 year-old American known as the chairman. We sat round the table and said that there would be devastation in our town if its only pit, which employed 1,500 men, was closed. The man's answer was that he was sorry, but his remit was to get rid of uneconomic capacity. It did not run to acting as the conscience of the community, or anything like that.
We received little help from Mr. MacGregor, so we hotfooted it to the House of Commons to see the then Secretary of State for Energy, who is now in the Welsh Office. He was very nice and told us that our pit would go through the review procedure, and he would abide by whatever decision was arrived at. We thought that that was quite fair, considering that it was just after the miners' strike. What more could we want if the Secretary of State was going to abide by whatever decision was made?
We got our review and we obtained a decision, which was that the pit should stay open for two years at least to see whether it could break even. We reckon that it could have done, and that was how we convinced the independent review to take that decision. Unfortunately, the Secretary of State for Energy was never found again. We sent him letters and telephoned him, but we could not find him. Obviously, someone else, somewhere else had taken a decision, which he did not like, to close the mine, whatever he said about it.
So there were 900 redundancies in Blyth Valley and the men took their money, with which some tried, and some failed, to set up businesses. There is now 18.4 per cent. unemployment in Blyth, which is the highest recorded level since records began. I am quoting figures from this year's economic review of our town. They have been put together by professional men. That means that 21 per Gent. of all men who are capable of working in a proper job are on the dole. Two big wards adjoin the area around Bates's colliery. Cowpen ward has a male unemployment rate of 29 per cent. Croft ward, which I represented as a councillor for 20 years, has 27 per cent. male unemployment. That makes a grand total of 21 per cent. Those two areas are close to the pit and comprise the region that we are discussing.
I sometimes have to laugh when people talk about regional aid. The amount of regional aid given by the Government is unbelievable, and I shall tell the House about it. Regional aid for northern regional development used to be £235 million. Today, under this Government, it is £70 million. That is the amount given to the northern region Coalfield Communities Campaign. It has been decreased by 78 per cent., and that is an indictment of the Government. That is all that they are doing for the areas that they have devastated in the north-east.
Hon. Members have mentioned British Coal Enterprise Ltd. I must admit that since its launch it has done a lot. We estimate that at least 198 projects have been given £5 million in the north-east region. On numerous occasions my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Cummings) has tried to find out how many jobs it has created. It cannot tell us how many have been created in my constituency, nor can it tell how many have been created in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Easington. British Coal Enterprise Ltd., cannot tell anybody how many jobs it has set up. We know that 198 projects have been set up, but how many jobs did they 1344 create? That is what we want to know, but we cannot find out. We know how many jobs it says it has created in the north-east, but we want to know the figures for specific areas.
I do not decry British Coal Enterprise Ltd., because it has done the best that it can under the circumstances and has set many people up in business, but it should try to provide some proper figures about the constituencies, and perhaps the Minister will take note of that point. In the north-east we need something to rejuvenate the people following the massive pit closures since the strike. We have had four or five such closures and many men took redundancy payments and are now on the dole.
We have asked for an extension to Blyth power station. In the north-east we have the capacity of I. E. Parsons. It has been making skilled men redundant, and those men can build boilers and know about engineering and other trades. Once those men go, they are lost for ever; and we know that we need that power station. Lord Marshall might say that he does not need it in the north-east just yet, but we need it in order to keep the men that we already have, because we are losing skilled men at an awful rate and will never get them back.
The Coalfield Communities Campaign is about trying to convince the Government, but they are difficult to convince. Since I arrived here, they have not taken notice of anything. We must try to build up Tyneside, and we can do it by ordering a new coal-fired power station, or by at least telling the people of the north-east—the managers of Parsons and the people in the trade unions—that the Government will order the new power station as quickly as possible.
I started by talking about Bates's colliery and I shall close in the same way. I spent 27 years in a colliery of 29 million tonnes and it was a sad day when we lost it, and especially when we lost the review. At the time many things were said about the review and I am sorry that the Secretary of State at the time had to do what he did. I do not know who was running the Government, whether at that time it was the Secretary of State or the Prime Minister, when the Secretary of State took the decision about Bates's colliery. Bates's colliery has now gone. It is a derelict site and will probably be grassed over and made into a park. I invite the Secretary of State for Energy to come and look at Blyth to see its potential. He is welcome to visit my constituency at any time that he wishes.
§ 12.4 pm
§ Mr. David Ashby (Leicestershire, North-West)
I remind the hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell) that it is no help to any coal mining community to support failing mines. There is no point in the coal industry maintaining an unprofitable pit that is poorly managed and incompetent. There is no point in supporting a man like Arthur Scargill who maintains the bad practices and an unhelpful work force and who is looking for unprofitable mines and an unprofitable industry. The decline of any community faced by failing mines is slow and inevitable, but it is a reality that must end. It must be clearly understood that Mr. Scargill is no friend either to the miners or to the coal communities.
§ Mr. Ashby
There is no future for those communities with Mr. Scargill. In 1950 in my constituency, we had 1345 about 8,300 miners and 11 mines. By 1981, we were down to about 7,000 miners and nine mines. Now we are down to about 2,800 miners split between two pits, Donnisthorpe-Rawdon and Bagworth in Ellistown. Therefore we have lost about 4,300 jobs in the last six years.
In the 1950s, about 15 per cent. of our communities depended on mining jobs and in some communities it was as high as 30 per cent. In 1981 we saw levels of unemployment of 6.2 per cent. and by 1987 that had risen as high as 12.3 per cent. It is now down to 9.9 per cent. and in some areas the percentage is much lower. We have also seen an increase in long-term unemployment. Those figures speak for themselves and show the difficulties that these communities have faced during the last few years. The reason for that is clearly understood. In an extractive industry there is no alternative but to go when the coal becomes exhausted. In 1981, there was an absence of alternative sources of employment. We also had longstanding problems of a poor environment, and they have been exacerbated by derelict sites that have come about as a result of the closure of these mines. A very worrying problem for us is that by the 1990s it is anticipated that mining will cease in the area, with the loss of a further 2,800 jobs.
§ Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, when jobs are beginning to go in an area because of a change in employment strata, it is even more important for Government resources to go into that area so that the lost jobs can be replaced with new technologies, new skills and new opportunities? That would enable people who have lived all their lives in a particular part of the country to continue to live there in full employment.
§ Mr. Ashby
This is a complex matter and is the subject of my speech. I agree with the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham), but it is a combination of two things, and at the end of the day there is no solution but to look to private enterprise. However, it needs some help and some priming from the Government. That help will come from such bodies as British Coal Enterprise Ltd., and also from British Coal itself. Therefore, it is a combination, hut I agree that it is important to have directed help from the Government.
We in north-west Leicestershire have been looking to Asfordby. In that context I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham). He was anxious to be here for the debate, but unfortunately he has urgent constituency problems that have kept him away from the Chamber. Asfordby is in the constituency of Rutland and Melton. In north-west Leicestershire we have a very reasonable work force. It is a work force that is worthy of investment.
During the 1984–85 coal miners' strike the work force remained working and it has been at the forefront of turning from the National Union of Miners to the Union of Democratic Mineworkers. Even the NUM is opposing Arthur Scargill as miners now recognise the need for a six-day week to maximise investment. It is a vital feature that, when one has a high investment, one cannot have the investment in machinery standing idle for half the time. British Coal recognises that if it is to be competitive and a forward-thinking industry, it has to look to maximising its investment. Arthur Scargill is flying in the face of 1346 reasonable investment in the industry. Most reasonable miners and certainly other Britons recognise and understand that one must maximise investment.
§ Mr. Meale
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the best use of resources and the best record are seen in British Coal when, since the Government were elected in 1979, 100 pits have closed, 100,000 jobs have been lost and over 60,000 homes with tenants who have given their lives to the industry have been sold?
§ Mr. Ashby
It was the Labour party that devastated those communities. The Labour Government closed far more coalfields. If the hon. Gentleman had been listening to my speech, he would have heard me say that there is no future for communities which have a declining coal mine, because the end is inevitable. Their future is in a strong industry, and that is what I am seeking to speak to.
One thing that worries me about Asfordby is that assurances were given by British Coal that the first option on jobs there would be given to the miners of Leicestershire. That has been significantly departed from, because it appears that those jobs will now also he open to Nottinghamshire coal miners. I have asked the chairman of British Coal to look through his files and to note that his predecessors gave positive assurances that the Leicestershire coal miners would be offered those jobs, and I have asked for those assurances to be adhered to. Another worrying factor is that there appears to be a transfer of management responsibility for the Asfordby area to Nottingham.
§ Mr. Ashby
It may be a good decision, but tt has an implication for management jobs in north-west Leicestershire and it puts the future of 471 jobs at the headquarters at Coleorton Hall in some doubt. That decision may be right, but it will be worrying for my constituents because of the job implications it will have. The Government have tackled the problems in constituencies such as mine with a great deal of sensitivity and generosity. Faced with the exhaustion of coal in coalfields, the Government introduced a generous redundancy scheme to implement a rundown of those mines.
I have been approached by many miners made redundant under mine closures implemented by the Labour Government who have said that they feel they were let down by the Labour Government because their terms were not as generous as the terms offered by the Conservative Government. In fact, the Labour Government had no schemes. They had no thought for the future and they closed pits left, right and centre. They had no thought for the future of those who lost their jobs. Necessary closures have taken place while the Conservative Government have been in office, but these have been accompanied by generous schemes and a great deal of care, sympathy and sensitivity. It is against that background that we have the carping of Labour Members.
§ Mr. Allen McKay
The hon. Gentleman should consider the facts that lie behind his remarks. He has referred to the closures that took place when the Labour Government were in office, but he should realise that there was a lot of space, as it were, and many collieries remained. The issue was how best to fill the remaining space. I worked on what was known 'as the A, B and C system, which hinged on a colliery closing itself as uneconomic.
1347 The hon. Gentleman has spoken of redundancy payments and it seems that he has not heard about buying out jobs. That is a Coal Board ploy. If the board does not want the trouble of running the colliery, it buys it out.
§ Mr. Ashby
I shall not give way, because I know that there are many others who wish to participate in the debate. I shall continue and finish my speech.
Having spoken about the future of the industry in the area which I represent, it must be remembered that the remaining collieries are likely to close in the 1990s. The redundancy scheme has affected predominantly those over 50 years of age, which means that younger people have been left in work. Future closures will mean that younger people will be leaving the industry on slightly less generous terms than those which have prevailed. As we know, the Government scheme has ended. This will result in a challenge to the local economy.
I have referred to the relative absence of alternative sources of employment. This problem must be addressed by every community that is faced with the closure of or rundown of an extraction industry. The resources of any such industry are finite and it is right that local authorities must plan to that end. They know that extraction industries are finite and that extraction will come to an end. They must plan well ahead of any closure. The turnround for any area must be about nine or 10 years. That is the position when any major industry closes. Local authorities should consider diversification at an early stage.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Ashby) has said that he is not prepared to give way, and the hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley) must not persist.
§ Mr. Ashby
Local authorities must turn their minds to the diversification of industry. They must make contingency plans about 20 years before a closure is expected.
Many areas of the sort that I represent have had Labour-controlled local authorities. In so many areas such as mine, the local Labour party is dominated by miners. The Labour party in my constituency was miner-orientated and like many other Labour parties, positively discouraged investment in non-mining industries. It had a loyalty, and loyalty is strong in the mining industry, but it was misplaced. The position in my area is no different from that in any other area that faces the same problem.
In recent times, the local Labour party in my constituency has understood the problem, and real 1348 improvements have been made. There has been a reduction in unemployment, which now stands at 9.9 per cent. Many new factories have opened, and as a result there have been many new jobs in the constituency.
My local authority is Labour-controlled and like so many other Labour-controlled authorities, it depends on the Liberal party to support it. We know that throughout the country, the Labour and Liberal parties are in cahoots.
§ Mr. Ashby
It has looked for a diversification of jobs and for the provision of new industry. In many ways, it has positively discriminated for jobs and we have been able to work together regardless of our politics. We have been encouraging new industries.
There has been a substantial economic upturn in northwest Leicesterhire and we have been able to take advantage of the growth in the national economy. The national economy has had as much of an influence as the local economy. We have been able to use the national growth to improve the area and a combination of the national economy and local economy has been formidable.
The important fact is that we have been working to establish confidence in the community. We have been talking about successes. We have not been going around talking doom and gloom. We speak of ourselves as a golden triangle of communications. We have the M1, M42 and M6 nearby and there are airports and so on. We have been speaking in positive terms about the advantages in our area and we are trying hard to create an environment that will attract the private sector. The local Labour party recognises the need for the private sector.
We have been looking to provide suitable sites and premises. We have such sites and premises and often they are on ex-Coal Board land. Our consultants report that the private sector will not build advanced factory units and we have to take that into account. I see that the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) is not listening to me, but I am talking about the need for a combination of the private and public sectors. There is a need for some local authority investment as a primer for industrial estates and industries in the area. That must be recognised by the Government. However, such expenditure must not be at the expense of other important measures such as social measures, which are necessary in such areas.
The environment is equally important. As has been said, by their very nature pits are dirty places with ghastly spoil heaps and so on. Changes have been taking place but a great deal of help is needed. In the new mines such as Asfordby, great emphasis has been placed on environmental factors. However, we must be vigilant in coping with the problem. My area has not only working pits but derelict pit sites. It also has opencast sites and I agree with so much of what was said by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands). To place opencast sites on top of closed sites is adding to the dereliction. We have to be environmentally sensitive if we are to improve areas such as mine where there are pit closures. We must not add to the problem by having opencast sites in profusion. One site per area is the most that can be coped with.
We have to turn the areas around and make them attractive for investors. We have to prepare the derelict pit sites for a cleaner future. There is a need for close liaison between British Coal, the property owners and local 1349 authorities in that respect. We have to think ahead. We have to think positively and co-ordinate our future planning. We need greater Government appreciation of the problems of the environment and we have to realise that the private sector is the only sector that will truly improve the communities. The communities must be nourished and encouraged. We cannot go on preaching doom and gloom, because that only discourages private sector investors.
§ Ms. Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North)
I shall try to be brief, but I hope that all hon. Members understand my constituency's specific problems, which are reflected throughout the whole country. The problems deserve to be set out fairly and squarely in Hansard, in the hope that, in some way, the Government will respond. I address my comments to the Under-Secretary of State for Energy in particular, in the hope that he will pass them on, not only to British Coal, but to the Department of the Environment. The specific problems to which I shall refer relate equally to the Department of the Environment.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) on taking the initiative and bringing the issue before the House. If the Government are so concerned about what is happening to our coal mining communities, why did they not bring forward such a motion? We have heard from the hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) that we should be concerned about the environment. I, too, am concerned about the environment, and so are my hon. Friends who represent north Staffordshire constituencies.
As in south Staffordshire, many pits in our area have closed down, but we face the threat of opencast coal mining, which will bring about one of the biggest environmental problems in our region. Incidentally, that issue has been singled out by the Council for the Protection of Rural England as one of the biggest dangers that we face. I take issue with the Coal Board. Opencast coal is not needed to sweeten high-chlorine coal.
Having said that, and having referred to the fact that we need to take account of many issues connected with coal mining communities — the issues have been most admirably covered by my hon. Friends — I shall concentrate on housing, and, in particular, on the problems that tenants, residents and owner-occupiers face in the Galleys Bank estate in Kidsgrove, Stoke-on-Trent.
For the benefit of those who are not aware of it, in the 1950s the Coal Board built 450 Shindler-type houses in Kidsgrove. In 1979 the Coal Board gave an undertaking to the coal miners, who had spent a lifetime working for the coal industry, that they would be well looked after in their old age. I was dismayed when I read the legal columns of our local newspaper, the Evening Sentinel. It was clear that the houses would be sold in job lots at an auction room down in London. Many people in my constituency have never even been to London.
We have just heard from the hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West that the Government's view is that the private sector will solve our problems. The private sector and the sale of our former NCB council houses to absentee landlords are the main reasons why we have so many problems at the moment. I take great exception to 1350 the comments of the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart). He said that he took great pride in the fact that there was no reference to his constituency in the document issued by Shelter, "Pits and Mortar". Some Opposition Members cannot help that. The Coal Board has paid no attention to the needs of those whose lives have been devoted to the coal industry. I want the debate at least to change that. I wish to make sure that due discussion and consideration are given to the matter.
The sale of the houses took place in London. Only some weeks later was it discovered that, under the housing defects legislation, those homes were defective. British Coal had never informed the tenants of that fact. Tenants thought that their houses had been sold by British Coal on 6 August. They were then told that they would not be sold until 30 September and that they should carry on paying their rents to British Coal. They were then told, no, their houses had been sold off, 20 to a company here, and 20 to a company there.
Those companies, which include such names as Swilliow and Bananabliss, which are a bit hard to swallow. Those homes were sold off to absentee landlords, who made no provision for the basics of housing management. They did not make any proper arrangements to issue rent books or to carry out housing repairs. They told elderly people and widows that they must telephone London to report any problems. Many of those people do not have telephones in their homes and could not afford out of their pensions and housing benefit the telephone costs that would have been involved if they had reported the housing repairs.
The position has probably improved somewhat since then, through the efforts of Newcastle council, which has had to spend an enormous amount of money giving support to the tenants and in attempts to get the proper legislation enforced locally. It is worthy of note that that money has not been given by central Government.
Another matter of great importance is the plight of those residents who purchased their homes from British Coal without knowing that they were defective under the terms of the housing defects legislation. Those people have discovered that they have missed the cut-off date, which means that they are facing undue hardship and misery. Not even the number of letters that they have written to British Coal and to the Department of the Environment has enabled them to receive proper compensation for what happened.
I could speak about this subject at great length, but I am aware that many other hon. Members wish to speak. In earlier contributions, especially in that from my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens South (Mr. Bermingham), we heard of the importance of the coalfield communities and it was said that we should build on the many years that generation after generation has put in to improving the quality of life.
About 15 of the houses in my constituency that have been sold to absentee landlords are now empty and are not being relet. To add insult to injury, the new owners— the absentee landlords—have even attempted to carry out illegal evictions. I shall quote from a letter sent by Sir Robert Haslam of British Coal to councillors in my constituency.:All the tenants of the houses sold to private landlords retain full security of tenure, which is unaffected by the change of ownership".I should like to say a little about local democracy, because two councillors in my constituency, Councillor 1351 John Lockett and Councillor John Ellis, have worked unpaid day and night, week in week out, to do the jobs of the absentee landlords and to help the people who found themselves not knowing where or who to turn to, and in misery. Those councillors have done a remarkable job, but it is now up to the Department of the Environment, through representations from the Department of Energy, to ensure that all the people concerned get round the table to try to make good some of the harm that has been done.
I do not want the "Pits and Mortar" report to be put in a filing cabinet. Too many reports by voluntary organisations have not received the discussion that they merit. It is an excellent document, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley for pointing it out to me.
It was because of my concern that one of the first things that I did when elected to the House in June of this year was to table an early-day motion to highlight the suffering caused by British Coal's sale of such houses and to demand a public inquiry. I want a public inquiry. I do not want just an early-day motion and for us to have today's debate and think that the problem will go away. It will not go away. Tenants, residents, owner-occupiers and local authorities, which are not getting the money that they deserve from the Government, and hon. Members who represent the constituencies concerned, will make sure, with the help of the Coalfield Communities Campaign, that the problem is not ignored.
We want the Government to set up a public inquiry as soon as possible. I should like British Coal to say that genuine hardship was caused to tenants in my constituency and that it will give them something in compensation. If British Coal paid the rents for the five weeks when the tenants did not know who their landlord was, that would not cost British Coal more than £5,000. However, it would be a tremendous boost to coal mining communities. My constituents would then think that somebody cared about what was happening to them.
As for the housing defects legislation, I want an extension of the power to make claims. I do not know why British Coal did not inform tenants that the legislation applied to their homes. I understand that discussions are taking place at the Department of the Environment, and I want the Minister to ensure that the terms of the Housing Defects Act 1984 are widened to incorporate owner-occupiers who at present cannot claim compensation. The Government should make available to local authorities in coal mining areas adequate financial resources so that they are able to rehabilitate or repurchase defective houses.
I do not intend to leave this issue alone. I shall continue to press the Government until I can return to my constituents and say that at last the Government recognise the problems that face not just my constituency but the contituencies of every Opposition Member.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy (Mr. Michael Spicer)
One of the problems about speaking at this time in the debate — I understand that it is because the Opposition want me to do so now—is that certain hon. Members whose questions I should have like to answer have left the Chamber. Through the columns of Hansard, I apologise to them. I shall do my best to answer the points that they have raised.
1352 The hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Buckley) is the first Opposition Member to whom I want to refer. I warmly congratulate him on the eloquent and moving maiden speech that he made on behalf of his constituents. It is very difficult to make a maiden speech, and it is always a relief to have got it off one's chest.
I thank the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) for moving the motion, and I welcome the opportunity that it provides for the House to debate the coalfield communities. However, my hon. Friends the Members for Elmet (Mr. Batiste), for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart), for Derbyshire, West (Mr. McLoughlin) and for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) have said that the coalfield communities cannot be considered without referring to the industry that serves them — the coal industry. We may hear more about this from Opposition Members, but I do not understand why they are so coy about the simple proposition that in order to debate the coalfield communities one has to refer to the coal industry.
§ Mr. Barron
Why should the Minister be so coy about it? During the year of the strike, and ever since, Ministers have stood at the Dispatch Box and said that the social consequences of colliery closures have nothing whatever to do with the Secretary of State for Energy. We are not being coy about it. We are looking at the problem in the way that the Government have been looking at it for many years.
§ Mr. Spicer
Reference has been made to the strike. I am not being coy. I intend to deal with the coalfield communities. I have my own ideas about why the Opposition are making such heavy weather of this and why they do not want to discuss the coal industry. In some strange way, they want to avoid debating the coal industry. If I am pressed to say what my own ideas are about that, I shall do so. However, I do not intend to embarrass the Opposition too greatly at this stage by saying why, in my view, they do not want to debate the coal industry. Certainly we want to debate the coalfield communities in the context of some assessment of what is going on in the coal industry. The debate has already vividly illustrated the nature of the crossroads at which the industry currently finds itself.
On the one hand — as has previously been said —enormous strides have been taken to repair the damage caused by the strike in 1985, the effects of which my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) brilliantly described. Since that time, productivity has risen by 45 per cent., and that is contrary to the terms of the motion tabled by the hon. Member for Rother Valley, which talks about falling investment. It is strange that the hon. Gentleman says that we must not talk about investment, when his motion accuses the Government of subscribing to falling investment. Investment in new machinery — quite contrary to the hon. Gentleman's motion — especially heavy-duty equipment, has been maintained at a rate of £2 million every working day. Since 1979 an amount equal —this may interest the House—to one and a half times the present capital valuation of ICI has been injected into the industry.
New pits such as Selby and Adfordby are being developed. Selby is now producing coal at the rate of 16 tonnes per man shift, as against an industry average of——
§ Mr. Spicer
The hon. Gentleman need not worry; I shall come on to the relationship between this and the coalfield communities. Indeed, there is a clear relationship between what I am saying and those coalfield communities.
§ Mr. Cummings
The history of mining in Durham, is that we had 145 pits in 1948, but we now have five. Will the Minister explain the importance of investment in the coastal mines to the scores of coalfield communities in the west of the county? I have come here today to talk about coalfield communities. Investment for the industry is always welcome, but I fail to see the consequential effects upon communities in the west of my county.
§ Mr. Spicer
Is the hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Cummings) suggesting that there is no benefit accruing to the coalfield communities as a result of investment in the coal mining industry? I am not in any sense denying that there are separate and additional issues involved, but, first, I wish to establish firmly what is going on as regards current investment and development in the coal industry as a basis from which to discuss the communities. I think that that is a perfectly reasonable thing to do.
Large reserves, not only of deep-mined coal but of opencast coal, are resulting in the production of competitively priced coal. All that means that British Coal now has clearly in its sight the objective of breaking even next year. It all adds up to the prospect of a highly competitive British coal industry facing a secure future. If that comes about, it can only be of benefit to the coalfield communities.
So much for the good news. On the other hand—this may now be touching on some of the raw nerves of Opposition Members — negative and destructive attitudes, championed and personified for instance by the current president of the NUM, still persist. It may well be that the reason why sensible Opposition Members do not wish to focus attention on the coal industry at the moment is that they share a certain embarrassment about this matter.
§ Mr. Illsley
I am not embarrassed by the president of the National Union of Mineworkers. The Minister should remember that, before the strike, the president of the NUM said that 70,000 jobs would be lost and 70 pits closed. That is about to happen. In a recent Adjournment debate I highlighted the closure of Woolley and Redbrook collieries in my constituency. What Mr. Scargill said before the strike has come home to roost. He was correct.
§ Mr. Spicer
Does the hon. Gentleman believe that the strike assisted in that process? If we allowed similar attitudes again to dominate the industry, there is little doubt that its potential stability and security would be shattered, this time perhaps for ever, which would cause great damage to the coalfield communities.
British Coal must compete in a tough world market which shows every sign of getting tougher. The price of internationally traded coal has fallen steeply and may decline further with the fall in the value of the United States dollar.
§ Mr. Spicer
A tremendous amount, as I keep trying to impress upon the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman 1354 cannot say that this has nothing to do with our debate on the coalfield communities. The future of the industry is essential to the debate on the future of those communities.
§ Mr. Rogers
Does the Minister accept that we are frustrated by his attitude in response to the debate? As my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) said, there were 200 pits in south Wales; there are now 14. I accept that some were closed under Labour and some under Conservative Governments——
§ Mr. Rogers
That is not my argument. It goes to show how stupid Conservative Members are. We should discuss the communities as they exist, not try to apportion blame. Those communities need help now.
§ Mr. Spicer
I share the hon. Gentleman's frustration, because I, too, want to discuss the present circumstances and future of the coal mining communities. But to do that I must first discuss the future of the coal industry.
There is intense competition from other fuels. Since April last year British Coal has lost about £500 million of potential income because it had to reduce its prices to maintain its business not only with the CEGB but with other customers. British Coal's average price to customers has fallen by 15 per cent. in real terms since March 1985, when the strike ended, and by 6.5 per cent. during the past year.
It must be said with pride that, to a large extent, the industry has managed to absorb those price reductions by increasing productivity and lowering costs. Productivity has increased dramatically—in the past year alone by 15 per cent. Since March 1985, colliery operating costs have been reduced by 23 per cent. As a result, last week British Coal's half-year results showed that its total deficit was lower and that its operating profit, before the payment of interest and restructuring costs, had doubled compared with the previous year. That is all to the great credit of those who work in the industry and to the great benefit of those who live in coal mining areas.
It must be said, however—this relates directly to the motion — that the greater part of the increased productivity has been achieved by re-equipping faces with heavy duty machinery, thus enabling coal to be cut more quickly and efficiently. That investment holds out the promise of even greater productivity. Contrary to the terms of the motion, since 1979 investment in coal has been more than 30 per cent. higher in real terms than during the period of the Labour Government.
If the new machinery is to provide the maximum return, which is one of the objectives that British Coal has been set, working practices must change. That is why we fully support the corporation in its wish to introduce flexible working in new mines such as Asfordby and Margam. Indeed, we see that as part of a wider strategy whereby the industry will need to concentrate on maximising profits and to focus on profitable production and marketing. There will be a growing need for each part of the corporation's operations to show a profit and generate a positive cash flow. There can be no certainty what that will mean for production targets.
§ Mr. Spicer
I should like to continue. I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a few moments. I must carry on, because I want to relate my speech to the motion.
1355 With a rising demand for coal as the CEGB builds more coal-fired power stations, there will be great opportunities for British Coal, so long as its production is competitive. But I have to tell the House that British Coal still has a long way to go to make itself fully competitive. Because of falling prices, British Coal is likely to have an increased cash requirement and has had to accelerate its restructuring. I am likely, therefore, to have to announce to the House soon a revised external financing limit for this year.
Because of increased redundancy costs and terminal depreciation, the level of deficit grant of £100 million is also likely to prove inadequate. We are talking about Government money and taxpayers' money coming through the coal industry to the communities, which is highly relevant. The deficit grant of £100 million available under the Coal Industry Act 1987 is increasable by order to a maximum of £200 million. Should it prove necessary, we would come to the House with the order for any increase that was required, together with a Supplementary Estimate for any additional payments this year.
Privatisation of the electricity supply industry will be the most important challenge to the coal industry and communities around it over the next few years—
§ Mr. Rowlands
I am the one hon. Member who referred to restructuring and redundancies, so I feel that I am entitled to ask a question. I suspect that there will be a press release on that aspect of the Minister's speech. Am I right?
§ Mr. Rowlands
Good. In that case, how does the Minister square that with the statement by the Secretary of State for Wales, when he was Secretary of State for Energy, to all Welsh Members only a few months ago, that restructuring and rationalisation were virtually over in the Welsh coalfield, so we did not need a redundancy payments scheme. It is now being reintroduced. Does the Minister admit that there will be another major restructuring of the industry?
§ Mr. Spicer
The hon. Gentleman knows that there is an extension to the redundancy payments scheme. Currently, British Coal receives the most generous redundancy rate of all industries. The hon. Gentleman knows that as well as I do. There is certainly a renewal of the redundancy scheme, and that will be paid out of the restructuring grant.
Privatisation of the electricity supply industry will be the most important challenge to the coal industry over the next few years. Whatever structure we decide for the electricity industry, we believe that the coal industry will continue to be a large supplier to the electricity industry. However, a privatised electricity industry will be free to enter—[Interruption.] I am about to say something that is highly important — into commercial arrangements which it believes best suit its needs. Therefore, I cannot predict——
§ Mr. Bermingham
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I may not be the world's brightest, but I can read. 1356 The motion deals with the coalfield communities—that is, the communities in both former and present coalfield areas. What the Minister has to say about the proposed privatisation of the electricity industry surely is a matter for a different debate. There are many hon. Members— [Interruption.] I seek to make my point, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but the children are cackling on the Conservative Benches. Perhaps they will shut up. Will you tell the Minister that the right time for him to make his remarks is during an appropriate debate, not this one?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
Order. The hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) tabled a wide motion and a wide debate is therefore in order. I have heard nothing out of order so far.
§ Mr. Spicer
I shall not weary the House by going into the reasons for discussing the electricity industry in the context of the coal communities.
§ Mr. Barron
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Today is set aside for private Members' motions which are of interest to hon. Members. Is it not an abuse for the Minister to read out a press release on electricity privatisation which has nothing to do with my motion?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The Minister is responsible for his own speech. Hon. Members are taking up valuable time on points of order.
§ Mr. Spicer
The privatisation of the electricity industry will affect the coal industry, and the future of the coal industry is vital to the future of the coalfield communities.
§ Mr. Spicer
I shall not give way again.
It is sometimes suggested that we should privatise coal to expand production and so increase jobs in the coalfield communities. My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West reminded us that a Select Committee report suggested privatising the coal industry, but we have no present plans to privatise British Coal. We are giving priority to maintaining the present process of readjustment in the coal industry. In the meantime, we are committed to the development of a prosperous private sector for coal, which has substantial implications for the coalfield communities.
The licensed sector has expressed some concern about the statutory framework within which it operates. The Government are considering whether to raise the statutory limits applied to the licensed sector. If we decided to present such proposals to the House, legislation would take time. In the meantime, I have been discussing with Sir Robert Haslam the scope for greater flexibility and transparency.
§ Mr. Spicer
The hon. Gentleman can make his own calculations but certainly there will be jobs. There is no doubt that there would be many more jobs if the private sector were given its head. Within the scope of the present law we want to discuss with Sir Robert Haslam what more can be done. For instance, it might be possible to speed up the issuing of licences and to give clearer guidance to potential licence applicants about the criteria that British Coal applies when deciding whether to grant a licence. I hope that we can reach some form of agreement before Christmas.
1357 In addition, we must consider opencast mines which are worked by the private sector. I do not wish to go too deeply into that, except to remind hon. Members that it costs £1.03 per gigajoule to mine opencast coal, which is perhaps what the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) had in mind when considering the various balances. By comparison, it costs £1.60 per gigajoule on average, for deep-mined coal. Clearly, therefore, opencast coal—whether Opposition Members like it or not—has a part to play in the development of jobs in the coal industry, and because of the mix when it is blended with high chlorine deep-mined coal.
I entirely understand the objections and worries that have been raised about opencast mining. I shall do everything that I can to publicise the good things that British Coal has done to the land as a result of opencast mining, and the jobs that it has brought to the community. I shall also involve myself——
§ Mr. McLoughlin
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing out that there can be difficulties. Is he aware, however, that opencast mining in this country has remained at a consistent level? In 1978–79 it amounted to 13.6 million tonnes, and last year the figure was 13.3 million, so there has been no huge increase in opencast mining since the Government came to power.
§ Mr. Spicer
That is correct, and I find it rather a sad figure. Nevertheless, I take on board some of the points that have been made about what has been done after opencast activity has taken place. As far as it is within my power to influence the matter, I intend to do so to the benefit of the communities. However, it must be said that some of the instances that have been given today are largely the fault of the local authorities and not that of British Coal. In addition to the substantial levels of investment in the coal industry, to which I have already referred, the Government have been generous in their financial support for the consequential restructuring costs, which amounted to almost £600 million in 1986–87 alone.
As we said in our response to the report by the Select Committee on Energy, a number of Government programmes provide help to mitigate the effects of unemployment. This Government were the first to respond to the special employment needs of coalfield areas, by setting out directly to provide them with new jobs through British Coal Enterprise Ltd. I want to discuss that company, because some spiteful, derogatory comments have been made about it by Opposition Members.
Assistance from British Coal Enterprise Ltd. aims to help the coalfield communities in precisely the way that the hon. Member for Rother Valley intends. The company's purpose is not only to find jobs for men leaving the industry on redundancy. It aims to provide a wide range of jobs — preferrably in manufacturing—that can give employment to all members of the community. It does so by supporting new and diverse businesses and industries and bringing new skills and opportunities to workers.
A measure of the company's success is that it has already committed funds to help to generate more than 20,000 new job opportunities in coalfield areas. Up to the end of October, BCEL had provided £36.5 million towards the cost of about 1,700 individual projects. Opposition Members seem to find that unsatisfactory or disagreeable in some way. BCEL is also funding only those projects that it considers have a good chance of long-term survival.
§ Mr. Spicer
I want to finish what I am saying about BCEL. These efforts should help to ensure that coalfield communities no longer depend on a single industry. If that is part of what the hon. Member for Rother Valley wants, it is also precisely what BCEL aims to do. Unconstructive criticisms such as we have heard from Opposition Members today are of no help to the communities that they profess to support and assist.
The Opposition have criticised the company on the extraordinary grounds that it has failed to publish a list of names of all the ex-miners employed in schemes that it has supported. The House well knows that BCEL is not able to breach the normal rules of commercial confidentiality that govern much of the assistance that has been given. However, where details can be given, they will he made freely available. I have listened to what Opposition hon. Gentlemen and hon. Ladies have said, and I shall see whether it is possible to provide more information in future without breaking those rules of commercial confidentiality.
§ Mr. Bermingham
Does the Minister agree that he has to assist not only companies in coalfield areas, but the areas themselves? In St. Helens there are development areas that are supported by other Government bodies and are in a wholly disadvantageous position compared to Liverpool, Warrington, and Stafford Park. Will the Minister take that on board in seeking to give extra assistance to the former miners in the St. Helens area?
§ Mr. Spicer
I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. Indeed, the question of the boundaries of the special assistance areas was raised by several hon. Members. This is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. However, as hon. Members know, the Government have decided to maintain the present boundaries. We have very good reasons for that, because it gives some clarity and stability to those planning their investment decisions. We are constantly changing the rules and the boundaries of development areas. That may not do what the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) would like, which is to encourage long-term plans and investment decisions that bring forward jobs.
BCEL recently invited its external auditors to make a general check of its procedures for establishing, monitoring and recording job opportunities created. I am able to tell the House that the company's auditors found that its procedures were sound and were providing them with realistic data. They recommended some minor improvements, which the company has accepted. For example, it was suggested that the monitoring of actual jobs created, as opposed to estimates, should be done on a monthly rather than a quarterly basis. That suggestion has been accepted. I listened carefully to what hon. Members said about that. If hon. Gentlemen want to know more about BCEL's activities in their constituencies, I know that its chief executive will meet them and discuss examples. I shall look at the question of whether more information can be provided without revealing confidentialities.
§ Mrs. Llin Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the Minister to refer to hon. Members as hon. Gentlemen? 1359 There are ladies in the House who have been here from the beginning of the debate, and that is more than I can say for some Conservative Members.
§ Mr. Spicer
I apologise to the hon. Lady if I said that. If I did say it, I hope that I was addressing specific points raised by hon. Gentlemen. At one point in my speech I thought that the point I was speaking about had not been, raised by hon. Ladies. Perhaps the hon. Lady was not here at the time, but if she looks at the record she will see that earlier in my speech I referred to hon. Ladies.
The hon. Member for Rother Valley, my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West and other hon. Members spoke movingly about the effects on local communities of changes in the coal industry. The hon. Member for Easington will agree with my next point. I lived and worked for almost 10 years as a candidate in the coal mining area of Easington, and I know about the spirit and the sense of community and the changes that characterise today's mining areas. There is no doubt that the sense of community in the coal mining areas can be turned to great advantage in attracting industries.
It is this spirit, combined with the technical skills which undoubtedly go with coal mining, which in large part lay behind Nissan's decision to make a major investment in Durham. However, the coal mining industry cannot be totally insulated from wider economic and social changes. The Nottinghamshire miner who commutes long distances from a new housing estate is breaking old patterns for the industry, but he is in tune with modern ways of living.
I believe, and it has been confirmed by today's debate, that Labour Members sometimes seem to wish that the coal mining industry would remain forever captured in the ways of 50 years ago. The Government see British Coal as an essentially modern industry from which electricity, heat. and possibly gas will be derived well into the 21st century, and that is why I urge the House to reject the motion.
§ Mr. Alexander Eadie (Midlothian)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) on initiating the debate. Judging from the exchanges, I think that all hon. Members appreciate the fact that he chose the topic that he did. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Buckley) on his maiden speech. He made a very worthwhile contribution and Opposition Members look forward to hearing more from him. Judging from his well-articulated comments, he will be a great asset to us and to the House generally. He is a member of the miners parliamentary group and I believe that that will strengthen his activities in the House.
It is difficult to reply to the debate because I am racing against time and I know that other hon. Members wish to speak, but I can say shortly that the problem of coal communities was highlighted in 1985 when coal communities decided collectively to form the Coalfield Communities Campaign. That membership consists of 68 local authorities—18 communities from Wales; 14 from Scotland, plus one associated member; and 36 from England. I think it goes without saying that that sweep of organisations represents probably the biggest sweep of opinion that exists. It has been called an apolitical organisation. However, that does not mean to say that it has no political views.
1360 Councillor Salt made clear the objects, activities and views of the CCC when he gave evidence to the Select Committee on Energy on 23 April 1986. He was asked by the Chairman of the Committee what its terms of reference were and he replied:Our terms of reference are to carry on consultation on matters of common interest; to secure an effective flow of information between member local authorities, local government associations, the institutions of the EEC, Members of Parliament, the media, Government and Parliament itself and any other interested bodies.The Chairman then asked Councillor Salt to state the CCC's key objectives. He replied:Our key objectives are a significant increase in employment and job opportunities in our areas and safeguarding existing jobs; increased input of resources and investment from outside the coalfield communities into coalfield communities; legislation to protect and, where necessary, facilitate the improvement of the environment and of the living and working conditions of the peoples within the areas that we represent; and to give full consideration to coal as an energy source, leading to increased use of coal within the EEC and the United Kingdom in particular.The CCC is fortunate to have someone of the calibre of Councillor Salt to lead it in its campaign.
The CCC has not been just another girning organisation. It has produced high-quality research papers, and its most recent effort is a report on opencast coal. A working party took evidence for eight months before the report was published. It is known already that British Coal's marketing director is not too pleased about its contents. I advise the CCC not to be too perturbed about that. The marketing director has a habit of speaking as if he were the chairman of British Coal. We can take our choice in deciding whether this is vanity or disloyalty. Perhaps he should be reminded of the post he holds and the work for which he is paid.
I have a constituency interest because Councillors Murray and Boyes, two of my constituents, are leading officers and activists of the CCC. They have sent me some documentation to which I shall refer briefly. I do that on the basis that if I change the name I could easily be referring to almost any coalfield community in our land because the problems stretch from Wales right up to Scotland.
The document says:Coalmining has long played a major role in Midlothian's economy. Even 10 years ago when many of the older pits had already closed, the industry still employed around 6,000 people. Miners made up almost 40 per cent. of the male workforce. This was particularly significant in an area with a population of less than 85,000 people.Today, under 1,400 people are employed in the coal industry … In 10 years over three quarters of the coalmining jobs have gone. Two thirds of these job losses—3,000— have actually occurred in the last five years.The traumatic effect on the declining local economy was reinforced by the general economic recession during the early 1980s. The withdrawal of Assisted Area status from Midlothian has also made the task of attracting new companies to the area much more difficult. The most obvious effect has been the rise in unemployment. The total doubled in three years between 1979 and 1982 and has consistently remained at well over 4,000 during the past five years. This has made an enormous impact in a relatively small district like Midlothian, with the worst effects being felt in the mining communities, where male unemployment remains around 20 per cent.It has to be recognised that the coalfield communities have specific and unique problems, and comprehensive efforts are being made to expand and diversify the local economy. Joint action by the Local Authorities, the involvement of the 1361 Scottish Development Agency, the establishment of an Enterprise Trust with private sector locally, and other measures have all been pursued.Progress has been achieved but it is not on a sufficiently large scale to address the problems of restructuring the economic base, retraining and providing new employment. The will, skill and direction are there—now the proper resources are needed to accelerate this progress.I could be addressing myself to probably every area represented by my hon. Friends. Therefore, I take the liberty of referring to my area.
This has been a political debate and I want to deal with the politics. British Coal does not seem to be engaged in image building nowadays. I draw the House's attention to what the miners and the public read in their newspapers on 29 July 1987. The headline was:£145,000 Haslam says he is employed on the cheap. British Coal chief paid 100 per cent. more than MacGregor.The article then went on:Since Sir Robert assumed responsibility, four full-time board members have been appointed at salaries between £65,000 to £70,000. They confirmed that their overall pay had increased by £50 a week. Stung by questions that they were high salaries in a politically-sensitive industry, Sir Robert led his colleagues in a stout defence of their earnings, and claimed that the miners were also well-paid.I do not chastise anybody who wants to defend his level of salary. I an not concerned about that in this debate.
The article went on:Sir Robert's deputy, Sir Kenneth Couzens, declared: 'Only a madman would accept these terms.' He pointed out that new board members had no security of tenure.That statement has particular relevance to the work and objectives of the CCC. What security of tenure do miners have in the industry today? What about the coal communities, to which the CCC draws our attention? We have environmental dereliction, and our real unemployment level is amongst the highest in the land. Our kids cannot get jobs. We have a crisis. School leavers conduct fruitless quests for jobs.
I do not apologise for saying that. The article in The Guardian of 29 July 1987 angered me and many of my parliamentary colleagues. I am certain of one thing arising from the comment made by the vice-chairman of British Coal. It is not a good idea to make a retired civil servant, however senior, vice-chairman of British Coal. One could make some comment about the madman. It reminds me of the time, years ago, when I was a young editor of our constituency paper. I often wonder what my caption writer might have done with a statement like that. We might have had "Madman in Hobart House", or something like that.
I am reminded of a story that I shall relate to the House. We must have some humour at times, together with seriousness. I am reminded of the story of Lord Manny Shinwell who, incidentally, represented the constituency of my hon. Friend for Easington (Mr. Cummings). When Lord Shinwell was a young man—he was only about 87 years of age—he was cornered by the press in a corridor of the House of Commons. That day, there was a caption in the Glasgow Herald, which stated:Stepbrother of Lord Shinwell is considering joining the Tory Party.The press asked Lord Shinwell, "What do you have to say to that comment?" He reflected for a moment, as a young man of 87, and he said, "Well, insanity runs in every family."
§ Mr. Beith
Before the hon. Gentleman goes much further in his extraordinary attack on Sir Kenneth Couzens, I point out that Sir Kenneth was of considerable 1362 assistance to miners and ex-miners in my constituency who had a serious housing problem. They went to him — I accompanied them at the time—to raise the problem. He listened extremely sympathetically. Thanks to his efforts, the problem has been solved.
§ Mr. Cummings
I met Sir Kenneth Couzens, along with Sir Robert Haslam, with the Coalfield Communities Campaign in January of this year. Certain assurances were given. Within three or four days, they had reneged on their assurances. We were promised that the auctions would stop. Within three days, the auctions had recommenced in Nottinghamshire. So far as Sir Kenneth Couzens is concerned, I have not been dealing with an honourable gentleman at all.
§ Mr. Eadie
I probably made a mistake in giving way to the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). If he wishes to defend Sir Kenneth Couzens, so be it. I have put on the record what he said. I could deal with the meetings that we had with him in relation to housing. He has not handled housing matters well. The hon. Gentleman's defence can be his own. I wish to get on with my speech. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to praise the vice-chairman of British Coal so be it. We have different views.
The House has debated the Select Committee on Energy report on the coal industry, which was published on 28 June 1987. My hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley referred to the recommendation that was made in paragraph 207 that a Cabinet Committee should be set up to look at ways of helping the coalfield communities. It is fair to say that that recommendation was triggered by the written and oral evidence that was given to the Select Committee by the Coalfield Communities Campaign. If such a proposition was relevant way back on 29 January 1987 when the report was issued, it is even more urgent today.
We must consider the statement that was made by Sir Robert Haslam on 11 November 1987, some of which has been referred to in the debate. I have read all the press releases that were issued, including those issued by British Coal. I shall quote from one press comment because it is not only relevant but is the central thrust of today's debate:Yesterday's bleak statement from Sir Robert based on the industry's half yearly figures could not hide the industry's perilous position. It has closed 66 collieries since the end of the miners' strike more than two years ago and it has reduced its workforce by 83,500 to 137,800 — without any compulsory redundancies—but its sword is still not in its sheath.The report continues:Sir Robert hid his words behind his hand but the mayhem is to continue. He has given the Government an undertaking that the industry will break even by 1988–89, but to do that there will have to be further redundancies.Perhaps we had a trailer of that today when the Minister said that he will introduce an order on the external financing of the board later in this parliamentary Session.
The report continues:In a way Sir Robert spelt it all out. 'In order to achieve our break-even objective next year, we will need to take further action to reduce remaining high cost capacity in the next six months … If it is to achieve break even within the next 18 months, British Coal will have to close many more pits and make thousands of miners redundant … They are now disappearing at the rate of nearly 30 a year and Sir Robert and his senior colleagues admitted that at least another eight were in the pipeline. Before the end of the year, therefore, the pit total will almost certainly have fallen beneath the 100 total.1363 The caption to the article, which was written on 12 November by one of the most experienced industrial reporters, Keith Harper, was:Sir Robert's ticking time-bomb in the pits".Despite some of the sunshine stories that we have heard, and in the light of what has been said, not by us but by Sir Robert Haslam, the proposition that was made as a result of the 1987 report of the Select Committee on Energy, is even more relevant today. The Minister has made his speech but I hope that he will write to some of us to say that his Department will press for a special Cabinet Sub-Committee to consider the coalfield communities.
We should take this opportunity to consider some aspects of the mining industry and I shall do so quickly. Industrial relations in the industry were never poor. However, a complete botch was made of handling the new code of conduct and disciplinary procedure. If I had the time, I could back that assertion in detail. In too many areas, men are too willing to leave the industry, if they are given the opportunity to do so. The coal industry is far too important to allow that state of affairs to continue. It does not help the Coalfield Communities Campaign to carry out the objectives that I described at the beginning of my speech.
Yesterday I was informed that, as a matter of policy, British Coal is pursuing a form of insidious blackmail on pit closures. If a pit is confronted with partial closure and if the men threaten to use the agreed procedure of referring the matter to independent adjudication, British Coal tells them that if they do so it will not be a partial closure: it will close the entire pit. British Coal is riding roughshod over the agreed consultation and conciliation procedures.
The Minister referred to the investment in the coal industry, but some of that investment has already been abandoned because of the dramatic contraction of manpower and pit closures. This national energy resource — which all hon. Members agree is needed—is being vandalised. Compared with the financial advantage of coal, the Government's blatant preference for nuclear power cannot bear examination. The Government and the Treasury demand a rate of return on new coal mines of 10 per cent., but the Sizewell B pressurised water reactor is to be allowed a real rate of return of 5 per cent. Recent figures for coal research and development show an investment of £1.4 million, whereas research and development investment in the nuclear industry amounts to £173 million. The coal industry will receive £2.8 million in 1988–89, but the nuclear industry will receive £199.1 million.
Nuclear power has not delivered the cheap energy that was promised. The chairman of the Central Electricity Generating Board, Lord Marsh, acknowledged on television that nuclear power is 7 per cent. more expensive than coal. The coal mining communities rightly feel aggrieved by what is happening today. That is putting it mildly. This is an important debate, and I have welcomed the opportunity to make a contribution to it.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I remind the House that time is very limited and that many hon. Members still wish to speak in the debate. I suggest to those hon. Members 1364 who are called that short speeches can make a great impact and that they will win golden opinions with the House and the Chair.
§ Mr. David Shaw (Dover)
I begin by paying tribute to all those who work in the Kent coalfield. Many of them live in my constituency, where the coalfield is located, but many also live in the constituencies of my hon. Friends the Members for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale), for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) and for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) who have asked me, because they are detained elsewhere on urgent constituency business, to say on their behalf how much they would like to be associated with this tribute. In particular, my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South asked that particular reference should be made to, and that particular interest should be taken in, the fact that British Coal Enterprise Ltd. recently set up a venture in his constituency, about which he is very pleased.
The motion is not an accurate portrayal of the position in the coal industry and in the coalfield communities today. We are dealing with an industry that, under this Government, has become very nearly a success story. The price of the product has gone down, relative to inflation, it has made coal more competitive and it has provided new opportunities for coal.
Productivity has increased significantly and that has been achieved as a result of record investment levels. Since 1979 when the Government came to office some £5.5 billion of investment has been put into the British coal industry. Currently, that investment is running at nearly £800 million per annum—equivalent to some £6,000 per employee in the coalfields. Those figures are creditable by any industrial standard.
Therefore, we have the prospect of a thriving coal industry for the first time in many years. It was interesting to look at Lord Robens' book, "Ten Year Stint" a record of the time when he was running British Coal. I discovered from the book that the Labour Government promised 200 million tonnes of production a year, but when they left office in 1970, production was down to 145 million tonnes —more false promises. The coalfield communities have never suffered more than they suffered under Labour.
Our record also compares well with the position in 1978–79. Overall output is only slightly down today on the 1979 level, but overall output per man shift has significantly improved. Output has increased, but not at the expense of safety. In 1979, under the Labour Government, there were 72 fatalities in the coalfields. In 1986–87—the last year for which records have been kept —fatalities had gone down to 15. That is a major achievement.
§ Mr. Shaw
The hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley) knows that current figures and the way they are kept are not comparable to the way they were kept in the 1970s. Clearly, Opposition Members do not like the truth. Lord Robens identified that truth when he spoke about pit closures:In fact, under Labour, we shut pits at a faster rate than when the Conservatives were in office".More than 200 collieries were shut under the Labour Government—a shameful record. I was pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) drew attention to that fact.
1365 I believe that there are more opportunities for the coalfield communities under the Conservative Government, not just because we have looked after the coal industry far better than the Labour Party did, but because the economy is sound. Therefore, when British Coal Enterprise Ltd. puts money into new businesses in coalfield areas, those businesses have a much better likelihood of survival than they would under any Labour Government. The fact that we are doing so much more throughout the country for the economy brings me to my constituency and what is happening there.
The other day I was very pleased when the Minister kindly agreed to meet a group of representatives from the NUM. It was good that they had the opportunity to meet the Minister and hear the Government's views. It is extremely important that we should have dialogue with the union. It is especially unfortunate that the NUM is run by someone who cannot engage in such dialogue. He has destroyed mines. He claims that he speaks for the hearts and minds of the miners, but he puts nothing in mineworkers' stomachs.
The strike that damaged the coal industry and the country — Mr. Scargill's strike — also damaged my community in Kent. That was extremely upsetting. Those who supported Scargill lost all the way down the road. They lost money, food, welfare for their families: they lost everything.
I believe that there is a new realism among many miners. Indeed, in order to achieve such realism many of them have had to leave the NUM—they could not go on in that union — and they have set up their own union, which is a realistic union.
I am also concerned about the disruption caused by the current overtime ban. In my constituency, coal production has decreased from 10,000 tonnes a week to 3,500 tonnes a week. Mr. Scargill's overtime ban is damaging the industry yet again. Mr. Scargill's overtime ban will cause investment to stop. There will be no investment in coal mining while Mr. Scargill's overtime ban continues.
§ Mr. Allen McKay
The hon. Gentleman said that the overtime ban will close collieries, but he should realise that the ban is on the production of coal in overtime. Very little coal has ever been produced in overtime. It is one big con.
§ Mr. Shaw
I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that point, but he will appreciate that the coal industry has high fixed costs and it is important to produce the extra tonne of coal because the fixed costs will not change. The more coal that is produced, the more money will be available for bottom-line profit and investment. That is what the motion is about: whether we shall have investment in the coal industry or whether it will be destroyed by Mr. Arthur Scargill. The Government will not let Mr. Scargill destroy the coal industry.
§ Mr. Eadie
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not want to mislead the House by talking about Mr. Scargill's overtime ban. There was a ballot of miners, who voted 77.9 per cent.—the highest percentage ever recorded—in favour of the overtime ban. It had nothing to do with Mr. Scargill. It was the result of a resolution passed at the miners' conference in Rothesay, and its instigators were not from Yorkshire but from south Wales.
§ Mr. Shaw
I thank the hon. Gentleman, and I am flattered by the attentions of the Labour Front Bench. But 1366 Mr. Scargill's union is not the sole representative of workers in the industry, and those who voted for Mr. Scargill's overtime ban represent fewer than half the workers. The hon. Gentleman must appreciate that the overtime ban damages not only the pits whose workers are represented by the NUM, but those whose workers are represented by the Union of Democratic Mineworkers, because the resources are not available for investment.
§ Mr. Illsley
Will the hon. Gentleman explain his figures? How did he arrive at the statement that fewer than half the workers in the industry voted for the overtime ban?
§ Mr. Shaw
My hon. Friend confirms my figures. Whatever the figures are, we are not concerned with hearts and minds frauds. We are concerned about putting food in miners' bellies. That is what Arthur Scargill is taking away from people.
Dover district council has realised that the world moves on, whether in coal mining or any other industry. It knows that we need new businesses and industries, so it is pushing tourism for all it is worth. I hope—as many people in Kent want—that the pit that was closed at Tilmanstone will not become a rubbish dump. I hope that it will be used by the tourist industry and that jobs for miners and former miners will be created so that we can improve the economy in my constituency.
One thing is certain. The coal industry, the coalfield communities and the people who live and work in them will benefit more from the Conservative Government than they would from a Labour Government.
§ Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)
I am not particularly concerned about who caused the devastation in the coal industry, whether it was Labour or Conservative, or Labour and Conservative. There is devastation and a great social problem. We should direct our minds to how we are to tackle and handle that problem. That should be done by hon. Members on both sides of the House, not just Opposition Members.
The north Derbyshire coalfield covers Derbyshire North-East, the constituency that I represent, Chesterfield and Bolsover. In 1949, there were 37 deep mines there, employing 37,500 miners, but now, whatever the reasons, whatever the state of the world economy and technical change, whatever the political decisions, we are left with seven mines employing 7,000 men. Those mines are under threat, with some of the problems that have been discussed today.
From 1951 to 1971, when there was a Labour Government as well as a Conservative Government, there were seven collieries in the area to the south of north-east Derbyshire, near Bolsover, and in the Heath, Clay Cross, North Wingfield, Shirland, Pleasley and Morton—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where is the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner)?"] My illustrious constituent has other business, but I am sure that I have his full support in what I am saying.
1367 In the past 10 years there has been an accelerated decline in the area. In 1983, Pleasley pit was closed and in 1984 Westhorpe pit closed with the loss of 640 jobs. Now the pit is being refurbished so that tourists can visit it in the same way as they visit areas such as Beamish. We need financial support for that. Whitwell was shut in 1986. Ireland linked with Markham is now under threat of early closure. Some 400 jobs were lost in the headquarters in Bolsover on that occasion.
Each of the pits that was shut in recent years could have been like Cortonwood and could have been the cause of action being taken because coal supplies were available in the area. In the past year alone, 1,341 jobs have been lost in mining in the north Derbyshire area, out of a total of 2,262 jobs, according to Government figures, which we know have been laundered and manipulated downwards, to try to ignore the true nature of what is happening.
In addition there are associated declines for political, economic, industrial and technological reasons. The railways have declined in the area. At the Staveley railway institute one tends to find only ex-railwaymen. Few railwaymen are employed in the area.
Iron foundries are being closed. In Dronfield in my constituency all that we have left of the oldest malleable iron foundry in the country is the entrance, which is now a monument. The steel industry has declined, not just in the south Yorkshire area, but in Staveley in my constituency. One thousand jobs were lost in the Staveley steelworks between 1980 and 1984.
Our debate goes wider than the coalfield communities. We are discussing what is associated with those communities and the problems of Britain's industrial decline. We must ask how we shall adapt ourselves and try to make improvements in the future.
All told, some 12,000 net losses have occurred in large firms in the north Derbyshire area since 1980. Not just the firms are affected but the numerous associated support industries such as machine producers and services — people working in garages, pubs and shops. Opportunities for young people in the area are no longer available. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) said that miners were concerned about their being no future for their children. At one time they were concerned about people not working in the pits. A dramatic change has taken place.
What jobs are available and what are the opportunities beyond existing schemes? Substitutes are being provided for the jobs lost in the area. What is the growth industry there? One is the citizens advice bureau, which needs funds to deal with debt problems and troubles with the DHSS. Law societies are established to deal with debt, desperation and DHSS problems. The DHSS itself has expanded. It is like an obstacle course for people who are trying to handle their problems and deal with their conditions.
The one serious growth area in the vicinity is in Sheffield. The Manpower Services Commission there caters for my unemployed constituents and workers coming from places such as Dronfield. It is concerned with YTS and community projects—matchstick jobs for real people. Those are the only efforts that the Government are making.
§ Mr. Irvine Patnick (Sheffield, Hallam)
The hon. Gentleman talks about matchstick jobs. Real jobs exist. 1368 Jobs are available, but the workers are not correctly skilled for them. Opposition Members should accept that training is available for vacancies. They seem to derive spurious pleasure from saying that unemployment is insoluble. I do not accept that.
§ Mr. Barnes
It is peculiar for the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick) to ask me to give way before I have responded to his previous intervention, which I have now forgotten. The hon. Member for Hallam should visit North-East Derbyshire, which is not far from his home, and see for himself the dereliction and the problems which it causes. I suggest that he goes to Chesterfield, catches a No. 53 or 54 bus and travels through Tupton, Grassmoor, North Wingfield and the surrounding area. He would then see deprivation and disgraceful conditions. The area needs grants, assistance and local authority provision.
§ Mr. Barnes
Massive dereliction exists in the area. It scars the landscape and causes masses of social problems. Arkwright pit near Bolsover, Ireland pit at the edge of north-east Derbyshire and Renishaw Park pit are threatened with closure. Renishaw Park pit is the subject of early-day motion No. 231. Initially it was given until the mid-1990s by British Coal. It has plenty of stock and great opportunities still exist. If jobs in the area are to go, plans should be made now to replace them.
Now, British Coal has given until March 1989 for the pit to be closed. It has threatened that, if the NUM insists on making use of the colliery review procedure—it was not exactly constructed by the NUM for its own benefit: it was the result of the strike—it will bring forward the date of closure by a year and people will lose jobs next March. British Coal then made the offers and bribes that were described earlier. We are dealing with bribery and corruption, which will create further unemployment in the Renishaw area. Even on the Government's own figures, there is 19 per cent. unemployment in Renishaw, and the neighbouring areas of Killomarsh and Eckington. What is being asked is that another 460 jobs — and the jobs associated with them—should be destroyed. In a short time, unemployment in that area will be doubled. Then the ripple effects will begin to be felt.
What should be done in the future? We have heard much about British Coal Enterprise Ltd. I was involved in the meeting that was described earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover and from which little hope was to be had. The Minister talked about 20,000 job opportunities being created by British Coal Enterprise Ltd. What is a job opportunity, as distinct from a job? The term is thrown about all the time by British Coal Enterprise Ltd. and the Minister. It is some sort of gobbledygook that hides the true position.
The British Coal Opencast Executive also has vast interests in north-east Derbyshire. I was interested to hear 1369 the various contributions about opencast mining. The Opencast Executive in north-east Derbyshire plans to add to its current operations in Poolsbrook, New Brimington and Barnabas in Clay Cross; and to go to old mining areas such as North Wingfield, Pilsley, Morton and Stonebroom, which it will re-work, disrupting those communities, which are adjusting after past pit closures. It plans also to move into areas of current mining, so when Arkwright, Renishaw and Ireland in the Staveley area are shut, it moves in right next door to them—sometimes on top of them — and starts to rip up the surface of those areas. The one pit that would then be left—High Moor—has opencast plans directly next to it.
On the western side of the constituency, which shares some of west Derbyshire's characteristics, there is the threat of opencast mining on the Dronfield green belt—it will become the Dronfield black belt—which separates Derbyshire from Sheffield. The National Farmers Union and residents of the rural areas of Barlow and Wingeworth are concerned about developments there, especially given that little is provided now in the way of decent facilities. We should be spending money on housing improvements, health, welfare and the social fabric and infrastructure of the community. That is what the debate should have been about.
§ 2.3 pm
§ Mr. Phillip Oppenheim (Amber Valley)
Thirty or 40 years ago my constituency depended on coal, which was its major industry and the greatest employer in the area. Since then 15 pits have gone, with a loss of about 14,000 jobs. I hope that Opposition Members will take this point in the way that it is intended. Most of those pits were closed by Labour Governments. I do not make that point in a cheap party political spirit, but merely to show that this Government do not have a monopoly of pit closures.
I still have a substantial number of miners in my constituency, who all have to travel considerable distances to the north Derbyshire coalfield or to the Nottingham coalfield to their jobs. Despite the steady loss of employment among miners in my constituency—it is still continuing—uneployment in the area, although still unacceptably high, is only at the national average.
The reason why the area has not been harder hit by unemployment as a result of the steady loss of jobs in the mining industry is that it has been extremely successful in attracting new industries. More important, it has been successful in encouraging people in the area to set up industries. One example is a company called Butterley Brick. One would not think that bricks are a growth area. Brick making is not a high-tech field or something that immediately jumps to mind when one thinks of growth industries. Butterley Brick was in substantial difficulties only a few years ago, and it was taken over by a multinational company called Hanson Trust.
I know that Hanson Trust has become synonymous to many people with asset-stripping and with milking companies dry, but the experience of Butterley Brick is that Hanson Trust came in, put the company on a sound financial footing and promoted the brighter members of the local management team. As a result, Butterley Brick is a highly successful company that is substantially increasing its output and its exports. Above all, it is increasing local jobs.
I have many other examples of local enterprise. We have Thornton's chocolate factory. This company, which 1370 has recently moved from Sheffield, produces an excellent range of products and has been increasing its work force. We also have a company called Alida which manufactures plastic bags. In the late 1970s it was in severe difficulties, but as a result of a management buy-out in the early 1980s it has been able to expand and win back the home market, and it has also increased its work force and offers good and well paid jobs. That buy-out was allowed under new legislation introduced by the Government. I could quote many more examples, but for obvious reasons I shall not do that.
We must ask ourselves why these companies have prospered. Why have they maintained, and in many instances created, jobs in an area that has suffered greatly from loss of jobs in the mining industry? They have succeeded primarily because they have had good managements and skilled work forces intent on producing goods that people want to buy. Producing such goods is the best guarantor of jobs.
I am happy to admit that the regional aid that the area received in the 1970s was a major factor in the restructuring of the area. It has not received such aid for some time. I pay tribute to the district council. For most of its life it was under Labour control, although I am glad to say that recently the Conservatives have taken control for the first time. Despite the fact that the district council was Labour for much of its life, it took a constructive and positive attitude towards local industry. That also helped.
Perhaps above all, the reason for the success of industry in this coalfield area is that the work ethic is strong and the area has a good body of skilled workers with a nonmilitant tradition. In short, it is a good area in which to do business and in which business men like to set up. In such an area people can prosper, and that leads to jobs. If hon. Members were to question the management of successful companies in my area about why they have prospered and been able to replace the jobs that were lost in the mining industry, they would find that most business men would point to Government policies. Some would say that low inflation has helped, while others would point to the economic stability and the steady growth that we have had in the last few years. The Government's general policies of encouraging enterprise have enormously helped those companies.
In common with many other coalfield areas, my area has not been helped by the sky-high rates that have depressed businesses. If the Opposition want to see more jobs in their areas, they should tell their district, county and metropolitan councils to look to the high burden of rates that depress industry and which make it harder for industry to invest and create jobs. Derbyshire has not been helped by the fact that the county council has refused a Government offer of an enterprise zone. At the expense of local people, that takes political antagonism to ridiculous levels.
Another thing that many people in the coalfield areas unfortunately find themselves manifesting is a fundamentally anti-business, anti-profit and anti-enterprise culture. Perhaps that is understandable in the light of the history of exploitation of business in the early days of the mining industry. However, whether it is understandable or not, it is totally out of date in the 1980s, and it is totally counterproductive. If those areas want to attract business and encourage their own people to set up industries and create jobs, they have to get away from those anti-business attitudes, which unfortunately are still too common.
1371 What definitely will not help the coalfield areas is to try to continue uneconomic mining. Mines were originally dug to supply economic needs. Those needs and the world have changed. Cheaper coal is available. There is nothing new about that. Mining areas have been restructuring since the turn of the century. Harold Wilson wrote in 1945 in "New Deal for Coal":Taking the country as a whole, probably half the pits are kept in existence by the other half … in fact, by the end of 1944, economic laws had ceased to apply in the industry.In 1945 there were 750,000 men in the mining industry. We now have 150,000. The world has changed, and Labour Governments recognised that, because it was during periods of Labour Governments that the bulk of those jobs were lost.
There is no point harking back to the past. The world has changed, and it will not help the coalfield areas to suggest that we can dig coal whatever the price. In those areas we have to rely on a medium-output, low-price, competitive, productive and profitable coal industry. That is the best guarantee for those remaining within the industry. To go to a high-output, high-price coal industry would just load costs on to other industries, especially energy-intensive industries.
It is no coincidence that many of the most energy-intensive industries are based in the coalfield areas— industries such as brickmaking, pottery and dyeing. When I visited a major dye works in my constituency, one of the main points that a shop steward made was that there was no future for his industry if there were high energy prices, as they would make the industry uncompetitive against foreign competition. By trying to encourage the Government to ensure jobs within the mining industry regardless of the cost of the coal that is dug out, what some Labour hon. Members are saying is that they are prepared to guarantee jobs in the mining industry at the expense of higher energy costs and the loss of jobs in other industries. That is no way to run the economy or the country.
Some Labour Members are out of touch with what many miners think. I can only speak for the miners in my constituency to whom I have talked, but I have found that consistently they want either a productive, competitive, high-paying coal industry that will pay the wages that they deserve for the work they do, or redundancy on fair terms. Some Labour Members sneer at the word "redundancy". Anybody who has been down a mine, even for a day or two, will know that it is still a dirty, difficult and unhealthy job. Anybody who has seen men working day in and day out in seams only 2 or 3 ft high, often during unsocial hours, will know that mining is still not a pleasant job, despite the fact that it has improved.
§ Mr. Oppenheim
I shall not give way, because time is pressing on. One miner in my constituency who received a redundancy payment — incidentally, he immediately got a job in another industry —now has more money than he had ever hoped to see. He even has enough money to invest, and for the first time in his life he has been able to take a holiday abroad with his family. He even took his mother.
§ Mr. Oppenheim
The mining industry is enjoying the best conditions that it has ever had. That must be 1372 contrasted with the bleak 1960s, when most of the mining jobs in my constituency were lost. That was the period when miners were sent on their way — often compulsorily, not voluntarily—with a pittance in the form of redundancy pay. Furthermore, many of them lost their concessionary coal into the bargain. It is all very well for Labour Members, who have comfortable jobs and lounge on pleasant green leather seats. They are relatively well paid. It is easy for them to suggest that we send men down dark, dirty holes in the ground to dig out coal at uneconomic prices. I hope that Labour Members will realise that many men do not want to work in the mines any more and that it is pointless to send them down below ground if they cannot do the job economically.
Of course there are problems in the coal area. The way in which we can help mining areas most effectively is by ensuring that we have a strong, healthy, competitive and productive coal industry that is able to pay wages that miners deserve for the hard work that they undertake. If we are to replace the jobs that have been lost, and those that may be lost, we must attract new businesses to the coalfield areas and others to spring up within them. That does not mean pouring Government money blindly into mining areas. Instead, the structure and foundation of these areas need to be changed.
If we are to effect the change that is needed, we must follow through our education and training reforms. For far too long we have seemed to pursue the unobtainable Holy Grail of equality rather than excellence. We are seeing the baleful results of that, with some companies finding it difficult to employ the right calibre of management to run our industries. We must follow through also our rate reform proposals, which will transfer £1 billion from businesses in the south to businesses in the north. We must pursue our policy of growth and stability. Above all, we must see an end to the anti-business sentiment that is so prevalent in many of the coalfield areas. Labour Members cannot sneer at success, pillory profit, attack enterprise and blast business men, only to complain about a lack of jobs in their areas.
The survival of the coalfield areas does not lie in my hands. It is not in the Government's hands, except that many of the reforms that the Government have carried out and are now proposing will help mining areas. At the end of the day, success in restructuring coalfield areas depends on a change of attitudes within these areas. Therefore, the salvation of the areas is in their own hands.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse (Pontefract and Castleford)
I shall be brief because I have only two or three minutes at my disposal. It has been a wide-ranging debate, and in one respect that is regrettable. I fear that we have not placed our fingers on the real problems behind the motion.
In the few minutes available to me I can do no better than highlight the problems in my constituency. Since 1981, about 11,000 mining jobs have been lost in the Castleford travel-to-work area. There has been little job replacement. There is 16 per cent. unemployment within the travel-to-work area, but that is not the level in mining communities and mining black spots within the area.
Seven pits have been closed in Castleford since the miners' strike, and it is estimated that the unemployment rate is about 30 per cent. It is understood that 42 per cent. of the unemployed are under 24. Political arguments and personalities, such as Arthur Scargill, do not matter. We 1373 must concentrate instead on what we can do to assist mining communities that have been virtually wiped out. I regret that I do not have much time to suggest the approach that should be adopted.
With the exception of the hon. Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark), I am the only Member present who spent 15 months of hard work and research as a member of the Select Committee on Energy. Hon. Members on both sides of the Committee attempted to present an honest report and I believe that, to a great extent, we were united. From paragraph 31 to paragraph 144 the Committee addressed itself to the social consequences arising out of the rapid pit closure programme and made certain recommendations. — [Interruption.] The Government's response to that report is apparent because they took very little notice of it. In fact, Conservative Members are now taking much more interest in the suit of the hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) than they are in my contribution.
Even though the Government's response to the Select Committee report was negative—that is not uncommon —I hope that they will rethink and look at areas such as my own, which do not have intermediate status and do not attract any grants from the Government or the EEC. The enterprise trust, which I have never knocked, has had some honest endeavour put into it. However, it has been able to create only four jobs in my constituency. The Government must address themselves to what they are going to do to assist mining communities such as mine. Whatever the economic argument—we shall differ on that— the problems have been created by the pit closure programme and there has been very little thought about alternative employment. The Select Committee recognises that and I hope that the Government will recognise it, too.
§ Mr. Barron
I am grateful for the opportunity to mention some of the speeches that have been made. I thank Conservative Members for turning out to listen, if not to the debate, at least to the Minister's speech. It is a pity that the enthusiasm that has been shown at the end of this debate is not shown by the Government Departments that should be providing aid for the coalfield communities to help them overcome the problem of unemployment, especially the unemployment of young people, and the problems of poverty that have been mentioned in many speeches.
I add my warm congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Buckley) on his maiden speech. He showed great knowledge of his constituency and I am sure that he will contribute to debates such as this for many years in the great Socialist tradition of south and west Yorkshire.
I thank the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) for his contribution and for his comments on the rundown of the coalfields in the north-east over the years and the need for other industries there.
My hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) gave a good description of the scars on the community when coal mining, especially opencast mining, takes place. He also gave a good description of the replacement industries which try to help overcome the unemployment problems when coal mines are run down. He mentioned the way in which during a recession such as we have experienced under this Government, those replacement industries also disappear, which compounds the unemployment in the Welsh valleys.
1374 My hon. Friend the Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell) gave a vivid description of what happens to a constituency when coal mining, which has been a major industry for many years, ceases, especially in the way that it did in his area. I am sure that all hon. Members recall that the independent review body said that, because of the social consequences, Bates's colliery should stay open for at least some time. The Coal Board ignored the details of the independent review body's proposals. Against that body's wishes and those of the local community and local authority, the Bates's colliery was closed. That only added to the massive unemployment problem in the constituency.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms. Walley) highlighted the plight of those who live in Coal Board houses or ex-Coal Board houses, who have what can only be termed long-distance landlords, and the problems that they face in trying to find out who their landlords are and in getting problems solved in defective homes. They find it increasingly difficult to do so.
My hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) demonstrated his great knowledge and experience in the coal industry and of the Coalfield Communities Campaign and what it, as an all-party organisation, has done over the past two years to concentrate the minds not only of local government but of central Government on the plight of coalfield communities.
My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) spoke with great knowledge about the closures that have occurred in his area which backs on to my constituency. He mentioned the scale of job losses in his constituency and said that the non-replacement of jobs in other parts of the region have created tremendous problems.
§ Mr. Barron
I shall not give way. I am speaking now.
The right hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) comes from the same coalfield as I do. He has a new-found interest in matters such as coal mines. I cannot remember the right hon. Gentleman making a speech in any coal debate over the past two years. Most coal debates have been instigated by the Opposition. I cannot recall any mining debate being instigated by Conservative Members. The right hon. Gentleman talked about the cost of the 1984 coal strike, and so on. For some strange reason, he did not wish to comment on the statistics that I mentioned about the lowering of regional aid. During the last year of the Labour Government, aid for Yorkshire and Humberside—the area which the right hon. Gentleman and I represent—amounted to £58 million. In 1986–87, under this Government, direct grant to that region has been cut to £21 million, although we have seen a rundown in coal and steel.
It is no good the right hon. Gentleman or the Minister saying that investment in new coal mines means a great future for coalfields and for coal mining. Even with new investment, the coalfields have poverty and unemployment at levels that have not been known in my lifetime. I do not know how many times we have to say that. The motion is about the effects of Government policies on the coal community. It has nothing to do with the coal industry.
§ Question put, That the Question be now put:—1375
§ The House divided: Ayes 143, Noes 2.1376
|Division No. 76]||[2.28 pm|
|Alexander, Richard||Lord, Michael|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Lyell, Sir Nicholas|
|Amess, David||Macfarlane, Neil|
|Amos, Alan||Mac Kay, Andrew (E Berkshire)|
|Arbuthnot, James||Maclean, David|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)|
|Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)||Mans, Keith|
|Ashby, David||Marlow, Tony|
|Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)||Martin, David (Portsmouth S)|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick|
|Baldry, Tony||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Batiste, Spencer||Miller, Hal|
|Beith, A. J.||Mills, Iain|
|Bellingham, Henry||Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)|
|Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Moss, Malcolm|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Neubert, Michael|
|Blackburn, Dr John G.||Nicholson, David (Taunton)|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Onslow, Cranley|
|Bottomley, Peter||Oppenheim, Phillip|
|Bowis, John||Owen, Rt Hon Dr David|
|Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard||Page, Richard|
|Brazier, Julian||Paice, James|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Patnick, Irvine|
|Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)||Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth|
|Burt, Alistair||Porter, David (Waveney)|
|Butcher, John||Raffan, Keith|
|Butler, Chris||Redwood, John|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Carrington, Matthew||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Chapman, Sydney||Riddick, Graham|
|Chope, Christopher||Ridsdale, Sir Julian|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)||Rossi, Sir Hugh|
|Cran, James||Rost, Peter|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Ryder, Richard|
|Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)||Sackville, Hon Tom|
|Dunn, Bob||Sainsbury, Hon Tim|
|Durant, Tony||Shaw, David (Dover)|
|Emery, Sir Peter||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)||Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)|
|Evennett, David||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Fallon, Michael||Shersby, Michael|
|Favell, Tony||Sims, Roger|
|Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey||Soames, Hon Nicholas|
|Franks, Cecil||Spicer, Jim (Dorset W)|
|Gale, Roger||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Goodhart, Sir Philip||Stern, Michael|
|Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles||Stevens, Lewis|
|Gorst, John||Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)|
|Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)||Summerson, Hugo|
|Ground, Patrick||Taylor, Ian (Esher)|
|Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn||Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman|
|Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)||Thorne, Neil|
|Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney||Trotter, Neville|
|Heathcoat-Amory, David||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)||Waddington, Rt Hon David|
|Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Hunt, David (Wirral W)||Wardle, C. (Bexhill)|
|Irvine, Michael||Warren, Kenneth|
|Janman, Timothy||Watts, John|
|Jessel, Toby||Wells, Bowen|
|King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)||Wilkinson, John|
|Kirkhope, Timothy||Wilshire, David|
|Knapman, Roger||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Knight, Greg (Derby North)||Wolfson, Mark|
|Knowles, Michael||Wood, Timothy|
|Lee, John (Pendle)||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark|
|Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Lightbown, David||Mr. Eric Forth and|
|Lilley, Peter||Mr. Patrick McLoughlin.|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)|
|Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)||Mr. Dennis Skinner and|
|Mr. Alan Meale.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to
§ Main Question put accordingly:—
§ The House proceeded to a Division:—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I shall take the point of order after the Division—at present it is difficult to hear —unless, of course, it deals with the conduct of the Division.
§ The House having divided: Ayes 4, Noes 135.1377
|Division No. 77]||[2.39 pm|
|Beith, A. J.|
|Meale, Alan||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Owen, Rt Hon Dr David||Mr. Roger Gale and|
|Skinner, Dennis||Mr. Tony Marlow.|
|Alexander, Richard||Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)|
|Amess, David||Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney|
|Amos, Alan||Heathcoat-Amory, David|
|Arbuthnot, James||Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)|
|Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)||Hunt, David (Wirral W)|
|Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)||Irvine, Michael|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Janman, Timothy|
|Baldry, Tony||Jessel, Toby|
|Batiste, Spencer||King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)|
|Bellingham, Henry||Kirkhope, Timothy|
|Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Knapman, Roger|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Knight, Greg (Derby North)|
|Blackburn, Dr John G.||Knowles, Michael|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark|
|Bottomley, Peter||Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)|
|Bowis, John||Lightbown, David|
|Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard||Lilley, Peter|
|Brazier, Julian||Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Lord, Michael|
|Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)||Lyell, Sir Nicholas|
|Burt, Alistair||Macfarlane, Neil|
|Butcher, John||MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)|
|Butler, Chris||Maclean, David|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||McLoughlin, Patrick|
|Carrington, Matthew||McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Mans, Keith|
|Chapman, Sydney||Martin, David (Portsmouth S)|
|Chope, Christopher||Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)||Miller, Hal|
|Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)||Mills, Iain|
|Cran, James||Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Moss, Malcolm|
|Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)||Neubert, Michael|
|Dunn, Bob||Nicholson, David (Taunton)|
|Durant, Tony||Onslow, Cranley|
|Emery, Sir Peter||Page, Richard|
|Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)||Paice, James|
|Evennett, David||Patnick, Irvine|
|Fallon, Michael||Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth|
|Favell, Tony||Porter, David (Waveney)|
|Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)||Raffan, Keith|
|Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey||Redwood, John|
|Forth, Eric||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Franks, Cecil||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Riddick, Graham|
|Goodhart, Sir Philip||Ridsdale, Sir Julian|
|Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Gorst, John||Rossi, Sir Hugh|
|Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)||Rost, Peter|
|Ground, Patrick||Sackville, Hon Tom|
|Shaw, David (Dover)||Trotter, Neville|
|Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)||Waddington, Rt Hon David|
|Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Shersby, Michael||Wardle, C. (Bexhill)|
|Sims, Roger||Warren, Kenneth|
|Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)||Watts, John|
|Soames, Hon Nicholas||Wells, Bowen|
|Spicer, Jim (Dorset W)||Wilkinson, John|
|Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)||Wilshire, David|
|Stanbrook. Ivor||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Stern, Michael||Wolfson, Mark|
|Stevens, Lewis||Wood, Timothy|
|Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Taylor, Ian (Esher)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman||Mr. Phillip Oppenheim and|
|Thorne, Neil||Mr. David Ashby.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.2.50 pm
§ Mr. Meale
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. During a long day discussing the coalfield communities, no one from the Opposition Benches who represents a Nottinghamshire coalfield seat was called. It was important that an Opposition Member with such a seat should be called because today is the day when the Housing Corporation's bid to British Coal to buy 2,000 homes in the Nottinghamshire coalfield finishes. Will the Minister instruct British Coal to sell those homes to the Housing Corporation, which will give—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I shall deal with the point of order by the lion. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) first.
I am sorry for the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members on both sides of the House who were not called in the debate. The Chair made no fewer than four appeals for brevity. At the moment, there is no power to impose a time limit, so all that we can do is to appeal. I am sorry that some hon. Members on both sides of the House were disappointed as a result of some long speeches.
§ Mr. Barron
Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance. Is it in order that, when a private Member's motion is debated, which seeks to make the Government give assistance to the coalfield communities that are suffering from unemployment, poverty and so on, the Government should bring in the payroll vote, 80 per cent. of whom have not heard one word of the debate? Is it not a disgrace that private Members' motions can be taken over in that way and that Ministers can stand reading press releases from the Dispatch Box about something unconnected with the motion that was tabled?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that that is not a matter for the Chair.
§ Mr. Greg Knight (Derby, North)
Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for Members of the House to accept the sponsorship of a trade union — the NUM — and then fail to turn up for today's proceedings? Is that not a case of obtaining money by false pretences?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am getting the distinct impression that attempts are being made to carry on the debate, which has finished. I shall take points of order, but they must be genuine.
§ Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East)
Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance and advice. We have had a very important debate today on the coal mining industry. [HON. MEMBERS: How do you know?"] There have been some notable absentees, including the Opposition Chief Whip and most of the other Opposition Whips. You will be aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that next Thursday there is a motion relating to financial assistance to Opposition parties. Yet again we have seen the Opposition in total disarray. A motion was tabled by the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron), which was voted on by only two Opposition Members — the hon. Members for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and for Mansfield (Mr. Meale). Forty-six members of the Labour party represent coal mining constituencies—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where are they?"]—but only two actually voted. There was total disarray and an own goal was scored. I suggest that the motion to be debated next week should be withdrawn. The Opposition Whips have earned their money by false pretences.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. Let me deal with one point of order at a time. The hon. Member for Berkshire, East (Mr. MacKay) seems to be anticipating the speech that he hopes to make on Thursday.
§ Mr. Beith
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Was it entirely in order for hon. Members, both Conservative and Labour, to secure a vote on a motion which was before the House? That having been done, however unwelcome it might have been to the mover of the motion, might it not have been better for him to have had either the courage of his convictions or the competence to prevent his lack of courage from being exposed, rather than leaving it to my right hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) and myself to pro vide half the votes in the Opposition Lobby.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I can see that the House is enjoying these exchanges, but the debate and the vote are over and done with and we must now get on with the rest of the business before the House.
§ Mr. Ashby
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance because we have heard that only 20 out of 46 Labour Members representing mining constituencies were present for this very important debate. We have heard about the small number of votes.
Hansard will report some very important contributions from the Government Benches. I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will be anxious for hon. Members who were not present to have sight this weekend of what was said so that they can address themselves to their constituents, explain why they were not present and deal with the important matters which were raised. Can you arrange for the production of Hansard to be expedited so that hon. Members can do that?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am very relieved to say that the presence or absence of hon. Members at debates or in Divisions has nothing to do with the Chair. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman was not criticising Hansard and that the Official Report will be produced as quickly and efficiently as it usually is.
§ Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Could you inquire into the distribution of Order Papers? It is clear that today's Order Paper was not distributed to Welsh Labour Members because they are noticeable by their absence. As the only Welsh Member of Parliament here, I suggest an inquiry so that hon. Members may be made aware of the subject for debate.
Since the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) voted in favour of the motion tabled by the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron), perhaps notification of that could be sent to the NUM so that it can decide whether it would like to sponsor them.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. We have had a good run. I remind the House that we have other business to transact and that an hon. Member is waiting for his valuable Adjournment debate.
§ Mr. Bermingham
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall be extremely brief. This has been an interesting day when we have witnessed kiss and make up in one part of the political scene, and we expect that there might be another split among the Social Democrats.
This is a serious matter affecting Private Members' business. When it came to the vote I found it interesting. Was it not convenient that, on the first vote there happened to be four Tellers waiting on the Government Benches, two of whom you refused—the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) and one other? When we came to the second vote, once again there happened conveniently to be four Tellers waiting. After the vote, suddenly hon. Members happened to be making points of order. One in particular, who was not here for the debate —the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight)—intervened on an almost asinine point. Does not that 1380 suggest, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) said a few moments ago, that there has been something of a put-up charade by the Conservative Members this afternoon? [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. All I need say in answer to the hon. Gentleman is that I am aware of nothing out of order that has taken place.