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Colliery Closures

Volume 76: debated on Wednesday 3 April 1985

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4.22 pm

I hope to bring the House back to some sort of sanity by making a Standing Order No. 10 application.

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 10, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,
"the announced decision of the National Coal Board to close certain collieries in south Wales and elsewhere."
I appreciate that I have first to convince you, Mr. Speaker, that the matter raised is specific, important and urgent, and that you tend to assist Back Benchers with a problem. It is, therefore, with a great deal of optimism that I ask you to grant the application. You are only too well aware of the 13 months of arguments on the colliery closure issue during the miners' strike, and so will know that the matter is undoubtedly specific.

On the issue of importance, again you have heard the multifarious arguments for and against, and so will know the importance of the matter. The fight was not for wages, holidays or any other advantages of that nature, but for jobs and communities, and the importance of the decision by the NCB to close collieries cannot be stressed too strongly.

In my constituency of Ogmore, the colliery suggested for immediate closure is the St. John's colliery in Maesteg. It employs 869 colliers, and is the last pit in the Llynfi valley. If the pit is closed, the male unemployment rate in Maesteg will escalate to some 45 to 50 per cent. It is 24 per cent. already, with a community population of some 24,000.

Another colliery in my constituency which is under close scrutiny and consideration for closure is the Garw colliery in the Garw valley, employing 650 miners. That colliery is the last one in the Garw valley.

I stress the urgency because of my experience when I made an application under Standing Order No. 9, as it then was, regarding the closure of the Wyndham western colliery, which, incidentally, was the last pit in the Ogmore valley. My request was made prior to the Christmas recess and, before the House returned, the colliery was closed on 7 January. This was done without negotiated agreements, agreed procedures and consultations that we are informed should take place. That is similar to what has happened in recent days in the Bedwas colliery in Caerphilly.

Therefore, it is without reservation that I stress the urgency of the need for the House to be afforded time to debate this issue. Knowing the attitude of the NCB chairman—the cuckoo in the nest for the Government—I would not feel safe eating my Easter egg in the short recess with MacGregor let loose with his chopper, and 1,500 jobs in my constituency at risk.

There are a number of other reasons why the matter is urgent, but they have been outlined in previous debates, and the House knows only too well what they are.

The most important matter that I ask you to consider, Mr. Speaker, is that, now the dispute is over, in the interests of the country, the communities and the people whom we here represent, Parliament should debate this to ensure that the NACODS agreement made in October last year, which avoided the escalation of the dispute, is now honoured by the Government. It is for Parliament to debate the issue of escalating unemployment caused by colliery closures. It is for Parliament to debate the plight of communities when the main source of economic survival is taken away.

I make the application for all those reasons, including the closure of Bedwas, St. John's, Garw and 10 others in Wales and many others in Scotland and Yorkshire. I am sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends will explain their regional problems in detail if the application is granted. If one checks the number of jobs at risk, it could well exceed the 70,000 mentioned by MacGregor in March last year.

I ask you, Mr. Speaker, in the interest of the thousands who endured 12 months without wages and who suffered in many other ways in fighting to retain their collieries, their jobs, their dignity and their communities, to grant the application under Standing Order No. 10 for a debate to take place before the House rises for the Easter recess.

The hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the announced decision of the National Coal Board to close certain collieries in south Wales and elsewhere."
I well understand the concern of the hon. Gentleman. He knows that the only decision that I have to take is whether to give the matter precedence over the Orders set down for today or for tomorrow.

I have listened to what he has said, but I regret that I do not consider that the matter that he has raised is appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 10 and, therefore, I cannot submit his application to the House.

I do not wish in any way to contradict the decision that you have made, Mr. Speaker. However, in view of the seriousness of the situation, which could deteriorate, there is widespread concern not only about pits in south Wales but about pits in Scotland and in parts of England. If, during the Easter recess, the situation deteriorated, would it be in order for the Opposition to communicate with you about the seriousness of the position?