Skip to main content

Bates Colliery (Closure)

Volume 79: debated on Wednesday 22 May 1985

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Before I call the hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Ryman) to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 10, I draw his attention to the fact that he sought similar leave on 8 May for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the peremptory announcement of the closure of Bates colliery in Blyth yesterday by the National Coal Board."
Today, the hon. Member will have to make out a different case. It would be an abuse to raise the same subject twice.

3.33 pm

This is a different case, Sir, because there has been a fundamental change of circumstances since 8 May.

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 unlawful action and the breach of the colliery review procedure by the National Coal Board on 21 May 1985 in the purported formal closure of Bates colliery in Blyth, thereby making 1,400 men redundant."
There has been a change since 8 May. On 8 May, the NCB discussed the matter, but the formal closure did not occur until yesterday afternoon. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to consider seriously the urgency of the matter and to recognise that the criterion which I must satisfy is that the matter is so urgent that it should take priority over the business that is already arranged.

I address you, Mr. Speaker, with such a degree of urgency because, if this pit is closed, as purported yesterday, 29 million tonnes of coal, which engineers representing the NCB and the NUM acknowledge to be workable reserves, will be lost for ever.

The NCB area director in the north-east — Mr. Archibald—has been thoroughly dishonest in revoking guarantees made to the work force as recently as January 1984. The Secretary of State for Energy and his junior Minster have completely shirked their responsibilities. The Minister visited the north-east last Friday and pretended that he would consider proposals for the pit, yet yesterday, when there had not been time to consider those proposals in any detail, it emerged that they had been rejected outright.

I do not want to exaggerate anything associated with these matters, because this is a highly emotional issue, but it is no exaggeration to say that the Secretary of State and his junior Minister have acted thoroughly dishonestly in misleading the work force at that pit, and me, into believing that they would consider alternative proposals for the viability of that pit. The document was handed to the Minister only last Friday. He has not had time to read it yet, even less to consider it. Nevertheless, yesterday afternoon, after pretending that the matter had been considered, a peremptory order for closure was made.

I am asking you for a debate on this subject, Mr. Speaker, because 1,400 of my constituents will lose their jobs for ever and 29 million tonnes of workable coal reserves will be lost for ever. The coal is of high quality and the pit has a record of good productivity and industrial relations. This is a most serious matter and I ask you to consider it earnestly. This is not a token application, as sometimes happens, and it is not a matter that can be considered lightly.

Although today's business is important, it should not be allowed to jeopardise the jobs of 1,400 of my constituents who have been thoroughly misled by the dishonest behaviour of the Government—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] —the National Coal Board and the area director. I ask for an opportunity to make this application without interruptions or catcalls from a party which is not interested in employment in the north-east or anywhere else in the country.

Order. I think that the reason for the interruption was the hon. Gentleman's allegation that Ministers had been dishonest. I did not hear the hon. Gentleman very clearly, but, if he said that, I hope that he will withdraw the allegation.

To say something which is known to be not true must on any reasonable interpretation of the English language, if the language means anything, be considered dishonest. The junior Minister was at Ellington colliery in the north-east when he said that he would seriously consider the proposals submitted for the viability of Bates colliery. He has not done that. He has not had time to do that, because the closure was announced yesterday afternoon. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] That is why I am suggesting that the Government have been thoroughly dishonest—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—so has Mr. MacGregor, the chairman of the NCB — [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."]—and so has the area director. It is no use Conservative Members protesting, throwing up their hands in horror and shrieking. I am not insulting the NCB or the Government, I am describing them. Their conduct has been thoroughly dishonest. Because of that dishonesty, 1,400 of my constituents are to lose their jobs.

I ask you, Mr. Speaker, in fairness to me as a representative of those people and in fairness to the coal industry in the north-east of England, to give us an opportunity to discuss these matters today. They are extremely urgent. Before you peremptorily refuse my application, I ask you to consider the matter most carefully.

As, under Standing Order No. 10, the Minister has no right of reply, should not the hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Ryman) be asked to withdraw the charge of dishonesty or give the Minister a chance to answer?

The Minister cannot, under Standing Order No. 10, have the right of reply. I listened carefully to what the hon. Member said. If he was implying that the Minister was dishonest, that is a personal accusation and I ask him to withdraw it. I do not think that he was saying that as such.

May I reply to that? It is difficult for me to decide whether Ministers are being dishonest, incompetent or both.

Order. Whether Ministers have been incompetent is another matter, but the Minister himself is not dishonest, and that is the word that I want the hon. Gentleman to withdraw.

May I have an opportunity to explain what I have just said? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] In fairness, perhaps I can be given an opportunity to explain. The Government act through Ministers, and have acted dishonestly, and the Ministers were carrying out the wishes of the Government.

I take that as a withdrawal.

The hon. Gentleman asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter, which should have urgent consideration, namely,
"the unlawful action and the breach of the colliery review procedure by the National Coal Board on 21 May 1985 in the purported formal closure of Bates colliery in Blyth, thereby making 1,400 men redundant."
I in no way underestimate the hon. Gentleman's anxiety for his constituents in this matter, but he has stated the criteria that I must follow. I have listened to what he has said, but regret that I do not consider that the matter which he raised is appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 10. I cannot, therefore, submit his application to the House. I am sure that he will find other ways of drawing attention to it.