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Colliery Closures

Volume 81: debated on Monday 17 June 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Wales when he last met the chairman of the National Coal Board to discuss colliery closures.

I met the chairman on 9 May and discussed a range of matters relating to the coal industry in Wales.

That answer is typical of the Secretary of State's lethargic attitude. Is he not aware that, in all probability because of such an attitude, the Labour party is forging ahead in the Brecon and Radnor by-election and that it now has an 8 per cent. lead? Is he also aware that since the Government were elected in 1979, in my constituency alone there has been the closure of the Caerau and Coegnant collieries as well as the Wyndham/Western colliery last January? The St. John's colliery in Maesteg is now threatened with closure as a result of the right hon. Gentleman's attitude and the fact that he condones the attitude of the chairman of the NCB. What is the right hon. Gentleman really doing to try to save jobs in Wales? That is what Labour Members want to know.

Before the coal strike began, which the hon. Gentleman encouraged throughout, deep mine losses in south Wales were around £95 million a year. It looks as though last year's losses have almost doubled to £160 million. Therefore, miners have thrown away the equivalent cost of the new Margam mine. It is hardly surprising that the amount of investment one that would like to see in the coal industry is less than it could be because of that strike encouraged by the hon. Gentleman.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that had Scargill's political strike not taken place, some of the Welsh collieries would not have been closed and the coal industry would have been financially better off? However, because of that 12-month political strike, some of those collieries must now close and production has been disrupted. People have been turned against people, neighbours against neighbours and families against families simply because of this political strike.

I have already pointed out that the strike added greatly to the area coal board's losses and directly resulted in a number of faces being lost, which will not be re-opened.

Did the right hon. Gentleman see the headline in The Times on Saturday stating:

"Miners face £10 million benefit loss"?
How much of that figure relates to Welsh miners, and will he discuss this matter with the NCB chairman? Is it not deplorable that there should now be an argument about whether any redundancies should be voluntary? Cannot the right hon. Gentleman do something to fulfil the pledges which he and other Ministers made during the strike?

I did not see the report to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, but I shall take a look at it now that he has drawn it to my attention. I believe that the pledges given by the coal board and the Government during the strike are being met, and I am told by the NCB chairman that he expects the greater number of job losses in south Wales to arise either through voluntary redundancies or by offering alternative employment in other pits.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it ill becomes the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) to talk about job losses in his constituency as a result of the strike which he supported, but which 70 per cent. of the miners in the constituency were against?

It would clearly have been much more desirable if there had been a ballot at the outset to decide whether the miners wanted to go on strike.

In answer to a question that I tabled, I was told that NCB (Enterprises) Ltd. has in prospect only 300 jobs, while over the same period 1,800 jobs are to be lost. In addition, every day and every week, hundreds of redundancies are announced in all our constituencies. How will the job gap be filled? Will the right hon. Gentleman review his efforts and those of the Welsh Development Agency and everybody else to see whether we can bridge the growing jobs gap?

It is absurd to suggest that all the job losses in the coal industry will be replaced by the jobs announced or encouraged by NCB (Enterprises) Ltd., but it is a matter for congratulation that in the short time that this organisation has existed it has been able to provide loans to create more than 300 job opportunities. That is a good start.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the price of electricity is every bit as much a matter of concern both to individual voters in Wales and to job prospects, and that the price of electricity depends directly on coal costs?

That is true, and it is also true that the price of coal will be one of the factors that will influence the CEGB in deciding on its energy sources and all the other energy users deciding whether to use coal. The mining industry can do a good deal in deciding where it has markets and in seizing the opportunities that undoubtedly exist.

How can the Secretary of State expect the coal industry to be profitable in Wales if the Government continue to refuse to invest? The Coal Board has offered only £25 million of investment to south Wales over the next year and the NUM says that at least £300 million is needed. Secondly, when does the right hon. Gentleman intended to announce investment in the Margam project, as everybody in Wales is expecting such an announcement?

The Government have provided record sums for investment by the NCB. The hon. Lady knows that the Government do not decide on individual investments, which are a matter for the NCB. The NCB is continuing with its detailed planning for the Margam project, although it has taken no financial decisions yet.

Outside experts tell us that for every job lost in the coalfield, at least one other job will be lost outside. What is the assumption of the Welsh Office in this respect?

Undoubtedly, there is a multiplier effect on job losses, just as there is a multiplier effect when new firms come and create new employment, but I should not like to quantify that multiplier effect.

We have had evasive replies from the right hon. Gentleman. Is it not unjust that the south Wales coalfield produces 8 per cent. of coal but receives only 5 per cent. of investment and has only one high-tech coalface? Does he not understand that the south Wales coalfield needs an advocate and a protector in the Cabinet, otherwise by the 1990s there may be only 1,200 workers in the coalfield? Should not the right hon. Gentleman be that advocate? Why is he so lugubrious about coal in south Wales?

Coal closures under this Government and during my period of office have not been at the same rate as under Labour Governments, who closed pits in south Wales on a massive scale. There can be no doubt that there would be a better future and more investment for the coal industry in south Wales if it were not for the substantial losses—losses which were doubled or more because of the strike, which the hon. Gentleman encouraged.