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Colliery Closures, Yorkshire

Volume 81: debated on Monday 24 June 1985

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asked the Secretary' of State for Energy if, when he next meets the chairman of the National Coal Board, he will discuss the proposed colliery' closures in Yorkshire.

Individual closures are a matter for the National Coal Board in consultation with the mining unions.

I am pleased that the NCB is considering having consultations with the mining unions on closures. More than 95,000 people are unemployed in South Yorkshire at present, and the NCB proposes to get rid of job opportunities for another 10,000 people. How many jobs does the Minister think that NCB (Enterprises) Ltd. will create in South Yorkshire to try to stem that ever-increasing tide of unemployment?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the role of NCB (Enterprises) Ltd. is vital. The number of jobs created will depend upon the circumstances at the time and the number of applications, but I know that there is good will on both sides of the House for the vital work of that strategic organisation.

Is the Minister aware that of the 10,000 job losses that have been announced in Yorkshire since the strike ended, 3,000 are in Barnsley and district? With the knock-on effects, that will bring the unemployment rate in my area to 21·5 per cent. That is a ruthless pace of change and the local authorities cannot create sufficient jobs to neutralise such job losses. Is the hon. Gentleman further aware of the existence of the coalfield communities campaign, in which 54 local authorities, representing 16 million people, have banded together to try to create jobs in coal mining communities? What are the Government and the National Coal Board prepared to do to help?

As I said in reply to the previous question, it is vital that NCB (Enterprise) Ltd. should have good will on both sides of the House. My right hon. Friend and I look forward to discussing these important issues with the coalfield communities campaign.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Opposition would have done better to address themselves to the question of where the blame lies for all the unemployment and trouble? It lies with the president of the NUM?

It is vital that the House should appreciate the significance of that comment. I believe that the coal industry in Yorkshire has a very good future. It has a marvellous showcase in the Selby coalfield, which, thanks to record investment by this Government, illustrates how one can harness new technology to create low-cost high outputs. That is the great future in Yorkshire.

Of course it is, Mr. Speaker.

Is the Under-Secretary of State satisfied with the machinery for operating the colliery review procedure in the case of the threatened closure of a pit? Is the hon. Gentleman aware—I shall be most interested in his views—that the colliery review procedure is a farce? It contravenes every rule of judicial impartiality. The decision to be made in respect of a proposed colliery review procedure — [HON. MEMBERS: "In Yorkshire."] in Yorkshire or anywhere else—may be pre-empted because the regional director of the NCB can so manipulate affairs that the procedure does not operate fairly. For example, the regional director can empty a pit of men, as he has done at Bates' colliery in Northumberland.

I believe that there is a very good existing colliery review procedure. I am pleased with what I believe to be a reasonable offer put by the NCB to the three unions concerned, thereby improving that procedure and fulfilling the agreement reached last October with NACODS. I hope that the modified procedure will be put in place as quickly as possible.