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National Coal Board (Enterprise) Ltd

Volume 84: debated on Monday 28 October 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on the progress of National Coal Board (Enterprise) Ltd. in providing alternative jobs in mining areas affected by pit closures.

My right hon. Friend announced at the end of July that the funds available to NCB (Enterprise) Ltd. the job creation subsidiary of the National Coal Board, had been doubled to £20 million. In its first year of operation the company has created more than 2,500 job opportunities throughout the coalfields. One hundred and eighty-six projects have been given direct financial assistance, and many more projects are being examined. The company is working closely with new and existing enterprise agencies.

Is the Minister aware that at the Houghton careers office 328 people are registered unemployed, 210 youngsters are on short-term schemes, and there are two job vacancies, yet Eppleton pit is being merged with Murton mines, losing 700 jobs, Lampton coke works was informed at the weekend that it is to close, losing a further 226 jobs, and Ellington pit, according to the latest NCB report, is under a three-monthly review? Why is my area being sacrificed on the altar of monetarism? The £20 million is not enough for my constituency, never mind the rest of the coalfields.

The hon. Gentleman should put the other side of the picture in the north-east. I have had the opportunity of going underground at the coalface in Ellington and Wearmouth during the last few weeks. The spirit there is welcome, productivity records have been broken, and the coal industry in the north-east has terrific opportunities ahead. Both the chairman, Mr. Spanton, and the chief executive, Mr. Hewitt, of NCB (Enterprise) Ltd. take a deep personal interest in the problems of mining communities in the north-east. Already 248 job opportunities have been created there.

Further to my hon. Friend's first answer, does he agree that more publicity needs to be given to those achievements to dispel the impression that nothing is being done for communities where pits are closing?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me a further opportunity of stressing the achievements of NCB (Enterprise) Ltd. to which the Government attach significant support. Jobs created through projects that are financially supported by NCB (Enterprise) Ltd. have risen this month to a rate of 500 a month.

Is the Minister aware that since the strike ended the NCB has announced a further 3,000 job losses in Barnsley district because of further pit closures and mergers? Is he aware that that will increase unemployment in my district to 22 per cent.? What will NCB (Enterprise) Ltd. do to assist Barnsley and district in its plight? What additional assistance can his Department give to assist the Coal Field Communities' Campaign to help the distressed mining areas?

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is reassured by the level of commitment that the Government are giving to NCB (Enterprise) Ltd. and that NCB (Enterprise) Ltd. is showing to communities, which, everyone accepts, are facing extremely serious problems.

Can my hon. Friend confirm that there will be no refusal by NCB (Enterprise) Ltd. of good and worthwhile projects which are put to it on the ground of limitation of funds, and that any good job creation scheme in an area of pit closures will be considered favourably?

I am happy to give my hon. Friend that reassurance. If hon. Members on either side of the House have any projects in mind, they should discuss them urgently with NCB (Enterprise) Ltd.

The Minister has assured the House repeatedly that there will be alternative jobs in other pits for men whose pits are closing. Does he agree that that is not strictly true? In effect, he is de-skilling certain jobs, which means that men are not being offered comparable jobs in the industry. There is a target of 350 jobs under the scheme for the whole of Wales, and in my constituency 28 per cent. of the male work force is unemployed. The position has been made worse by a recent pit closure. Will the Minister concede that the scheme is unrealistic?

The hon. Lady should recognise that the National Coal Board has, contrary to the expectations of many, been able to keep faith with its pledge of no compulsory redundancies. It is to be applauded for that. Like the hon. Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes), the hon. Lady has failed to put the other side of the picture. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to go underground at Lady Windsor, Abercynon, which is in the hon. Lady's constituency. I found the spirit of the work force to be excellent. The men are reducing the cost of producing coal and they have a great future provided that coal can regain its place competitively in the market.

Is my hon. Friend aware that my constituency was badly affected by numerous pit closures some years ago when there was no enterprise company and no thumping redundancy payments? We simply had to get on with it. As a result, our unemployment rate has consistently been half that of the national average. Does my hon. Friend agree that the best advertisement for any area is a skilled and willing population that wishes to work, not strike?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making those important points. Let us not forget that over 11 years previous Labour Government's closed 330 pits, with compulsory redundancy and no enterprise company.

Does the Minister recognise that the £20 million which is available under the scheme only scratches the surface, especially in areas such as the one that I represent where 42 per cent. of all youths aged under 24 years are unemployed? Is the Minister aware that of the coal mines that are operating not one has on its books a boy under the age of 18? No boy has been signed on from school since 1983. There is no evidence in my area that the enterprise scheme is doing any good or attracting any companies into it.

The hon. Gentleman must realise that NCB (Enterprise) Ltd. started with a capital of £5 million, which the Government doubled to £10 million and then doubled again to £20 million. More money will be made available as and when necessary. I urge Labour Members to contact NCB (Enterprise) Ltd. and to discuss with it vital projects in their areas.

We are saying that the money is necessary now. The hon. Gentleman has spoken of 2,000 jobs having been created, but 2,000 jobs have been lost in the mining industry in the Welsh coalfield since March. The efforts that have been made do not compare with the demands and the needs of our community. Will the Minister tell us that he will accelerate his programme to match the acceleration in pit closures?

The Government have made it clear to NCB (Enterprise) Ltd. that more money will be made available as and when necessary. I urge Labour Members to discuss with NCB (Enterprise) Ltd. the strategic problems in the areas that they represent instead of criticing it.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that reply, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise this matter in an Adjournment debate.