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Ncb (Closures)

Volume 87: debated on Monday 18 November 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Wales if, when he last met the chairman of the National Coal Board, he discussed the recent closure programme.

I met the chairman of the National Coal Board on 14 November and discussed a range of matters affecting the Welsh coalfields.

That was not much of a reply, considering the damage that is being caused to parts of Wales, especially Ogmore. I should tell the Secretary of State—the coalfield rapist of Wales—that since 1979 he has closed or been responsible for the closure of the Caerau and the Coegnant collieries in the Llynfi valley. St. John's colliery—the only colliery left in that valley—is subject to the new review procedure. Wyndham Western colliery, which was the only one left in the Ogmore valley after 1979, has also been closed. There is also now a threat to close Garw colliery, which is the only colliery left in the Garw valley.

Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on the promise that was made by Philip Weekes, reported in the Western Mail, to the Welsh miners who were on strike in April that we would have a new colliery in the Margham area? What does he intend to do—

My original answer was precise and answered the main question. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that south Wales deep mine losses in 1984–85 amounted to £188 million and that, against that loss-making background, it was inevitable that measures would be taken to deal with the situation. I should have thought that he would welcome the fact that productivity is increasing significantly, that the operating cost per tonne has fallen sharply and that some £38 million of capital expenditure has been announced for 1985–86 for the south Wales coalfield.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the worst enemy that the coal industry in south Wales has is the NUM, associated and allied with some of its friends on the Opposition Benches?

The disastrous strike led by Mr. Scargill and encouraged by the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) has probably had as catastrophic an effect on the south Wales coalfield as it has had elsewhere on the interests of the NUM.

Has the Secretary of State had the opportunity to examine the Department of Trade and Industry survey into the post-redundancy experiences of Welsh steel workers? If so, will he say how relevant those findings are to the experiences of coal miners in Wales?

A lesson that we learnt from the experience in the steel industry was the valuable work done by BSC Industries. That is one reason why a substantial share of the comparable operation launched by the NCB has been devoted to south Wales, and I am glad to say that it is already associated with about 600 new jobs.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that whereas the steel organisation which was set up to deal with redundancy gave valuable advice to the recipients of redundancy benefit in that industry, it appears that the NCB does not do that, and that no comparable advice is, given to recipients of redundancy in the coal industry? Will he make representations to the NCB and the Secretary of State for Energy to ensure that similar advice is given to recipients of redundancy in the coal industry?

The new NCB industry organisation is, among other things, helping to fund local enterprise trusts and organisations geared to provide that type of advice. However, as my hon. Friend has made a specific point, I shall draw it to the attention of the management of the NCB and follow it up.

The right hon. Gentleman seems incapable of understanding the impact of closures on vulnerable valley communities. These communities are now facing social and economic crises, yet the right hon. Gentleman seems to have no sympathy for them. Is he aware that 11,000 jobs have been lost since 1979 in the south Wales coalfield? Is he further aware that 1·5 million tonnes of prime coking coal are being imported into south Wales this year? We feel a sense of betrayal of the Margam deep mine. We look to him to help us on that project.

If the hon. Gentleman does not understand that the cost per tonne of deep-mined coal bears a relationship to the amount of coal imported, he does not begin to understand anything. He should ask the steel industry about the relationship. I should have thought that he would want a competitive steel industry that can buy coal at a competitive price.