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British Coal

Volume 130: debated on Monday 28 March 1988

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To ask the Secretary of State for Energy when he last met the chairman of British Coal; and what matters were discussed.


To ask the Secretary of State for Energy when he next intends to meet the chairman of British Coal to discuss the future of the industry in the light of his proposals to privatise the electricity industry.

I meet the chairman of the British Coal Corporation regularly to discuss all aspects of the industry.

Has the Secretary of State discussed with the chairman of British Coal the plight of Leicestershire's highly skilled coal miners, whose pits are being closed one by one? Is he aware that the opening of the pit at Asfordby is not enough to provide jobs, particularly on the basis on which they are to be allocated? Is he aware that more mines should be opened in the Vale of Belvoir to provide low-cost coal and jobs and because the skilled and excellent band of miners led by Jack Jones deserve the Government's support? They are not getting nearly enough of that support.

I remind the hon. and learned Gentleman that the Government have invested more in the coal industry than any predecessor Government. We have invested a total of nearly £9 billion since 1979. As he points out, substantial investment is being made in Asfordby. In contrast to the position when the Labour party was in office, miners now have a very generous redundancy scheme and no miner has been made compulsorily redundant. They can have either a generous redundancy scheme or another job. That is the case in Leicestershire.

In the Secretary of State's discussions with the chairman of British Coal, has he talked about the future of coal imports into the United Kingdom and the possible effect that the exchange rate might have upon the cost of these imports? Has he expressed a view to him about whether the exchange rate policy should be that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or that of the Prime Minister?

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his ingenuity, but I hope that he will not object if I concentrate on the energy part of his supplementary question. I have discussed with the chairman of the CEGB the amount of coal-fired capacity that he has. If British Coal continues to improve its productivity, and if miners adopt modern methods to accompany the modern machinery that has been installed, I believe that British Coal can have a bright future as a supplier of choice to the electricity supply industry.

When my right hon. Friend next meets the chairman of British Coal, will he draw to his attention the views expressed to me by some of my constituents that British Coal applies double standards when offering redundancy?

A number of my constituents have been refused redundancy this month, while a gentleman in Yorkshire, who is alleged to have created 51 wildcat stoppages and cost the board £14 million., has been given generous redundancy. Is there no loyalty today?

If my hon. Friend writes to me about these specific matters, I shall take them up with the chairman of British Coal.

Does my right hon. Friend think that sometimes those who purport to represent the coal industry expend rather too much energy on trying to protect their jobs regardless of the cost, when they should be seeking ways of keeping customers happy? Does he agree that that is the best way to secure real jobs?

I am sure that my hon. Friend is right in saying that the best guarantee of maintaining jobs in the industry is by concentrating on ensuring that coal is supplied to the Coal Board's customers at competitive prices.

Is the Secretary of State aware that 1,094 men left the coal industry in south Wales on Friday, and that 694 of them are in my constituency? These are men who opted for redundancy. Only 130 decided to stay in the industry. This is because the majority no longer have any faith in the promises made by those who run the industry.

Will the Secretary of State pay tribute to those who have worked for so long in the industry and who, through no fault of their own, are now out of a job? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the redundancies have pushed male unemployment in my constituency to 34 per cent., which is unacceptable? Will he make additional moneys available to British Coal Enterprise Ltd?

We are examining the performance of British Coal Enterprise Ltd., and funds are being made available to it on a continuing basis. We deplore pit closures, but very often pits close for good reasons. Pits become worked out, as it were, and geological faults occur. The hon. Lady has confirmed that anyone who works in the industry has the choice of staying in the industry or taking extremely generous redundancy terms.